THE LOVES OF ARIEL • by Clint Wastling

No one believes me when I say that Shakespeare based his play on my life.

When Prospero rescued me from the cloven pine, Miranda was only a young girl. My new master found me plenty to do — fetching, carrying and casting the odd spell. My nights were spent playing with Miranda and making life a misery for that scoundrel Caliban. One day I followed Caliban through the woods. He sniffed the air as though there was something new on the island. The creature reached a clearing where the river slowed down and created a pool in the red and orange sandstone. Caliban sank to his haunches and watched as Miranda swam. I fell hopelessly in love. I became a slave to her every whim. Once I stole a kiss from her. Her hands were full of violets and the scent made me forget myself. Our lips touched. She wasn’t startled, she simply smiled and caressed my cheek and said, “That was nice.”

Nice! I realised I was on a non-starter. Later that day a tempest began and Miranda met her real Valentine.

When father and daughter left the island, I became disenchanted with my lot. I mean, there are only so many things you can order a monster to do and Caliban was very bad tempered about doing any of them. Using my magic, I lured another ship to our coast. There was no wreck and I used the opportunity to hide onboard. I became a stowaway bound for some unknown shore. After a few days I was found amongst the yards of sail and brought before Captain Drake. The man who singed the King of Spain’s beard delighted in making me do some undignified things but he never tired of my stories of Prospero and Miranda.

“You could make a fortune if you ever published them!” he joked.

The captain was a fair man, and on reaching London he turned me loose with a pouch of Spanish doubloons to set myself up. Now I ask you, what business could a sprit set himself up in? I took to drinking in public houses and this provided me with a growing band of friends in the arts. One night in The Swan I met a handsome chap called Henry, the Earl of Southampton. He soon took me under his wing, and it was at his country retreat one Sunday afternoon that he introduced me to this stunning young woman. Frances was a beautiful poet who had been painted by Hilliard and lusted after by half the court. Frances was a genius with words. We talked and laughed and I gave her a single red rose. When I told her my life story her imagination was fired. My ardour was likewise set ablaze. Of course Frances could never succeed in being a writer for the Elizabethan stage as women were banned. Writing plays was a male domain, so I introduced her to this impoverished actor called William Shakespeare. Will and I were old friends. We’d met at The Swan and used to share a jug of ale and a bottle of eels. It was a brilliant plan. Frances wrote everything, William copied it out in his untidy grammar-school handwriting and burnt the original. Will couldn’t even spell his name the same way twice. But somehow everyone fell for it: Will got the kudos, an older woman and a penchant for pickled eels.

One delightful summer’s day in the Earl of Southampton’s garden, Frances was hit by the muse. We were sitting in an arbour taking in the June sun when she kissed me. As soon as she moved away this poem formed in her head. It began: ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ I felt a proud glow at the compliment. It was my favourite of Frances’ sonnets. Will got everything published while Frances and I watched from the shadows. We were punters who always had the best seats at the first night if Elizabeth R wasn’t there. The secret author of all those plays remained obscure and William Shakespeare took the glory.

Of course it all ended in tears. William tried to write his own play, a comedy called King Duncan. It was a huge flop and Frances laboured hard to rework it into a decent tragedy. Frances was already pregnant when she completed Macbeth, and being in love I did the honourable thing. We got married. During those long months, Frances wrote her farewell to the London theatre. After all our years together we managed to shape my life story into a play. It was called Themes Past. We sent it off to Will to copy out the parts. We never told him it would be the last play from the pen of Frances. Somehow Will managed to misread the title and we were surprised to see it advertised as The Tempest. We retired to Oxford to bring up our family in an air of domestic bliss. Will withdrew to Stratford and we never met again.

I went to his funeral. I wasn’t surprised to learn it was the pickled eels which did for him. ‘Once more unto the breach dear friends,’ would seem an unkind epitaph.

Of course, I’m still very much in love with Frances. She’s an old lady now and not even my magic will keep her going much longer. Every year on our anniversary I send her a single red rose. We don’t go out in public together as I get mistaken for her grandson now. You see, spirits don’t age like mortals. That’s the unkindest part but one thing never changes and that’s our love. It will always endure.

Clint Wastling is a writer based in the East Riding of Yorkshire who has had stories published in UK newspapers and literary magazines over the last ten years. There’s a story called Calico Blue on Amazon Shorts if anyone is interested!

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Every Day Fiction