Saturday, 14 January 2012

Coastal Scene with Crab Catchers, about 1658

By Nicolaes Pietersz Berchem (1620 – 1683)
I often stand here, looking out, out over the misty bay at low tide. Watching the tall ships glide in, watching them risking the tall rocks and watching as they unloading their catch. Looking at the men scurrying along the shoreline, there movements hazy in the spray. I stand for hours watching these catchers. Waiting, waiting for nothing.

No one gives me a second look now, not these days, not now after all these years. I'm a usual fixture, best ignored, best forgotten. But a long ago, a long time ago I was the gayest girl around here. Everyone wanted me and I had the pick of the town.

It was all ruined by some boys fumbling one Saturday night. Hadn't a clue had I, how could I? Not a clue what he was up to down there. Fumbling away down there. Then it was all over. I wasn't sure what had happened. That Saturday after the fair, after he'd been drinking all day, after he'd caught me on the way home, after he'd told me he loved me. He seemed happy enough, at the time, tell the next day.

I was never that fond of him, not really, seemed nice enough, but there was always something about him, not right, not trustworthy. We had to marry, that's what they say around here. For the sake of the child, so they said, for the sake of his dirty doings. Our dirty doing they all said, as if I had a choice. The poor wretch was stillborn; I don't know if I was thankful or relieved. Whatever, I was now trapped in a loveless marriage. With him.

He was a catcher like the rest; like them down there; it's the only thing to do around here. He'd be off with the rest, back when he felt like it. It's a hard life; like for them down there. His only way of dealing with that was through having a go at me. He knew I would be too ashamed to let anyone else see the results. He knew I didn't love him, I told him often enough.

One day I thought why not give him something to be jealous about; to be really jealous about. He's always saying I'm off with another. So why not? Why shouldn't I have a bit of fun for a change? I still had some of my looks left. And I did. It was then I found someone quiet, someone who might treat me right.

I will never forget standing here waiting to tell him his cottage would be empty when he next entered. Waiting to tell him I'd be off with the new one next time he returned. It was best to do it when his mind was occupied and his fellow catchers were all around. There was less chance of a real beating. I came away with some bruises that day, but they where less than I feared.

I was happy back then at last. I'd defied the town and many would not speak to me. They down there don't speak to me now; most don't know why; it's just not the done thing. I was really happy then; at least for a few weeks.

My new one started to find things difficult with his fellow catchers. This is a Christian town and no one is forgiven who steps outside the done thing. He had difficultly selling his crabs or getting little pieces of help from the other catchers.

Then he started to blame me for it all. Grew more resentful towards me he did. This new one didn't thump me quite so often, only when he had been drinking, at least I have that to be thankful for. There was nothing I could do now; I just had to put up with it.

I outlived the pair of them. It's hard work out there and it wears the men down. I outlived the pair of them. By then it was too late, too late for me, my looks had long gone.

Standing here, looking at the catchers down there, I remember that day, when I told him I was going. And the all too brief weeks when I was happy.

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