A Nearly Perfect Copy - By Allison Amend


Sometimes when she closed her eyes, Elm could see the wall of water moving toward her. The hissing of the wave’s retraction burned her eardrums, and she shivered as though pinned down again in the wet debris. These were the sensations she returned to, as if by default, the images repeating over and over again.

At three in the afternoon on a May Tuesday, Elm sat in a meeting with the other department heads of Tinsley’s. It was getting dark; the sun had slipped behind the building across the street and the sounds of traffic below were faint through the double-paned windows.

“Elm? Elm?” Ian tapped her shoulder.

“What? Sorry.” Elm sat up straighter and rifled the papers on the conference table before her.

“Quarterlies,” Ian reminded her softly.

“Right, well, as you know, the first fiscal quarter,” Elm began, buying time while she looked for her notes, which she’d put in the folder in front of her, she was sure of it. This is what comes from sticking an art history major in a corporate job, she thought; it’s like getting a horse to dance: it might happen, but it won’t be pretty.

And then her notes revealed themselves, on top, ready for her presentation. She cleared her throat. “The first fiscal quarter,” she repeated, “saw a drop in revenue from last year’s recorded earnings from the same period.” Colette, an associate specialist from the Paris branch of the auction house, was tapping her fountain pen against her paper, her pug nose wiggling in time.

“How is this possible in the biggest art boom of the century?” Greer asked.

Elm sat for a moment until she realized the question wasn’t rhetorical. “Well, it’s possible we’re seeing the downside of that boom. The energy crisis—”

“Yes, but we’re selling art, not pork bellies,” Greer said. “At least, that’s the theory.”

Greer Tinsley never let pass a chance to upbraid Elm in public, capitalizing on his position as CEO of the auction house, and Elm’s subordinate post as head of seventeenth- through nineteenth-century drawings and prints. They were both the heirs to the auction house that bore their great-grandfather’s name, but the shareholders were in charge now. Though Elm was, in Greer’s mind, one of the inferior cousins, she was a Tinsley, no doubt about it, the chestnut hair that would accept no dye, the birdlike nose that no rhinoplaster had ever successfully eradicated.

Elm let her hands fall to her sides. She had found that when being confronted by Greer, the best course of action was to take none.

“I mean, that is the theory, isn’t it?” Greer’s accent was affected, what some might call “Continental” and what Elm’s husband called “international queen.” He was the only man she knew who still wore an ascot, though there were plenty of employees of Tinsley’s who wore pocket squares to match their ties.

“Yes, it is the theory,” Elm said.

“I mean, we’re not a museum, are we? Collecting for our own personal edification?”

He seemed to expect an answer so Elm said, “No, no edification.”

Greer sighed heavily. “So what plans do we have for improving this trend?”

Ian stood up, coming to Elm’s rescue. “Well, Greer, we are ramping up our business-getting, which should permit us to move more volume. There are a couple of commissions that Elm has garnered …”

“Good.” Greer seemed uninterested when the objective was not Elm’s humiliation. “Numbers like this make my—our”—he gestured at Elm without looking at her—“great-grandfather turn over in his grave. Any other business? No?”

Elm breathed a sigh of relief and began to gather her papers. On his way out, Greer approached her. “Elm, I’d like to talk to you. Can you come to my office in a few?”

“Sure,” Elm answered, her heart contracting like she was a child in trouble for passing notes at school. She pretended to need to order her papers while she waited until everyone else exited the conference room. Ian was standing just outside.

He always managed to push the dress code envelope. Today he wore a pink and blue V-striped shirt under a definitely purple suit, though Elm thought it might be able to pass for an iridescent black that had been dry-cleaned too many times.

“Thanks, I owe you,” she said.

“I’ll put it on your tab,” he said, and Elm wasn’t sure if he was joking or annoyed. “Did you call that woman back?”

“Not yet,” Elm said. “Did we determine, is she an Attic?” Attic was their term for an old person, almost invariably a woman, who would insist that her grandfather had been Monet’s gardener