Black and White and Red All Over by Patricia Abbott.

Both of them hated the kitchen in the new house. It was dead black: the tile, the counter, the appliances, the cabinets—all black. The only relief came from the thin line of white grout around the black tiles on the floor, from the stainless steel sink, and the dingy white walls. And it wasn’t a glossy, contemporary black. It was a flat, matte black, reflecting no light. Heavy and cold. It would’ve been more suitable in a Detroit waterfront loft than in a 1920s townhouse in Indian Village.

For the first month or two, they made jokes— telling each other that Dracula had designed it. Laughingly suggesting the house had once been a 1920s funeral home, or a Goth hangout. Cooking in it, cleaning up, even walking through it, made both of them anxious. But remodeling would have to come after a new furnace, a new roof, various plumbing jobs.

“I can live with it,” she said genially, and he nodded. She did most of the cooking after all, most of the cleaning up. If she could live with it, so could he.

Except he couldn’t. Something in that matte black was entering his head, making his head hurt, his sinuses ache.

“Look,” she told him, seeing his discomfort. “Let’s paint the walls. Paint is cheap. Right?”

And it was—except they couldn’t agree on a color. He favored a pale gray or a bird’s egg blue.

“How about red?” she said. “Tomato red.”

He shook his head—got a headache even thinking about tomato red. But she persevered and following her suggestion, he took the color sample and hung it over his desk at work to see if he could grow into it. His buddies came in and weighed in on it too. Nobody liked the brassy red. Even Helen, the accountant, pinched her nose and fled. He told his wife this, thinking that might be the end of it. They’d settle on beige or a soft yellow.

But despite his disapproval and the opinions of his friends and Helen, the accountant, he came home one day to find the walls painted tomato red. Two red potholders hung from the refrigerator door and red Fiesta ware sat on the shelves. She had hung café curtains with a red and black check in the window.

“So what do you think?” she said. “Isn’t it better?”

Better than what, he wanted to ask. He went out to the yard, picked up the weed whacker, and didn’t come inside until dark.

“Now you’re being a baby.” She was on her knees, scrubbing white grout around the black tiles at half-past nine. “You can’t tell me this isn’t an improvement. Look how hard I’m working.”

The dense cold black now coupled with the shiny red made his head hurt even more and he climbed the stairs. Things were getting worse every day. Every day since they’d bought this house.

“She should’ve asked me first,” he told his buddies at work. “I deserved to be consulted.”

They agreed. There must be an effective way to tell his wife this—a way to point out her error.

“You could paint your kitchen gray while she’s asleep,” one said.

“Or stay out all night and scare her,” another suggested.

He thought about it. Did he want to replicate her callousness by painting the room gray? Did he want to sleep on the sofa at a buddy’s house to make his point? His head hurt worse than ever.

“I can’t believe you bought me this wonderful food processor,” she told him the next day. “This is the high-end model. You can do anything with this baby. It’ll cut through pipe. And I didn’t even know they made it in tomato red.”

He told her about how he had seen it in the kitchenware’s department at Target when he was looking for a new showerhead. “I couldn’t resist it. Knowing how much you like tomato red. I couldn’t wait to see the look on your face.”

She was making his favorite cookies when he pushed her hand under the blade used especially for thick dough. Her blood was darker than tomatoes it turned out. Quite a bit darker.

Patricia Abbott has published more than 75 stories in various venues. Her ebook of stories MONKEY JUSTICE: STORIES (Snubnose Press) is available now.  Amazon UK and Amazon USA. She is the co-editor (with Steve Weddle) of DISCOUNT NOIR. Recent stories appeared in D*CKED, PULP INK, CRIME FACTORY: FIRST SHIFT, and DEADLY TREATS. She won a Derringer in 2009 for her story “My Hero.” She lives and works in Detroit.


Chris Allinotte said...

I was waiting for the shoe to drop the entire story - that's how effectively you set the suspense in motion.

When it finally came, it was killer, and it was worth the read. Great job.

The use of colour was fantastic, and super effective, too!

Chris Rhatigan said...

Somebody used the phrase "menace in the ordinary" to describe Patricia Highsmith's work once and that's what you've got going here. Just the color of a room sets this whole dark plot in motion.

I like how he just switches from painting the room grey or doing something else passive aggressive to pureeing her hand.

Paul D. Brazill said...

Nicely done!

Anonymous said...

Exquisite. Wasn't expecting that at all.. Thought he was just going to be a big baby sulker..xx

Thomas Pluck said...

I knew a guy who painted his kitchen black. And he'd fit right in this disturbing little tale.

Graham Smith said...

A excellent tale of surroundings creating an atmosphere which alters the state of mind. Bravo.

Anonymous said...

Reality show house remodelers take note: Watch your butts (and other appendages). Cool.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

The use of colors was a brilliant way to set the mood/tone of this piece. Another great read, of which I have come to expect.

Mike Miner said...

Ms. Abbott, the world you are in the process of creating, much like this world only darker, and the characters who inhabit it, much like the people we see every day only sicker, is a fascinating, terrifying place to spend time.

Charlie Wade said...

I was waiting all the way through for twist. Nicely done.

Robin B. said...

Really enjoyed your story. The use of colors and the hint of a dark past of the house, the joking around about the reason for the odd matte black kitchen, and just the hint but never the hit-over-the-head that the house, indeed, had caused the trouble in that (formerly) lovely husband's brain. Yep, all good good good.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks so much everyone. It was such a treat to be here.

Dana C. Kabel said...

Nice visual, and great use of tension. It was quite unsettling.

Mary said...

I certainly didn't see the end coming!

David Barber said...

OK, I'm back from my hiatus. A great piece of writing, Patti, and a fantastic ending. Imagery throughout was spot on. Thanks for sending it my way.

Well done!

tom pitts said...

I, too, was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Who would have thought that a kitchen could bring such suspense.

Anonymous said...

David Harry Moss said -
Patricia -Great read - Creepy but so true - there is something that can make any of us snap - for the dude in your story "red"