Jorge wasn’t sure how he became a celebrated artist. Utterly lost to the swirl of a palette knife, he barely noticed when his paintings, hung at the local café, were noticed by a shrewd agent with a knack for publicity, and sold to local landowners for an inflated price. Jorge kept painting, too engrossed in capturing the details of light and shade to notice his agent carry out a campaign of exclusivity and mystery that saw his paintings exhibited at larger galleries and sold to celebrities, who loved the stories of this reclusive painter as much as they loved the paintings. Eventually even princes and kings across the world became caught in the whirl of colour and the promise of a talent that only the elite could afford.
Jorge kept painting, he was happy to paint on demand, the colours were the same no matter who he painted. He painted party scenes, domestic gatherings, ceremonies, even the bizarre rituals of secret societies that were to be hung on the walls of private chambers. He painted life, animated faces that showed more expression than the botoxed originals.
It was years before someone noticed the anomaly, that in each painting, standing at the back of the action, head down, face blurry, wearing a green dress; there was a girl. At the back of a party scene she stood, barely a sketch. Hovering in a doorway of a grand hall, her clothes shabbier and barely defined, there she stood again. Through the decades he painted her, always at the back, her face never clear. Through his glittering career, painting portraits of dignitaries and royalty, always she was there. Sometimes just a shadow, sometimes only a sketch of her hand and a flash of the green dress, but always there. It became a quirk, a signature, something a connoisseur would recognise. The rich and the famous congratulated one another on knowing about the secret girl, of course the commoners barely knew Jorge’s paintings. Jorge kept painting.
Jorge told nobody that the painting was of his sister. She had died aged ten. Her cancer was treatable, but Jorge’s family couldn’t afford the medicine. That was in more difficult days.
With each painting she grew stronger. A little more definition to her threadbare dress, more darkness to her eyes, a glint to her teeth. Sometimes he would chuckle as he painted her, remembering how she would dance on the sofa and pick flowers at the side of the road. Each painting was a step closer to when she would walk free and live again. Throughout the richest households in the land, at quietly held meetings of the secret rulers of the world, his sister was there, watching. She was waiting, one day soon she would be ready to step free and take revenge.
Jorge kept painting.