“Fresh Paint,” by Floriana Gennari

Apr 20th, 2021 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

Couple number nine. Vivian smiled at them as they walked up the cobbled path. They looked young enough, late twenties, early thirties perhaps. Something and Something Jackson. Mr Jackson pointed at the magnolia which took up most of the front yard. It was majestic, leafless branches weighed down with fat pink blossoms. A fairytale tree, someone had said. Couple number six, Vivian thought. The house behind the tree was no less imposing: three floors, including a semi-basement. Eleven rooms, rooftop terrace. Vivian made sure, once she had introduced herself, to tell the Jacksons this as she unlocked the front door. She pushed a half-empty paint bucket to the side to allow the couple to enter after her and led them straight through to the spacious living/dining room area, where she opened the curtains to let the sunlight in.

The magnolia blossoms sparkled with dew in the scattered morning sunlight, but Vivian didn’t have time to appreciate it. She started her tour, taking the Jacksons from the living area to the kitchen, with its view of the garden (apple tree, swing set, grass just tall enough to spark the urge to trim it).

It all went very well for ten minutes.

“It smells like fresh paint,” Mrs Jackson commented, her nose wrinkling.

“Was it painted recently?”

“Oh, two days ago or so,” Vivian said.

“How come?”

The lies had become routine, but they still sounded feeble.

“Oh, the last family to visit the house had a toddler, it was a bit of a mess. All cleaned up now, of course.”

Vivian led the couple around the kitchen to the hallway, the downstairs bathroom, then back into the living room, where she pulled open the curtains to illuminate the natural hardwood floors and the intricate vine leaf stucco peppered with fat cherubs, who looked down stony-faced at their domain.

“All original work,” she told the Jacksons, “restored five years ago.”

The Jacksons were delighted with it all. They tried to cover their enthusiasm at first, but quickly gave up to erase the house’s antique elegance. Up the creaky stairs with the curving banister. (“The old owners liked to polish it with coconut oil, you can still smell it in the wood.”) Vivian made sure to stand between them and the bathroom mirror as they took a look at the upstairs bathroom, but they were too busy enjoying the colourful bathroom tiles to notice.

“Hand-painted and imported from Portugal,” Vivian recited. “They clean like a charm.”

The door to the master bedroom was ajar again, so Vivian decided to detour first by the rooftop terrace. Mrs Jackson took a deep breath.

“That’s some fumes from the paint,” he said. “You should maybe open up the windows.”

“I’ll make sure to air it out properly,” Vivian said. She had absolutely no intention of leaving the double-panelled glass windows vulnerable to being slammed shut, but the couple seemed pleased.

Mrs Jackson did nothing to hide her delight for the wall-length built-in closet in the master bedroom. Vivian opened it for her, making sure to look inside before allowing the couple to test the sliding doors. The brightly-lit second bedroom with windows overlooking the magnolia were a winner, too; the mid-morning sun gave the polished floors a deep, reddish tinge.

“What kind of wood is this?”


The fumes soon had Mrs Jackson light-headed again, so they went for a walk in the garden before entering the basement through the garden door. Vivian no longer recoiled at the spiders which scuttled underfoot. She did her best to step on them before the Jacksons noticed, and hurried the couple back upstairs after the briefest of peeks in the basement rooms.

“The boiler,” she said, when Mrs Jackson enquired about the strange sounds coming from one of the rooms.

By the time they had made it back upstairs, Mrs Jackson said she needed a rest, and sat down on the dusty sofa in the living room with the nonchalance of someone in their own home. Vivian pulled the curtains open, and unlatched the veranda door to clear the smell of paint.

She was feeling nearly optimistic—this was the farthest she had ever come with any potential buyers and the Jacksons looked very much at home, chatting excitedly about how to furnish one of the upstairs bedrooms for when the baby arrived.

That was when the doors slammed shut. The Jacksons jumped. Vivian groaned. She managed to reach the veranda door and stop it with her foot (she had long since learnt to wear her stronger boots to viewings); the other doors in the house rattled in their frames.

She had come so close, what was it this time?

She could pass it of as a draft, or perhaps…

“What is that? I don’t remember that being there.”

Mr Jackson follow his wife’s finger to the stucco. One of the cherubs looked decidedly less angelic than it had earlier. The arrow-tipped tail was a new addition, but the horns and snarl were old news.

“Did you hear that?” Mr Jackson looked around him.

Vivian was barely listening, but Mrs Jackson perked up as her husband asked them all to quieten down.

The scratching started on the other side of the dining room door, the one that led to the hallway. It crept across the wall and to the door that connected the living room to the entrance, then painstakingly slowly made its way back. Vivian was bored by the third round, though she had to admit, adding extra claws on every turn was a nice touch.

“Is it an animal? I think it can smell us.”

“Not to worry,” Vivian said lightly, “probably just the neighbour’s cat. I must have left the main door open.”

“That would explain the draft.”

“That would explain the draft,” Vivian agreed. She’d have to use that on the next couple.

She was about to say some more soothing words, or meaningless platitude, to fill the silence, but just then, the writing started to appear.

Mr Jackson shouted and pointed; Mrs Jackson looked paralysed.

It started in the middle of the wall, at hip height, red and dripping and shaky. Then it expanded at random, popping up on the walls, the doors, the window, until the whole room was waist-deep in the bloody script.

LEAVE, it said, hundreds of times over.




The Jacksons didn’t need any further instructions. Afraid they may try and kick the door down, Vivian ripped open the curtains, which had shut again not long after the doors, and swung the veranda door open. In her haste to let the Jacksons out, she forgot to cover her ears for the piercing screech that shot through the house and followed the couple down the paved path and all the way to their car.

She didn’t try to stop them. Once the Jacksons had closed the car door, the screeching stopped. Vivian opened the doors to the hall and the dining room again and inspected them for damage. The scratches were bad, but she’d seen worse. She could probably afford to sand the doors down one last time. The upstairs bathtub was filled with blood again. Vivian pulled on the latex gloves she kept in the bathroom cabinet before unplugging the bathtub drain. She made sure to avoid the mirror when she left, but caught a glimpse of wide eyes and too many teeth on her way out.

She squashed a few spiders on her way to the basement.

“Do not,” she warned, holding up a finger to nothing in particular. “Do not with the fucking spiders, I’m serious.”

The dark shadow of oversized legs and beady eyes receded back into the darkness, but it took her a good twenty minutes to free the boiler room from webs.

“Honestly,” she muttered on her way upstairs, “the blood, fine, but the spiders creep me out.”

The living room door rattled half-heartedly, but Vivian rolled her eyes and it died down. She collapsed on the sofa and crossed her arms, dreading another phone call from the agency.

The sofa cushion next to her compressed as though through some invisible weight. Vivian turned to look at the wall above her.

The new words appeared just to the left of her head. 


“So that’s what it was.”


“It’s spelled with ‘E-I’.”


“Very funny.” 


“I don’t get to decide that. 


And then, smaller, 


Vivian sighed.

“You’re going to be the death of me, you know.” 


“I’m serious. I get paid on commission, what do you think this is doing for my bank account?”


Vivian picked up her bag.

“See you next time. Don’t scare the painters, I keep on having to find new ones.” She rubbed her temples. “I’m going to sell this place sooner or later, I’m not giving up. Stubborn as a mule, my mother used to call me.” 

ME: 9 

VIV: 0

“We’ll see about that. I only need one win.” She pushed down the handle to the front door. “You know,” she mused, “perhaps I’ll sell to some ghostbuster family. With eight kids.”

The glass on the front door fogged up. 


Vivian rubbed it out.

“Watch your language. Honestly.”

A flurry of magnolia blossoms swept past her on a breeze as she made her way to the front gate. She sat down to her car, phone to her ear, and when she looked back to reverse out of the parking spot, she saw the living room curtains open, just a peek wide, just enough to show a wide, victorious grin.


Couple number ten.


Floriana Gennari is an emerging writer from Italy, currently working (more or less) in Spain, who enjoys spending her free time outdoors, indoors, and occasionally just hanging out under door frames. She’s previously been published in Literally Stories, and used to both write and perform for Hong Kong’s Liar’s League. Floriana writes fiction, mostly sci-fi and fantasy, because non-fiction already exists in the indoor/outdoor world.

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