A woman calls about a job. To be more precise, she calls after trying to email me at an address I haven’t used in years. I don’t answer the phone because 99% of calls are from bots these days and I don’t recognize the number. Many fill up my voicemail with warnings about expiring insurance for cars I don’t own and prizes I could win, if I’d only call back. This woman leaves her message as well.

She got my contact info from the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. I make posters and such for them and she wants to hire me to do the same. I call her and we have a pleasant enough talk. She’s working on a documentary about Ida B. Wells and wonders whether I could make some illustrations to stand in for photos and footage that don’t exist.

I tell her I’ll give it a shot.

I paint a scene of a train car with a woman being accosted by a conductor. The documentarian is very happy with it and asks if I’ll make thirteen more images to illustrate her narration of a sequence in which Wells boards a Memphis train and is eventually thrown off by force.

I’m not that enthused about this, but, having just quit bartending, can’t be turning up my nose at work. So I quote her a price I doubt she’ll meet. To my surprise, she quickly agrees. I write back requesting a deposit, then set to work.

I don’t hear from her with either funds or words for several days. I should put the work aside until I get paid, but am afraid that I’ll lose whatever faint enthusiasm and weak momentum I’ve got for the job. So I trudge on.

I complete the thirteen pictures, scan and send them, then wait. Days pass without a peep. It’s not a good sign. Then I prod the woman with a follow up email. She answers that she’s unhappy with what I’ve made. Can’t I make the woman more recognizably Ida B. Wells?

I stop myself from writing what I actually want to say and suggest that we should just forget the whole thing. I guess she agrees because she doesn’t even dignify my suggestion with a response.

Is there no limit to my stupidity? Maybe I’ll find out one day. For now, the mystery persists.