The Acrobat at Rest
by Mistale Taylor
(Inspired by Picasso’s sketch, “La Saltimbanque au Repos”)
It’s 1744, so it’s very inadvisable to steal sheep. “If any person or persons shall feloniously drive away with, or shall wilfully kill, one or more sheep, with intent to steal any part of the carcasses, the person or persons so offending shall be sentenced to death, without benefit of clergy.” Ezequiel Aramburú stole a sheep yesterday. Today, it’s all he can think of as Mr. William Hogarth draws him. “Good afternoon, Mr. Ambrew, could you sit on a box, please, thank-you. It is most important that you keep very still.” Ezequiel has the sad face of a barn owl: pale with round eyes, like a forlorn moon with a widow’s peak. The only clues that he is an acrobat come from his cheery, delirious circus outfit: a silly hat and a frivolous collar, a bulging stomach in a leotard and humble little slippers. He looks like a bizarre hot air balloon.
Ezequiel tries so hard to keep still that his face pinkens. He had run around a field for three hours chasing those sheep. Well, probably three hours. Mr. William Hogarth asks why he has paint on his clothes—was he re-painting his caravan? Oh how lovely. Those splodges will have to go into the drawing. Actually, it’s sheep blood all over the innocent violet of his leotard. Will the executioner get blood all over himself when he has to kill Ezequiel? Or will he be hanged? He squirms. Mr. William Hogarth asks him, please, to stop moving. Ezequiel had sold the sheep’s fat to a candle-stick maker for two shillings and twopence halfpenny. The coins jingle in his pocket. He wants to take the trapeze artist to the theatre or the opera. And suddenly Ezequiel remembers he probably won’t take her to the theatre, the opera, London or to anywhere else. Maybe she’ll come to his funeral?
He looks at his humble little slippers. He despises this costume—it makes him look absurd. And now Mr. William Hogarth is immortalising Ezequiel the Absurd Saltimbanco. He never meant to be an acrobat; he’d wanted to be a butcher, but his English was too poor. He’d enjoyed butchering that sheep. Last night’s meal had been most enjoyable. He smiles. Mr. William Hogarth asks him, please, to stop smiling. Nonetheless, Ezequiel is blissful as he remembers yesterday in his battered caravan, with a plate of heavenly meat before him and the promise of a day with the trapeze artist jingling in his pocket. Sergeant Joseph Agnew and a local farmer stride into the room: “Mr. Ara…Aram…the clown in the leotard, please.”