The Swan Family – Wet Paint

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Week 1 of their new life in Newcrest was going well for the Swan family. They had sold several paintings and had made a small profit. They hoped they would have enough to pay their bill at the end of the week, and if they were lucky, they would be able to buy better art supplies too.

Only… Estelle was feeling increasingly exhausted. She’d invested a lot of energy into the new business and, despite her can-do attitude, she was subconsciously worrying about what they would do if they failed. There were options. There would always be options. But none of them seemed particularly desirable. She opened the store and took a seat outside in the fresh morning air.

‘I’m going to greet people as they walk past,’ she called to her sister who was painting in the gallery, ‘I’ll try and encourage some passers-by to look around.’

She leaned back and allowed the breeze to cool her skin, why was she so hot? She really must stop doing too much. Poor Estelle couldn’t rest for long, the shop was soon full of new customers that needed greeting and entertaining. The new customers seemed very impressed by the Simayan Eggs they had brought from their home country, the sisters had chosen to sell a couple of the less valuable items from their collection, to raise some extra money. They also seemed to act as a novelty, attracting customer’s interest.

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One of the customers caught Estelle’s interest, she recognised something of herself in the woman, who was staring back at her with a sceptical expression. Estelle knew immediately that they would either be great friends… or enemies.

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Amalie was working on painting she finally felt proud of when she became aware of a customer watching her. She preferred painting in solitude, upstairs in the apartment, but Estelle insisted it was good for business to have customers actually see her painting. But the attention often made her uncomfortable, and put her off her work. Embarrassed, she glanced over her shoulder to find it was the lady she had met earlier in the week, Adelia Clausen.

‘I’m sorry,’ Adelia laughed apologetically, ‘I didn’t mean to distract you. It’s just…’

‘Yes?’ prompted Amalie anxiously, quickly looking back at her canvass to try and spot whatever mistake she had made.

Adelia’s eyes moved slowly across the canvass and Amalie held her breath, waiting to hear the criticism.

‘It’s just… You are very talented, you know?’ said Adelia finally, ‘I really like what you are doing here. Maybe I could put you in contact with some of my friends? I know some art collectors, and I have a friend at the community gallery who might like to put on an exhibition of your work one day. She’s always looking for new talent, and it will help you to get yourself known in the area. How would you feel about that?’

‘That… that would be wonderful!’ Amalie spluttered.

‘I’m happy to help,’ Adelia smiled kindly, ‘I know what it’s like to be a new face in town, what it’s like to worry about fitting in, to have the locals staring at you and asking awkward questions. And I know how hard it can be to start a business from scratch, so I want to help in any way I can.’

‘Thank you,’ said Amalie softly, her eyes felt hot and she turned back to her painting quickly before her new friend saw her cry.

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The gallery was very busy, several customers were waiting to make purchases. Estelle suddenly felt very dizzy, she swayed as her vision was momentarily clouded by fuzzy black dots. It passed as soon as it had appeared, and she looked around for her next customer.

Estelle spotted the woman waiting coolly near one of the more expensive paintings, she tried to act nonchalant as she rang up her purchase.

‘Reminds me of Simcasso,’ the woman said abruptly as she gave her details, ‘ring me if you get any more like this.’

Estelle looked curiously at the business card the woman shoved into her hand before she prowled out of the door, her name was ‘Ulrike Faust’. But the card was vague about her actual job, she was somehow connected to the art world but it wasn’t clear if she was an artist or a dealer or… what? Estelle shrugged, vagueness wasn’t an uncommon trait among creative people. She moved on to the next customer thoughtfully.

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Amalie finished the painting she had been working on and hung it on the wall, she felt very pleased with it. The paint was still wet, but she soon found Adelia Clausen inspecting it closely.

Amalie approached her shyly.

Adelia smiled, a little embarrassed, ‘Can I buy it now? I know it’s not dry yet, but I’m so nervous that someone else will buy it before me!’

‘Of course! I’ll have it wrapped and put aside for you as soon as it is dry.’ Amalie crossed out the price and wrote ‘SOLD’ on the label.

Adelia sighed gratefully, ‘Thank you so much, you know how it is when you see a piece of art and fall in love with it. Listen, when I come to pick it up we’ll go out for brunch, my treat!’

Amalie nodded eagerly. Although she was a bit of a loner, and liked time on her own, she really liked Adelia and hoped they could be friends.

[Note: most of this happened autonomously, I was really happy that Adelia decided to purchase the painting when she had been ‘admiring’ it earlier while Amalie was painting it.]

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Estelle had another dizzy spell, perhaps she needed to eat. It was almost time to close the gallery, so she grabbed a chocolate covered strawberry and went to rest in the office for a few minutes. Pierre arrived home and joined her in the office to do his homework.

‘How is school?’ she asked, trying to mask her tiredness.

‘Really good,’ Pierre said happily, ‘the other students are nice, I might meet up with some of them at the weekend.’

‘And the work? Is it hard?’ Estelle demanded.

‘Hard enough, Tatie,’ laughed Pierre, ‘but not too hard.’

‘You should write to your mother.’

‘I did. I wrote to her yesterday.’

‘You should write again,’ Estelle chided, ‘What does she have to look forward to? You should write to her every day.’

Pierre sighed and turned to face his aunt, ‘And what about you, Tatie? Have you wrote to her yet?’

Estelle looked away. Pierre sighed and sat down next to her. ‘She’d want to hear from you too, you know.’

His aunt didn’t say anything, just looked back at him with a clouded expression.

‘What’s wrong with your face?’ Pierre gasped suddenly, trying to check her temperature as she batted his hands away from her head, ‘Tatie, are you sick?’

‘I’m fine. I’m just tired.’

‘You’re covered in spots! You need to see a doctor!’

‘I can’t afford a doctor,’ Estelle snapped.

‘What will we do if you get ill?’ Pierre insisted, ‘You think Amalie can run the gallery herself? How will she have time to paint? Do you expect me to give up school?’

‘Of course not!’ Estelle cried. ‘Ok, ok, ok. I heard some customers talking about an apothecary, I think it’s on the other side of town, I’ll go there. But I don’t want you to mention this to Amalie, she’ll only worry.’

‘Fine,’ agreed Pierre, ‘As long as you go today.’

Estelle agreed. Her head was still spinning, maybe it was a good idea to get some medicine.

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The apothecary was somewhere on the other side of Newcrest, Estelle figured it would be with all the other alternative health businesses. She finally found it down a side street. It was full of all kinds of strange objects and jars containing things she didn’t recognise. Which of these things was she supposed to buy?

Eventually she settled on something that appeared to be some kind of immune system booster, it said it cured dizziness and tiredness, and it was cheaper than seeing a doctor so she figured it was worth a try.

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By the time Estelle arrived home she was still feeling tired but a little less dizzy, she hoped the medicine was helping and decided to try and sleep it off. Upstairs she found Amalie and Pierre chatting happily as they painted and played music. Estelle was pleased they both seemed content in their new home. It didn’t matter what happened to her, as long as her family were happy. She would work until she collapsed if it mean Pierre and Amalia didn’t have to worry about bills, or where their next meal would come from.

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