It all started as a defence mechanism when confronted by doorstep charity fundraisers. Drawing a portrait seemed like the best way to counter unflinching positivity and an earnest moral compass. If they proved unwilling to buy the finished picture, then Matthew felt no compulsion to sign up to their charitable campaigns. Having realised the effectiveness of the tactic, he soon employed it with other doorstep visitors as well. In no time at all, his sketchpad came to contain images of Jehovah’s Witnesses, trick or treaters, random door-to-door salesmen and even an entire carol singing congregation, much to the dismay of his wife. It was when he started sketching her friends and then finally her mother that their marriage really hit the rocks. His wife used his eccentric artistic preoccupations as reason for their parting, though Matthew suspected there was more to it than that, not that he had the evidence to prove it.
Now that Matthew lived alone, he shamelessly continued to fill his sketchpad at every opportunity and there was no shortage of traffic to his door. From political campaigners to opportunist window cleaners, everybody received the same treatment. When a pair of police officers came knocking, they merely thought he was showing great diligence in recording the nature of their enquiry.
‘It’s good to see you taking this so seriously,’ said the male officer nodding towards Matthew’s sketchpad.
‘I’m sorry?’ Matthew replied, a little detached from the flow of conversation.
‘Taking notes on our enquiries. They should be useful if anything comes to mind later.’
Matthew had to confess that he hadn’t the faintest idea of what the policeman was talking about as he had actually been focussed on reproducing the crooked angle of his nose and the hooded brow of his female companion.
‘You’ve been drawing us?’ said the male officer with a mixture of bafflement and alarm.
Matthew turned the sketchpad around to face them, always eager to receive feedback on his artistic endeavours. Both officers were pleasantly surprised at the likeness he had achieved, especially given the brevity of their encounter. It was just a shame that Matthew hadn’t been equally attentive in following their official line of enquiry. In the hope of showing some mutual regard, Matthew insisted they give their query a second airing. It seemed there was a con artist in the area who had been gaining access to properties on the premise of conducting essential preliminary groundwork for the installation of new smart meters. Having supposedly fulfilled his brief, he would seek bank details for advanced payment before leaving with an empty promise to make further contact for subsequent installation. Matthew thought back to his previous doorstep encounters and had to confess that he rarely paid great attention to those who knocked on his door.
‘But you draw each and every visitor?’ the female officer asked as she reached for Matthew’s sketchpad of portraits.
‘Well, yes, they’re all signed and dated. I try to sell them but I rarely get a taker.’
Both officers were now fingering the sketchpad with great interest, their investigative minds in overdrive at the unexpected gift that lay before them.
It wasn’t long before Matthew would see one of his sketches all over the local constabulary’s social media feeds. The origin of the image made for a good story, which the police chose to exploit in a bid for additional publicity. With such excellent coverage, it was merely a matter of time before a meaningful lead would be established resulting in a subsequent arrest. It seemed that the culprit was new to the area, a light-footed interloper who would rinse the local population before moving on to somewhere new.
For a short while after the arrest, Matthew enjoyed something akin to minor celebrity status. His fanaticism for sketching those who frequented his doorstep became a story in itself to the extent that his book of portraits provided the material for a temporary exhibition at the town hall. Much to Matthew’s delight, his new found popularity created a demand for his work that had previously been lacking. All of those door knockers who had once declined the opportunity to buy their portraits were now seemingly of different mind.
An additional unexpected consequence was the unauthorised public disclosure of his address, which led to a gentle surge in traffic to his door from those with an eye on receiving a fair-priced pencil sketch of themselves. Never one to dismiss a business opportunity, Matthew invested in a new sketchbook and opened the door to each and every visitor who came his way. It was with surprise that on one particularly busy morning he found himself face to face with his wife. In line with standard protocol, Matthew picked up his pencil and proceeded to draw. She seemed unperturbed by his actions and possibly even grateful for the opportunity to bring forth a full confession covering the period of their separation. It appeared that he had been right to question his wife’s motive for leaving. He learnt that the man she had left him for was not all that he seemed and was in fact something of a chancer who spun a good story but failed to deliver on his promises. Where had he heard that before, Matthew wondered.
With a brisk flurry of lines he completed the drawing, his look of satisfaction at odds with the mournful pleading expression on his wife’s face. He turned the portrait around to seek her assessment. She smiled a nervous smile, timidly offering praise for the quality of his work. He met her kind words with a gentle look of expectancy that left her in no doubt as to how the interaction would proceed. And sure enough, it was only after she agreed to buy for a reasonable price that he ushered her inside to take the conversation further.