Painter

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I set up my easel between a booth selling flowers and a clown selling balloon animals. Benjamin, I think his name is. I saw him last time I came to this fair. A nice man.

The woman with the flowers looks more intimidating. She casts a quick look at my portfolio of caricatures and sniffs, looking away again. I think she’d like me to leave. Obviously, my cartoon portraits aren’t sophisticated enough for her better taste. I stifle a laugh. I’ve painted portraits in staterooms and palaces, had commissions from governors, royalty, and men who are still remembered for their bloody marks on history. But there’s something about a fair that I like. The anonymity, maybe. No one notices an artist drawing portraits behind the flower cart.

My shop is harder to hide. It’s on the corner of Sixth and Wicker, and it already has more people interested in it than I like. It’s dingy, dark, and secluded, but people notice it. They like the portraits I’ve hung on the walls and the more serious paintings I do on commission. Sometimes, they ask if I can paint their portrait like the ones I have in the back room, sixteenth-century style. I laugh and tell them I haven’t painted like that since the sixteenth century.

They always take it as a joke. Which is fine. I have enough trouble trying to explain to returning customers, men and women who haven’t seen me in thirty years, why I still look the same as I did the last time they walked through my door. I tell them they must have met my father. Or my uncle. Once, I had to use my grandfather as an excuse. I moved shop after that. I always move on every fifty years or so, but I like Sixth and Wicker. It’s a good little shop, and this town has a very nice fair. I would hate to leave.

I have to, of course. Eventually. Once my shop begins to get popular, people will begin to notice me. I’d rather not have my picture in the paper or have people poking about in my past, trying to prove I’m not quite who I say I am. It’s happened before. People get suspicious, they spread rumors, they ask questions, and then I skip town and find another place to set up. I used to bother less with settling down in one spot. During the French Revolution, I bounced around everywhere. I doubt I spent more than two nights in any one town. But it’s nice to put down roots for a little while, make some friends, pretend I’m an up and coming art student trying to make ends meet instead of a grouchy, jaded immortal with a chip on my shoulder and a trade I’ve been riding on since cave drawings became popular.

Besides, nowadays, no one notices the artist behind the easel. They sit for their caricature, pay me, and disappear again. And I get to enjoy the cotton candy and pretzels.

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