Tamara stared out the window watching her neighbors. She chastised herself and wondered when she
became the nosey neighbor everyone despised.
She didn’t seem to be able to control herself - her neighbors were
In her years, she’d lived in apartments stacked up four
floors high; she’d lived in trailer parks where she barely had enough room to
park her car without hitting her neighbor’s house; she lived in the suburbs
where the other houses were so close that she could stick her arm out the window
and touch the next house, but she’d never been as intrigued about the doings of
others as she had been in the last months.
Her new neighbors, a hundred yards out of her kitchen
window, were so fascinating that she’d bought a pair of binoculars, which she
kept by the sink, just to watch their comings and goings. She assumed it was some type of halfway
house, as the faces she saw across the road seemed to change daily.
“Are you spying on the neighbors again,” her husband asked
as he stepped into the kitchen and pulled a beer from the fridge.
“Yes,” she answered, feeling heat fill her cheeks. “I can’t seem to stop myself.”
Tony leaned against the sink beside her as he peered through
the glass. “It’s probably a halfway
house, or some kind of shelter,” he said, as he watched a lady usher two small
children into the huge home.
“It probably is,” she said, setting the field glasses back
down on the counter. “But the other
neighbors haven’t mentioned it, just said the family had lived there forever,
and that they weren’t very friendly.”
“We’re rural now, Tamara, people like their privacy out
here, and so what if it’s a shelter or halfway house - as long as they tend to
their business, we’ll tend to ours.” He
popped the top of the beer and took a long swig. “I’m almost done with the presentation, want to see my
“Sure,” she said, slowly turning from the window. She stepped into his messy office and
watched the presentation that would hopefully open the market for a new shoe
company. “That’s really great,
Tony!” She kissed him.
He pulled away.
“How’s the painting coming along?”
“Slowly,” she sighed.
“They’ve paid, Tamara, you should really get it done.”
She sighed. “I know,
but it’s so dark and I can’t work on it for long before …” she trailed off.
“Before you have to watch the neighbors,” he concluded. “I haven’t wanted to say anything, but it’s
becoming an obsession.”
“It’s not an obsession! And the painting is dark and
depressing, and I have to send pictures each time I do anything and listen to
this asshole drone on and on about what it’s supposed to look like – I’m not
sure it’s worth the money. The damned
painting is giving me nightmares.”
He sighed. “It’s
good money, Tamara, and you’re an artist, painting is what you do for a
“Yeah, I know,” she snapped, walking back to the kitchen and
grabbing her own beer, “but the dude is
sick. Yes, I paint, but I’ve never had
to paint anything like that and I don’t like it. I wish we could give the money back.”
“How are we to do that?”
He stood in the doorway, watching her pace as she sipped the can. “It was your idea to move out in the middle
of nowhere, it was your idea to have both of us work remotely, and although
that painting is only a few thousand bucks, we need that money!”
She held up her hand.
“I know, I know, and I don’t want to fight, but I’ve been painting a
murder scene for months now and I’m sick of it. He’s never pleased, the reds aren’t red enough, or they are too
red. The browns aren’t brown enough, or
they’re too brown. And the scene keeps
changing. I know the fucking money is
good, but I hate him. I hate the damn
images that will be in my head for the rest of my life and I’m not sure that
it’s worth the dollars, not to mention how he keeps changing things.” She saw another car pull into the dirt drive
across the street and ran to the window, picking up the binoculars.
Tony sighed and went back to his office.
Tamara lifted the lenses and watched a young woman step from
the passenger side of the car. She
adjusted the dials on the glasses and focused in on the woman’s face and the
tattoo exposed by the halter she wore.
The tattoo covered the woman’s upper arm, and was nice work by any
artists’ standards, and displayed a sea creature devouring a small boat. “Nice,” Tamara whispered, as she watched the
young woman step up the stairs and disappear in the old rambling house.
She set down the binoculars and stepped back into her
studio, staring at the huge painting with hatred. She had followed the drawings sent in the mail, and the
directions of the man on the phone or email as well as she could, but it was
the strangest contract she’d ever had in her years as a professional
artist. Most of her assignments were
painting from pictures, often children with dogs or cats, sometimes - family
portraits done in oil, and occasionally photos of the recently deceased, but
this was the first time someone wanted a murder scene on a 4X6 canvas.
The canvas was taller than she was and she had to use a
stepstool to reach the top, while also having to sit on the floor to reach the
bottom. And it seemed the scene changed
week to week, sometimes the victims were light skinned and light haired, other
times they were darker skinned with different hair. Sometimes the scene was in
a hall; other times a kitchen, but most times in a library. Each time she made the change and sent the
photographs several hundred dollars appeared in their account, but after months
it was draining.
She stepped over to her computer in the corner and saw she’d
received a new message from the buyer.
She sighed and wondered if she should click the message or just throw
the computer, and her career, out the window and be done with it. Money, she thought, we need money, and had
to coerce her fingers into clicking the message as she slowly sank in the
“Ms. Tamara, I promise this will be the last change and I
have already forwarded five hundred dollars into your account. The victim is blond, long hair, and has a
tattoo on her left arm of a sea creature about to eat a small wooden boat. She is wearing a halter. The rest of the room is the same. Thanks so much.”
“Holy shit!” She back kicked sending the chair across the
hardwood, the wheels underneath her seeming to gain momentum until she crashed
into the wall. She fell out of the
chair and hit the floor. “The girl,”
she began and shook her head hard. “No
freaking way,” she said, standing slowly and moving the chair back to the
computer. She reread the last message
and then sat back in the chair, re-reading all the messages from the unnamed
Suddenly, she saw her world in snippets of pictures through
the lens of the binoculars and paintings.
“No,” she whispered, reading his first message, and then seeing the
people stepping on the porch next door through her field glasses. She clicked on his next message, remembering
the paint on the canvas and the people stepping into the house across the way. “No!” she said, clicking on the next message
and again remembering changing the colors and tones on the canvas.
“What do you want!” she responded to his message and hit the
send button, her hands shaking. She
slid across the floor on the chair, slamming into an old paint stained bureau
and opening a drawer. She pulled free a
pack of cigarettes, and lighted one as she stared at the computer screen,
waiting for a response. “No, no, no,
no,” she muttered under her breath, as she expelled a long stream of
The computer chimed alerting her to a new notification.
“No,” she muttered, taking a deep draw from the
tobacco. She exhaled, and moving her
feet slowly she propelled herself in the chair back to the computer. She took another drag, her hand shaking so
much that she had to use the other to stabilize it, and then clicked the button
to open the mail.
“You could save her, you could have saved all of them. Time is growing short.”
“What?” she whispered, trying to lift the cigarette to her
mouth but dropping it in her lap. She
jumped up, slapping the fire burning into her leg just below the line of her
shorts and the computer chimed again.
She reached down, clicking the button for new mail as she
ground out the butt into the hardwood. “Less than ten minutes, and you know the
house, you’ve been painting it for months.”
“What the fuck?” She stared at the screen.
The computer chimed again, and she slowly reached over and
opened the new mail. “Less than eight
She ran. She
snatched open the bedside drawer and removed the pistol, quickly checking to
ensure it was loaded.
“What are you doing?” Tony stepped out of his office.
“I’m saving the girl!” she declared and ran to the door,
throwing it open. She raced across the
yard, while wishing for better shoes, and crossed the dirt road.
She bounded onto the porch where she had seen so many
disappear and wondered who she had become, and what kind of virus the buyer had
infected in her with his constant changes.
She briefly considered that she may go to prison as she kicked the door
open and again wished for better shoes as she felt the force travel up her leg
and settle in her hip.
Tamara limped into the house, the gun raised. “Where is the girl?” she demanded, knowing
the paths as she had painted them in the last weeks and months.
She entered the library of the old house and saw the
girl. The tattoo on her shoulder was
exposed, the skin underneath white, as the girl’s hands were bound behind her
back. “Where are they?” Tamara squatted
beside the girl, tugging at the rope.
The girl shrugged. “I don’t know,” she whispered, tears
cutting white streaks in her make-up.
Tamara looked around the room. She knew the room; she had painted it over and again in the last
months. “Drawer,” she muttered, and
stood up. She went to the desk and slid
open the drawer. Inside, she found a
knife. She pushed the pistol in her
pocket of her shorts and grabbed the blade.
Tamara ran back to the girl, cutting the ties that bound her
and urging her to run. “Go, go now!”
“Who are you?” the girl asked, rubbing her wrists.
“Tamara, your artist.
The girl ran, and as Tamara heard the front door slam she
looked around the room, comparing reality to the paintings she had done over
and again. “Where are the others?” she asked
softly as she went room to room.
“Tamara! Fuck! Tamara!
What are you doing in there?” she heard Tony yell from the front
“Did you get the girl?” she called back.
“Yeah, I sent her to our house and called the police!”
Tamara cleared one room after another as she had seen actors
on TV do with her gun out in front of her, the safety off, and then stared at
the stairs while she felt her hip throb.
She limped to the front door and fell in Tony’s arms as the police cars
began filling the street.
“Her hip is broken,” Tamara heard, as she stared up into too
bright lights, "we need to put in
“Twenty-six bodies under the house, most were kids or young
women,” she heard, waking from heavy sedation after surgery, “but there may be
more underneath, we’re still digging.
She saved the one, and we found a couple kids upstairs, and we are grateful to have busted the bastards.” She glanced up to see a couple police
officers talking to Tony, and then fell back into sleep.
“You’re home, how does it feel,” Tony hovered behind her as
she maneuvered the crutches.
“Weird,” she clunked into the kitchen and saw the binoculars
on the counter. She stepped to the
sink, stared out the window, and saw the police tape surrounding the house
across the road.
She shook her head slowly.
“I need to go to my studio.”
“Baby, you need to rest.”
Tony’s brow furrowed.
“I will, but I need to go to my studio.” She turned from the window.
“I don’t think I told you I got the shoe account,” he said
following her, his hands outstretched and open to catching her if she fell.
“That’s great!” she smiled as she clunked down the
“That’s what we needed and you don’t have to worry about
crazy people wanting portraits of murder anymore, tell that guy to fuck off.”
Tamara stood at the closed door, trying to figure how to
open it and still maintain her balance on the crutches.
Tony reached around and turned the knob, opening the
door. “Do you need me? I know it’s your place and you don’t like
folks in there and I have to answer a couple emails.”
“No, I’m good,” she promised.
“I’ll be back in five, and then you need to get in bed,” he
kissed her on the cheek.
“Five,” she said, watching him head back to his own office
before she stepped into the studio.
She struggled under the crutches to the huge canvas and
pulled the sheet away to see an empty canvas.
No color, no paint, no murder scene – a completely white unused giant
space. “What the f…?” she
muttered. “What the ever living hell?”
She stared at the white remembering layers and layers of paint, and changes and
changes. She shook her head and heard
the chime from the computer. She closed
her eyes. “What now?”
She worked her way to the desk, reaching down to click the
message and hoping she wouldn’t lose a crutch.
The message unfolded and she caught her breath.
“Good job, Tamara.
Five thousand in your checking account.
Your husband is about to announce you have to move again, and you should
accept. You have another painting to
She caught her breath, dropped the crutches, and managed to
fall in the wheeled office chair. She
dropped her head down to her knees, gasping at the pain from her ribs and
hips. “What the …” she had no
Tony burst into the room.
“Honey, I just got the best job offer ever! On the east coast, we’ll be set for life! Honey … Tamara … baby…” He dropped to his knees beside her
chair. “Are you okay?”
Tamara lifted her head from her knees and smiled, as the
tears flowed down her cheeks. “I’m