Usurper

usurper (you-SIR-per), noun

A person who seizes a position of power through illegal means, force, or deception.

Ursula was the smartest women to ever live in Huckleberry, California. The town had two grocery stores, one doctor and one hardware store that sold everything from plumbing pipes to wine glasses. Ursula worked for herself as a painter, giving lessons in her spare time, but mostly painting scenic frames of flowers with bees, bears lumbering through mountains, or her favorite subject, waterfalls. She sold her paintings at local shops, the one coffee house who never seemed tired of the same pastels. And in this way, Ursula survived quite happily.

Mr. Jorgan, who owned the coffee shop in town, had a particular liking to Ursula’s paintings, although it was well-known that is was her grace and perfectly arranged hair he truly enjoyed. Once a month she would change her art collection at his shop, infusing the small booths with new scenes of the same bears. Dragonflies on the different side of the river.

Yet every month Mr. Jorgan handed her a hefty check for the art he had sold, apologizing for having to take out his small commission, then gawking at her latest work with phrases such as, “Oh lord, I know just where to put that one” and “My dear what talent! I don’t know how you do it, but this one is sure to be the first to sell!”

Every week, he would hang the latest paintings, some stayed longer than others before he kindly rearranged them, putting the most beautiful pieces near the front door, and quietly taking the rest home.

For years Ursula asked about the kind patrons that swooned over her brushed skylines and pointy detailed trees. Mr. Jorgan would smile and laugh as he described fat tourists and rich businessmen. His personal favorite was the boy whose blond hair hung over his eye, squished beneath his black and yellow baseball cap. The boy counted the bills that appeared small in his oversized velcro wallet. Mr. Jorgan sighed as each dollar passed hands, then coins flooded from his pockets. So touched was Mr. Jorgan by the boy’s genuine love of this particular painting – the one with the lightning striking a tree, while birds fly off in fear – that he already knew he’d cover the remaining cost, no matter what it may be.

“How incredible,” Mr. Jorgan said, watching Ursula’s hand press down her heaving chest, her lips curl in impressive sympathy, tears glistening from her smiling eyes, “that such a young boy, not more than 8 years old I’d say, could have the educated eye to see the beauty in that piece. Your art truly is incredible.”

Ursula hugged him and he felt her chest press into his sternum. He felt the edge of her belly against his belt buckle and he held his hand there afterwards as he watched her ride away on her bicycle, her hand holding her sunhat, lest it blow away in the wind.

Mr. Jorgan went home after counting the drawer and closing up his coffeeshop. He poured himself a glass of bourbon, clinking the ice around the edge of the glass before each sip. He sat in his one room apartment in his warn out chair where he read, ate dinner, put his shoes on in the morning, and most importantly, drank his bourbon while admiring the complete collection of Ursula Van Schilling. He swirled his ice, savoring the soft clink that echoed off the walls. Only two spots remained without paintings. He wondered if he would have to attach her next collection to the ceiling, or perhaps he should just stand them along the floor. He looked at his side table and the 6″x 9″ canvas leaning against the lamp near his elbow. It truly was his favorite painting. It always made him wonder how those perfectly sketched blackbirds could sense that lightning was about to disrupt their entire world.

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