The Painter

Submitted into Contest #124 in response to: End your story with someone finding themselves.... view prompt

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Fiction

THE PAINTER

1.

             Seth Walker loaded his ladder onto the roof of the van. The ladder was long and awkward, but he was able to manage. The paint job that he was preparing for was a big one. Normally for a job of that size, he would bring on one of his employees. However, it was a simple contract - just walls and baseboards. He figured he would go at it alone and save some money on labor.

When Seth quoted the job, Mike - the property manager - didn’t give him a lot of details about the house; in fact, he didn’t haggle on the estimate that Seth quoted. That settled, Seth told Mike he would have no problem completing the job within two weeks.

            When he arrived. He parked in the driveway and brought everything in through the front door. The front entrance led into the living room. It had a large, beautiful front window that was over 18 feet high. He’d planned on starting at the top of the window. Seth always liked to get the most difficult parts done first.

Once all the equipment was unloaded, he put on a paint suit, grabbed his paint bucket, and headed up the ladder.

After 15 minutes of painting the top of the window, he was ready to move to the sides. He descended the ladder with the paint in one hand and the other hand on the rungs. Part way down, his foot got snagged onto the ladder rope that it was sticking out, he slipped and fell from the ladder. He lost his wind upon landing. It took him a minute to catch his breath as he lay there in spilt paint.

Suddenly he realized that he was no longer alone, he noticed a woman standing over him. Immediately embarrassed, he got up.

  “Hello. I didn’t realize anyone was here. I’m Seth, the painter.”

  “Hi Seth. I’m Natalie. Are you alright? That was quite a fall.”

  “I’m fine. Just a bruised ego, and a big mess, I thought I was alone, the property manager didn’t say that you would be home, but I didn’t ask either.”

  “That’s okay, Seth. I won’t get in your way. I hope I didn’t startle you. That’s not why you fell, is it?”

  “No, my foot got caught on that rope.”

  “Can I get some ice? Are you hurt?”             

  “No, I’m fine, thank you.”

  “All right Seth. I won’t make a fuss. You need to be more careful though. Please, carry on.” Seth did exactly as Natalie asked, as he continued painting, he watched her, she was attractive - long flowing black hair and green eyes, wearing a blue dress. Seth found it difficult not to stare. She caught him looking a couple times. He smiled when she did. He liked her and wished he looked a little more presentable.

             At 5 pm, he told her he was finished for the day, and that he’d be back in the morning. She smiled and told him a key was under the welcome mat and to let himself in. Then something odd happened - she hugged him It was very peculiar since he didn’t know her, yet it felt right at the same time.

Natalie looked at him and said, “Bye, Seth. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

  “Good night, Natalie.” He turned and walked out to the van. He thought, “What a strange encounter.” But he couldn’t wait to see her again.

2.

When he arrived at the house the next morning, he found the key under the doormat. Natalie was nowhere to be seen. He called out to her to make his presence known. There wasn’t a response; however, it was a big home. “Too big for just one person,” he thought.

He began painting, and once again he was surprised by Natalie, he didn’t see her approach. “Good morning, Seth.”

  “Good morning. You startled me.”

  “I’m sorry about that. I’ll try not to do that. I wouldn’t want you to fall again. It looked painful for you yesterday.”

  “Well, I was okay.”

  “I see, well, I’ll leave you to your work, Seth. Just call out if you need anything.”

  “Thank you.”

 Seth noticed that she was wearing another blue dress. Blue must be her favorite color. He also noticed that she had quite the figure. He knew it was unprofessional to stare at her, he couldn’t help himself. No harm if she didn’t notice. But at that moment, he’d been caught. Funny thing though, she winked at him. He thought, “This woman was teasing me, or maybe she likes me. That would explain the hug yesterday.” Natalie asked, “Seth, do you like my dress?”

  Stunned by the question, he stuttered, “Yes, it’s very nice.”

  “Thank you, it’s new. I’m glad you like it.” Then she walked away. He felt awkward. He thought to himself, “You’re here for a job, not to meet women.” As she left the room, he heard her giggle a bit. He was embarrassed. He thought to himself, “Just paint, dummy.”

3.

The rest of the day went as scheduled: no more staring or awkward exchanges, just painting. But as the afternoon came on, she started coming around a bit more, humming to herself while she sorted the house. He felt that she was teasing him. He was a sucker for that.

  “Seth,” she asked, “Would you like to stay for dinner?”

  “Oh, I don’t think that’s appropriate, Natalie. I’m the help.”

  “Nonsense! You like food, don’t you?”

  “Of course.”

  “Well, then it’s settled. Dinner is at 5. We’re having my favorite: chicken parmesan and Caesar salad.”

Seth was thrilled to be having dinner with this beautiful woman. It was so strange though. He hardly knew her, yet he now had a dinner date set with her. He wondered if it was a date though. Maybe she was just polite. Or, worse, what if she’s crazy? Oh well. He already accepted. Well, sort of - She insisted.

It was 5 p.m. Seth washed up. He went into the dining room where Natalie had the table set with candles. Candlelight changed everything. He was now sure this was a date. He never really had issues meeting women, but this was just too easy. He felt out of his league. She was beautiful, dressed to the nines, and lived in a mansion. What could she possibly see in him?

  “Seth, please, sit down. Would you like some wine?”

  “Yes please.”

She poured him a glass of wine and one for herself. Natalie served the chicken parmesan and salad. They spoke a little over dinner, but not too much; after all, they didn’t really know one another. Seth asked why she lived in such a large home by herself. She said that she recently split with her husband, and she got the house in the settlement. She had planned on moving to a smaller home. He said he figured, since Mike wanted him to finish the job within two weeks.

“Oh, Seth, there is no rush. Take your time. Besides, I enjoy your company.”

  “I see. Well, can I help you with any other stuff, other than painting, I mean? I’m kind of handy, you know?”

  “Maybe. That’s good to know. Could you help me in the bedroom with something after dinner?”

Taken aback by the comment a bit, he said, “Sure, whatever you need.”

Natalie smiled.

Seth’s mind was going a mile a minute now. He thought, was she making a pass? Women are so confusing. Why can’t it just be black and white? He couldn’t wait for dinner to end.

4.

They finished dinner. He helped Natalie clear the table. Then she excused herself for a few minutes. When she came back, she unexpectedly grabbed his hand and pulled him toward her. Immediately they started kissing. Many thoughts raced through his mind, but regardless of his thoughts they kept kissing, until she started toward the stairs, pulling him with her. Less than a minute later, they were in her bedroom. Candles were lit, and music was playing. Earlier, when she excused herself, she had gone to light candles and put mood music on. She planned on taking him to bed.

Within moments they were wrapped into each other. Their evening was full of love-making – it was an unforgettable night for both. She knew how to make him feel desired. Hardly any words were spoken. Seth had never experienced passion like that with anyone before. Afterwards, they fell asleep in each other’s arms.

In the morning. He found his clothes washed and placed beside the bed folded on a chair, along with a towel. He got up and called out to Natalie. There was no answer. He grabbed the towel and showered in the master bath. While he washed, he thought about the amazing night they had. He liked Natalie. He wondered if she was just lonely after her separation and wanted intimacy, but he hoped for more.

After his shower, he went downstairs to paint. Natalie was in the kitchen making coffee. “Here you go, dear,” she said.

  “Thank you. Ummm, should we talk about last night?”

  “No need, sweetie. We can talk later, over dinner. 5 p.m. sharp.”

  “Okay, 5 p.m., sure.” Seth took the coffee and watched Natalie head off to another room. He suddenly felt like a married man in his own home with his wife pampering him. It was a good feeling, yet strange. Everything about the last couple of days was strange.

As 5 p.m. arrived, the table was set with another candlelight dinner, and leftover chicken Parmesan from the previous night. Dinner was followed by more love making, and another sleep over, with clothes folded for him again in the morning. He thought, “I need to get more clothes from home. I can’t keep wearing the same stuff.” That thought made him realize that Natalie seemed to wear a similar dress every day – same cut and color.  

5.

That day, and many more, were a continuous flow. He would paint, they would eat, and then more passion. She kept herself occupied elsewhere while he worked. But it was expected that he would stay to eat and sleep over, even though no words of the kind were spoken. It was all quite surreal, but it was the time of his life. He wondered “Am I falling for this woman?” Or was it past tense? Had he fallen?”

The next morning, after another wonderful evening, he was finishing his shower when he heard voices coming from downstairs. He wasn’t dressed; he only had on a towel, but he went over to the railing to sneak a look. He saw Mike and another man chatting with each other, and Natalie in the background, listening. They were talking about the paint job. Seth could hear everything they were saying. He heard one of them say that the job needed to be finished immediately. Seth knew he had a half week still as per the agreement. He wanted to shout out to Mike. But then he would see him in a towel and realize that he’d crossed a line with Natalie. He didn’t want to seem unprofessional, so he kept his mouth shut.

The two men were heading toward the front door when the second man asked Mike, “What happened to her?”

  “Who?” Mike queried.

  “The woman that lived here, you said she passed away suddenly?”

  “Yes, a few months back she was packing up the house. She and her husband had just separated. I guess she was moving some boxes, and she had a brain aneurysm. She died instantly. It was heartbreaking. She was well liked.”

  “That’s really sad. Were there any children?”

  “No, just the estranged husband. She was a fashion model for a local clothing magazine.”

  “Oh, what was her name?”

  “Natalie Hartman. Apparently, she passed away in a blue dress. Rumor has it that it was the same dress that she was wearing on the cover of the magazine that month.”

  “Wow! That’s kind of freaky.” The two men exited the front door.

6.

Seth was standing there, in a towel, in shock. Had he heard right? Natalie was dead? Were they speaking about the same person? Who else could they be talking about? The separation, the blue dress, of course, they were speaking about Natalie. But how could this be? he’d been talking with her, eating with her, and making love to her.

He turned to see Natalie looking at him. She approached. He backed away.

  “Are you dead?” he asked. Natalie gave a clear nod that confirmed that she was.

 Seth immediately got a chill, not because she was dead, but because he didn’t know.

  “How can this be?!” he yelled. Seth dropped to one knee. Natalie put her hand on his shoulder.

  “Seth, I fell in love with you. I don’t know how or why this came to be. What I do know is that you are here, and I don’t you to go.”

  “But you’re dead!”

She stared at him with a troubled look in her eyes. “You can stay here with me, unless you want to leave.”

  “No, I don’t want to leave. I’m in love you too, but how can this work? You’re an apparition.”

  “Time will heal everything,” she said. Natalie then walked away to let him be alone.

7.

He spent most of his day lying in bed wondering what to do. Life just threw him a curveball, and he needed to reflect.

Eventually Natalie called up to say that dinner was ready. Seth sat up in the bed and decided to go see her. He approached and noticed she was in the same blue dress. She walked up to him and kissed his cheek. He sat down, ate chicken parmesan, and drank wine. When dinner was over, they once again went to the bedroom for another night of lustful passionate sex, that ensued right to the wee hours of the morning. Eventually the sun rose, and he was alone again. His clothes were on the chair. Upon getting up, he heard voices again downstairs. He got dressed and went to see who it was.

As he descended the stairs, he saw two men moving ladders, paint buckets and drop sheets.

 Seth started yelling at them, “Hey! What are you doing? This is my contract.”

 Both men ignored him.

 “Hey! Are you deaf?! What do you think you’re doing?  

Once again, they ignored him. He approached one of them and was about to grab him when, suddenly, he felt a hand on his shoulder.

He turned to see Natalie looking at him. It was her hand holding him from physically confronting the men. She had tears in her eyes.

“What wrong?” he asked.

 Natalie stared at him and then looked past him to the big window. She nodded for him to look also.

 He turned to see the ladder in front of the window. He then saw a man coming down the ladder. Part way down, he got tripped up by the ladder rope, lost his footing and fell. The man landed hard. Seth rushed over to help, wondering why the other two men were not doing the same.

As Seth bent down to help the man, he saw that he’d fallen badly on his neck; it was broken. He looked at the man’s face and stepped back in shock as he realized he was looking at himself on the floor dead.

 From that moment onward, time accelerated around him. Day turned to night and then day again as he watched paramedics and police walking all around. The last thing he saw was a white sheet placed over his body.

Time came back to the present where he was in the room with Natalie and the two painters still preparing for the job. Seth turned to look at Natalie. She saw recognition in his eyes. He now understood.

  “I’m dead, I … I fell in the first 15 minutes of the first day I was here.”

  “Yes, you did.”

  “I saw you immediately after I fell.”

  “Yes, I was here before that, but you couldn’t see me, not until, well - you know.”

  “Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked.

  “These things, you need to find out for yourself Seth, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I was dead until after a month. One day, my ex-husband was here packing some stuff with my mother, and they were talking about me. That’s when I figured it out. You see - you create your own reality. Seth, in your mind, you’ve been painting every day. But if you look now, you’ll see that you didn’t paint past the top of the window.” He looked at the small patch of paint above the large window.

  “I see. This is a lot to take in! So, what happens now?”

  “I don’t really know, Seth. I’ve only been here a few months myself. I’ve been doing normal things around the house. Everything is as I left it: the same food in the fridge from the day I passed. That’s why we’ve had chicken parmesan repeatedly. Also, I wear this same dress every day. Do you know how hard that is for a fashion model?”  

  “Wait, does that mean I’m stuck in my painter’s suit for eternity?”

  “No, I think because you were wearing clothes underneath the suit, you can wear those as well.”

  “Thank God!” They both laughed again.

  “Seth, I don’t know what happens from here on, but I know I love you, and I’m happy with you here. Is that enough for you?”

  “Yes, that’s enough for me. I feel like I am where I’m supposed to be, here with you. This has been the best time of my life. Or should I say death?” Natalie smiled.

  “Let’s have some coffee,” she said.

  “By the way, I love the blue dress.”

  “Thank you, it’s new.”                            

The end.

December 10, 2021 22:37

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5 comments

Naman Shah
02:04 Mar 26, 2022

Weird story.

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Brenda W
23:48 Dec 22, 2021

I really enjoyed this story. I don’t think you need to have the conversation about what she was wearing when she died, I think that hands it to the reader too much. It’s apparent that something’s up when she keeps wearing the same outfit in the first place, if that makes sense.

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Chris Winters
13:17 Dec 24, 2021

Thank you

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Natalia Isa
02:51 Dec 20, 2021

The story captivated me to the end. It has a great flow. The plot is nicely developed and culminates with the deep philosophical thought that we make our own reality. I liked author's sense of humor as well.

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Chris Winters
12:27 Dec 20, 2021

Thank you very much Natalia.

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