Gaslight (Excerpt from Alive in Shape and Color)

The Following is an excerpt from Alive in Shape and Color


by Jonathan Santlofer

She saw it again, not a picture this time, just the hard cold truth: a handsome young man who had married her for money. What else could he possibly see in her? She did nothing, wasn’t beautiful nor brilliant, just unsuccessful Paula, dull and drab. Except for one thing: She was rich.

When they’d met, Gregory had practically nothing: the Lower East Side tenement and a part time job painting walls in an art gallery; no family money, no prospects other than an art career that might or might not eventually take off, but when would that be, and how many art careers ever did?
Still, she fought the idea. She had been reading too many crime novels, that was all.

Gregory cared about her. He needed her, adored her.

But the thought soured fast. He needed her all right. For his brand new studio and her beautiful brownstone, for everything that came with being her husband. There’d been no pre-nup, at the time she wouldn’t consider humiliating him, would not taint their love.


The word spiraled and took shape before her eyes, letters swirling into a liquid stream that dripped into cups of tea and dribbled into smoothies, then morphed into a kind of abstract Rorschach inkblot then, a coiling snake and finally, Gregory’s handsome face: leering.


Paula shook her head against the idea, the room spiraling, mind blurring. But when her mind cleared the thought was still there and she knew it was true: Gregory was trying to kill her.

It was like that old black and white movie with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, the one where the husband tries to drive his wife crazy to get her money. What was the title? Paula thought a moment and it came to her: Gaslight. That was it.

Paula stood, her balance slightly off but her mind sharp now, determined. She pictured the dented paint tubes in her studio, the worn pastels, the can of solvent stained with blue fingerprints. How easy it had been to add a little solvent to her tea, some pastel flakes to her smoothies.

A perfect plan: Poisoning her with her own materials. Too smart to use his own.

She paced across the room and back, hands at her sides balled into fists. How could she have been so stupid, so vain, so trusting? She swiped tears off her cheeks, hadn’t even noticed she’d been crying. But she would not allow herself to be sad.

No. She would get even.