The Contract

Tzvi rolled up his drawings. “To me it sounds like the surf lapping the beach in Haifa, my hometown. Such a beautiful city. Good-bye for now.” He walked his bike to the door.

“He’s a little scary, isn’t he?” asked Celeste after Tzvi left.

“Harold said Tzvi lives for his art. He’s very passionate.”

“Do you like his work?” asked Celeste.

“No.” Ben wrinkled his forehead. “Our job is to make sure Tzvi likes it.”

When they added up the charges on the contract it seemed like a lot of money; surely it would cover any variables. Tzvi and Harold arrived in the black car a few days later and signed it. Harold wrote a check for $2,000.00. It was a third of the total amount, but more than twice what they’d ever been paid to print an edition. Celeste hoped it would be enough.


Tzvi arrived at the loft at 8:00am the following Monday.

“I prefer to work on my own,” said Tzvi waving away their offer of help. “How strong is this acid?” He held up the gallon jug and squinted over the frames of his glasses. 

“The standard solution: 2% potassium chlorate, 10% hydrochloric acid, 88% water. See how clear it is? It’ll turn green as it’s used.” 

Ben and Celeste had been up since dawn mixing the acid, covering all the worktables with fresh butcher paper, and crushing the rosin for the aquatint box. They wanted to be ready for anything. Celeste had taken the day off to help.

“I’m aware of that,” Tzvi said, lighting a cigarette.

“Will you start with hard ground?” asked Celeste. 

“Yes, I need to establish a perfect grid pattern on each base plate. Can you degrease the copper and set each plate at an angle so I can apply the ground?” Tzvi asked as he pulled his leather apron out of his backpack. “You have a hot plate?”

Celeste checked the bottle label. “This hard ground doesn’t require heat to dry.” 

“I prefer to heat it,” said Tzvi. “It makes it adhere better.”

Ben and Celeste put on aprons. They cringed silently as all the hard ground they’d bought for the project was used in minutes by the first quarter of the Tzvi’s copperplates. They spent the balance of the morning following him around and cleaning the floor, the walls, the table, the sink, the bathroom door, and everything he touched. He worked like a man possessed, not speaking, or acknowledging their presence. By ten, all twelve plates were ready for Tzvi to begin needling to expose the copper for etching. He’d brought his own raised straight edge and hand rest. He measured each increment precisely as if it was brain surgery.

“I’m out of smokes.” Tzvi stubbed out the last of the pack he’d smoked since arriving.

“There’s a cafe on the next block with a cigarette machine. You can get lunch there too if you’re hungry.”

“Is it kosher?” asked Tzvi. 

“I doubt it. It’s Dominican. Rice and beans, chicken or fish.” Ben held the door. 

“I’ll see you in an hour.”

Ben shut the door behind him and took off his apron. He joined Celeste, heating soup in the kitchen. They’d dedicated a majority of the 2500 square foot loft to their atelier. Their tiny living space was in one corner ­– a basic kitchen, a bathroom, and a sleeping alcove.

“I don’t have a good feeling about this,” Celeste said not looking up. 

“We’re going to need more hard ground, that’s for sure.”

“He’s oblivious of everything except what he’s doing.” Celeste poured soup into two bowls. “At least this afternoon, he should be busy drawing the base plates. I have some etchings to print. I promised John, I’d deliver them later this week.”

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