The Manchester Review
M.J. Hyland
Selling Fakes
print view

My first rented room was a converted walk-in wardrobe on the third floor of an old house. I slept on foam cushions pushed together on the floor.
      It was summer, I was seventeen, and I needed money for rent. About a week after taking the room, I saw this ad in the local newspaper: Do you want to sell ART & make $1000s? Flexible hours. No car required. Will suit students and overseas travellers.
      I called the number on the same afternoon I went for an interview, took an elevator to the eighth floor of an air-conditioned glass and brass office building.
      A young red-head answered the door.
      She told me her name was Anna and asked me to take a seat.
      I sat in a chair by the wall and she left.
      Apart from the black chairs, there was no furniture in the room and the air smelt of putty.
      Four more applicants arrived, a blonde woman in her early thirties, two English boys, and a young Scot.
      We chatted for a while and then Anna came back and gave each of us a form.
      She left again and a man came in.
      ‘I’m Mark,’ he said.
      I thought he might be Anna’s brother. He had red hair and flared nostrils just like her.
      ‘You’ll be selling original fine art,’ he said, ‘door-to-door.’
      He opened the zip of a large black folio-bag and took out six landscape paintings.
      ‘These are original oil and acrylic. Everybody loves them and they sell like hot-cakes.’
      They were the size of fold-up card tables and the paint was applied thickly to rigid chipboard. There were two kinds: pastels of lakes at sunset, and dry brown scenes of the Australian desert.
      ‘Make up your own stories about the paintings,’ said Mark. ‘You’ll sell more.’
      The phone rang in his office.
      ‘Back in a sec,’ he said.
      He left his office door open, put his feet on the desk, crossed at the ankles.
      ‘Yeah, twelve thousand,’ he said. ‘Easy. Thirteen last week. No problem.’
      When he came back, he took a painting from the back of the pile.
      The taller of the two English boys stood up.
      ‘But tell us how much money we’ll make. The ad said thousands.’
      ‘We’ll come to that,’ said Mark.
      The English boy looked down at the stack of paintings.
      ‘Show us the rest of them then. These look shit.’