The pay off

She changed the spelling of her name so it was hardly a name at all. X-oe; how the hell did anyone pronounce that. Drawing on her loyal art school friends she developed signature projects; animations, improvisations she performed at clubs and parties, spoken word rants, flash installations and endless images. Then she hit social media hard. She established a profile; X-oe, anti-art assassin, whatever that was, because it was just a bit of spin she concocted one morning in the midst of a vodka and pills hangover.

The art-suckers bought it. She traded in her old friends for a more influential bunch. Momentum built around her, a reputation that needed form, because anti-art had become more art than art and it was time to cash in. She created a single non-art work, an unlimited edition of unsigned solid cubes that could be recreated endlessly in whatever size, colour or material the non-art collector desired. Business boomed.

X-oe incorporated, skimming an executive salary while finding others to fill the orders of art fans keen to get onboard her non-art wagon. They outdid themselves on size and materials. She went viral. She went global.

The Guggenheim called. The Guggenheim! It was enough to crack even X-oe’s non-art cool. Her time had come.

Transfer it to the office, she called. She took a long breath before lifting the receiver. Yes…Speaking.

We’re acting, a severe voice replied, on behalf of the estate of…

X-oe recalled—but the memory was vague because she’d spent so many hours trolling the internet for exploitable ideas—a manifesto written by some post-dada, beatnik hack.


At artschool Janine was a quiet observer in a world of practiced wierdness.  Veronica’s knitted Eifel tower, for instance, or Penny’s sugarcube abstraction. Conrad splashed paint around to death metal. Claude painted black squares. And Janine sketched.

On her bedroom shelves were books, ordered by date and subject. One shelf was boys. It started with her first crush, the school sport captain, Tony MacIlwraith in hard lead pencil, brittle and silver. Ellusive. Rodney Cook started that way but made it up to HB before he kissed Jenny Sidebottom. Felix Dunne made 2B, darker with a hint of lusciousness.

Across from her studio was an engineering classroom. Friday after lunch they studied drafting. She watched one boy in particular make delicate marks with protractor, compass, and ruler.

Janine waited outside his classroom. ‘I’ve been watching you.’


‘Through the window.’


‘I’m Janine,’ she said.


‘Can I see your drawing?’

He unscrolled the paper. His cross section of a machine was exquisite.

‘I draw too,’ she said.

That afternoon they shared coffee and talked about lines.

Within a week she’d started a sketchbook for him. She looked at her pencils. 4B? 6B?

At the campus bookstore she found a permanent marker. Its line was black and perfect. It could not be removed. It liberated her from the uncertainty of graphite.

2011—Richard Holt / small stories about love (