4 August, in the year of our Lord 2021
At noon by boat to the Artists Quarter, and walked on foot through the narrow streets and by and by to the end of Nouveau Street, where found myselfe at a crossroads where to my left led away Conceptual St. and to my right, passing the strange little Dada Alley, ran Cubey Road. I made my way straight ahead, down Surreal St., and there saw signs above variose shop fronts — viz: Sr. Salv. Darley, Signor de Chirico, Ernst’s of Cologne — before I found that which I sought, which was the premices of Monsieur R. McGritte. I ascended the few steps and pushed open the door, whose bell announced my presence with a bright jangle as I entered the cosy but dark wood panelled interior. A man was obscured in the shadows at the back of the shoppe.
‘Bonjour, monsieur,’ says he. I peered into the dimness beyond the window, where the light did not reach, and there saw him seated in a white shirt and black tie, wearing sleeve garters and a Boaler Hat.
‘Good day,’ say I. ‘I have an appointment to sit. To be painted.’
‘Ah, oui,’ says he. ‘Monsieur Peppeez?’
‘The very same. Well, almost the same. It is pronounced Peeps.’
‘It eez a plaisir to make your acquaintance, Monsieur Peeps,’ says he, Gallickly. ‘I ’ave few requests for portaits zees days. It will be agréable to rectify ze situation. You are familiar with my work?’
‘You come highly recommended,’ say I. ‘But I confess your work is unfamiliar to me,’ I add, observing more closely some of the art works that hang upon the walls, ‘and not quite what I was expecting. The clouds in this one here seem to be in front of the figure of this gentleman, yet the sky behind him! And the façade of this house is as if at dusk, yet the sky beyond as bright as midday!’
He approaches and remarks upon the same painting.
‘It eez a challenge to ze — perception, no?’ says he. And he holds up a palm to reassure me. ‘I know what you are theenking. But if monsieur is in any doubt about ’is course of action, bien sûr, I will take no offence.’
‘It will be a pleasure to see how monsieur perceives me,’ say I, lightly, though my eyes alight upon a portrait of a man whose face is hidden by an apple. ‘Wig on, or wig off?’
‘As monsieur wishes. Please accompany me.’
And so he led me courteosely behind a curtain of a rich crimson fabric and up a curve of uneven stairs to his studio, where he did seat me before a window that looked down upon the street, positioning himself at his Easle at the back of the room.
‘I shall keep my wig on,’ say I. ‘’ow would you like me?’ I ask, unconsciosely falling into an accent like French investigator Julien Baptiste from the magick screen. ‘I feel I ’ave a certain…sparkle in ze eye, and a rosy complexion that might be emphasised for ze admireur.’ At which point I think it prudent to resume standard English. ‘And I have brought this volume to hold in my hand to provide a simulacrum of intellect. It is The Life of Thos. Cromwell by the Rev. D. MacCulloch.’
He shakes his head. ‘A fine book,’ says he. ‘But eet will not be necessary.’
‘Well, I haven’t actually read it,’ admit I. ‘It’s a bit heavy going and there are too few commas. Perhaps instead I might place a forefinger thus, pensively upon my chin — ?’
‘Per’aps if monsieur were to sit quietly?’ suggests he, gently. ‘I should like to concentrate most of all on ze profil.’
‘Ah! Very well,’ say I, though it comes out as ‘veh we-e-ell’ in Clouseau French.
And so sat I for an hour or two, while Monsieur McGritte alternated his glance between myselfe and his easle, and his brush between his palatte and his Canvas. At length it seemed finished, whereupon sat he back and regarded it with a certain satisfaction.
‘Voilà!’ says he.
‘May I see?’
‘Why, of course! But ze paint must first dry, which will take maybe ten days.’
Whereupon he grasped in both hands his easle and the canvas upon it and turned them to face me, so that I saw the image for the first time in the light that streamed through the window. I was lost for words.
‘ — ’ say I, gazing upon it, for it was the most singular and remarkable portrait I ever saw in my entire life.
14 August, in the year of our Lord 2021.
Today I hung my new portrait in pride of place upon the wall, but covered it with a cloth to which was sewed a golden cord, for I purposed to provide a surprise theatricle moment at supper, when comes Mr. M. Jones.
‘So, Pepys,’ says he, ‘we are to have grand unveiling?’
‘Indeed,’ say I. ‘Ready?’
‘Go for it.’
And so with a flourish tugged I the golden cord, whereupon away fell the mundane cloth! And I beamed afresh at my new commission while Mr. Jones gawped. For there it was, in all its glory: the background paynted as if ’twere no more than a base wood panel, and upon it, in a black as complete as the darkest unlit cavern in the all the world, sat the very likeness of my profile, with my wig, my brow, my nose, my chin and my neck, all a perfect Silhuoette of my physical self, yet without eye, nor ear, nor rosy cheek to define it — and beneath it, as if writ by quill this very day, a line that read, ‘Ceci n’est pas un Pepys’.