Chapter 4        
     

           The following day, Unless and Until stood in front of the next picture.  Neither knew quite what to make of it.
           “Perhaps it is a sweater for an octopus.” offered Unless.
           “Not enough arms,” said Until, “and what is the hand dripping on the sweater?”
           “Egg yolk.”
           “Why”
           “Who could say?”
           “Then that is another reason it couldn’t be a sweater for an octopus,” concluded Until, with a small shudder.
           They both decided to get some chores done and consider the picture more later.  Days passed, then weeks.  One morning, Unless and Until made another effort to decipher the painting, and again gave up.  Unless cleaned the dinner things while Until sterilized jars for preserving vegetables.  Then the two took on all of the dusting, even the curtains, which Unless never cared to do.  They were both of them content to continue putting off this picture, but neither wanted to say so out loud.
           It was almost time for tea one day when they heard a loud voice in the front yard, “Hallooo!  Hoy hoy!  Less and Til?  Halloo!”
           When Unless arrived at the front door, they were almost knocked down by a large person who had opened the door and was walking right in.
           “Hoy!” he said, “Here you are indeed!”
           Stunned, Unless said nothing and Until craned their neck back to see the visitor’s face above his belly.  After a pause to collect themself, Until hurried to say, “And hoy to you, sir.  Indeed yes.  Here we are.”
           “Sir?  No sirs, you two! No officer here, my old mates – Do you not remember Carl?”
           Many cries from Unless and Until.  Of course both remembered Carl, a deckhand from the OSV Mirror.  After some confusion in the hall, Unless and Until and the old friend were seated in the front room.  Unless and Until sat in the small wing chairs, because Carl was a large man, and needed nearly the full width of the loveseat.  Until offered tea, and Carl accepted.
           To pass the time until Until returned with tea, Unless asked how the roads had been so far on Carl’s travels.  It was clear that Carl was on some sort of travel, because his luggage was a duffel as large as himself, which he had considerately left in the front yard for now.  The road had been in good repair, but the inns had leaky roofs, he reported.
           Tea tray set out, the three could begin to visit properly.  Over the next hour or so, it was established that the crew of the Mirror had received the kind note Unless and Until had sent with best regards.  Carl had been cherishing notions of dry land for several months at that point.
           “No suit and tie for me, no.  But dry land, maybe a lady friend, maybe adventures of a lesser sort.  I wasn’t born a sailor, don’t wish to die one.”
           With Unless and Until’s address as a first destination, Carl had packed his duffel, drawn several years pay he’d never needed before, and set out from the next port that the Mirror pulled into.
           “And here I am!”
           “And you are welcome!” cried Unless and Until.
           Until, sincerely but with reservations as to how it would be managed, asked “Will you stay with us a few days?”
           “I would accept, and kindly offerred that is,” said Carl, “But your house is a mite small.”
           Unless had been thinking along these lines and had an idea.  “Carl, did you bring your hammock from the Mirror?”
           “Yes I did, ‘Less – do you have a hammock room?”
           “Give us an hour, Carl, and you will have hammock room both snug and spacious.”  Unless trotted up to the attic, which stretched the full width of the house and held only a trunk.  Unless pushed the trunk over to one side, near where the rafters made good anchor points for a hammock, and then set to with a broom and dust pan.  Once the dust was cleaned up, with a lantern hanging from a nail, plus a ewer and basin on the trunk, the attic made a fine guest room for a large ex-sailor with a hammock of his own.
           Arriving back in the front room a bit dusty, Unless announced that all was prepared, and that this roof did not leak.
           Carl fetched his duffel and carried it up to the attic.  Until went to the kitchen and began preparing a large roast for dinner.  Unless cleaned themself up.  Eventually the three of them gathered again in the front room.  There was some time to wait before the roast would be ready to eat.  Unless and Until explained the project they had undertaken, took him around the house to see the other pictures, and then showed Carl the new picture that had been confusing them for so long.
           “But you know what that is, don’t you?” exclaimed Carl.
           “No no,” Unless and Until answered.
           “Well,” he said, “you can’t say you never did hear of Hespera Delia?  Not once while you aboard the Mirror?  Her picture is in there, by that back window.”
            Unless and Until looked at each other and hurried to the back of the house, as if some previously unseen picture would be there.  The picture of the OSV Mirror had been the only picture they had by the window – and it was still the only picture.
            Carl pointed to the female figure atop the large mass in the middle of the picture.  “That is her, Hespera Delia, testing the wind for her birds.”
           Unless and Until expressed amazement.
           “But who is she?  And what is she to do with the painting in the front room?” asked Until, quite relieved that an explanation for that painting was going to come from somewhere.
           “I will need to tell you the whole story, or sing you the story, rather,” said Carl, “There is an old song about Hespera Delia and her birds, and you will understand the picture once you have heard it.”
           “Another hour or so before the roast is done,” said Until, anxious to hear the song.
           Equally anxious, Unless asked, “Is that enough time?”
           “Oh, plenty,” said Carl, “just let me fetch my kalimba.”  He went up to the attic, and Unless and Until listened to the heavy foot falls and thumps as Carl dug through his duffel.  Soon he reappeared in the front room with his kalimba, sat down on the loveseat, and performed the old song about Hespera Delia and her birds.

           The sky so bright so wild so high
           Wondrous birds forever roam
           Hespera Delia calls her birds
           and when she calls them
           they fly home

           The sea so old, so dark, so deep
           the mother of all wondrous things
           Hespera Delia of the sea
           gathers sunset
           as she sings

           The ocean floor is strewn with eggs
           Wondrous birds in infant shells
           Hespera Delia gathers light
           to feed the birds
           from ocean swells

           The eggs at first hatch only feet
           that grow to body, head and beak
           Hespera Delia’s sunset light
           first makes them birds
           then lets them speak

           The sea so old, so dark, so deep
           the mother of all wondrous things
           Hespera Delia of the sea
           gathers sunset
           as she sings

           The sky so bright so wild so high
           Wondrous birds forever roam
           Hespera Delia calls her birds
           and when she calls them
           they fly home


           *** click here for Hespera Delia ***




           Unless and Until sighed in appreciation of Carl’s song, then jumped up and gathered at the painting.
           “It is not an octopus sweater at all!” said Unless.
           “Not enough arms,” said Carl.
           “Exactly!” said Until, “Now we can see that it is not egg yolk either, but sunset light growing the birds!”
           “Too bad the picture was painted before the heads of the birds popped out,” said Unless, “it would be nice to see them.”
           “Painted by who?” asked Carl.
           Unless and Until looked at each other and didn’t know how to answer.
           Until took a deep breath, noticed the scent of roast, and announced “Dinner!”
           Unless put two of the dining room chairs in the spare bedroom.  Carl carried the loveseat into the dining room.  Until began carrying the dinner things in from the kitchen.  Conversation turned to more comfortable topics: mutual reminiscences, antics of other Mirror crewmembers, the discomforts and benefits of travel.
           After the roast, Unless reprised his toast to the first picture, because Carl had not heard it, before they concluded dinner with a dessert of sweet-potato and molasses trifle.  Until nursed a small glass of yellow wine contentedly as Unless and Carl cleared the table and washed up the dishes and pans.  Carl’s laughter as they worked and talked made the walls shake and brought faint twinkling sounds from the china cupboard.
           Until thought of the painting of Hespera Delia, seeing at last how she was testing the wind.  Until considered how small the OSV Mirror looked against the great cloudbank and the massive wonders of the deep ocean.  On board the Mirror, the ship had seemed a whole world in itself and the things they had seen were just flashes through a window as they passed.  The painting by the back window showed Until that they and Unless had been part of a much larger world and never properly known it.
           Until sighed and listened to the roar and bustle of the others still at work in the kitchen.  Wonderful to have seen such a world, but even better to come home safe again.
           When Unless and Carl finished in the kitchen, the three moved the loveseat back to the front room.  After some discussion, Unless and Until agreed to hang the picture of Hespera Delia growing her birds with a drop of sunset light in the dining room.  Then they all said goodnight, with hugs all around, and each went to bed.



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Image: Julie Püttgen, Cloudmapping: Eggtooth Drop. Gouache, watercolor, and pencil, 12x16", 2008.
Text & Lyrics: JS van Buskirk
Music: James R. Carlson


 
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