By Gavin Cameron
Jayne affixed her final painting to the wall and checked the clock again. Almost ten past seven. A few folk had come in, but not many. Hadn’t the Collective advertised enough?
A tap on the shoulder made her jump. “So this little event thingy is for DAfaM?” said the woman. “Is it like Oxfam? Is it a charity?”
“It stands for ‘Daily Art for a Month’.” She’d rehearsed the speech, expecting to make it many times over. “Every year, the Collective has a contest… Well, it’s not even a contest – a challenge… Well, not really a challenge…” She clearly hadn’t rehearsed this enough. “It’s basically where each of us do something arty every day in January like you can do 31 pictures and that, or you can do one big mahoosive project you work on every day. And then we all come and show our work in February. So yeah, that’s that.”
The woman picked up a leaflet. Jayne looked around at the other exhibits. The 40 or so Collective members had taken individual approaches. One had spent time on embroidery; another had photographed dirty sinks at the art college. Yet at the back of her mind, there was something she’d forg…
“So,” said the woman, running a finger over one of Jayne’s paintings, “it’s nothing to do with Oxfam?”
“Um, no.” She’d definitely forgotten something. But what? “And would you mind not touching the painting, thanks.”
“Oh. That’s a shame I mean, I was going to buy just the frame.”
“Um, right. Well, that’s actually my work, which you’ve still got your fingers on, so I…”
“But I don’t need the picture. I don’t care very much for it anyway. Tenner for the frame.” Jayne had no idea whether this woman was actually listening to her. “More than generous, I’d say.”
“Don’t touch that.” She physically removed the woman’s hand from the painting.
“On second thoughts, I won’t bother. I know it’s for Oxfam and all, but I’ll leave it.”
The woman turned and walked away. Jayne watched her leave the building. The prices. She’d forgotten to write up the prices.
Once the final number had been pencilled on the wall, she stepped back and bumped into a man carrying an iPad.
“Sorry, didn’t see you there.”
“DAfaM,” he said.
“Yeah. It stands for ‘Daily Art for a Month’. Every year, the Collective…”
“I know. I know all about this.”
“I know all about you too, Jayne. Quite a fan of yours.”
Always paranoid about stalkers, she looked over his shoulder. Lynn was about, so was Faye. She could shout them over if this guy laid a finger on her.
“I really didn’t expect this,” he continued. “The sunrises. The pebble beaches. All the colours; I mean, you’re Jayne Godson – her who draws green camels. What made you change your style?”
“‘Cause I want to get away from camels,” she snapped.
“All right, all right. I only asked.”
“Sorry, what I mean is it’s an idea I’ve explored for a long time and I’ve exhausted it, I’m done with it, and DAfaM’s a good opportunity to try out something new.” She paused a moment. “Are you an artist too?”
“Christ, no. I recognise good work when I see it, but I can’t draw for toffee.”
“What is it you do, then?”
“I write stories; novels, mainly.”
“Aw, that’s fantastic. Do you do – what’s it called? Na-noo-ree-noo?”
“NaNoWriMo? Yeah, I used to.”
“That’s amazing. I know the guy who runs it. Gareth Carroll? You know him?”
He nodded. “That’s why I don’t do it now. He got on my nerves with the puns and the stupid poems.”
“Yeah, he’s a bit of a tube actually.”
They paused. The exhibition space was starting to fill up now, and it looked like Lynn was about to sell one of her tiny sculptures.
“Anyway,” the man switched on the iPad, “here’s what I’ve really come to you about. Do you remember that pub near the Illgate? Dixie’s?”
“Um… Oh yeah. It’s a nail placey now, isn’t it?”
“Now cast your mind back, maybe 10 years ago.” He showed her the screen. “Do you recognise these?”
“My paintings!” She scrolled slowly through the images of green camels. “That was my really early stuff. I thought they were lost. What happened?”
“When Dixie’s closed, the owner sold them to my aunt and she’s had them ever since. I notice they’re not signed, so I didn’t know whose they were for a long time. It took a bit of homework.”
“Yeah, I was going through a bit of a nihilist phase at the time.” She noticed the woman coming back into the exhibition and running her hands over other works.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “she’s going into a care home and we have to sell the house, so we’ve no place to store them.” He paused. “So that’s that.”
“So? What’s going to happen to them?”
“I want to offer you them back.”
Jayne gasped. “I’m getting them back? Oh, thank you, you don’t know what this means to me. Have you got them with you? When can you drop them off?”
He raised his hand. “Not so fast. I want to offer you them for a price.”
“What price? I can’t afford it. This is my living. I have to sell stuff to survive; I can’t afford to buy things. Anyway, the amount I got for doing them… I can’t afford that. No. No deal. I mean, of course I want them back but I can’t pay you anything.”
The man pointed at her work. “One of these’ll do. Any one of your choosing. In return, you get all 22 pictures back. You could re-sell them if you wanted to. You’d make a profit, I’m sure.”
The woman was now on her way back to Jayne’s area. She’d touched every artwork on the way.
“Actually, I’ll take the frame. I’ll give you twelve-fifty for it. You can throw the picture in as well, but it’s not very good, so I’m not paying for that.”
“One painting?” she asked the man. “That’s all you want?”
Jayne slapped the woman’s hand away from the frame and lifted the painting off the wall. “You can have this one. Take it or leave it.”
“Hey, I wanted that. I’ll give you thirteen-seventy-five, but it’s not worth fifteen.”
“Oh, shut up, you mad bitch.”
“It’s your most expensive one. I’d’ve been happy with any of the others.”
“I don’t care, as long as she doesn’t get it.”
“Philistine!” shouted the woman before walking out.
The man nodded. “I’ll take it. Did you know that woman, by the way?”
“No, but I think there’s psychiatrists out there trying to find her.”
“Probably. She’s Gareth Carroll’s sister.”
“Explains a lot.”