Painting The Town Red

God, she hated snow.  It was fine when the kids were little.  They’d sled, they’d make snowmen, they’d make snow angels, little Evie would catch snowflakes on her tongue and giggle; Adam would hit her with a snowball and she’d giggle some more, chasing him, always chasing him, never just making her own snowballs to throw back, not till she was about 12.  She just loved to chase him and try to get snow down his neck.  And Adam, the best big brother ever, he’d always let her catch him after a little chase.

He’d always let her win at games, too, until one time when she was 8 and he was 10 and they were playing something–Monopoly? Sorry?–she couldn’t remember, and Evie was getting quiet and everyone noticed at the same time, it seemed, and Adam asked “What’s the matter, booger?” (great pet name, right?), and little Evie started crying a little and said “Why do you always let me win?”  Well, they were all in for a surprise that day, all except Adam–he reached across the game board, took her sad little face in his hands, and said, “Eve, don’t you know?–I haven’t tried to let you win in about 2 years now.  You beat me fair and square almost all the time, because you’re smart and you’re lucky.”  Eve: “Really?”  Adam: “Cross my heart.  I don’t know you you do it.  I’ll roll 2 Yahtzees and you’ll roll 3, I swear.”  Everybody giggled at that.

That’s right, Adam and Eve.  When Lisa got pregnant her senior year of college, she was afraid.  They’d been together for 2 years, but she knew Joe had big plans of being an architect, and she wanted to start her own interior design firm.  She didn’t know how he’d react.  He didn’t bat an eyelash.  He took the twist-tie off the breadsack he’d just put it back on, dropped to one knee, grabbed her hand and wrapped the tie around her ring finger, saying “I’ll replace it with something a little shinier when I get my first job.”  They both collapsed in laughter; she said “Yes.”  His folks loaned them money for a ring, her folks bought a crib, a playpen, a car seat; the wedding was small, the reception was sloppy Joe’s, homemade salads and cake, a keg of beer, a couple bottles of cheap champagne, a boom-box and a dance in Joe’s parent’s garage.

Joe got his master’s and landed an internship, then a job, then a corner office before Adam was in kindergarten, it seemed.  Lisa doted on the kids, picked up a couple decorating jobs on the side, worked with Joe on decorating his models of office buildings and doctor’s offices, then usually got hired to decorate the real things when they were built.  Turns out they were both pretty darn good at being parents and at having careers.

Oh yeah, the names.  They both liked to create, you know?  When Joe suggested Adam, Lisa laughed:  “I didn’t know you were a closet ‘Bonanza’ fan; why not Little Joe, or Hoss, or (she pulled at the corners of her eyes) Hop Sing?”  After giggling like schoolgirls for a while (they knew she wasn’t supposed to drink, but no one had said anything about pot), Joe said, “No, I”m serious, like in the Bible.”

“But you’re not religious.”

“Not so much, not churchy, anyway, but I don’t discount it completely.  And the Bible’s a good story, if nothing else.  We’re creating something, you know.  Not a world, but it is our world.”  She had to agree, and she’d actually always had a crush on Adam Cartwright from “Bonanza”.  They both loved old movies and old TV shows.  They could curl up on the couch for hours and watch “Green Acres”, Vincent Price, “Casablanca”.  When she got pregnant again, “Eve” was just a no-brainer.  And Adam, he loved that little girl from the beginning, like she sprang from his chest instead of from Lisa.

Everything was great, great, great, for, what?-25 years or so.  Turns out the little girl who was so artistic and who churned out rainbows, unicorns, puppies, and kittens by the dozens, in crayon, watercolor, finger-paints, pen, whatever, wasn’t going to be an artist when she grew up.  She loved numbers and started her own accounting firm the day after she was done with college.  Adam-all those years of tending to his little sister’s scrapes led to a lifetime love of helping people; he became a successful physical therapist straight out of school.  Both kids dated, but no grandchildren yet for Joe and Lisa; Adam and Eve both were determined to get their careers established first.

——

Where did it all start going wrong?  Was it gradual?  Was it sudden?  Did a switch just flip one day?  Well certainly there was a switch flipped that one day, but before that… There were chinks in the armor over the years.  The annual Christmas drive to Joe’s parents farm changed from “I can’t wait to sled down Grandpa’s hill” and “How does Santa know we’re at Grandpa and Grandma’s and not at home? to “Are we there yet” (from the kids) and “Thank God your folks live on a hill by a creek, and your dad planted all those pine trees–the whole trip is white flat cornfields until we get there, but at least it’s pretty when we get there” (from Lisa) to dead silence (kids playing games, Lisa reading e-books).  Joe went from “My God, you’re the hottest woman I’ve ever seen” to “Is everyone wearing their hair short these days?”  Winter went from sledding, skating and snow angels to slipping, sliding, scraping and shoveling.

Lisa loved color: the bolder the better.  Her decorating blog was “Pastelisforpussies dot com”.  Her clients seemed to love her bold colors, though some recently balked at her extensive use of red.  She loved red; she dressed both Adam and Eve in at least a little red when they were babies, lots more of red than pink as Evie grew older.

The winter of ’06-’07 was just too much for Lisa.  It seemed like it snowed and blew every day; the wind acted like it would tear the roof off the building where Joe and Lisa’s firms shared space.  God, that building was ugly; Lisa was thankful, for the sake of their bank account, that Joe’s other clients didn’t think he’d lost his touch like she did when he designed that monstrosity.  She went along because it had good interior spaces to decorate and to design in, and because it was his design, after all, but the outside–ugh.

Ellie loved it, though.  Yeah, that Ellie, 25 years old, with breasts that stuck out so far they could poke a man’s eyes out at 20 yards, blonde hair halfway down to her round ass, and a wiggle that could make a Southern preacher go bad.  Ellie fawned over everything Joe touched, and she was a great assistant–Lisa had to grant that.  It was like Joe barely had to work any more.  Lisa wondered what else Ellie helped Joe out with.

In February, Joe’s firm (well, Ellie that is) organized a ski trip upstate, to what passed for a ski resort in those low hills, to try to help woo some fat-cat client who loved to ski, and who wanted to build several new apartment buildings for rich retired slobs.  Lisa didn’t go; she was busy with clients and hated winter any more, hated anyone over 18 who liked winter.  She’d still smile if she saw neighbor kids making snow angels and snowmen, but people talking about ski trips just pissed her off.

Joe “had to go” on the ski trip; she knew that, and didn’t even question it.  That didn’t really bother her.  What did bother her was when she was looking through her husband’s email on his laptop one day a couple weeks later, searching for some approvals that she thought would be sent to her email by an eye doctor for his new overpriced eye clinic, approvals for her decorating scheme, which his cow of a wife demanded pastels on.  He called her and said he’d sent it to Joe’s email by mistake, since most of his business on the new eye clinic had been transacted with Joe.

As she scrolled through his email, she came across “ski trip pics” from Ellen-bimbo.  “I suppose they’ll be toasting their great ski runs down the bunny hill, by the fireside in the “chalet” (more like a quonset hut, she remembered from her one trip there with Joe and the kids years before), she thought.  Nope, that wasn’t exactly it.  It was mostly pictures of Ellie stripping out of her poured-on ski outfit, all the way out, and one self-shot of her riding a guy whose face was buried in those oversized breasts and who just happened to have a birthmark on his leg that looked nearly as much like Italy as the one on Joe’s left leg did.

Lisa poured herself a glass of wine and looked out at the field that began almost at the back of their swimming pool, the one that they could only use about 3 months of the year because it seemed like it snowed the other 9.  The field was white, just white, no contrast at all, not a cornstalk or a dirt-clod showing through.  When she poured herself another glass of wine and looked out the front window, that’s all she saw: white houses, white cars, white mailboxes, a white blanket of white death on everything.

When Joe pulled into the garage a couple hours later from his trip to the home improvement store, he saw that the side door to the garage was open.  When he went to close it, he saw Lisa standing just outside there, with a large to-go cup full of wine in one hand and the axe she bought him for Christmas in the other, the one he was going to chop wood with for their fireplace, the one with the bright red handle.  She was staring at the white corn field.

She set her “wine glass” down on a decorative steel garden bench nearby as he asked her what she was up to.  “Lisa, are you okay?”, he started to ask as she deftly swung the axe, opening a deep gash on his leg, right above “Italy”, before he could ward off the blow or run.  As he was doubled over in agony, she let loose a home run swing which nearly took Joe’s head clear off; she had to pry the axe out of his neck so that she could keep swinging.  The red pouring out of him was much prettier than the white snow.

All the neighbors must have been inside or out shopping, because no one came running over and no sirens were blaring.  Lisa went in, warmed up, drank more wine, washed just enough of the blood off her face and hands, changed clothes, and hopped in Joe’s SUV.  She knew where Ellie lived, knew Ellie’s garage and front door were out of sight of the neighbors, knew Ellie usually worked out at the gym on Saturday and got home about this time (maybe Joe was her workout today), knew she’d recognize Joe’s vehicle and eagerly open the door when Lisa knocked.  Lisa knew her work would be easy.  She had the axe on the seat beside her and the music blaring Blue Oyster Cult.

Lisa loved bold colors.

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10 Responses to Painting The Town Red

  1. Ouch… You really surprised me with this one. It feels like a novel, condensed. At first I thought it was going to be about the kids, in the end found myself feeling sad for them even though they’re grown up now. I’m wondering just what sequence of events or psychosis made Lisa, you know, try this permanent solution to a temporary problem. I’m always interested in why women who can take care of themselves get upset to this degree, and sometimes violent, over a man.

    Your writing voice reminds me of one of your recent posts about writing like you talk. I like it. I really like how it flows.

    • It was originally going to be a story of a suburban wife spree-killer, who loved red and hated the sameness of snow on everything, then finally flipped out and went around the town “painting it red” in many spots, by killing many people. But it morphed by itself into a domestic murder drama. I don’t know why the kids entered in, then left–I think they showed up at all because Lisa has the same feelings I do about winter, that it’s incredibly wonderful fun when children make it so, but otherwise it’s just drab whiteness, and snow doesn’t really look good except on pine trees, mountains, rivers, etc. Whiteness everywhere and dangerous driving, even for good drivers. I was going to expand on Lisa losing her mind because of a family history of mental problems, as well as her going slowly unhinged because of the nest being empty and the marriage going stale, but the story was already long, and I just finished it out as it was, because I knew early on it was going to just turn into her going into madness because of the affair, unhinged yet together enough to be determined about it. Plus I’m lazy.
      I also wrote this in one day, before and after a lunch break, as the break line shows, with the happy family in the first part and the inevitable murder needing a reason in the second part. I would have liked to have her motive develop a little more, or her insanity more logically develop, but I’d had enough of it. But I appreciate your comments, Re, because they say some things that I was thinking about it. Like the total disappearance of the kids, though obviously I wouldn’t put them in the picture for the final festivities.
      It seems like a cliche from Lifetime movies that even powerful women will “lose it” when they feel that they are considered the less sexy one, but it has happened, like the case of the woman, in Texas, I believe, who ran her husband over in a parking lot after he cheated. I think anyone, even a sane or strong person, can lose control when they have the feeling of “Oh, I’M the one who’s not good enough!?”
      Thank you for your nice words. I feel like it’s a struggle sometimes to get away from cliches and triteness, but the words do flow, faster than I can possibly scribble them down. Thank goodness for high school typing class, though I’m not real fast, not without a lot of mistakes I’m not. I like to have people do the unexpected, to help get away from cliches and triteness, so horror tales are an easy avenue for people to do the unexpected. And wickedly fun, as long as they’re fiction.

  2. I like the factual-ness, it’s almost like a short biographical history, and the imagery – it makes it seem very real. I think I’d like to know how Lisa got from sane professional woman to axe-killer.

    • Well, had the writer not been so lazy, and just decided to leave it in mostly rough draft, with just a couple sentences taken out and a little punctuation fixed, and maybe a dozen words fixed here or there, the kind readers would have the benefit of knowing that there was a little insanity in Lisa’s family, that Christmas and a couple other things had been ruined by the incessant snow and cold, that she had been having severe “seasonal affective disorder” for several winters now (that had gone largely untreated), that she had already been feeling unsexy, but suddenly had her eyes opened as to how unsexy her husband considered her. I do think that being the “two-timed one” is a thing that brings on powerful emotions, more powerful than one’s upbringing and intelligence and normalcy can overcome sometimes.
      Thank you for your comments and for reading–it’s great to know what people do and don’t like about it, and to hear that some concerns I had about it were worth being concerned about.

  3. Hard to believe this is a first draft, Kevin, and that it only took one day. That’s impressive. I hope you’ll go back and work it over again, because it definitely deserves your time.

    My favorite paragraph is when she’s sipping wine and looking out at the snow– it showed me very artfully how frozen she was inside for that period of time. I didn’t get that she didn’t like white but I did feel the coldness seeping in.

    I agree with you all that some clues need to be dropped along the way that explain the axe-swinging at the end. If you’re worried about length, then take out the parts about the kids (they are very interesting but they don’t add to your story) and add some backstory/interior to explain her breakdown at the end.

    Not that you asked me. Huh. Sorry if you didn’t want feedback like this– my policy is to never answer questions that weren’t asked but it’s late and I forgot myself for a moment.

    Anyway, I hope if you do rework it, you’ll share it here. It’s good.

    • Thank you very much, Anna. My goodness, yes, I want the feedback. I trust that if anything I write sucks enough that you or anyone can’t find one good thing to say about it, that you or they will then not comment on it at all, or some such thing. Maybe we’ll have a code: If you think something is “not worth fixing”, or that I obviously wrote it when I had too much to drink, you could say something like “Interesting piece; I hope the weather is nice where you are.” Or just not comment at all of course. If I tried to comment on every blogpost I like by everyone who I read, I wouldn’t have time for much else (though that does feed the urge to write, without having to create something new myself).
      To make a long story short, thanks a lot for both the compliments and the critique–both quite wonderful.

      And dammit, I forgot to say that I may rework the thing, but I may just leave it in “B-quality”–after all, Stephen King makes gobs of money by writing awful horror fiction. Of course, one of the differences there is that he did write pretty good stuff early on–“The Shining” is a great book, I think, and a couple others, so he can just “coast” if he wants, I suppose. I like writing some horror, for the shock value, I suppose, though people can do the unexpected in “regular” fiction also.

      • Oh no you don’t. (The teacher in me is rising to the surface.) You can’t leave it there– I mean, could you, really? You are just getting to the good part, the hard part. You can’t stop now.

        • I’ll rework it yet, Teach, but not today. Gonna throw some Frisbee on the quad after my 3 o’clock Intro. to Liberal Thinking Class, then me and Roy are gonna go for a cruise, then tonight a bunch of us are gonna sit around and listen to Dark Side of the Moon, so loud that we can’t hear each other talk, then maybe go to Bob’s Greasy Spoon for a midnight snack. And somewhere along the line I have to ignore that cute new transfer girl from Oklahoma, because how else will she know I like her? Oh, yeah, and go to the cafeteria and eat a LOT of food and have all the jocks look at us funny, like we were driving around with the windows up in the car when we should have had ’em open or something.

  4. Anne Schilde says:

    I really enjoyed this. I could see where it was going and I liked how it got there. I thought the kids good character development, a reason to like Joe before you kill him. There were some nice touches too, like Ellen-bimbo, and the to-go cup of wine. Good job!

    I really hate criticizing other stories, especially when I enjoyed them as much as this one. That’s what editors are for. But since your comment above is asking, I’ll share the small problems I saw and then maybe you can edit all this out of my comment after you read:

    “That’s right, Adam and Eve.” This made me start questioning the quality of your story.

    “Oh yeah, the names.” This made me feel like you’d lost your way telling the story.

    “Where did it all start going wrong, etc.” These questions tipped me off that an affair was coming. Statements might work better.

    • I wouldn’t dream of editing your comments, Anne. I enjoyed all of them. If you actually do see quality in what I write, then I either question your reviewing skills or I am doing something right, after all. Judging by the quality of your stories, I would say I’m doing some things right.
      The passages you mentioned, plus the description of Ellie, were quite formulaic, in the sense of me writing for a mystery magazine, almost. So I’d say there was some mixing of styles.

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