Olive Bane pushed her black triangle lenses against the bridge of her slim nose and leaned back. “Why do you paint?”
David didn’t expect to speak very much. “Hasn’t she read my bio?” he thought to himself.
A brief light flashed behind his eyes — majick. “Sorry, mind reading is a bad habit of mine,” she sighed as she popped open a gold snuff dispenser and inhaled. “Anyway, I’m not interested in hearing the things you say so people think you’re smart.”
David looked down and picked at a dried callus on his finger. “I paint because it beats crying.”
Olive raised an eyebrow. “How brief. Still waters run deep, I suppose,” she said and wiped her nose. “I respect that.” She examined her nails and with a deliberate blink, changed the color of the polish from white to a rich, midnight blue. “Better, right?”
David nodded hastily, as wary of Olive’s notoriously capricious temperament as her supernatural power. Majick was a fickle gift following no bloodlines, no spiritual disciplines and no moral compass. Every epoch of recorded history was filled with stories of its unwieldy strength, featuring men and women who fell spectacularly from grace, drunk on their own power as they nose-dived into addiction, crime, ruinous love affairs and depraved obsessions. Olive was attracted to the seedy and the sublime. There was no telling, yet, how history would look on her.
“So,” David stammered, “my work. What do you think?”
She smiled. “Signing an artist is a complex calculation — so many intangibles. Don’t rush my process, David.”
He watched warily as she began to inspect his pictures. With a crisp flick of her wrist, she summoned them one by one from a series of easels that lined her office, suspending them in midair a foot from her face. She sipped a glass of red wine as she mused over every detail, surveying the soulful layers of acrylic threaded with lines of poetry, stray thoughts and numinous symbols. The first piece was met with silent approval.
“Oh — not this one,” she grunted, frowning at the second one. “Messy.” And with a nod of her head, the canvas went up in smoke.
They had met just two weeks before at the opening of David’s first solo exhibition in an earnest but dilapidated venue near an abandoned train station. Fresh off being acquitted of assaulting a former employee and just days out of an obligatory PR stint in rehab, Olive was back at the helm of her eponymous gallery and hungry for new talent to heal her image. Her unexpected appearance in the dingy warehouse was like a fire in the dark. She burned through the crowd of ragged, downtown cognoscenti with a twenty-year old lover on her bejeweled arm and drank in their slack-jawed worship.
David felt bedraggled and untidy as he watched her snake toward him across the narrow room, a glittering clutch floating at her cinched waist. Their conversation was brief and definitive. With a swift rub of her palms, she surrounded them in a bubble of silence and made her offer: five new paintings to be presented in fourteen days. “Less musicality. More structure. I might sign you if they’re good.” He didn’t remember saying yes or watching her leave, he only knew that he was suddenly the center of attention. His stock was clearly poised to skyrocket.
“Three of them are excellent,” Olive said staring at a trio David’s new pictures. “Like Cy Twombly with a dash of Anselm Keifer. Passionate.”
David’s throat was dry.
“You know, I have to fight simply not to be numb. The gilded cage.” She rolled her eyes. “I do it well, but do you understand how hard that is?”
He shook his head and held his tongue. No one could possibly believe that — Olive’s appetite for pleasure was legendary. Disagreeing, however, would be most unwise and David certainly knew the value of keeping his head down.
His childhood was spent shuffling from one dingy apartment to another while his mother pursued bad men to worse ends. After she died, he went to live with his angry grandmother in her wilted, ill kept-home. There were dinners of cold beans when the electric bill went unpaid and every night, a lullaby of gunshots that echoed through their grim neighborhood of ranch houses. His days were filled with the listless droning of underpaid, overwhelmed teachers and the taunts of “faggot” in the hallways and on the street. David stayed quiet and dreamed.
Olive pulled a bulky folder out of her desk drawer and yanked out a brief but densely typed document. “Standard fare,” she mused as she reached for a sleek, monogrammed pen while rattling off the specifics. “There’s a 50/50 split if any of them sell at the retail price — or if there’s a bidding war. It happens more often than you think,” she added with satisfaction. “Sign this and ramen noodle dinners will be a thing of your past.” Her pen dangled over the page like an overripe fruit. “Don’t sign it and I’ll find another artist with a similar style and drive you out of the fucking market.”
David blinked a few times, bewildered. He hesitated only for a moment then quickly signed his name. His lopsided scrawl was a perfect contrast to Olive’s grand script that sealed the deal.
“Good.” She slid the paperwork into the desk then snapped her fingers, opening the door at the far end of the office — an invitation to leave.
“Thank you.” He rose to go.
Olive cocked her head and looked at him with an unexpected softness that made him blush. “I’d give anything to be able to paint like you — to make something meaningful. It’s majick like yours that makes me look good. Don’t forget it because I’ll never say it again. And, you’re welcome.”
Kevin Thomas Conroy is an aspiring writer living in Los Angeles. By day, he sells antiques and fine art. By night, he thinks about things that make him shiver then writes them down.