The Contract

“I need to go into the city to buy more hard ground and benzene tomorrow.”

“Go today. Tzvi will be busy drawing, and I can babysit him.”

“You don’t mind being here alone with him?”

“He basically ignores me. It’ll be fine.” 

“Anything else needed?”

“Better get more solvents, paper towels, Mr. Clean, and rubber gloves. Tzvi is like a giant toddler. He managed to get hard ground on my drying rack and the printing blankets which he didn’t even touch. See his fingernails? They’re stained black.”


Tzvi returned from lunch at noon. He helped Ben fill two trays with the acid solution and after finishing his drawing, placed the first two copper plates into the trays. He stood guard over the plates in the acid with a succession of lit cigarettes clenched between his lips. 

“I’d like a cup of tea,” he said to Celeste as he tried to catch her eye. 

She cranked the etching press at the far end of the studio and didn’t hear him. He ignored Ben who was standing much closer. 

He called out to Celeste. “I prefer Lapsang Souchong or Darjeeling, but any black tea is acceptable.” He was not smiling.

“Tzvi, Celeste is busy,” said Ben. “All we have is Lipton tea, but I made a pot of coffee earlier. Help yourself in the kitchen.”

Tzvi made a face like he smelled something unpleasant. He dropped his cigarette into the sink, took his copper plates out of the acid and rinsed each one splashing water indiscriminately. He leaned them against the side of the sink and let them drain onto the floor. Then he ripped off his apron and stormed out, slamming the door.

“What happen, Ben?” asked Celeste.

“I seemed to have offended Tzvi.” Ben poured himself a coffee. “He’s gone.”

“Let’s open up all the windows. It’s smoky in here.”

“I should go buy the supplies later. On the radio, they said the transit strike is still happening. I wonder how bad the traffic will be. I heard that some businesses are reserving hotel rooms for their staffs, so they don’t have to go home at night.”

“I hope we can stay ahead of him. He’s voracious.”

“Like a hungry wolf?” asked Ben.

“Exactly.” Tzvi treated them like appendages of himself and it made Celeste livid. She’d never worked with someone so inconsiderate but knowing how important the project was to their future, she kept quiet. 

Tzvi returned a half hour later and put his plates back into the acid. Ben took the subway to the art store in Manhattan. Celeste continued printing. The afternoon slipped quietly away with the sound of classical music broadcast on the radio and each working as far away as possible from the other until Ben returned.

The next few days passed with Tzvi arriving a little earlier each day and staying later. He insisted on removing all the hard ground or aquatint from each plate each time he etched it. He’d douse it with so much solvent it dripped off the table and melted the floor paint. He required Ben to print a proof on good paper of each stage of each plate while trying different color combinations, so that most of the paper ordered for editioning was used before any plates were completed. Ben and Celeste watched the clock each day hoping he’d leave before they fell asleep on their feet but said nothing.

Celeste caught Ben looking at the proofs of an etching of his own he’d been working on before Tzvi had taken over their lives. She knew it was hard for him to put it aside half done. 

“I bet you miss not being able to do your own artwork.”

4 thoughts on “The Contract

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