The Master Stroke

As the clock struck nine, Jeanne stood facing the glossy canvas staring bluntly into her reflection with utter anxiousness in her eyes and a thought which had been embedded deep into her heart. 

Her palette was all dried up and the brush was stuck to her stiff forefingers. A conflict wandered deep inside as she tried to embrace her tied auburn curls; even in her resentment towards the conflict, she found some sort of remorse which she felt too guilty to accept. The bell had already rung thrice which went unnoticed by her. She realized it eventually when it turned into a loud thud and banging. She plodded towards the door.“Who is it ?”

 “ Jeanne it’s me, Derrick….”

She opened the door and a tall man stood straight as a pole all with his crushed raincoat and torn umbrella covered with millions of crystal-like water droplets. She smiled at him and welcomed him in. He took off his wet raincoat and put it beside the umbrella near the entrance’s doorstep.

“Ah I’m so sorry Jeanne, I didn’t mean to bother you at this time but it was just that I haven’t talked to Richard for fifteen days …not even a single call and trust me Jeanne this is the longest time we haven’t spoken to each other since high school. So I thought I should just show up and give that man a thrashing myself.”

“Don’t act like an outsider Derrick you are family and you are always welcome here. Unfortunately, Richard is currently on a business trip to the county,” said Jeanne.

“Oh no! I traveled fifty miles for nothing.”

“You have come this far so just stay. Come I will fetch you some of the finest wines you could ever crave for.”

“I would love that.”

As they walked towards the tasting room, Richard noticed the lobby alley to be decorated with numerous paintings showcasing oddly styled people trying to do something that Richard considered him too dumb to understand.

“Lovely paintings Jeanne! you have always been the artistic one…Perhaps Richard should learn at least something from you as that man has a fool’s knowledge about art. These are remarkable and by that, I mean up to Da Vinci’s standards. ”

“You have always been a big flatterer Derrick, haven’t you ?” said Jeanne with an innocent smile.

“Come on Jeanne! When I see a magnanimous piece of artistic temperament accompanied by the sensuality and the stunning charm of your unspoken beauty, how can one not help himself from acknowledging it.” Jeanne’s smile was now accompanied by sheer redness on her cheeks.

There was a hangar of paintings displayed on the walls of her house’s hallway with six paintings hung across the walls with three on each side all parallel and facing each other.

It was hard to know what exactly was painted or drawn as it contained faces within faces, birds emerging out through dimensions or a body slowly disintegrating through the wraiths of flesh and a fictional creature emerging from a topiary. The only thing which one could conclude was that you could comprehend a completely different message with each new viewing. The last one was something which set it apart from others. It had a certain sense of allure which made it look as if it were trying to say a million things. It seemed as if the slowly disintegrating bird merged into another person or a fictional creature who was jumping out from specific loops and all transcending into another human being. 

“What a nuanced appearance this one has! What is this painting about Jeanne ?” said Derrick.

“Well this showcases the entitlement to freedom; an undying privilege of liberation which all creatures who breathe air are owed by the world,” said Jeanne with a slight stutter.

“It has a unique sense of intrigue which compels me to view it again and again yet I can’t comprehend what it is …as if a million things at once. It has a unique pallet which makes it even more convincing and I haven’t seen such a distinct set of oil colors before.”

“There is no art worth noticing if you understood it in its first viewing.” Derrick chuckles with a silent nod.

“To make it appealing, I always use organic materials to create my colors as the retail ones lack exuberance.”

“That is splendid Jeanne and I must say I am impressed. ”

“Thank you so much, Derick! Now come into the dining room.” said Jeanne.

They went inside the dining room which had luxurious lighting and the window panes covered with embroidered curtains. An exotic collection of the oldest and finest wines decorated glossy shelves covered with wooden doors. Derrick made himself comfortable on the couch which had paint stains all over it while Jeanne took out two wine glasses and a wine bottle from the shelf. She poured it for Derrick and served it to him along with red berries. She sat on a chair adjacent to the couch. Derrick gently stirred the glass for a second and then he sniffed it to absorb the fragrance before he finally took a sip. He complimented her on her amazing taste in wine and Jeanne expressed her gratitude.

“Richard is quite a chain smoker. How do you cope with all the smoke and ashes being a non-smoker yourself.”

“How do you know I do not smoke?”

“I can make out if a person is a smoker or not just by looking at their face.”

“Well, that’s quite a talent you have! He has set up the ground basement with such a strong ventilation system that even if a fire broke out in the house anyone nearby would not be able to notice. He had spent a lot of money on the exhausts and stuff. Whenever he felt the urge to smoke he would head over there.”

“You know this the first time we are interacting otherwise it used to be just me and Richard involved in our petty talks. ”

“Yeah and I think we should do this more often.” Said Jeanne as she took a sip from her glass.

“Definitely! You are truly gifted as less than half the population of the world possess such a unique talent for art and those who know it don’t  know how to convey it.”

“I learned a great deal from my father as he taught me the true perspective towards things. He was a cop as well as a writer and I must say what an odd man he was…”

“Oh really..” said Derrick who was intrigued.

“As a child, he used to narrate certain cases from his work which used to traumatize me but it always had a moral lesson at the end. Sometimes I couldn’t make out if it was really real or something he made up. I vividly remember one of the stories which he told me which left me in utter dismay as a child.”

“What was it about ? ” asked Derrick who was intrigued.

“You want to hear my father’s story? I warn you it’s a long one.”

“I am all ears..”

“As you wish but remember I warned you. Well one day my father had to do a night shift with no one but a junior officer with him…”


It was almost midnight and the thunder and rain seized the entire city. In one of the precincts, an officer slurped his coffee as he admired the view of the crystals of droplets clashing on the ground through the window pane. As he was enjoying his coffee the telephone rang and he instantly picked it up and said: “Hello you are through to the police!”

At the same time, a senior officer came out of his cabin and he saw his junior officer speaking to somebody for a minute, and out of curiosity, he asked him who it was. The officer covered the speaker of the telephone with his palm and said “Sir it’s a young lady and an intruder 

has broken into her house, she sounds petrified.”

“Quickly go initiate a dispatch to her location and let me try to calm her till the officers reach her home.” said the senior officer.

The junior officer did as he was instructed and handed over to the officer. The officer said in a very soothing voice “Hi ma’am, I am Joseph and I request you stay online till our officer reaches your home.”

“Okay..” replied the girl in a very shrill voice.

“What’s your name ma’am ?”


“Could you describe your situation please ?”

“I was just having a smoke at my balcony when my kitty crawled in as she was hungry. So I went into the kitchen to grab some milk for her and then I heard a creaking sound from the lobby. And through the glass ceiling, I noticed someone’s reflection. I couldn’t see him properly but I could make out he was holding a sharp object. I quickly grabbed my kitten and locked ourselves inside the dining room.”

“That was a very clever thing to do ma’am and I admire your courage in this situation. I would advise you not to leave the room until our officers reach there. So you live alone ma’am ?”

“My husband and I were trying to sell off this property and move out of the neighborhood but he met with an accident six months ago and passed away…Now I am just left alone with my only love Ruthie the kitten.”

“I am so sorry to hear about your loss ma’am .”

“Don’t be sorry that son of a bitch deserved it. He cheated on me and then tried to leave me so that he could move in with his mistress. ”

Joseph didn’t know how to react.

“Do you suspect anyone who could harm you or somebody who holds a grudge against you?”

“I cannot think of anyone at the moment.. ”

Suddenly there was a loud thud accompanied by the sound of a crying animal through the telephone’s speaker.

“Is everything alright ma’am ?” asked Joseph.

“The doorknob is broken….and my kitten went outside.”

“ Ma’am I request you stay inside the room…”

Suddenly there were sounds of footsteps. 

“Hello ma’am hello… Are you still on the line… Do you hear me?” shouted the officer but no one answered.

After a quarter of a minute, the sound came back.

“I am sorry officer, the kitten is all I have left …she just went inside the bathroom. I need to quickly grab her and go back inside.” Answered Linda.

“Madam, I repeat do not engage. It is highly dangerous please madam go back to the other room.” pleaded the officer but there was silence for a while. After some time the silence was overshadowed by a loud creaking sound of the door. 

There was a sudden sound of exasperated breathing and heavy panting.

“ Ma’am what happened ?…. Everything alright?..”

The lady was in utter distress and stuttered with her words “There is….. there is a dead body in my bathtub.”


“It’s of my husband…” and there was a sound of a loud thud again and the line got disconnected.


Derrick was shaken and was intrigued to know what was next.

“He never told me what happened afterward and whenever I asked him he always told me life is full of such peculiar experiences and sometimes there are no definite ends. ”

“Well that was quite a case…supernatural, homicide who could guess?” said Derrick

“There is a thing about such peculiar cases that people can contradict and present theories as facts making the culprit free and the victim’s life more absurd. The lord always plays mind games. One of the most prominent questions I had was if this was even real or just a part of his dramatization.”

“If the art imitates life or life imitates art is an everlasting question, isn’t it ?”

“Indeed Mr. Johnson, a question which never has a definite answer. You haven’t even tasted the berries. These are fresh from Scotland which Richard brought on the 18th of this month.”

Derrick grabbed two or three berries relishing the juiciness of the fruit. He then asked Jeanne for the directions to the washroom. He opened the tap and the wide gush of water came out. Derrick washed his face and then took out his mobile phone to check his notifications. While browsing through some of them he came across something which made him flinch.

He then noticed the door to the ground basement partially opened and found traces of residual remains of a greyish like hardened substance resembling ashes. Derrick immediately knew at that moment that this was Richard’s smoking spot. Derrick went back to the dining room where he saw Jeanne relishing the wine on the couch and her auburn curls now untied.

“Jeanne, can I ask you something?”

“Yes…Go ahead!”

“Why the hell have you been lying to me?” said Derrick peremptorily.

“What do you mean Derrick ?” 

“You mentioned that Richard has gone on a business trip but I just came across a message from six days ago in which he mentioned that he just left his job and want to focus on his startup for at least the next six months and you told me he’s on a business trip and also you mentioned about the berries he brought on 14th; that was the day before yesterday. I even found traces of cigarette ashes which seemed fresh.”

Jeanne remained expressionless for a second or two and then burst into a peal of loud hysterical laughter. Derrick stood there feeling uncomfortable. Jeanne tried to control her laugh so she could speak. 

“And here I thought you just found the bones or something…”

“What bones?” asked Derrick

“You always wanted to bed me Derrick didn’t you?”

“What the hell are you saying, Jeanne?”

“Oh don’t give me that tone. I knew it from the minute I met you, the way you look at me and you just want to hold me tight and….” 

Derrick interrupted her, exclaiming, “What is wrong with you?”

“Temptations are lethal, the more you resist the more badly you want it,” said Jeanne in a sensuous voice. “Your friend Richard gave in to his temptations with his mistress and things didn’t go well for him.”

“What did you do to Richard ?”

“I didn’t do anything, it was the lord’s will and I just did his work.”

“Where is my friend? Or I will fucking call the cops.”

“You want to hear it? Have a seat first!”

Derrick was agitated and denied everything she demanded.

“Your choice then… I suspected that Richard was cheating on me for a while but one fine day I saw him with his mistress…”


Richard stormed inside the tasting room where he saw Jeanne weeping on the couch.

“Oh come on Jeanne, it was just one time and it won’t happen again. I promise it was just one time”

Jeanne still kept weeping and didn’t utter a word.

“Come on stop it or the neighbors would suspect that there is truly something wrong with you. Where will you go? You don’t even have a single friend let alone a social circle. You already created an impression on your exhibition day when people were creeped out by your weird paintings and I stood there embarrassed about my crazy wife.”

Jeane did not say anything as she stood up quietly and went towards the wine shelf.

“Come on now… Let the past be buried and grab me a bottle of wine and pour yourself some too.”

Jeanne quietly grabbed the glasses and wine and poured it and went to serve Richard. He was sitting on the couch and she walked slowly towards him before stopping, motionless. Richard got up to see what was wrong and to his shock, she threw the glass on his face pouring it all on his shirt. She took out a knife and brutally stabbed it into his heart. She kept on stabbing him continuously until the gush of blood flushing out on her face stopped.

The whole couch was covered with vicious red stains and the blood flowed on the floor from all parts of his body. Jeanne left the room for ten minutes and then came in with a palette and a syringe and she collected the spilled blood with it and then mixed with a liquid mixture of grass and mud by grinding it until it changed into a deep liquid. She then preserved the colors in her box and dragged Richard’s body to the ground basement. She then threw alcohol on Richard’s cold body and lit it on fire for three days straight until there was no trace of the body except ashes and crumbles of bones. She preserved the ashes and again mixed it with certain materials to give it a more chunky appearance. She then poured that mixture of blood and ashes on her palette, wielded her paintbrush like never before and even used her bare hands to do the corners. She never felt so powerful with so much rage. She wanted to cry, she wanted to scream but she didn’t, she just painted like never before. She gave the painting a background that resembled the state of her mind and heart. She breathed life into the painting and she didn’t stop until she finished. By the time it ended her hands and dress all were covered with stains.At last, she felt free and liberated which she had never felt before.


Derrick’s eyes stood wide open and he didn’t utter a word. Jeanne just stared at him for a minute. 

“Aren’t we all a catalyst to the lord’s will? I have never painted like that before and when I was painting again this morning I missed the spark.”

Derrick suddenly noticed drips of blood pouring down from his nose and an extenuating pain in his throat which made him choke until he coughed blood. His eyes were moist and teared up.

“What did you do to me ….” he tried to shout with all his might.

“I hope you enjoyed Richard’s berries from Scotland…I always knew you would show up one-day seeking answers so the lord even decided your fate for being friends with that jerk. Poor Derrick there could have been something between us but it was a curse to be his friend. You know my next painting has a title and it is called ‘The Bait’…and now is the part where you say I am very impressed with you Jeanne.”

Derrick collapsed on the floor and went into a deep sleep.

She carried the syringe once again and kissed his forehead.

“The answer to the everlasting question is that life always imitates art darling!” Jeanne collected his blood and then dragged his cold body to the bathroom. She threw it inside her filled bathtub and the gush of water spilled from all the corners. She then went back to the painting and now all her anxiousness and conflicts inside her had vanished and she painted freely. As she played the last stroke of that red paint on the canvas the bird was free forever. She changed her clothes and cleaned the room and burnt all traces of evidence in the ground basement except Derrick whose body was still submerged inside the bathtub. The rain outside was now accompanied by thunder. She then took his car keys from the pocket and sat on the couch and dialed a number.

“Hello, you are through to the police, what is the nature of your emergency ?” answered the speaker.

Her face was all bland and expressionless and she answered the call in a very timid and shrill voice.

“There is …..someone in my home… I am all alone. My husband died three months ago and since then I am stuck in this neighborhood.”

She then gave the officer the details of her address while she put the phone on speaker and as the superior officer was trying to comfort her she walked around the room “I’m scared officer.. please send somebody quick…”

“Don’t worry ma’am …. You have been very brave just stay inside the room …”

She then threw all the wine bottles on the floor and destroyed the embroidered curtains and almost all the furniture of the house.

“Ma’am is everything alright.. ..hello madam are you there..” questioned the worried officer but Jeanne didn’t reply. She went towards the bathroom and started panting while her face didn’t show any sign of expression.

“Ma’am… Ma’am what happened?”

“There is a dead body in my bathtub…..It’s my husband.” and the line got disconnected.

Image Credits: Maan Limburg –

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