No-one is owning up to being born on 7th January, so another ‘who knows?’ And because it’s wild weather I thought we’d go for a pirate.
Mary Read. Cross-dressing lover of Anne Bonny, and several men, a proper swashbuckler, served in the King’s army, ran a pub and later became a pirate, but no one really knows when she was born, around 1690 is a best guess. She died of a fever in prison in April 1721.
Most of what is written about her is hokum, although she is unquestionably a real person. Since there is so much hokum, you may as well have mine – this is how she appears in my Rotherhithe based short story ‘A Place of Departures’, in Stations – and it’s as true as the next version.
Mary Read dresses as a man, smokes and swears. She used to call herself by her dead brother’s name, used to fight for ‘Kinge and Countrie’ all round Europe. But peace and boredom intervene, and at last the death of her man nags her into returning to sea.
The relief of britches and a salt wind, she confides to her shipmate, as they rest between battles, no longer on the side of the King. And the shipmate plants a kiss on her lips, and pulls Mary’s hand within his jerkin to feel the soft curve of a womanly breast. Ann Bonney claims that she had no idea Mary was a woman the first time she kissed her.
My eye, Mary declares, lighting her long clay pipe.
But despite that kiss and fumble and perhaps more that neither will admit to, Mary escapes the hangman’s noose by dying of a child-bed fever before they have a chance to string her up.
So happy un-birthday, Mary, and I’ll raise a glass of rum, if that’s not too predictable.