Painters by Matt Rowan

The police didn’t know how to handle the scene, a family of dead people. They wanted to understand how these people had died, whether it was murders. But they didn’t have the facts. So they couldn’t say with certainty. They proceeded, instead, with head scratching and coffee-cup clutching near the cordoned-off crime scene. Not one of the officers and detectives desired to move beyond the cordon and possibly tamper with evidence. Evidence that they could not from their vantage behind the cordon readily discern. Except for the bodies, which were unambiguous and visible to any neighbor morbid enough to sneak a peek.

The police didn’t know that what had really occurred was part and parcel to a plot hatched years ago, a plot that had just finally borne fruit, i.e., caused dead people.

The painters had advertised great service, which they provided. They’d advertised their twenty years of experience, which they’d asked to “let work for you.” They had indicated they were fully accredited. All these things were clearly stated on the flier that had been pressed beneath the family SUV’s windshield wiper, while the family shopped in a store. They discovered it with a strange enthusiasm you’d more readily attribute to a found backpack brimming with cash—much rejoicing, tears, cries of, “Our troubles are over!” and countless high fives. It was a strange display, remarkably indiscreet, but who can know how people will react to any given situation? Oftentimes, there are too many variables.

The father hired the painters and he was relieved when their expressions seemed to indicate no murderous plot was afoot. He was perpetually fearful that a man or men he invited into his home would turn out to have plotted a murderous plot and meant next to implement it on his family. He trusted his instincts that the men he invited in were not violently minded.

After all, there had been the curious case of the pizza delivery person who’d asked the father if it might be okay for him to quickly use the family’s bathroom and that’s all. That man was not allowed inside of their home, even though he’d been delivering pizzas to them for years and had once saved the father’s daughter from being struck by an inattentive motorist, the motorist having been distracted by a loosened thread in his sport coat.

Still more curious, it had been evident that the pizza delivery person, closer to being a man than a boy, had at one time been beautiful. Premature aging and disease had squelched his looks, giving him the rheumy-eyed and pockmarked appearance of a delinquent or social deviant. He was not allowed in for this reason and at least one more.

The pizza delivery person had needed to use the toilet so badly that he squatted beside the family’s house, relieving himself. Among other things, this confirmed to the father that he had been correct in his decision not to allow the man into the family’s home, responding to the delivery person’s waste with his garden hose.

The pizza delivery person was a complicated individual, indeed. He was the only son of a single mother, who herself died not too many years after he’d completed high school. The cause of her death was suicide. The pizza delivery person had attempted to work his way through a local junior college, but was consistently victimized by circumstances perpetrated mainly by a thin administrative staff hounded by their high turnover rate. This administrative staff would constantly misdirect him regarding the courses he needed in order to attain his Associate’s degree or to meet the necessary requirements for transferring to a given school at his current class standing. From this and other instabilities in his life, there grew a pronounced feeling of mistrust that accompanied his every interpersonal encounter.

It also cannot be explained but on that particular day, when the pizza delivery person had been denied entry to the family’s home, he was feeling the tiniest urge to commit some form of violence. It was probably in sensing this blip of an urge that the father had decided to deny the pizza delivery person use of his bathroom, despite the fact that they’d known each other for years and the kind of history that typically establishes a sound foundation of trust. To the father’s credit, he hadn’t been pleased that he didn’t feel right about allowing the pizza delivery person into his home.

Which, more than anything, made it curious that the father, such a vigilant protector, would allow the painters access to his home, these men he had no prior knowledge of. It needs be considered, though, that as murderers, the painters were apparently very patient. They felt no pressing urge, small nor large, to witness their victims’ demise in real time or after its conclusion. They also had twenty years of quality service on their side.

In the days leading up to the family’s end, the father could sense only that he’d failed, with no way to be sure of precisely how. There’s the old comparison he might have noted between humans’ experiencing gradual change and how frogs will allow themselves to be boiled alive if they’re put in a pot of cold water brought to boil. Even though frogs don’t actually do that, and only people do. It’s a good metaphor, because it sounds like it would work.

But that the family was gradually boiled metaphorically was not the whole truth. It couldn’t have been, not with a father like that, vigilant and protective. He’d wanted to believe there was such a thing as a “good deal” and that you’re always to trust men who will work for you, especially those twenty years of experience. He’d never expected his house could be turned on him, the walls could be bringers of death and not protection. The painted walls were like a nobleman’s father’s sword but in the hands of a villain, just much more gradual in the way it would run the nobleman through.

At last, the father succumbed, along with the others in the family.

The painters laced their paint with a special substance, a substance that was locked inside the walls until the fissures of time and decay opened and injected their poison. It was so simple. A hazy mass of molecules became airborne, was breathed in and not out, really. It had worked before and it would work again. And it did.

Folks will always paint their walls. And cracks will always open in time. And poison will happily flow through their berth, into the people’s own fissures.


Matt Rowan is co-founder and editor of Untoward Magazine. Ain’t never killed a robot and hopes he never has to. You can find some of his previous publications in nice internet places like Emprise Review, Red Lightbulbs, Everyday Genius and Metazen.

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