My Name is Jane
written by Christine Unger
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B & B: Morning : 1
|The morning began, full of promise as I woke to the unfamiliar sound of birds. The air was heartbreakingly fresh. The room was cold. I pulled an inadequate blanket as close to me as I could. Maybe I’d skip a shower this morning. I decided to spend some time in bed rewinding the events of the previous day.
The storm had come to a sudden stop around midnight as I pulled up the drive of a little B & B I’d found online. Norman bates would have been right at home. At least there were no ruffles or complimentary crocheted hangers. I’d been on the road for days, working a case that had gone suddenly cold when I reached the unlikely town of St-Jerome, Québec. It was a simple case, “find my biological mother,” the kind of case I only take when I’ve run out of cash. The poor bastard was desperate, one of those people sure that biology would explain every damn thing that had gone wrong in their life - as if it wasn’t their own decisions that put them where they are. I was sure he’d keep paying.
I’d followed the trail from St. Jerome to Val-David, a sweet little resort town full of artists, smart self-reliant people who wanted to live well despite their minimal incomes. I was sitting in a coffee shop—even the little dives here have good coffee—considering my options. Go home and tell the client his case was a dead end or just keep going.
Procrastinating, I picked up a local paper. Flipping through the pages, my own name caught my attention. Like walking past my own grave stone, there it was “Jane’s body found at the bottom of Val-David construction site.” Something twigged. Could it be the same Jane? I remembered. It had been a couple of years ago. I’d been in Carolina, visiting my mother.
She knew how down I was and reminded me how much I used to get out of my art classes, “there’s a show on at the Contemporary” the artist’s name is Jane too (as if that mattered), why not go see it. Don’t sit around here, you’re making me nervous…”
So I went, and it was amazing, SHE was amazing. Her lecture on her Spirit Figures series for the 1980s and the impact of the art of the Otomi and Chichimec people on her early work was fascinating. She spoke about transformation, the Otomi's shamanistic belief in Nagualism—the ability of some to transform in to animals and back again, treading between planes of reality, assisting change. "Don't dismiss these beliefs too lightly," she said intently as if remembering something far away. I knew better, seeing the theatrics of it all, but still, it sent a shiver down my spine. I wandered around the gallery after that, a retrospective of her work, which seemed weird considering how young she was.
Where did she find the time for all this, how had she made all this work, wandered around Canada and France with Riopelle, painted murals and been a beauty queen in Forano, Italy, written an autobiography, fostered and attended political rallies, married, divorced and married again, lived with the shamans of the Otomi people, started her own printing studio, helped to found Atelier de L'ile, and still found time to teach and nurture a generation of students, and have passels of beloved freinds and colleagues, all in the time it had taken me to go from desultory wife to grieving widow without finding a single satisfactory avocation, never mind a fulfilling vocation. Even if she just LOOKED young, it seemed like more than anyone could pack into a lifetime.
I googled the body’s location, but all I can see is pixelated trees, it’s not exactly a hotspot, I couldn’t even tell if there was a construction site or a pit of any kind, but just at the edge of the map I notice the word “atelier.” I drag and shift and sure enough I’ve found my way to what was once Jane’s studio, Atelier Scarabée. Standing at the front of the building now is a great menacing sculpture—metal, moss, and bark—of a bear and an enormous dog. My dog, the one from the other night.
She’s supposed to have been killed by some sort of doppelgänger making a living off “interpretations” of her work in China. How could anyone pull that off. Then it began to make sense. Jane had worked so hard at her anonymity, it WOULD be incredibly difficult to to know if you were dealing with the real Jane or not. Identity theft happened all the time, hell, even I have a clause in my house insurance for it.
Still, not only would they have to look like her, they’d have to know her work and be able to reproduce it, have all her connections and what about the money end of things.
I’d seen some of her China series. It was good, at first it seemed a little out of character—the other series had been all about identity: where she came from—and this was China and what did it have to do with anything. But then I’d realized, once you’ve covered your past, where is there to go but forward. I thought it was a great commentary on the creation of identity as a western artist, the impact of Orientalism and effects of traveling on artistic style. It didn’t have the power of the earlier series, it just wasn’t personal enough. But still, I loved it, it was beautiful, and mysterious. There was something different about the way things were shot, more symmetrical, more static. Again, I’d assumed it was intentional, I imagined she was emphasizing her own incongruity with the landscape. Now I wondered if there wasn’t a bit of shame in the head that was turned away. If I was looking for suspects, I would be looking close to Jane’s home, real close.
Her neighbors comments were weird. Why would the doppelgänger stay in Jane’s Montreal apartment where people might recognize her, and give PARTIES. That really was odd. I’d have to talk to them myself (dutifully I jotted down in my notebook -Visit Jane’s Montreal apartment). I wanted to see the files from Sureté Québec (VISIT POLICE), whom did they think this doppelgänger was, how’d they come up with a theory like that? (TIMELINE) That’s when I realized I’d taken on a new case.