The early reviews for the exhibition were outstanding.
“Jessa’s work combines the ingenuity of Picasso with the clarity for the soul of Shakespeare.”
“His art is a mirror for humanity that reflects only the good that resides there.”
But Marquee Jessa hardly listened to the reviews his manager read to him every morning over her coffee.
Three weeks in they held an auction for the pieces. It was a simple, classy affair in which no funds were wasted. The best of the best strolled through the gallery.
“No art ever made me feel quite so calm and yet so alive as this,” said the head of the UQI.
“How does he do it?” asked the pop star Glory-Ah. “How does it make me feel like everything’s going to be alright?”
Even an actor known for his gruffness took a moment to reflect under the lights that shined above the paintings.
Jessa entered the gallery to applause, dressed in simple Indonesian formalwear. He shook hands with everyone that approached him, shyly, as he had since opening night.
“Tell me your inspiration for this one,” said the TV host of ‘Marry My Mom’. “It’s splendid.”
Jessa hardly gave it a glance and looked instead at the crowd awaiting his answer.
“The same as every other—the purity of the human soul.”
“You say that like every human is pure,” laughed one. He waited until they all became quiet.
“But I do. I believe that there is virtue in each person, if they would just believe in it. If I could help everyone to believe- But I’m getting ahead of myself. Excuse me.” And he left them wondering what he was going to say.
When it was time for the auction to begin, they took their seats on rows of wooden chairs facing a simple stage in the middle of the gallery, with a full view of all the paintings. Jessa stepped onto the stage and stood behind the podium. The audience fell silent to listen.
“People frequently ask how I come up with my ideas, what drives me to paint what I do. And I always tell them the same thing. There’s a gem in every person’s heart, and I create my paintings so that when you look at it, you know that someone believes in you. And that you only have to believe as well to unlock your potential. As many of you notice, there’s something about this art that doesn’t transfer to copies. That’s why there are no prints, and no two Jessa paintings are the same, or ever will be. And if I want to unlock the whole world’s potential, then I guess I better get to painting.”
The audience laughed and he blushed and continued. “That’s why I want to sell them and also announce that all the proceeds will go to my new charity ‘Believe.’”
They all cheered and clapped and Jessa waved for them to calm down. “My goal is to teach, not only the next generation to come, but also this one the strength of one’s soul. Thank you.”
He descended to more cheers and went into a back room.
“Don’t you want to see how much they go for?” asked an assistant.
“No, no. It doesn’t matter. It’s not for me. My work is done.” He waited alone, planning out his next pieces. He had so many more to share, there was no end to the ideas that flowed from deep inside him out to his fingers. He had a gift, they said, and he only wanted to share it.
No piece sold for less than millions. He gave a sincere thank you to each person as they left. His manager gave him a huge kiss on the cheek and congratulated him. The energy of the room slowly drained out.
Jessa took one last walk through the gallery, not to admire his works, but to thank them. Soon he would send them out into the world—to offices, hospitals, universities, anywhere people would see them.
He shut the lights off one by one and said goodbye. The door closed with an echoing click.
Hours later, in the deep of the night, the door clicked open, sending its echoes once more. One by one the lights were turned on. The security cameras caught it all on tape. A figure, dressed in black with a ski mask, looked at the first painting for several moments, took out a pocket knife, plunged it into the canvas, and shredded it beyond repair. Then the person moved on to the next, and the next. Within twenty minutes, the million dollar paintings lay in ribbons and the lights were turned off, one by one.
Marquee Jessa, sleeping the peaceful sleep of the fulfilled, was awakened by the phone.
“Something terrible has happened,” said his manager, her voice quivered.
Jessa’s heart dropped. “The paintings were stolen?” At least they would still be in the world, sold on the black market to those who needed them the most.
“A fire?” Nature had left its mark then. One couldn’t blame the Earth.
“You’d better get down here,” she said.
Sometimes artists and writers will say that they poured their heart and soul into their work. That it contains a piece of them. Jessa had never particularly felt like this. Rather, his pieces were a collective of humanity, for humanity. But when he walked into the exhibit that morning, he changed his mind.
“Could it have been a wild animal?” he asked, standing in the doorway. He didn’t have the heart to go in.
“No, it wasn’t an animal,” his manager said. “I’m sorry. Come watch the video.”
An hour later, with the exhibit blocked off by yellow tape, they watched the video again with a policeman, hair grey around the ears.
“Do you have any enemies? Anyone that might want to hurt you?” he asked, notebook in hand and pen poised.
“No,” Jessa said, staring at the floor.
His manager piped in. “Jessa has never done anything but good to anyone in his whole life.”
The policeman didn’t seem impressed but nodded. “Are the pieces insured?”
“No. Jessa balked at the idea, even though I did my best to convince him, he would never give me permission.” She glanced at him, but Jessa hardly heard anything they said.
“So Mr. Jessa won’t receive any money in the case of accident or theft?”
“I’m not sure I like your tone. Are you suggesting that he did this himself? For money?”
“We can’t rule that out just yet. You’d be surprised how often we see it.”
“He gives away all his money!”
The policeman gave a curt sigh. “Can you think of anyone else that would have something to gain from destroying the paintings?”
“None,” she said. “They were all sold at auction last night.”
“Perhaps someone didn’t get the painting they wanted?”
“Then why didn’t they just steal it?”
“I don’t know ma’am. Sometimes people just do bad things.”
The charity fell apart before it started since it had nothing to sell. It was actually at a loss now, and Jessa had to forfeit his meager savings to pay the debts.
He suffered through an investigation, through searches of his studio and home. They found no evidence there, nor elsewhere. The criminal still ran free, and they never found out why he did it.
“I’ll paint some more,” Jessa shrugged and sat down in his studio. He took a deep breath, picked up his brush. Nothing came.
He splashed paint around, just to warm up, doodling as it were, waiting for something to come. Nothing did.
He tried to recreate one of his past pieces, just to get started. The brush clattered to the floor. There was nothing.
His manager came to see him. “You just need some time,” she said.
His friends dropped by. “You should get away for a while. When you get back you’ll be ready then.”
Artists stopped in. “Why don’t you try a new style? Explore painting again.”
His mother flew in, cleaned his house, cooked him breakfast. “Have you lost your faith in folks?” she asked.
“I’m not sure I really had it to begin with,” he said.
“Then nothing has changed; you can paint still.”
“And that’s exactly the thing, nothing ever will.”
Brittany Miller lives in Spokane, Washington with her husband, where she has been writing for several years. She has a collection of short stories available on Amazon, and her blog for both readers and writers is at www.writelikewind.wordpress.com. There you can find links to her Twitter and Facebook.