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Sexton Blakes: fakes. My studio is littered with them.

Canvasses hug the walls resembling fanned out slices of thick bread. Some are commissions waiting for collection. Most are studies in vermillion or viridian in the likeness of my current favourite, Renoir.

Epithets stick like mud-splats: counterfeiter, falsifier, forger. But the one closest to the truth is simply ‘the converter’. That’s what I do: convert exquisite, priceless masterpieces into affordable works of art.

A tap at the door squeezes my heart in anticipation. My present undertaking is for a friend who wants to immortalise his daughter. Alice dances into the studio, dragging her mother by the hand. I turn my back and pour a mug of coffee while Alice strips to her underwear. Her mother has brought a white sundress sprigged with buttercups for her to pose in. The child’s long auburn hair is adorned with an orange ribbon but left unfettered to skim her shoulders.

Without instruction, Alice scrambles onto the chaise longue and scoops up the trug of freesias I’d collected from the early morning flower market. She rests it on her lap and gazes at me. Her brown eyes and plump lips speak of the woman she will grow into. The merest hint of a smirk plays at the corners of my mouth and I raise a splattered hand to cover it. But her mother misses nothing and I sense this will be the last time Alice sits for me.

My paintbrush flies across the canvas, as though Renoir stands at my shoulder, guiding, urging. In my head, I see his painting of the ‘Little Girl with a Spray of Flowers’. I’d fallen in love with this on a trip to Sao Paulo two years ago. The postcard I bought in the museum shop lies next to my palette and I’m careful to refer to it. My eye is drawn to the bracelets of baby fat that crease above Alice’s wrists and I agonise over this detail.

I am so absorbed in the task I fail to notice Alice’s mother creep behind me until her breath raises the hairs on my neck.

‘Do you like it?’ I ask with paintbrush poised mid-air.

‘I’m not sure. You’ve caught Alice’s likeness but there’s something unwholesome about it.’

‘Unwholesome? How curious.’ A pinprick of perspiration forms on my brow.

‘Can I see, mama?’ Alice pushes between us and stares at the painting. ‘It’s like looking in a mirror.’

‘I’m sure it will give your husband a great deal of happiness, madam,’ I say, pulling a handkerchief from my pocket and pressing it to my forehead.

‘Only if I give my approval. Come, Alice, we’re going.’

I sigh, thinking of Les Puces de Nice where, in a dusty shop, art treasures languish amongst worthless curios. I flip through my collection; it’s time to rub the art world’s nose in the proverbial and facilitate the discovery of a rare Renoir.

Not Alice, though. It’s too soon to part with my beautiful Alice.

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Ros Collins is a retired school teacher. She lives with her husband in the seaside town of Felixstowe, Suffolk. Walks by the sea provide the perfect stimulus for new creative projects. Her hobbies are writing, tennis and travelling.

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