Giving away one copy of 'THE ABSURD SECRET DIARY OF AN UNBORN BABY' to any reader who leaves a message on my website guest page link.
If you observe a mezzotint under poor light you soon become aware of the subtle changes of light and shade, drawing you gradually into its bewitching imagery.
It was four years after the death of Sir William Shakespeare, in the year 1620, that one hundred and one Pilgrim Fathers set sail from Plymouth’s Barbican with their noses to the wind, heading quickly beyond the rocky shores of England. Every man, woman and child had entrusted their lives unto god, praying for deliverance across the cold depths of the North Atlantic and to the New World.
I recount to you a moment only two summers past, so strange you would think it a fictitious tale retold to strangers only on cold winters night, but like most stories, truth and fiction often lead each other hand in hand.
Three days before the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Mayflower’s departure, with fine weather unbroken, Bill Catchpole shook hands with his fellow seadogs, wishing them good health and safe journey as they stumbled outside the Sailor’s Arms public house and onto Plymouth’s crowded fishing quay. He had remembered that Nelson, his three-legged tomcat, hadn’t been fed.
Bill hurried home, but in White Lane, he noticed a sign.
A rough scribble on a board declared that everything inside the studio was to be sold at half price. With outstretched arms to feel his way, Bill stumbled along the dimly lit passageway and up the rickety staircase. His nostrils winced with disgust as he entered a large room.
The smell was sweet and musty. Overhead, a heavy curtain hung across a window, yet brilliant shafts of sunlight still managed to dart through the occasional tears. A flickering light bulb tried desperately to exert itself, but it’s own ghost was only a breath away.
The old fisherman’s face looked utterly dejected as he fingered impatiently
through a collection of watercolours and two charcoal sketches depicting an unknown woman.
There was little here to merit a second glance, until, when about to leave, he heard the creak of floorboards behind him. He wheeled around and was confronted by a little girl.
At five feet tall or less, she smiled up at him. Behind her, a door had been left open, a door fit only for dwarfs.
It wasn’t long before she stared down at those cracks between the floorboards like young children do. Bill imagined the cracks getting wider, swallowing the girl until, quite unexpectedly, she discovered new confidence and politely asked, ‘Do you like this?’
From behind a wicker basket she produced a magnificent mezzotint, its rich, velvety blacks and mesmerising highlights capturing a maritime scene of a tall, fully rigged ship lying at anchor in Sutton Pool.
On closer inspection, she revealed herself as the 17th Century sailing ship, the Mayflower.
Unable to contain his excitement any longer, he cried out in joy and noticed the girl’s wide, dolphin like smile that found little trouble in touching the old man’s soul.
‘It’s not a painting!’ she whispered. ‘It’s a mezzotint.’
Her words appeared to be spoken with an air of nervousness as if afraid of some unseen ear listening in to their conversation.
With lips painted bright rouge and cheeks of white porcelain, he thought it so strange when she wished him luck!
He left the studio with empty pockets. The girl looked out of the window and waved. He returned her wave but suddenly thought how much older she looked as she blew a kiss with looks open to deceive.
As night blew away day, the old man rocked through the passing hours in his favourite chair with whisky in his belly and tobacco stinging his eyes. The waxing moon hung high above, whilst under a solitary wall lamp, Bill Catchpole savoured his newly acclaimed treasure.
Like drops of morphine passing through veins, an ethereal pleasure can be experienced by looking at mezzotints, but be careful of the overdose, it brings about sleep, and so Bill drifted off into his sea of dreams.
He dreamt of deep-sea trawlers, their bows breaking the white, frothing waves, with seagulls astern, and skimming the crests.
Suddenly, Bill awoke into a room that was cold and as unwelcoming as a drunken winter’s night in a cemetery. Slowly, he raised his bony skeleton from his chair just as a church bell chimed somewhere in the distance.
He meant only to glance at his picture momentarily before retiring to bed, but in doing so, he stepped back in horror.
Unable to comprehend what he saw, time became bankrupt. His left hand shook uncontrollably, his mouth dry, blood dripping from the side of his mouth where a tooth had dug deep into his bottom lip. He felt dizzy and out of breath. Was he having a heart attack? After awhile, he delicately brushed a finger across the surface of the mezzotint.
The original scene in the picture had vanished, now there was a quayside with a carthorse and wagon. The horse was flailing its legs into the air as barrels and torn sacks of grain spilled over the harbour wall and into the water.
To the left side of the picture was the high masted ship, the Mayflower, at anchor.
Deckhands scrambled up the rigging, sacks of food and barrels of water being hauled up from rowing boats.
On the quayside, many market stalls appeared as a crowd watched a bear dance to the tune of a jester’s flute. Bill didn’t sleep well that night.
Not being a particularly religious man, he believed god could only exist in people with great weakness and so he denied the very existence of gods, phantoms, demons, mythical beings and much more.
Next morning, crossing Southside Street at the junction to White Lane, Bill greeted his many friends as usual before entering the Sailor’s Arms. Sitting close together, Bill’s shipmates recounted their lost youth with stomachs rocking with beer.
That night, before retiring to bed, Bill opened the door to his living room. His finger hesitated on the light switch, but no sooner had the wall lamp spread its yellow tendrils of light, he cried out. The mezzotint had shifted scene yet again!
The Mayflower’s huge sails were billowing out in the breeze, the carthorse and wagon having now vanished. A dense crowd had swarmed over the quayside.
An historical event was about to take place and Bill Catchpole would realise just how privileged he was.
He awoke the next day with all the joy of a spring lamb. The sky was a perfect blue as he swaggered down White Lane, kicking a stone and posting a letter in the pillar-box in the wall.
A sign, saying closed, was nailed above the painter’s studio with the door firmly padlocked. Outside, a ginger cat preened itself.
Bill stood besides the Mayflower steps and shaded his eyes as he stared up at the bickering seagulls soaring effortlessly on warm currents of air. Foolishly he followed their paths into the sun and, just momentarily, blinded himself.
Then something very strange happened.
A sudden and terrible smell entered his nostrils. It was almost nauseating. Regaining his sight, he noticed a tall high-masted ship, beautifully rigged, lying anchored in Sutton Pool. Bill immediately knew her name. She was the Mayflower bound for the New World!
She rocked proudly in the water, the centre of attention. Families were cheering and waving whilst others cried.
Cheeks of invisible wind began blowing the vessel slowly out of Sutton Pool.
A large crowd began pushing Bill Catchpole nearer the waters edge. Being a non-swimmer, he feared for his life. It looked cold and deep.
A small number of Puritans were kneeling in prayer, their heads bowed low.
Bill spotted a rowing boat bobbing in the water close to the quay. Without thought, he descended a flight of steps and clambered aboard. After one hundred strokes of the oars, they reached midstream. The boat drew alongside the Mayflower, dwarfed by her mighty hulk even though she was a small ship compared to most.
A small girl appeared on deck that Bill thought he recognised. She looked down and shouted at our audience of onlookers, waving frantically. Couldn’t be more than … fifteen! Bill stared in utter amazement. She was the little girl in the painter’s studio whom he bought the mezzotint from.
‘I see you made it!’ she yelled above the calls of the screeching seagulls.
With her bright rouge lipstick and porcelain cheeks, she blew him a kiss.
‘For you. Take care and wish me luck.’
‘I do, I do,’ Bill cried, looking up at the frail looking girl, and as he waved he asked her name, but the seagulls were loud and her speech soft.
The Mayflower gathered speed.
He couldn’t help but feel his cheeks. They felt wet, but for now he was past caring.
Soon outpaced, their rowing boat bobbed up and down as the Mayflower trimmed her nose to the wind and disappeared over the horizon, but the old man’s thoughts were for that little girl, whoever she was!
Eventually, their group stumbled ashore and Bill wandered the streets in a severe state of hopelessness. With no food or money, he was a stranger trapped in the wrong century.
He turned up a side street with no people. At least the foul smelling crowd had dispersed.
Screeching tyres broke his concentration, and he cursed loudly. He tumbled headlong into the gutter, grazing his arm. The bonnet of the speeding car narrowly missed him. Again he threw his body sideways as a police car accelerated with its siren wailing.
He stood paralysed, but not in terror, but in happiness. He was home!
His nostrils sniffed at the sweet smelling air. Once inside his house, he was about to replace the mezzotint with a modern oil painting, but changed his mind. He noticed a little girl waving onboard the Mayflower as the ship made its way out of Plymouth Sound.
To the left of the picture, he recognised himself waving in the little rowing boat. Who was she?
That night, his heart came to rest, and the question mattered no more.