The Painter of Black Houses, a short story

Named one of the top ten literary festivals in the US by USA Today, the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival in New Orleans selected "The Painter of Black Houses" by James Lantz as one of its top eight finalists in 2018.

Excerpts from the story are below. 

 Illustration by  Emily Rhain Andrews

Illustration by Emily Rhain Andrews

The Painter of Black Houses, an excerpt:

"You know what I know—that somebody, in the dead of night, has been painting our houses black.

As the steady stream of traffic flowing through our neighborhood will attest, we are not the only ones who find it hard to believe. It breaks my heart to see our once quiet Crestview become a spectacle for the curious, the gawkers and gapers. No doubt you have seen them driving up and down our streets. Slow, at a cemetery pace. Staring, pointing, shaking their heads.

While it is understandable that many of you refuse to talk to these folks, the time has come to make our case. As a leadership member of The Lion’s Club, I have spent decades working with a number of captains of our community. Experience tells me that we cannot ignore what has happened here, or wish it away." 

 Illustration by  Emily Rhain Andrews

Illustration by Emily Rhain Andrews

The Painter of Black Houses, an excerpt:

"How do you explain to a child, first, the black houses, then the tragedies that follow?

At Jack Johnson’s funeral he whispered, “Daddy, how did Mr. Johnson get killed?”

“He killed himself, son.” 

“Why?”

Good question. Our hearts go out to the Johnson family. What happened to Jack surprised us all. I cannot imagine the horror his children must have felt when they found him like that.

Then there was Stan Nelson. I heard the stories and Carol confirmed it. About a week after their house was painted black, one night at dinner Stan put down his fork, folded his napkin, stood up and without saying a word, walked out the front door.

The kids asked, “Mom, where’s Dad going?”

“I don’t know,” Carol said. “But don’t worry. He’ll be back.”

This was a dedicated family man, a father of three, a rising star at ADEX. Why would he do such a thing? No history, no problems, and no explanation. Just a minivan dragged from the lake, Stan’s cold hand clutching an unreadable note, a smear of runny blue ink."

 Illustration by  Emily Rhain Andrews

Illustration by Emily Rhain Andrews

The Painter of Black Houses, an excerpt:

"It is three o’clock in the morning and I cannot sleep. Most nights I stir awake at this time, usually to toss and turn until daybreak. But this night, something is different. I am more than awake—I am clear and aware. It is though I am imbued with a kind of clarity that one wishes for when one has a big presentation to make, an important thing to say. Why it comes in the middle of the night and not during the day, I do not know.

I slip downstairs and make myself a cup of chamomile tea. Lise is still asleep, so I am careful to press the latch of the front door just so to keep its metal clink to a minimum. I open it, then walk out onto the lawn.

For a while I stand there in my bare feet, sipping tea, watching police tape flutter in the wind like laundry on a clothesline.

When I turn and look at our house, the first time since this morning, I am taken aback. Against a wide span of starry sky, a black figure in the shape of a house looms before me, as though our house disappeared and in its leaving, it left a reminder, a memory of itself—a shadow-hole. As if to say to passersby, This is where a house once stood, only now it is gone."