Put on a Happy Face

The room smelled like smoke and turpentine and something … meaty.

“Disgustin,’” she said.

The Irish painters stood side-by-side and looked at what was once the inside of a man’s skull, now spattered on the wall.

Her partner, Stew, held half a gallon of green, poured into a paint tray with a roller at the ready. “Mate coulda done it in the bath. To be nice, yeah?” His brogue made him sound consistently drunk, and based on the purple rims beneath his brown eyes, he very well could have been. “Let’s give it a go then.”

He doused the roller in paint and went over the week-old stain.

“Oy.” She turned around and covered her mouth.

Instead of covering the blood, the paint made it spread in streaks like an alien sunset.

“That won’t do, will it?” Stew replaced the roller in the paint and set the tray on the flawless hardwood floor. “Gonna have to use brushes.”

image10“Several brushes,” she added.

He scratched his fuzzy chin, and the sound was like sandpaper on wood. “If you were gonna kill yourself, how would you do it?”

“Booze and pills.”

He seemed taken aback. “Not very exciting, is it?”

“I like booze and pills.” She glanced around the well-lit Upper East Side loft. Streaks of late afternoon sun made old dust dance past crown molding. She realized the apartment would have been nice, if not for the … well … “Do real estate agents divulge a death in an apartment to the next tenant?”

“What kinda coward commits suicide in his own apartment? I would jump out a plane and not open my chute. Maybe jump off the Empire State Buildin.’” Stew made a whistling noise, followed by the clap of his hands. “Splat! Front page news.”

“You wouldn’t really do such a thing.”

“Dunno. Can’t say for sure. You?”

She shrugged. “Never thought about it. Not really.”

“Sure ya have. Everyone has.”

“They have?”

“Dunno.” Stew shrugged.

The green paint on the wall was dry. The blood formed curly-cues like melted raspberry ice cream. “How we gonna cover this up?” She lifted her callused hand and pointed.

“I kinda like it. Very … Jackson Pollock. Let’s put a frame around it and get the hell outta here. I could use a pint. Plus, this place gives me the willies.”

“Go get your effin’ pint.”


“You’re botherin’ me. Come back in an hour.”

images copy“Gladly.” He leaned in and gave her a smooch on the forehead before stomping in heavy work boots toward the front hall and foyer of what had once been a rich man’s home.

Alone, she stared at the makeshift modern art.

It needed something—something personal.

After some deliberation, she dug for a can of gold spray paint among several bags of Stew’s equipment. She shook the can; the click-clack sound echoed like a gunshot in the empty room. Carefully, she added her own touch to the abstract canvas. She stepped back and admired her work: a smiley face with exes for eyes.

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