Red Wine, Orange Cats, and the Peculiar Painting

Red Wine, Orange Cats, and the Peculiar Painting

By: Isabella Kistler

“Oh, that picture is just marvelous,” an elderly, and gravelly voice said from beside Marceline. She had been entirely transfixed, lost in the gaze of the man in the painting when she heard the voice sound beside her. 

“Oh, yeah. I think so too,” she replied, tilting her head slightly and eyeing the old woman. Marceline removed the painting from the shelf with the others and propped it up in front of them to get a better look. 

“It’s a real canvas too, not a print,” the woman said, running her wrinkled fingers over the painted surface. Marceline did the same, and to her surprise, she was right. This was no print, but an actual canvas painting. “How much do they want for it?” the woman asked her. Marceline tilted the painting forward to gaze at the sticker on the back. The all too familiar Goodwill sticker was plastered on the back of the frame. 

“$10,” she replied. 

“A steal,” the woman said, smiling at her. Her eyes crinkled at the edges and her gaze was soft with satisfaction of life⎯a gaze Marceline could not claim to have herself. Marceline tilted it back to glance at it once more. 

“Yeah, I think you’re right,” she said before picking it up by the pretty wooden frame and loading it into her cart. The fluorescent lights in the Goodwill weren’t doing the vibrant colors of the paint any justice and she was excited to get it home to find its place on her walls. The old woman patted her lightly on the arm before pushing her cart down the aisle, one wheel twitching awkwardly to the side and squeaking loudly. 

Marceline carried the painting in through the garage of the house. It was large, about three feet in width and four feet tall, but not heavy, only consisting of canvas and wood. The frame was quality and had an ornate design carved into the two-toned wood. The entire ensemble, frame, canvas, and the painting itself was beautiful. She walked it to the living room and leaned it against the fireplace. The eyes of the man in the painting stared off into the distance somewhere, gazing, longing, observing⎯she wasn’t sure. She ran her hand through her thick brown hair as she pondered its appearance. 

The picture was simple. A weathered-looking man was the subject, a blue hat on his head, worn with years of wear. His white beard was scruffy with age, and he had soft blue eyes that conveyed feeling without words. The features on his face, in contrast to his eyes, were sharp. His nose was pointed and large and his rose-colored cheekbones protruded. Even the wrinkles had been accounted for with precise and intentional brush strokes in all the right places, on his forehead, around his cheeks and his mouth, the skin sagging from age and possibly stress. The background was brighter than its subject. He was dressed in dark clothing with splashes of bright paint behind him, brightening the picture but not the man himself. He felt more like a guest in the house rather than just the subject of a painting. 

Marceline walked into the kitchen. It was five o’clock which meant a glass of red wine was justifiable. She uncorked a fresh bottle and reached in the cabinet for her favorite wine glass, a green tinted glass with a long skinny stem. She knew this glass in particular was large enough to refill three times before the entire bottle of wine had run dry. Not that she intended to drink the whole bottle that night, but she knew from experience. The wine glugged as she filled the glass with a generous pour. 

Marceline walked through the house, lighting a few candles as she went. Her entire demeanor softened in the faint glow of candlelight, her preferred lighting. The house was silent except for the small patter of paws down the wood stairs. Felix, the furry orange cat, had awoken from his evening nap and had come to greet her. He swished his tail between her legs and it tickled her ankles. 

“Hello Felix,” she said, running her hand over his back. “My pretty boy.” He opened his mouth to meow a small sound of affection towards her. 

The sun was starting to set, and the house had descended into a calm ambiance of an orange glow. It was finally starting to get chilly as the seasons changed and Marceline felt it would be justified to light a fire in the fireplace. 

The fireplace, with its shining green tiles, was one of her favorite parts of the house. She loved the entire house, which she had bought herself only a few months ago, but the fireplace was the centerpiece. She always pictured her future home having a fireplace, but in her thoughts, there was always a significant other bending down to light it while she sat on the couch with their children reading a book. Marceline was thirty-two and the only significant other or child she had to show for was Felix and while he did fill the role well it wasn’t quite the same. She took a long gulp of the wine and it traveled down the back of her throat with ease. It would be at least until the second glass before any blurry and fuzzy feeling filled her brain and the thoughts of children and husbands creeped into the background. 

Felix purred in her lap as she stared at the painting now leaned up against the wall beside the fireplace. She began to wonder what this man’s occupation was. Did he have children, a partner, a family? Did his life consist of red wine, orange cats, and peculiar art as well? Or did he have more as so many others seemed to have? She thought back to the woman in the store, wrinkled with age and a seemingly permanent smile affixed to her face. She was certain that woman had a family, a partner, probably a few children and grandchildren⎯people she had grown old with.

Marceline took another gulp of the wine before parting with the glass for the first time since she’d picked it up and set it on the table next to the couch. She hadn’t intended to hang the painting up yet, but the space above the fireplace was bare and she thought the man would fit so well up there. Marceline walked into the kitchen, Felix closely behind her, and grabbed a nail and hammer she kept in a drawer by the sink. 

She took the opportunity in the kitchen to refill the wine glass⎯two glasses now and one left until the bottle was gone. But who was keeping track? It hadn’t quite gone to her head yet, but it would soon; sweet relief. 

Felix watched as Marceline scooted a chair over in front of the fireplace and hoisted the painting up on the mantel. The nail was pinned between her teeth and the hammer was sandwiched under her armpit. She didn’t bother turning on more lights in the dimly lit living room, preferring to work strictly by candlelight as to savor the ambiance of the night. She held the nail firmly where she wanted it and hit the hammer on the head a few times, not yet totally intoxicated enough to miss, but enough that it went crooked with each hit. It didn’t matter, no one would see the crooked nail behind the man’s face on the painting.

Once the nail was through the wall, Marceline fumbled with the old wire string on the back until it hooked on the nail and settled into its permanent home above the flames of the fireplace. She stepped off the chair, fumbling on her own feet as she did, and retreated to the couch. The light from the flames cast a new glow over his face; his cheekbones were sharper than before, the lines on his face, deeper than what she’d seen under the fluorescent lights in Goodwill. He’d aged ten years since being hung above the mantel, since being in this house it appeared. He fit perfectly in his place, keeper of the fireplace and the living room. 

Marceline took another gulp of the second glass. It was halfway gone already, and she hadn’t remembered drinking from this pour yet. A pity, she was halfway done with the bottle already. It lit her taste buds on fire as it swished in her mouth. She could almost taste the color red. Felix jumped on her lap and purred as she petted his coat. Marceline stared at the painting hung in its new spot. Here was a man she could grow old with, one that wouldn’t and couldn’t leave, one to sit with her through the long nights of loneliness. She’d decided now that he looked as if he’d been lonely too, just two lonely hearts together.

Marceline picked up a book next to the couch and flipped to the bookmark holding her place. She read for a few pages, the words flowing into her brain and then back out again, making sense for a minute and then getting lost on their way out. The fire warmed her feet, and she wiggled her toes in her wool socks. Felix started to drool in appreciation of her attention and Marceline laughed as he lazily walked off her lap and settled into a cozy spot next to her on the couch. She gulped the last of the wine in the glass and immediately headed to the kitchen for the last refill. 

The bottle, now empty, sat on the counter, a 2019 red blend from Napa, currently her favorite. She took the first gulp of the final glass and headed back to the couch. It would take some getting used to, the man’s face above the fireplace, the eyes surveying the room even when she wasn’t there. She stared at him wondering how the artist made each brush stroke. A signature was painted in the left-hand corner in light blue paint, although it wasn’t clear exactly what it said. It started with a P, she squinted, then an I, maybe a Z somewhere in there, she squinted harder. Was that an N? She set the wine glass down on the table next to her and grabbed her laptop off the coffee table. She typed a few letters into the Google search, trying different combinations followed by the words “artist” or “painting”. She scrolled in frustration, searching through the various names that popped up until finally, a similar painting of the same style appeared on the screen. A woman, middle aged with long brown hair, frizzy and wild all around her head, stood next to a painting almost as large as herself. This painting was of a man, like the man in the painting above Marceline’s fireplace, but he wore different clothes and wasn’t wearing a hat. It was just as beautiful and even more so with the artist herself, a woman by the name of Pinozzi, standing next to it.

Marceline scrolled through the story on the website. It was an artist profile about Pinozzi. She was born in Florence, Italy and was raised in Rome. She went to art school and later met her husband, whom she was married to for 25 years. Marceline kept reading with anticipation. Her husband, having mysteriously disappeared at the age of 55, was the subject of most of her work, and presumably, the man in the painting Marceline now owned. She read on. Pinozzi, at the age of 72, was convicted of the murder of her husband, who she had been painting since the day of his disappearance. She had hit him over the head in his sleep and locked him in a cellar in their basement where he died only weeks later, not having been discovered for 17 years. Marceline slammed the laptop shut, suddenly feeling uneasy and overwhelmed. 

She grabbed the blanket at the end of the couch and swished it over her legs, bringing the top up to her chin and curling it under, like a small child afraid of the dark. She stared at the man, murdered by his wife. With the tilt of her head against her arm, her eyes began to droop, the gruesome story playing out in her head. Slowly, as if she moved through Jell-O, her body sank into a drunken sleep. 

Marceline awoke to a thump from downstairs. Felix, still asleep next to her, startled awake with her sudden movement. Her eyes took longer to adjust, and the room was blurry and out of focus. She rubbed them with the back of her hands. The thump sounded again, and she jumped this time, her heart leaping into her throat. Felix’s ears perked up; he’d heard it too. Marceline sat frozen on the couch, waiting to see if the sound would come again. She waited and waited for what felt like ten minutes, not moving an inch or even a twitch. 


 Her eyes widened in fear. It sounded like someone dropping bricks on the floor, the sound loud and startling. 

Marceline stood up from the couch and grabbed the hammer by the fireplace. The wine glass next to the couch was half full and she chugged the rest down. It hit her stomach with a slosh, and she felt invigorated. Slowly, she crept past the fireplace and to the stairs. Felix kept his post on the couch.

The stairs creaked with each step she took, their old wooden frames unforgiving under her weight. She cringed and her body started to sway as she approached each step. She waited at the bottom of the stairs to hear another thump. The hammer was held firm in her grip.


She was sweating now, the beads dripping down her neck and onto her back. Slowly, she tiptoed on the cold basement floor. She grabbed her phone from her back pocket and turned the flashlight feature on. The door to the small storage room was slightly cracked open. Had she left it like that? She couldn’t remember. She peeked through the crack in the door, waiting to hear the steady breath of an intruder or the thump of another object hitting the floor. She held her breath until her lungs burned. She had to do it and do it quickly; surprise the intruder and smash the hammer at whatever was on the other side of the door. 


She bit her lip in fear. With one hand on the door and the hammer raised high, she flung it open, ready to swing like a crazed lunatic at whoever was there. But as the door flung open, the space was empty. She stood in the doorway, hammer still raised. On the floor, she saw five paint cans, all thrown about haphazardly. Five thumps, five cans, she thought, her mind swimming with fear.

She walked further into the room. She lowered the hammer and bent down on the floor to examine the cans, all of which had been full and luckily did not break open on impact. A moment later, she heard a crash from upstairs. All concern for the cans had been lost as she flew through the basement and fumbled her way up the stairs, almost taking a hard fall on the last two steps. She was sweating profusely and entirely inebriated. Felix was perched on the couch, his hair on end. She ran through the living room and to the kitchen. 

In the kitchen, she stopped dead in her tracks. All the cabinets had been flung open wide; every single one. The empty wine bottle was crushed into tiny pieces on the kitchen floor, shattered entirely. Little drops of red wine spattered the white tile, like drops of paint spattered with a brush. Marceline fumbled for the light switch on the wall and flicked it on. But the light switch flicked up and down and no light appeared. She flicked it again, her fingers trembling, her eyes wide with fear. The house was dark, except for the candlelight dimly illuminating the rooms. 

She stood paralyzed in the doorway to the kitchen. Someone was here. She could feel her thoughts start to become slurred and she was sure that if she spoke right now, to scream at whoever was here, it would come out a drunken mess of words. A chill went up her spine and back down again, like a breeze drifting through the house, except no windows were opened, not even a crack. Her lips trembled; no sound could come out. She was in no state to defend herself. 

She watched as the flame from the candle on the kitchen counter flickered and then went out. A trail of smoke lingered in the air. The room descended into pure darkness, the moon the only light shining through the kitchen window. She turned around quickly towards the living room and watched as the candle next to the couch let out a huff of smoke as it was extinguished. The candle on the mantle next to the painting danced around for a minute longer before following suit and letting out its final flicker of light. Marceline was thrown into darkness, her house eerily quiet. Felix looked around wildly before jumping from the couch and slithering underneath it. 

Marceline stood frozen in fear as she grasped onto the door frame that separated the kitchen from the living room. She was spinning now and afraid if she didn’t hold on, her legs might crumple beneath her. She watched as the remaining smoke trailed through the air and instead of disappearing, continued to dance around the room. She watched mesmerized, her head bobbing from side to side. She rubbed her eyes with the back of her hands and when she opened them, the smoke was drifting closer and closer to her drunken figure in the doorway. A sudden urge to run away from it filled her mind, but her bones, mushy with red wine, refused to move. The smoke was inches from her face now. All she could do was watch it and wait for its gentle breeze to brush by. It swished past her right ear and as it passed her, she heard a voice, gentle as a feather, like a swift broom stroke across the hardwood floors. It whispered, “Marceline,” and a shiver followed down her spine. The voice was gravelly, like it had not been used for some time, and was in the low tone of an older man. Her vision shot to the painting hung above the fireplace. The man, his hat perched on his head, stared off into the distance, the soft eyes gazing at the unknown. 

Marceline felt the smoke brush past her ear again, this time on the left and she heard the voice once more. “Marceline…let me out,” it said, with more ferocity than before. Her bones began to quake under her skin. She was afraid to take her eyes off the painting, afraid to unleash the man from her glare. It was him. The intruder in the house was the man in the painting.

The smoke danced around some more, drifting past the window and over the couch. Felix growled from underneath, and she felt a sudden twinge of anger at the man in the painting. The smoke moved closer and closer to her once more and stopped directly in front of her face. The voice was louder this time. “Let me out,” it said. “Let me out!” it said again, a fully formed voice taking the place of the whisper she’d heard before. Her blood began to heat through her body, and she wiggled her legs to move them again. She walked towards the smoke, and it parted to let her past. The fear she felt was unthinkable and she grasped the hammer in her right hand tightly. A hammer against smoke would do nothing, but it made her feel more powerful, nonetheless. She walked towards the couch, each step was wobbly, and she shifted around on her feet. She stood in front of the couch, face to face with the man in the painting. She couldn’t see the smoke behind her, but she could feel its soft presence. “Let me out Marceline,” she heard it say again, this time from behind her. “Marceline…Marceline. Let me out!”  The smoke drifted past her again and moved towards the painting. She watched, her eyes as wide as they could stretch, as the smoke disappeared into the painting, straight through the canvas. The room was silent for a moment, the presence of the smoke gone from the air. She stood listening to the sound of her own breath. 

Marceline stood in front of the painting waiting for something to happen when she heard scratching from behind her. She whipped around, hammer raised, to see Felix clawing his way out from under the couch. Her heartbeat slowed for a second as she lowered the hammer. Then suddenly, louder than it had ever been before, she heard the voice again. “LET ME OUT MARCELINE!” This time it came directly from the painting, and she turned to face it. The eyes, once staring off towards the side, were gazing directly at her, so deep and intense she felt her heart skip a beat. She watched as the mouth of the painting moved to scream at her, “MARCELINE! LET ME OUT!” Her lips quivered in terror and Felix scrambled through the living room and up the stairs, presumably to hide under her bed. He continued to scream at her wildly, his features moving as if he were alive and for a moment, she feared he may pop out of the painting and grab her. He screamed and screamed the same sentence over again, “LET ME OUT!” and Marceline’s fear took hold of her. She had to get him out of the painting and out of this house. She wiped her hand on her pants to remove the nervous perspiration and gripped the hammer tightly. She swung it back over her head and smashed it into the face of the man. The screaming continued as she hit it again and again until the voice became dulled, and the canvas was torn into pieces within the frame. Tears ruminating from the fear finally released as she swung the hammer again and again, the canvas caving in. The frame stayed hooked on the wall as the material tore inside. Marceline, suddenly feeling too exhausted to stand, slumped down onto her knees in front of the fireplace. She watched as smoke trailed down from the painting, hovered in front of her face, and then drifted up through the chimney of the fireplace. She looked up towards the face of the old man, no longer intelligible and then collapsed onto the rug. 

Marceline awoke with a pounding headache and sun streaming in through the windows. She could hear the chirp of the birds outside, a sound she usually enjoyed but now wished would stop for the sake of her migraine. She looked around, not remembering how she had gotten where she was. She was on the couch in the living room, a blanket draped over her body and Felix, his small orange frame, was curled up at her feet. She rubbed her head and her eyes. She sat up and saw the almost empty wine glass on the table next to her, a remaining sip left in the bottom. She grabbed the glass and tipped it back until the wine traveled down her throat and into her upset stomach. It wasn’t uncommon for her to wake up and not remember the events that had transpired the night before. She preferred it like that most of the time⎯an entirely new day unmarred from the days previous events whatever they may be. She flung the blanket off and tucked it around Felix gently. He opened his eyes a sliver and looked at her before closing them again and settling back into a little round ball of sleep. Marceline stood up and stretched and noticed something laying on the floor in front of the fireplace. A hammer⎯why was the hammer on the floor? She walked over to pick it up and a sudden chill ran down her spine. She shivered and stood up again. She glanced up at her new painting hanging above the fireplace. The colors surrounding the man’s frame were vibrant and beautiful. His gaze was soft, and she hadn’t entirely decided what his mood was supposed to be. Was he longing for something? Dreaming of something? Marceline became lost in thought over what the man was feeling. She continued to stare at him until his eyes appeared to shift directly at her. She blinked and rubbed her eyes and when she opened them again his eyes had returned to their original position. She shook her head in confusion. She needed to cut back on the wine she decided. Maybe she’d start cutting back next week.