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        Garrison Grey rolled his cloth out on the table. There’s the extractor, retractor, and the trocar. The gooseneck and calvarium clamp. The aneurysm hooks and, of course, the brushes. Down at the very end. His brushes. Every size for every occasion. He flicked the tip of one, checking its firmness. He watched the fleshy flakes fall off the sides.

         You can get some decent money with a degree in mortuary science. Garrison Grey certainly did. And the best part was, he got to make something. Impressions, he called them. He rather liked that word, impressions. Reminded him of The Dutchman.

         Garrison Grey knew his impressions were art. Look at his tools—thick brushes, nice round palette, and the canvas—right there, under the chartreuse blanket. It was really somewhere between chartreuse and olive, but not quite fern. Exotic.

         Nobody came down where Garrison Grey worked. Too cold, they thought. Smelled like something. This was his place. His studio.

         But even with his studio and his brushes, Garrison Grey knew there was a problem, and it was with the impressions themselves. They didn’t last.

         The impressions were gone when they went away in the boxes. Yes, he knew they got some exhibition time. A museum of black and tears; he’d never been, only heard. His work went on display upstairs, the centerpiece of the gallery among the vases and veils. But exhibition was over in a few hours, and the impressions went away, into more boxes, and deep, deep down where no more eyes could see.

         But Garrison Grey didn’t let this bother him. He had another occupation. On the side, of course. It paid well too, if he were to brag. But the best part was he got to make impressions of a different kind—ones that were meant to last, with paint and palette knife.

         He kept these other impressions in their frames, inside one of the large capsules in the wall. Kept them cold, preserved. Nobody checked, really—this was his studio, after all. He took them out when it got late, and spent all night working on them.

         His latest was The Potato Eaters. A perfect replica of The Dutchman’s fine original. How striking. Pensive. The Dutchman was Garrison Grey’s favorite artist. Look at the impasto, the perspective. Can have nothing but respect for The Dutchman.

         Garrison Grey had other names for him too, of course. The Vincent Van, or sometimes just The Van. But The Dutchman was his favorite. Lots of money in his name, and easy enough to make the impressions look like the originals. Impressions of post-impressionism, Garrison Grey liked to call them. Made him chuckle.

         But enough about The Dutchman. Garrison Grey should be thinking about his main occupation. The one he got a degree for. He re-checked the brush, no fleshy flakes anymore. He attached the trocar to the pump-tube, and waited for the crimson and scarlet to ooze out.

         He glanced at his canvas, still under the chartreuse-olive blanket. The Dutchman made such excellent use of chartreuse and olive. So mature in his strokes—and Garrison Grey knew just how he did it…No. Forget The Dutchman until tonight, get to work on this impression.

         Garrison Grey started with the wrists, his usual routine. Some shading, fleshy pink. Well, isn’t this a clean one. The blanket fluttered over his hand as he worked. He continued up the arm—a little indigo and azure here—oh, that’s no good. Bruises and boils, the B’s they shouldn't see. Fleshy pink to balance it out.

         Now on to the hands. Most important part of the body, according to Garrison Grey. So much to work with. Crinkles and creases and cracks. These were tired hands, though. And fingernails that long? Must’ve been an inch, flaxen-mustard yellow. That won’t work with the palette. Need to cut them off. But that’s not a job for here, have to take it upstairs. Work around it.

         Garrison Grey carefully lifted the chartreuse-olive blanket back over the arm. He left half the hand out, a reminder to cut the flaxen-mustard fingernails. He removed the blanket slowly, carefully off the face. Always careful when dealing with the original. Slowly, carefully…

 

         Garrison Grey took a step back. He almost dropped his thick brush. Several fleshy flakes fell to the ground.

         Orange hair, slicked back. Not even marmalade, this was orange. Sunken cheeks, more than usual—it’s only been two days. Orange beard, too, flecks of gray.

         It looked like The Dutchman himself.

         No, no, this can’t be. What’s The Dutchman doing here? He died on July 29, 1890. No, this isn’t possible. He’s gone. He’s been gone. He can’t—does he know? Garrison Grey looked at the glassy emerald eyes. He knew.        

Garrison Grey shuffled over to the large capsule in the wall. Punch in the code, open the door. Good. Still there. The Potato Eaters right at the top, where it should be. Striking. Pensive.

         He walked back to The Dutchman on the table—no, it’s not him, stop that. Stay focused. It’s just like any other canvas. Right there under the chartreuse-olive blanket. Garrison Grey leaned down over the orange beard with gray flecks. Pale face, sunken cheeks. Same orange hair, slicked back. For the first time since he got his degree in mortuary science, Garrison Grey didn’t know how to start the impression.

         He decided he had to see something. Just for good measure. He walked back over to the large capsule on the wall. Three letter code, open the door. He shuffled through the other impressions in their frames. Starry Night, The Potato Eaters. No, no, not those. Where are they? Self-Portrait with Straw Hat. Self-Portrait with Pipe and Glass. Ah, yes, here they are. All here. All sold.         

         Wait, here’s one more. Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear…yes. This is the one. The best seller.

         Garrison Grey left the large capsule door open and walked back to his canvas, the best seller in hand. He grabbed an aneurysm hook and two positioning devices, and hung the painting on the white wall, right above his canvas. He examined the old impression for a moment. One of his finest to date. Look at the strokes, perfect form. Graceful. Poignant. The Dutchman couldn’t have done better himself.

         Garrison Grey looked back at his canvas on the table. He stared at the face – the sunken cheeks, the orange-not-marmalade hair. The orange beard with gray flecks. Remember, don’t stare at the original too long, it will bias the impression.         

         Too late.

         Garrison Grey began with a spruce shade, carefully at the tip of his detail brush. Just a little, to accent the sunken cheeks. Tiny strokes. Soft. Graceful. Look at this! He was making an impression of his own impression. Made him chuckle.         

         He applied some sand tones to round out the features, to complement the orange hair and beard. Now, if only he had the hat. The indigo and black hunting hat. Someone upstairs might have one. No, stay focused.

         Garrison Grey kept working into the night, until he had just one thing left—arguably, the most important part. This was where the money was. The reason behind the best seller. He grabbed his cloth, letting the extractor and gooseneck clatter on the table. He wrapped the cloth over the ears of his canvas, tucking it under the chin and tying it with a knot.     

         No. Inauthentic. Look at that bulge underneath the ear-cloth, left side. It couldn’t be there.

         Garrison Grey removed the cloth, and observed the left ear of his canvas. Fully there, fully attached. But then he noticed something that must have been invisible to him before. A great boil, right where the left ear should be. In fact, it replaced the left ear entirely. Bruises and boils, the B’s they shouldn’t see.

         Garrison Grey went over to his tools on the table. Skip past the calvarium clamp and the trocar. Yes, here it is. The scalpel. A traditional tool, helpful in times such as these. He leaned down over his canvas with the scalpel in hand. Time to remove the boil, and make it look authentic. That’s the trick, really. Authenticity sells.

         Yes, keep going, just like that. Adding new colors to the palette. Crimson and scarlet. Looks like some infused indigo as well; it has been two days, after all. Keep going, remove the boil. Take it all the way off. Nothing left. Then the cloth will fit, no inauthentic bulge.

         The crimson and scarlet was getting on Garrison Grey’s smock, and the floor. But he was almost done. Thirty-nine…and forty.        

         It’s off. Pull it away slowly. Quite a bit more crimson and scarlet now, not to worry. Now it’s authentic. And what a nice palette, too. Grab the cloth from the table, and wipe off the unnecessary crimson and scarlet. Play with it a little on the face, though, adds some nice hue.

         Now it’s time to put the cloth around the head, tucked right under the chin. Looks just like the impression on the wall. Two fine impressions, in one room. The Dutchman as the inspiration. How striking, pensive.

         Garrison Grey stood hunched over the canvas, crimson and scarlet dripping from one side. The chartreuse-olive blanket had completely fallen off, revealing the flaxen-mustard fingernails and the fleshy pink fingers. Slowly, carefully, Garrison Grey tied the cloth around the chin.

         There. Garrison Grey took a step back, and looked at his masterpiece. This was, indeed, his best impression to date. Better than his best seller on the wall. Better than the twenty-seven frames inside the capsule. Better than the other canvases, buried below the ground. He smiled. The Dutchman himself would approve. This one was going to last.