Stella by Sunlight – a short story by Harlan Wolff
“It’s a fucking disaster,” Stella declared as she threw her paintbrush on the white tiled floor beside her easel.
“I rather like it,” Bill told her as he came in from reading his regular morning newspaper in the garden chair, and looked over her shoulder at the finished canvas.
She was Stella Rogers, British artist in Asia. Not so long ago she had been young and in fashion, her paintings exhibited in monthly shows in the grand ballrooms of Asia’s best hotels. Her long blonde hair, shapely breasts, angular face and lithe figure center stage in every trendy magazine from Dubai to China. There had even been a moderately successful glossy coffee-table book published on her work. She had traveled extensively then, always accompanied by her semi-detached husband, Bill.
They had settled in Bangkok by mutual agreement and used her inheritance to buy a house in the suburbs with big windows providing plenty of daylight and a small garden with potential at the back. Her studio, a conservatory stacked part full of half finished canvases smelled permanently of turpentine and linseed oil. These were the smells of her early life and comforted her. Oil paint had been her childhood and she’d been happy there.
“Well you would,” she told her husband. He was thin, trim, suntanned, and always at the gym. “You always give me compliments when you come back from screwing your latest mistress.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Who is it this time? Another hairdresser with benefits?” She asked without emotion, looking out over her garden. When she wasn’t painting, she gardened. Her garden was very English with its manicured lawn and lines of rose bushes.
“I told you already; the match started late last night, three in the morning. Chelsea won two – one, I told you where I was.” He turned around and stormed out of her studio into the kitchen. When you get caught – sulk.
She studied the canvas on the easel in front of her, “Fucking disaster,” she repeated. She felt ugly and angry, her paintings only worked for her when she felt beautiful and that hadn’t been working at all lately. There was a time when she used to paint in the nude and Bill used to watch. That seemed like a hundred years ago.
The painting was a turbulent dark sea under a vast red and angry sky. Too much red, and why had she picked vermillion? Perhaps the mercury sulfide in it had reminded her of their marriage. If tropical monsoons had arrived on England’s shores it was what Turner might have painted, but he would have done it better and he wouldn’t have used fucking vermillion. Not in a million years.
Stella walked into the kitchen barefoot, dressed in tight denim shorts and a loose smock covered in smears of the bright red vermillion plus varying tones of ultramarine and burnt umber. Bill was drinking coffee and fresh orange juice, sending messages on his iPhone. She went to the espresso machine and had to scrape out the coffee grinds left by her husband before repacking it with freshly ground Italian beans. Small things, like the soggy coffee makings he always left in the machine and the dainty way he held his espresso cup, had begun to be intolerable.
“Are you just going to sit there like nothing happened?” She asked him.
“Just waiting for you to calm down.” He told her as he continued typing a message into his iPhone 5 with his right hand whilst blindly reaching for the wine glass of orange juice with his left.
“What makes you think I’m upset?” She asked.
“Do we really have to have the same conversation every morning?” Bill asked without looking at her.
“No we don’t.”
“Good, because you just get yourself worked up for nothing.”
“I am very calm.” She said as she pulled on a rubber washing-up glove and reached into a drawer. The petite gun in her pink rubber-gloved hand looked out of place and relatively harmless, too strong and incongruous for the bohemian surroundings. Bill didn’t know much about art but he knew surrealism when he saw it. The two bullets hit Bill in the middle of his muscled chest and stopped his heart instantly. She finished her shot of coffee before taking the glove and the .22 automatic through her studio and out to the garden where the tropical morning sun was shining.
She had been building a small pond and water feature the previous weekend and had left a hole in the ground to put the gun and the rubber glove in. She carefully mixed some cement so as not to get any on her clothes and poured it until the gun and the glove were completely covered and the cement had settled to the same level as the rest of the previously laid pond base. Sweat rolled over her breasts and travelled down to her tight lower belly under the shorts making her feel vital and alive.
She smoked a cigarette while she made sure the fast drying cement was doing what was expected of it. Satisfied, she walked back to the house and broke the big window on the sliding French doors that were the garden entrance to the conservatory. She stood outside and hit the glass door with a garden spade so the glass would fall and break up on the inside of her studio. She put the shovel over her right shoulder and marched down the garden path and put the spade in the wooden shed at the far end of her pretty English garden. She carefully slotted the padlock into the metal ring on the shed door and locked it before she returned to the house, entering the studio through the broken door, careful not to step on the broken glass with her bare feet.
Stella had developed a close Thai friend, a charming and avuncular character. Khun Sompoj was a senator and highly respected in the circles that mattered in Thailand. He regularly invited Stella for afternoon tea at the Oriental hotel so he could ogle her mature shapely form. Stella knew he had a crush on her and dressed for maximum effect. She called him on the old red plastic phone, speaking standing up and smoking another cigarette.
“Uncle Sompoj!” She screamed into the phone, crying and hysterical. “Something terrible has happened!”
“Calm down my dear Stella. You need to tell me the problem.” He said with statesman like calm in his Eton and Oxford English.
“Oh Uncle Sompoj, it’s so terrible! I was taking a shower upstairs and heard two strange noises. I looked downstairs and somebody has broken in. And, and, they’ve shot Bill. He’s dead.” She broke down in hysterical sobs.
“Don’t move, don’t call anyone. I’m coming over. I’ll bring my own policemen with me. They will find out who did this, I promise.”
“Uncle Sompoj I don’t know how to thank you. Thank God I have you to look after me. I’m so scared.”
“I’ll always look after you Stella. You know that. I’ll be there soon.”
She put the phone down and stubbed her half smoked cigarette into the ashtray. She would wait for Uncle Sompoj and the police, beside the body, wearing nothing but a bathrobe and a towel wrapped around her head, like a dutiful widow should. She would be in shock and crying, much too confused to make a lengthy statement.
Stella ran up the stairs and put her clothes in the washing machine beside the walk-in shower and stepped into the glass cubicle. When the sun-warmed water rushed over her head and ran down her long naked back she began to feel something again. She wanted to paint a large canvas and she wanted to paint it in the nude. One day soon she would find a man and let him watch. Stella felt something good coming on, but that would have to wait until after the police and Sompoj had left. There was still some performance art required of her before her new life could begin.
Copyright 2012 Harlan Wolff