A children’s favourite seaside puppet show portraying domestic abuse was basis for this new novel by Carol M Mottershead. Here is what Erin Pizzey, founder of the UK’s first ever women’s refuge in Chiswick and avid social reformer on domestic abuse, said about it:
‘Wow your book is a tour de force the research that you must have done to cover such a huge amount of years is amazing I loved the book you are a natural born storyteller. I hope to read your next book soon; lots of love and congratulations.’ Author Erin Pizzey’
JOAN – Put On A Happy Face’ has recently been rated #1 BEST SELLER in both Historical Biographical Fiction and Medieval Thought. It’s a real page turner! So what’s the story about?
Joan had been silenced by her status, her religion, by society for hundreds of years. Her puppets, her only friends, told her real story, but even now people want to silence her –it was time she spoke out, they’re not just blocks of wood! It all started so long ago…
Joan’s son missed his Father putting him to bed at night so Joan decided to turn Father into a puppet; so he would always be with them at bed time. She could tell her son stories about him, create adventures that the whole family could take part in, eventually adding their friends and her son loved them – it became a special time for Mother and Son.
As time went on, she began to share her shows with the other children and her shows became so popular that other puppeteers began telling similar stories, all with the same basic characters, but all different in their own ways and at first Joan was pleased that her stories were entertaining so many children, for Joan loved children, but she and her husband had been blessed with only the one… Nicholas – who she adored!
What people needed to know was that Joan and her family were/are immortal. Their lives had not been entirely easy, but over the hundreds of years they have experienced it all… laughter, love, happiness, jealousy… even murder; no one has known their real story until now. Joan decided it was time to reveal the story behind her puppet show, the show we all came to know as ‘Punch & Judy’.
PRAISE FOR CAROL FROM MANY OTHER AUTHORS
‘Ello Carol, I managed to get the paperback version from Amazon and had time to read over the holidays. Well done! An excellent read. I loved your characters and really enjoyed following them on their journey. I’m looking forward to the next book. I really enjoyed the chapters that you recorded too. I think I will ask Amanda to record my book when it’s finished. Best wishes Mark Hadlett (Author)’
‘Hi Carol, Finished your book this morning and I LOVED it – as all my family on my mum’s side are Italian I loved it even more! When they went to the seaside resort in Italy I had in my mind that it was in my hometown Viareggio which is on that side of Italy and is the most wonderful place in the world – every year they have a Carnival (which is the biggest one in Europe) and is full of amazing floats and I think Joan and co would love performing in it. Thanks, Chantal Taylor’
‘I’ve really enjoyed this book. An interesting mix of plot points that cover everything from historical fiction and fantasy, to an in depth study of marital abuse and the strength of character to rise above it. I hope the author continues this story as I really like the ending too. David Littlefair’
Targeted Age Group:: 18+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
A children's favourite seaside show portraying domestic abuse was the basis for my novel after watching an interview with a Punch and Judy Professor Brian Llewellyn on Good Morning Britain a TV show in the UK. Professor Brian, one of UK's #1 Punch and Judy entertainers, was heard to describe his puppets a 'just blocks of wood!' which for some reason ignited something in my brain. I asked myself 'who performed the very first puppet show we now call Punch and Judy? Could they have been real people?
Judy, otherwise known to many as Joan, or should I say Dame Joan to be precise seemed to come to life. She had been silenced for hundreds of years, first by her status as a noble person, one has an image to maintain; then by marriage, one does not speak out against her husband; her religion, the law and rules of society, but NO MORE!
These interviewers wanted Professor Brian to change the story, remove the violence, brush it under the carpet you could say. They accused her show puppet shows of promulgating domestic violence when in fact they were quite the opposite – she always asked the audience, children and adults alike, to 'speak out against violence. Should Judy if you see Mr Punch doing anything wrong' she would say, and so do her professors.
She would not be silenced! This time she wanted everyone to know her real story! She had been silenced long enough!
As Joan revealed her story to me, I listened. She was turning into a real person, alive and for some reason I pictured her living in the Lake District – a beautiful location in England.
How is she still alive and kicking in the Lake District?
She, and her family, are immortal… and there lies another book. Thank you for asking the question.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I came up with the characters based on those used in all Punch and Judy shows, they all begin with the same ones and then add new characters to their own shows over the years, but for Joan, her characters were real; they were her family and her friends… and goodness knows she didn't have many; for with the job she and her family did as actors they were on the move all the time, never being able to set up roots anywhere for long.
Then when they took that dreaded potion and became immortal… they couldn't let anyone get too close for they would be condemned as abominations and maybe feared by their fellow man, then there was her husbands paranoia and jealousy… so any friends they did make, became their family and were special people, REAL people.
J O A N – Put on a Happy face
by Carol M Mottershead
I opened my eyes and smiled at the face standing in front of me. Others were standing around. I felt calm, weightless then I heard a voice….
‘Hello Joan, do you know where you are?’
The owner of the voice wore a nurse’s uniform and was smiling at me. I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Where was I? What was the matter with me? Why couldn’t I speak?
‘Now stay calm Joan. Don’t be afraid, you’re in hospital, you’re safe,’ the nurse turned her head to speak to someone. I looked round, hoping to get my bearings.
‘Call the doctor. Tell her she’s awake will you?’
I heard muffled voices in the distance. As my hearing cleared, sound grew louder; I heard a high-pitched regular beat from a huge machine immediately behind me, its vibrations shook my whole body. The machine – what was it? Doors were opened and shut as new people entered the room.
‘Hello Joan, I’m Doctor Venables I just want to examine you. Can you lie down for me please? Nurse, can you help her.’
Eyes moving side to side searching for some familiar sight, I did as I was told. I was anxious and confused. Lights were being flashed into my eyes. Cold instruments were being used to prod and poke my body. My mind was disoriented, but the other senses were being rudely awakened as reflexes were tested and needles were stuck in me. Everyone seemed to be talking at the same time. Nothing was making sense. What was going on? Someone abruptly began pushing my bed along a corridor. The squeaks and rattle of the wheels, the banging of the doors seemed amplified, as my hearing awakened. We entered a tiny room with a newly prepared bed awaiting my transferral.
‘Shuffle your bottom over Joan, that’s a good girl.’ The nurse seemed to be shouting. I tried to lift myself over, but struggled, needing help. There was more chattering and banging as the porters removed the trolley… then silence! The silence was deafening. Believing the room to be empty, I closed my eyes to rest.
‘That’s right,’ said a voice suddenly – making me jump. The nurse began tucking me into my new bed and was holding my wrist checking my pulse.
‘You get some sleep while you can. It’ll be teatime soon. You must be hungry. I’ll be back in a bit. Call me if you need me. Here is your buzzer,’ and something was placed in my hand. The nurse left the room.
It didn’t feel like I’d been asleep for long when I heard clattering in the corridor. A smell of cooked food hung in the air, it must be teatime; a nurse entered the room and placed a tray onto a bedside table and came over to help me sit up, positioning my pillows to enable me to swallow easily she said. She placed the table in front of me and left me to feed myself. I didn’t feel much like food. My head still felt woozy. I picked up the fork and began shuffling food around my plate trying to find something appetising, but I was too exhausted to chew. Mashed potato – that might do it; but I only managed a couple of mouthfuls. The nurse returned and started fussing. Something about keeping my strength up if I’m going to get better; and she tried tempting me with some of the dessert… It was ice cream – almost melted – just the way I like it; it slid coolingly down my throat.
‘That’s a good girl.’ The nurse was saying.
She reminded me of Mother, how she used to make me laugh talking about food! She loved her food, good food that is and had an answer for everything –
If I was happy and too excited to eat –
‘You still have to eat to keep your strength up’ she’d say.
If I was unhappy and had no appetite –
‘You have to eat or you’ll waste away.’
Or when I was unwell –
‘You have to eat to keep your strength up or you’ll not get well’.
No matter what reason you had for not wanting to eat, Mother always had an answer ready! She could be quite eccentric at times.
‘Now let’s get you freshened up’ the nurse continued speaking
‘You can have a good night’s sleep and you’ll feel a lot better in the morning. I have some tablets here to help you sleep, then I’ll leave you alone to rest some more, is that all right?’
Next morning, I awoke feeling more like my old self after a good night’s sleep, then looking round the room… I stopped suddenly… realising I was not at home. Hospital… why am I in hospital? I opened my mouth to call out for a nurse. No sound would come. I started to panic. I pressed the buzzer. My voice, what was wrong with my voice? A nurse entered the room asking what I wanted. I tried to speak, but again no sound came. Panic starting, the nurse told me to stay calm, but I couldn’t help it. The nurse buzzed for help, and sent for a doctor. I recognised the doctor, Doctor Venables from the previous day. She began examining me, focusing on my throat this time. She told the nurse that everything seemed to be fine then turned to me –
‘You’re OK Joan it’s the shock. Now try to relax and just breathe steadily. You’ve been in a state of catatonia for a few days whilst you’ve been with us Joan, but you’ve come through the worst of it now. With a few more days rest, you’ll be fine; then we’ll see about getting you back your voice and you can tell us what happened to bring you here, does that sound like a plan?’ she smiled. I could only nod and look questioningly at the nurse… at the doctor… I felt helpless!
‘Good girl… I’ll prescribe something to give her now nurse, it will help keep her calm, but I want her to sleep at night, so I’m prescribing a sleeping pill, is that all right with you Joan?’ she said turning to me;
‘She needs to rest.’ She told the nurse.
‘Now Joan, try not to worry. I know it must be frightening, but I believe your friend Alison has promised to call in on you again, is that right nurse?’ looking at the nurse for confirmation.
‘She’s been popping in to see you regularly these past few days, so you have something to look forward to, is that OK? Now rest and I’ll see you in a couple of days, I’m not in tomorrow, but if you need me…? Nurse, if she gets her voice back, if you need me, give me a call. I’m at the end of a phone. Well I’ll say goodbye now Joan. Sleep – that’s the best medicine for you right now!’ And she left.
I must have drifted back off to sleep for when I awoke again it was dark. Hours must have passed… how long I wondered, what time was it? I pressed the buzzer. My mind was still very much in a daze. A new nurse arrived offering me something to drink and a bed pan; I had no intention of using any bed pan and struggled to get out of bed. I tried to stand, but my legs gave way. The nurse settled me back on the bed and brought me a wheelchair as I totally refused to stay in the bed like some invalid. The nurse chattered as she pushed the wheelchair to the toilet and told me that Alison had visited me earlier that evening, but after staying for a short while and after being told by the nurse I needed to rest, she left promising to return the next afternoon, when I should be feeling stronger. It would be good to see Alison, a familiar face. I hoped she would shed some light on why I was in hospital. The nurse helped me to complete my ablutions and took me back to bed. She started asking me questions… what had happened? What caused it? Caused what I wondered, I couldn’t remember. I could remember my distant past, but not the recent past. My mind wouldn’t go there. It was like a door had been slammed shut to me. A feeling that the words were on the tip of my tongue, my thoughts just out of reach…
‘I’ve an idea Joan’, said the nurse,
‘If you’re unable to speak, how about trying to write down what you can remember, you can still write can’t you?’ she asked, I nodded.
‘I’ll sort you out pen and paper during my nightshift and leave it for you on your bedside table for when you wake up in the morning, how does that sound to you? You must feel quite upset that you can’t talk.’ I nodded.
‘Do you remember anything, anything all?’ she asked. I shook my head and my eyes began tearing up.
‘Don’t fret yourself Joan. Try to sleep for now. There’s water on your table. I’ll be back with your medication later on, it’s not time for them just yet; try to rest, tomorrow’s another day and maybe writing what you remember will kick start that brain of yours.’ She laughed and smiled in an attempt to reassure me.
I smiled, silently laughing for to be honest if I told them everything about myself, they’d never believe it; they would think I was crazy! Call me eccentric if you must, but I am definitely NOT crazy!
The next morning, the pen and paper promised to me by the nurse, was on my bedside table. I did what they asked, I wrote –
‘My name is Joan. I was born just outside of Rome, Italy. My birthday is 8th January. I am an orphan. My Mother died when I was 14 and my Father when I was 23. I married a working actor, ten years my senior, named Pulcinella from whom I am currently estranged and we have a son named Nicholas who I haven’t seen for a few years after he was taken from me by his Father. I have been searching for him to no avail. I have been working as a puppeteer for much of my life. I’m afraid I can’t remember any more. Why am I in here? Why can’t I speak? Please help me.’
I handed the sheet of paper to a nurse later that day; the bare minimum that they needed to know. There was no way I could tell them my true story, for I have travelled the world several times over, taught myself many languages, modern and ancient. I’ve acted as an interpreter, have worked at many things, all for my family – always returning to the job I love most… bringing a smile to a child’s face. There’s no better feeling in the world, nothing so uplifting of spirit, than to see a smile and to know that you helped bring, even a moments happiness, to someone’s life… especially a child’s.
Joan’s true story
I couldn’t help thinking about my life and what had brought me to this point. So much had happened. It’s true that my name is Joan, but to be more precise I should say Dame Joan; although I long since stopped thinking of myself as Dame, for that was a long time ago. I was born just outside of Rome nearly 450 years ago, 8th of January 1536. I was an only child and lived a very solitary and isolated childhood; sheltered from the outside world by my circumstances. Mother and Governess were my only constant companions, with an occasional visit from my cousin Dorothy or maybe one of the servant’s children for company. I loved to play with my dolls, I could tell them anything; they were my friends… my only friends really. As I grew up I would often overhear servants talking about me.
‘She’s not what you’d call a beautiful child’ they’d say.
‘She does have a sort of handsomeness,’ I heard one say.
‘A rather classic face, with that Roman nose and high forehead’, said another.
‘Yes indeed, but you have to admit, it’s a face only a Mother could love…’
‘… and a Roman nose you say? Roamin’ all over her face more like…’ and they’d laugh; servants could be very hurtful.
One thing I was sure of though, and knew to be true was that my Mother did love me and I loved her. We would spend our days walking round the grounds of our home; we could pick fruit direct from the trees in our orchards, or wander through the woodlands on the way to the lakeside, skipping or dancing along the way. Playing hide and go seek was another favourite of ours, although in hindsight I think it was maybe Mother’s way of getting rid of me for a while, an escape from my chattering and constant questions. Sometimes we’d take a picnic and sit under a tree and read quietly together, it didn’t matter to me what we did as long as we were together. Mother knew how to make me laugh; we would take it in turns to make up stories or sing songs while she would brush my hair. Mother always made me feel safe. Nothing and no one would ever harm me whilst Mother was around; I miss her so much.
The Death of my Mother
It was shortly after my fourteenth birthday that my Mother passed away. It was the darkest day of my life. No-one would tell me how she died just that ‘it was the will of God’. Her body wasn’t placed in the crypt straight away and I was never told the reason why. I remember there was a lot of whispering in corners or total silence whenever I entered the room. After a week or so, servants were instructed to bathe and dress Mother in her best clothes before placing her in something called a coffin. I’d never seen a coffin before, but this one was like a large woven basket, lined with soft lamb’s wool to lay her body upon. The lid and sides were covered in holly and winter flowers and I remember being anxious that Mother might feel scared and alone, I couldn’t bear to think of her on her own; I wanted so much to hold her… Men they called undertakers, carried Mother’s coffin into the chapel; a small room decorated with beautiful fresco paintings. Fresh torches hung on the walls in readiness for her funeral the next day. Candles were already lit and placed on a large trestle table made of oak, where a wooden crucifix stood. Four rows of pews carved with strange symbols stood either side of the room, creating an aisle down which Mother’s coffin was carried and placed on a smaller trestle table in front of the altar; I had been taken to the chapel and told to give Mother one last, final kiss – a goodbye kiss. Her lips were cold, so cold it sent a shudder down my spine and made the hairs on my arms stand on end. I tried to hug her, to warm her; I wanted to hold onto her, but Governess dragged me away… I remember my whole body was screaming – M O T H E R!
Even now, as I recollect the mere memory of that moment I still want to call out to her – but my voice..! I remember that it was at that moment, the tears that had refused to flow until now, suddenly burst forth. Unable to stop, I cried and cried all that night, eventually falling asleep from sheer exhaustion.
The funeral had been a blur of emotion. A long walk to the crypt from the chapel, but I can’t recall the walk, just the coldness of the snow and the even colder, damp, dark crypt, its darkness only slightly eased by the few candles lit by the priest. Tears had recommenced upon awakening that morning and flowed uncontrollably. Governess did what she could to console me, holding my hand as we listened to the priest chanting even more prayers over her coffin, a final goodbye and departure from this world. Father, who ‘til now had stood tall, proud and aloof, placed an arm around me; it was the first sign of affection he had shown me since Mother had died, it felt good.
For the rest of the day, all I wanted was to be alone in my room. Governess had been very sweet. She had left me alone until evening when she brought food and a drink then she brushed my hair, a task Mother used to do as one of her nightly rituals. I remember how she would wrap my hair in braids to stop it from becoming knotted; it also allowed my hair to fall into ringlets the next day, which Mother loved. Governess brushed my hair just as gently as Mother, which only worsened my sense of loss and the tears began to flow once again. Whilst brushing, Governess tried to tell me that Mother would always be with me, in my thoughts, in my heart; that she’d be watching over me, that she was in a better place, but the platitudes only served to turn my tears to anger – partly with my Mother – for which I immediately felt guilty – for why would she go to a better place and leave me? The priest had talked about the candles carrying her soul to Heaven or some such nonsense, but how could I believe in a God who could take my Mother away from me just when I needed her the most? It was the first time I had ever felt anger towards God, but I was a child grieving for my Mother, he’d have to forgive me wouldn’t he!
That night, once I was in bed, Governess dampened all the candles before leaving the room. The only light visible was from the full moon shining through the windows. Pulling the covers over my shoulders I thought about Mother laying down there in that cold damp crypt, I’d overheard a couple of the servants discussing recent grave robberies and hoped Mother would be safe. I closed my eyes and tried very hard to picture her beautiful smiling face and fell asleep hugging myself by my shoulders, pretending I could feel Mother’s hands holding me close…
I was still crying when Alison arrived – interrupting my thoughts.
‘Whatever is wrong my dear?’ she asked with such concern.
‘Sorry, I forgot you can’t speak’ she added.
I shook my head and brushed away the tears with my bed sheet, as I sat up to greet her putting a smile on my face. Unable to speak, Alison decided to buzz for a nurse to ask for an update on my condition. No one arrived. Alison, not one for sitting around, went out to find someone and returned a short while later.
‘… so what are you doing about it? Why hasn’t the doctor been to see her today? When I arrived she was in tears poor thing! You’ve left her here alone in this side room with only her silence for company… well I want to speak to someone immediately, someone who can give me answers. I want answers I tell you!’
‘The doctor will see Joan tomorrow’ said the nurse patiently,
‘Dr Venables is off today, she did explain this to Joan’ she said directing the latter response to Alison.
‘For now, Joan needs to rest. After tea she will be due her tablets to help her to sleep some more… you’ve been asleep this afternoon haven’t you Joan?’ she queried. I nodded
‘The tea trolley will be round once visiting time is over then we’ll settle you down for the night, is that OK Joan?’
I nodded again. I didn’t want to cause any trouble. I needed help and I needed Alison to shut up. Alison was going to continue questioning the nurse, but I grabbed her arm and shook my head. If I was going to be dependent on the staff I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers by upsetting anyone. Alison took the hint, reluctantly. Sitting down on one of the chairs, she took out a bag of grapes from her hand bag and placed them on the bed. At first she complained about the staff in the hospital then began chattering away about not much at all, whilst nibbling on the fruit as she did so. Soon – thank goodness – it was time to for visitors to leave and I was able to recover from the assault on my ears from her incessant chattering. While I lay resting, I let my mind wander again to those earlier years…
I remember many weeks had passed since Mothers’ funeral and I hadn’t seen Father in all that time. His absence was nothing new for he spent a lot of time away from home when Mother was alive; he had never really been part of my life. Mother and I on the other hand were inseparable, I was her world and she mine. I knew he hadn’t gone away as usual though, for I could hear him talking quietly in his room to someone or sobbing. If I asked of his wellbeing, I was simply told –
‘Father is very busy’, and encouraged to study or entertain myself alone whilst Governess consoled him the best way she could. My tears eventually ran dry. I was empty. I could shed no more.
One time Governess had told me that Mother would be watching over me from high above in the sky, so I would sit and watch the various shapes and shades of white fluffy clouds drifting across the bright blue skies and imagine she was playing hide and go seek, our favourite game; sometimes I thought I could see her face in the clouds and imagined she was smiling down on me. Occasionally clouds would resemble waves on the seashore and I’d be reminded of the many happy times we spent together on the beach with Grandmamma. Once in a while Grandmamma would invite servants to join us and bring along their children so that I would have company. We would spend our days building sandcastles or paddling in the sea or gathering seashells. I enjoyed playing with the other children and the seaside became my favourite place to be, the place I felt happiest. I vowed one day that that was where I would live!
My loneliness seemed to go on for weeks that turned into months, then one day I was summoned to the library to see Father. It seemed he needed me to carry out some of the duties that Mother used to undertake – escorting him to public appearances and so forth. I was to learn to be a ‘Lady’ and I was to have a new wardrobe of clothes that befit my status! Governess was instructed to take me into the city and purchase whatever was needed to turn me from a child into the Lady of the House. It was all quite scary, but exciting at the same time. I learnt how to walk, talk and act like a Lady – I lost count how many times Governess made me walk up and down the room with books on my head! It still makes me smile to remember. There was to be no skipping or acting child-like either. I was shown how to conduct myself in polite society, and… I was to be introduced to the world beyond our home! Until now the furthest I’d ever been was to visit Grandmamma on the coast, which I loved, but now I was to visit the City where we were would see drawings of the latest fashions, I would be measured for new dresses, shoes – and undergarments! All this fussing about my appearance… it was like dressing my dolls, only I was the doll! My hairstyle changed too; instead of wearing my hair down with my usual ringlets freely blowing in the wind, I was to wear my hair up. It could be plaited and rolled at the sides of my head for informal occasions or for more formal occasions I could have ribbons braided into my hair to add colour, rolled up at the back of my head with only single ringlets by each ear to shape my face. Attitudes of the servants changed too, for they had to be more respectful to me; a bow here, a courtesy there – I do admit to feeling quite delighted over that aspect – there was no laughing at me now!
I enjoyed my time with Governess; we would sometimes stop off for a cool drink at the local water fountain or we’d treat ourselves to a new type of dessert made from ice sugar and flavourings known a granita midway during our day out – it was a forerunner of what we now call ice cream or Italian ices. Many of the stall holders in our local market already knew Governess very well and would call to her, looking for an introduction to me. I met so many people in that first day, that my head spun by the end of it. There were stalls of colourful textiles and lots of food stalls filled with delicious smelling, fresh-made foods. It was all very new to me. I was so excited when we returned home that I couldn’t sleep! A whole new world was opening up, a world I’d never seen or even dreamed of. There was a lot to learn and I intended to learn it, to make Father proud of me and grow into a beautiful young woman, and a ‘Lady’ he could be proud of… I had to become ‘Dame Joan’, Lady of the house.
Our trips into Rome become a regular occurrence in our lives, always something new to see or people to meet. It was during one such journey we came across a troupe of entertainers known as Commedia dell arte. They wore strange looking masks with faces of all shapes and sizes; some grotesque, some smiling. Their costumes were many and colourful and as varied as the entertainers themselves. There were drummers drumming, flautists flauting and gitterns plucking their tuneful songs and many other curious instruments. Other performers used circus skills – clowning, juggling or eating fire; some even stood on long sticks hidden under their clothing to make them appear taller, it was all extremely entertaining.
We began watching their plays every time they were in the City and they were never boring for each one was different. You could always tell when they were about to start for they would deliberately play their music loud to attract the crowds. Then they’d send in the clowns with their tumbling and tomfoolery and finally the word-mongering actors would begin their play.
The plays themselves, full of humour and lewd comedy, made fun of lovers of romance. Local political figures were another popular target for their comedy including nobles and the like; I once wondered if Father would be mentioned one day! That would have been funny. Personally, I thought them very amusing, but I wasn’t so sure about Governess. She would often turn her head away shaking her disapproval, making tutting sounds as she did so, but on occasion she could be heard snickering into her kerchief. Governess would feign her reluctance, but I loved to see them. Their music and laughter looked like so much fun. I remember thinking at the time how wonderful their life must be and how much I would love to be part of it.
We’d been visiting the city for couple of years before I saw him close up for the first time. He was one of the actors with an odd looking mask. He wore all white, loose fitting clothes with an exaggerated hump on his back and an oversized paunch of a belly, the mask with its beak-like nose, only partially covered his face.
He’d already invited several members of the audience to take part in their performance when he stopped. Right in front of me! His outstretched arm, his hand reaching out for mine silently inviting me to take part in the show; my heart missed a beat as he looked directly into my eyes. The man in charge of the show shouted – they had enough volunteers. The actor continued to hold my gaze. I blushed. He raised his mask momentarily giving me a cheeky grin and a wink before replacing his mask and racing back to rejoin the other players. My heart beat faster. My breathing quickened. The way he looked at me… I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was falling in love!
I wanted to meet him after the show, but Governess pulled me away muttering something about the audacity of young men today! But for me, I felt only excitement, it was a new experience; someone had actually chosen me – and such a charming and gallant young man! I had to see him again.
Anticipation welled up inside me. There was a spring in my step. I reluctantly walked away. Next time – I’ll wait until next time they’re in Rome. How long would it be? Three months? Four? At such a young age three months was like three years. I couldn’t wait… but I’d have to.
The days dragged. Weeks… months… and what seemed like years! Father and Governess kept me busy learning all about my ‘duties’ as well as my school work. Even that didn’t help the time pass quickly enough. More than three months had passed when we finally saw a notice announcing that Commedia dell arte would be back in Rome the following week. I couldn’t contain my excitement at the prospect of seeing ‘him’ again. Governess, knowing how I felt didn’t want to take me with her and tried all ways to put me off. She malingered over breakfast that morning hoping to arrive late for the show, but realising I was not to be deterred she finally prepared to leave.
This time the show was the best we’d ever seen. It seemed more enjoyable now that I felt I knew someone in it. I made sure that where we stood watching the show was near to where they entered and exited the performance area. As the performance finished I could see him looking round the rim of the audience. I dared to hope that he was looking for me. Surreptitiously I had walked to where he was exiting. He was waving to the applause of the crowd then turned to leave their sights.
Aahh… I remember it as if it were yesterday –
He stopped suddenly, having almost knocked me over, after I had deliberately stood in his path. I was smiling broadly with excitement. I couldn’t see her face, but I knew Governess would be scowling. Removing his mask to apologise, he was even more handsome than I remembered! He recognised me instantly and returned my smile with that cheeky grin of his. My breath caught in my chest. My pulse raced; and my face reddened with my brazenness. His gaze held mine as he apologised. Seeing Governess close by, he briefly acknowledged her presence and introduced himself to me directly; his eyes never leaving mine as he pronounced his name with an exaggerated pursing of his lips Pul-chin-ella; Governess abruptly interrupted the inappropriate introduction, reluctantly proffering my name in reply. I smiled once again as he took both my hands in his and kissed them one… at… a… time… resting his lips a little longer than one would deem appropriate in polite society. My heart skipped a beat; his twinkling eyes; gazing into mine. He made me feel special. I’d never been introduced to anyone without Father being present before. It felt so inappropriate. I tingled with excitement. Looking at Governess, I pulled away… but not too quickly… I smiled shyly once again. This time I knew it to be true… I was in love.
Governess grabbed my hand and pulled me away. I dreamily allowed myself to be led, wanting to hold the image of his smile in my memory, before walking alongside Governess with a skip in my step and a smile on my face that lasted all day long…
I tried talking with her later that night, but Governess was having none of it telling me he was a ‘no good waster’ and I should forget him, but I couldn’t. I fell asleep that first night hoping to dream about him, hoping to remember his smiling face for as long as possible – Pulcinella…
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