The Artist

1 February 2002

Copyright 2002 Dianne Skoll. All Rights Reserved

Jade looked at the room with a critical eye. No. It would not do. It was not balanced.

She moved the Picasso near the door, and put the Mondrian back in its original place. The sofa was no good; it was giving her a headache. She slid it six inches closer to the Mondrian. Much better. Her spirits lifted; even her body felt more relaxed. Her breathing was calmer. She took a tiny sip of wine from the glass and relished the room.

Her husband Jonathan was late. She knew he would be late, and she knew why. He was visiting that rustic little tramp of his. She'd met the woman at some company affair; she knew instantly they were sleeping together. She was insulted that her husband could fall for such a common woman. Even her name---Barbara---was close enough to "barbarian" to be apt.

Barbara had no sense of balance or artistry. Her clothes were completely wrong for her body type. Her hair was disheveled and what little makeup she wore was smudged and uneven. Just looking at her gave Jade a headache.

Jonathan and Jade had not made love for six months. Jade could barely remember a time when she had found him attractive. Eventually, his clumsy, artless attempts at love-making had disgusted her and she had withdrawn. How contemptible he was---he had no sense of delicacy, of artistry, of mood. Let the barbarian have him.

Jade was an artist. She created works of art using everything in her life. She exercised religiously and had spent some of Jonathan's money on surgery to make her body exactly how it should be. Her home was a perfect balance of colour, texture, sound and smell. She moved gracefully and with purpose.

Jade was obsessed with creating the ultimate masterpiece---a work which would outlast her and would affect people for years. She desperately wanted others to recognize her adeptness and skill. She wanted her art to have an audience worthy of it.

Jade had spent the last three months preparing her work. She had interviewed several contractors whose assistance she needed. Most refused to participate, claiming they were unsuited for the job. But at last, she had found someone willing to assist her.

Her assistant was not cheap. Jade had had to make large withdrawals from her and Jonathan's joint bank account. She had practiced Jonathan's signature for weeks until it was perfect. She knew it was probably not necessary, but her obsession with detail drove her to prepare her work flawlessly.

The doorbell rang. He was here.

Jade walked to the door and opened it.

"Hello, Jade," he said. The man certainly did not look like an artist. He was utterly nondescript---mid-forties, balding, thin mustache, slight potbelly. He looked like any suburban commuter. Jade knew that part of his artistry was blending into the crowd.

"Hello. I think we should start."

The man paused. "Jade, are you sure you want to do this?"

"I thought you were a professional. Are you going to help me or not? If not, please don't waste my time."

The man said nothing for a few moments. Then he said, "You're quite a woman, Jade. In all my career, I've never met anyone like you."

"I will go upstairs," said Jade. "When I come down, you begin."

Jade walked out of the living room into the hall and climbed up to her room. She glanced at her beautiful things for a few minutes, and then descended.

The man was waiting near the entrance. When he saw Jade, he drew a pistol from his coat and shot her. The bullet pierced her body three inches below her heart. Jade stumbled, then fell to the floor. Blood was leaking from the wound. Jade knew she had minutes to live. Her appreciation for her assistant's artistry grew immensely.

While the man watched, Jade crawled to the kitchen and clawed at the telephone table. Some paper and the phone came crashing down. She speed-dialled 911 on the telephone and then dropped it. Jade painfully separated a sheet of paper from the pile, and dipped her finger in her own blood. She managed to write "J O N A" before the pain overtook her.

Jade's vision dimmed. The room seemed to turn red---one of her favourite colours. Jonathan was alone with the barbarian. The unusual bank account withdrawals and the other evidence so artfully planted by Jade would make his last fling with Barbara seem all the more callous. And Jade's nameless assistant had been a true professional. Jade could picture her masterpiece playing out: Jonathan's clumsiness in hiring a hitman would betray only himself to the simple-minded authorities; the professional would never be caught.

"Thank you,'' Jade whispered, as her assistant slipped anonymously away. The last thing she heard was the distant sound of sirens.