Burnt Alizarin

It all started with a splash of blood. Sofia stared in surprise as the crimson juice welled up from an aching temple, dripping down, splashing most messily onto the porcelain sink. Each fresh drop scattered into many, until her bathroom sink was covered in little ruby dots bleeding their way down into the abyss.

“Shit,” she whispered. “Just what I need.”

Cutting paint out of hair was bloody work.

She grabbed a nearby cloth — pristine white no more — and dabbed at her face. She’d been rushing, trying to remove the evidence, the proof she’d been at his home that afternoon. Sloppy behaviour for an otherwise flawless presentation.

Of course he’d figure it out, but not before it was the right time.

Sofia had worked hard the past week, sneaking into his house through the garage. Sometimes she used the back gate. She caught a glimpse of the neighbours during one of her nighttime visits, grunting and moaning away, the window wide open and blinds pulled up for all the world to see. Well, all she saw was the fleshy backside of Mr. Hausmann. That was something she didn’t care to repeat.

Costa was out of town: some dreary business trip. He’d asked her to go, but she knew it was just perfunctory because he never liked when she got too involved in his meetings; he said her outfits were too revealing. Too much skin? Gah! That guy was a prude. She couldn’t remember the last time he’d made a move on her. She was the one who had to turn on the charm, warm him up while wearing something akin to a granny nightgown. It was enough to turn her off at the same time.

His boss had spent more time focusing on her chest than on Costa’s latest mind-numbing proposal, and could she blame him? She’d nearly fallen asleep herself.

At any rate, Mr. Prude was in for a surprise. Two weeks ago she decided she’d had enough of his moralistic behaviour, and it was time to teach him a lesson about flat love. It was time to make him squirm.

Last weekend she’d set up her easel, her paint palette, her brushes. She’d propped up a photo. She’d spread out the drop cloth.

Now, the painting was nearly complete.

Sofia frowned at herself in the bathroom mirror, at the bandage now plastered to her temple. She had community service in the morning, garbage picking along the highway. All that for a lousy minor accident. It was hardly her fault; the guy was distracted, but she’d been on her phone. And now they’d assume she was hitting the sauce before driving and had scratched up someone else’s car.

She reached into her back pocket for her phone. Gone.

“Crapola! I bet I left it at Costa’s.”

Before long she was driving back towards his house, passing by familiar oak trees swaying gently in the midnight breeze. Sofia parked in the driveway, bypassing the garage for the gate, and ducked low to avoid sight of Mr. Hausmann and his nude nighttime adventures. She slipped through the side door.

Her phone was right beside the painting. Several missed calls and a text. She didn’t check them, though. Her mind was elsewhere. The scent of the drying paint drew her in to a familiar place, a familiar joy. It had always been like this, ever since she’d first wandered into Grandpappy’s studio when she was a child. She’d sat in awe, gazing up at the canvases, the row of brushes glistening with wash water, the paint smock smeared in alizarin crimson and sap green. Grandpappy had glanced her way, a smirk skirting his lips. He turned the painting around, giving Sofia her first glimpse of a naughty nude. He laughed until the tears blurred his vision, thinking he’d scared her good. He was wrong.

Sofia gazed at her painting, at the smooth legs and the strategically perched fingers. The naughty nude was back to scare Costa.

Just then she heard a faint thump. A slight scuff. She grabbed a paint knife and slunk for the shadows. She never got there. A man in a black hood hit her from behind, smashing a door weight against her skull.

Costa arrived home early, ten minutes later. He found her lying on the carpet, her head leaking cadmium red, and her hair sticky with alizarin.

The naughty nude was gone.

Copyright © 2016 by Emily Clayton
Originally appeared on Ink After Dark:

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