By Renee Agatep
Deep in the heart of Appalachia, Harvey completed Vera. He recognized his beloved’s precise countenance, her light, his own eye beyond the easel looking on from a doorway. He felt the joy of his precise pain frozen in the brushstrokes. She was as true as art can be.
Monsieur Devereaux, the gallerist at Winston Contemporary, had assured him she would be treated with the utmost care. He’d emailed yesterday to apologize –the transport crew had fallen ill. Harvey would need to wrap and transport the piece to Washington D.C. himself if he wanted to make the exhibition.
It had been his own fault, that part. He’d delayed the completion of the painting as long as possible. The nail of her forefinger was never quite right, he’d overlooked the feathered ends of her eyelashes. But today he rolled the canvas carefully, tied it with parchment paper, and slid it into a custom-ordered tube. Vera would be safe on the nine-hour journey.
The expense was no concern, though Harvey had nothing outside of his cabin and his brushes. The cabin had cost Vera and Harvey $10,000 in the summer of 1972. The paint brushes he’d made from her hair – collected from combs he couldn’t bring himself to discard. She came to him in a dream and told him to make the painting more than 20 years ago.
He’d told that story to anyone who would listen ever since, but Mr. Samuelson, the curator at Winston Contemporary, had found the story particularly compelling. He responded to Harvey’s email right away, demanding to see photos of the work in progress.
After much encouragement from Mr. Samuelson, Harvey sent a photo of the painting, knowing it to be unfinished. Mr. Samuelson replied that the head curator, Mr. Greystone, “was enthralled with the work, overjoyed, truly”. Winston Contemporary would stop at nothing to see Vera in their DC gallery.
Harvey drove through the winding mountain roads with Vera by his side, thinking all the while of the kindness he’d received from Mr. Devereaux, Mr. Greystone, and the ever-beaming Mr. Samuelson. Vera would be known to the world and, most importantly, Harvey’s Vera would have eyes once more. The shadow of his dream realized upon canvas, breathing in the awe of those who beheld her.
When Harvey arrived in Washington D.C., he double checked the address that Mr. Greystone had given him. The GPS had taken him to a suburb where homes crowded in close to the sidewalks, but there were no galleries in sight. No coffee shops, no nightlife, no buzz of the living city he’d imagined for Vera.
No matter, no matter, Harvey thought.
A young boy tapped on the passenger side window.
Confused, Harvey cranked down the window of the old pickup.
“Hey Harvey! I’m Tristan McKenzie. Er, uh, you know. Mr. Greystone.”
A blonde tuft of hair blew in the wind. Harvey looked to the backpack straps about the boy’s shoulders.
“We got the signed contract. I’ll take Vicky or Val or whoever off ya now.”
Dumbstruck, Harvey watched the boy take the tube from the passenger seat.
“When will Monsieur Devereaux arrive? Where is Mr. Samuelson?” Harvey called after the boy, already several paces away.
“Ah, I see. If you read the website for Winston Contemporary, you’d know that Mr. Samuelson, Mr. Devereaux, and Mr. Greystone are aliases. It’s a common practice in the art world, I assure you.”
Those words. I assure you. Those were Mr. Samuelson’s.
Harvey found himself on the sidewalk. He now began to run.
“Get back here, kid! Come back!”
Tristan waved the tube over his head.
“Winston Contemporary specializes in performance art!”
The boy, half a block away from Harvey’s trembling hands, now held a small blue box and a cigarette lighter. From the box came a spray of liquid, then flames. Tristan threw the tube to the ground and took out his phone, recording the canvas in conflagration.
Harvey ran to the fire, stamping his feet and slapping his jacket. By the time the flames were out, Vera was nothing but ash and smoke.
Tristan looked into the camera, eyes pulsing with the elation of destruction.
“Remember to like and subscribe!”
Harvey sat on the curb and thought to strike the child who stood over him. He didn’t know if he had the strength.
An overjoyed Tristan replayed the footage mere feet from Harvey.
“I’m going to get so many hits. Man, I fucking love art.”
This story was originally published in Lunch Break Zine.