When Something Goes, Something Remains
published in Short Stories
I pause on the fifth step, pursued by no one. And nothing to see, except a painting on the wall of a man wearing my floral nightgown, Colt 45 in hand, a glossy finish. A lousy painting, nothing but an exact reproduction of the last photograph I took of him. Is there nothing left for the imagination anymore? You project a photo slide onto a canvas, then you just fill it in with paint. But it’s so lifelike I have an instant’s reflex to whisk myself out of harm’s way, my head down low, to duck the bullets. But no bullets come, they’ve disappeared, chronologically speaking. I take my suitcase from the closet, not this time, but months ago. I bend down to stroke my kitty. Did you miss me, I murmur, and scoop her up in my arms. I hear him call up from the kitchen, “Do you want some wine before I shoot myself?” The floral nightgown billowed around him as he walked up the stairs, the gun wagging in his hand. I just had to laugh. A strange response, considering. I stroke my cat, once for now, once for then.
“Do you want some wine?” the man is asking me. They are standing at the bottom of the stairs, smiling up at me. You, I’m tempted to shout, get out of my house. Then I remember. “Thanks for finding my cat,” I say.
“No problem, she was hiding in the basement when we moved in,” the woman shrugs. “You know that painting? Your husband left it. I guess he forgot it?”
“We’ll buy it from you,” the man puts in. “Could we? We love the edginess of it.”
I don’t love the edginess of it, but still I waver just a second. We’re alone, steeped in the twilight of the hall, his head bobbing, the gun wagging, “Smile for the camera,” I said, surprising him, and then the bullet cracked the wall. He should have said, “Thank you, darling, for saving us.” But instead he laughed, “We’ve scared your stupid cat.” “No, no,” I tell the new owners. “The painting belongs to my ex. Consider it his gift.”