Existence is movement, and even the smallest, seemingly insignificant events can change the direction of a life for ever. The User’s Guide to Perpetual Motion is a series of relatively small incidents – entirely fictional – designed for me to explore character motivations and reactions and for you, hopefully, to enjoy.

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“I hope this doesn’t make me late for the community council meeting,” Jack muttered from behind the wheel. “They can’t start without me, you know. Not since I was elected leader.”

“The post office is on the way to your meeting, as well you know,” she replied neutrally. He didn’t mean any harm.

“I’m just saying,” Jack said. “I wouldn’t normally leave this early and the traffic’s still hell.”

“It’s only a couple of minutes difference.”

“A couple of minutes makes all the difference.” Jack glanced in the rearview mirror at the package again. “What is it you’re posting anyway?”

“A painting,” she said.

Jack spluttered a laugh. “Well, I know that, don’t I! I mean, who are you posting it to?”

“The person who bought it,” she said.

“Someone from your church group,” he answered himself. “Why can’t you just give it to them in person?”

“It’s not someone from the church group. It’s someone in America.”

“America? Someone from America bought one of your paintings?”

“It’s going to cost him as much to have it delivered as it cost him to buy it,” she said. She was trying hard, but it was difficult to hide the pride in her voice.

bobross

Things had been so quiet since the kids had moved out. Jack had his car repair business, and his community councils, and the yacht club (although he didn’t have a yacht). She had the church group, the choir and those lovely weekend days when the kids and grandkids came to visit. Her boredom had led to the discovery of Bob Ross and his The Joy of Painting TV series (despite that fact that it had finished years earlier).

Jack had looked up from his car boot sale accounts and laughed when she started watching the show from the late 80s and early 90s. He’d looked into the dining room on his way to the garage and laughed when he saw her easel, paints and canvases. He’d looked up from his lunch and laughed as she put on her classic artist’s overall and cap (not realising that that’s what she’d intended).

Jack hadn’t laughed, but sort of snorted instead, when one of her friends in the choir bought one of her landscape oil paintings. He’d snorted when a few more went out the door. He’d snorted a little less when she accompanied him to a car boot sale and sold another one, while more people admired her work than attended to his motor parts stall.

She hadn’t realised she’d ever had any artistic ability. She’d been too busy being a wife and mum to think about it. She’d been delighted to discover a new lease of life, and even more delighted when she began adding her own touches, and disagreeing with Bob on the show, then beginning to create her own imaginary works instead of copying him.

Jack didn’t laugh or snort, but stared curiously when she bought a computer, went to night classes to learn how to work it, and opened her own Etsy account. He stared curiously as the complimentary comments stacked up under the paintings she put up for sale. He stared curiously as more of her friends began to buy her paintings online.

“So, this American… do you know him?” Jack asked curiously.

“No, he’s a complete stranger,” she said, again trying to disguise her pride.

“More money than sense, these Americans,” Jack replied, adding a grunt and a gesture to a driver who’d done nothing wrong on the opposite side of the road.

“It’s only forty pounds,” she said. “It means I can buy more blank canvases. And there’s a new colour I want to try.” She looked in the sun visor mirror in front of her. There was a new colour of hair she wanted to try too, and perhaps a more modern style of glasses. Maybe a little more makeup.

“Forty pounds?” Jack muttered as he pulled over outside the post office. She got out and opened the back door to lift the painting in its brown paper wrapping. “More fool him!”

But under the gruff tone was another tone. A tone she hadn’t heard in years, and a tone she used to lie awake waiting to hear.