THE HOUSE WAS STILL in good shape. The plaster was without cracks, the plumbing was still intact, the roof wasn’t leaking. He went from room to room, expecting the worst and being pleasantly surprised. He had imagined that costly repairs might be in order, but dust seemed to be the biggest problem.
Everything was exactly as he had left it. A housekeeping service had covered things with cloths. But each room held so many memories that they seemed like a host of sheet-covered phantoms. They keened from everywhere, a silent wail that clutched the stillness, crying out for what had been lost.
Letting go was the problem, it always had been. It was such a simple thing, to just walk away, to move on. And still, it was impossible, now just as then. But he had made it this far and there was only one room he hadn’t dared.
The studio door stood tall and forbidding. In this, it made a tacit confession of secrets withheld. He had actually wondered what she did when locked away behind the door, as if it wasn’t perfectly clear. She had always either run him away or simply walked out herself. It didn’t even need to be said, he was not welcome there.
But Chuck was free to enter. Chuck. He was a big guy, strong and handsome, and sensitive enough for an opportunity like Miranda. How long it would have gone on, he couldn’t say. But he felt that he deserved a better ending than to have the two of them smiling in his face and laughing behind his back.
Sadly, the truth was probably that they were so absorbed in their affair that he wasn’t even more than a minor consideration. Out of sight, out of mind. Their lives just went on while his was ending. But he fixed all of that.
That night, he came home early, headlights off to hide his approach. When he stepped inside, he could hear them. He had the pistol in moments and crept up to the studio door. He waited until they finished, pulling gloves over his hands. At the sound of a cigarette lighter, he opened the door.
There was pleading, especially after he raised the gun. Such a dashing, heroic bastard, Chuck tried to shield her and took two shots for his trouble. Miranda was so stunned that strangling her was easy.
The cops bought the whole story, hook, line, and sinker.
He didn’t need to fake tears, his despair was real.
He had come home and noticed something was wrong, the lights were out.
He went inside and armed himself.
He found this guy Chuck in his wife’s studio, standing over her body.
He couldn’t remember the rest…
He walked over to the spot where they had fallen, believing he had conquered his guilt at last. But a canvas covered with a tarp commanded his attention. When he yanked the veil away, he stared into Miranda’s eyes and, somehow, she into his.
Her final work had been a self-portrait. In it, she had captured the essence of her own broken heart and shattered dreams.
Her eyes betrayed the eternal sadness that his own heart knew so well. Her lips, in a subtle frown spoke wordlessly of all the things that could never be said. And to his horror, he understood it all.
The portrait was nothing but smudges of paint on a canvas, but in them, she had poured out her soul. At the sight of it, he knew he was, himself, without one. And to see her again, to find her this way, was to lose her again and this time forever.
And to lose her, he had always known, would destroy him.
So he said good-bye and put the gun to his head.
Now with a few extra flecks of red, the painting smiled, as it always had.
story by Joe Stanley