The Last Perfect Day

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

The last perfect day of Oscar Wilde.

They did not understand him and what they did not understand they broke upon the wheel. His crime? He tried to educate them, but they were unforgiving pupils, forever dull and vicious in their mediocrity. True, he had no case for complaint; from his own lips he had uttered the fatal words that had condemned him.

His beauty had faded; clothes patched and threadbare, two days stubble upon the face. He was the shadow of his former self. His possessions were nearly all gone, the glories of the past sold or irredeemably pawned. He lived upon the money of those far away. A life now spent in the shadow of Sodom and Gomorrah dreaming of past debaucheries and hoping his creditors would pay for new ones.

He was the lonely star in a silent universe. Forever shunned, for a crime that was no crime. Even in this alien place his tormentors followed. He knew them by the sound of their approach. They looked, they pointed, and they laughed. If the untouchable approached, they turned their backs, lest reputation be tainted by proximity to vice. So among foreign crowds he wanders alone, neither interest nor beauty attract him, his is a journey without purpose, a broken exile in an indifferent land.

He was cold, tired and his ear hurt. A monstrous pain, for no pain of his could ever be ordinary. He looked to the sky; it would rain soon washing away the dirt and grime from the streets, if only a stained soul could be cleaned so easily. He glanced at his scratched pocket watch. It was still too early to return to his room with its ghastly wallpaper. He had become his creation, for with wallpaper so ugly, what man of experience had need of a picture? His eyes lingered upon the photograph of the two sons he was forbidden ever to see again. One day he thinks, somewhere, somehow.

A tear comes to his eye. He can no longer bear the humiliation. Someone looks at him, he turns away. He will not give them the satisfaction of seeing him hurt.

He wants it to end; he has thought it about many times. It would be so easy to lay back, open a vein and gently slide into the warm embrace of oblivion. Such a simple act and yet something prevents, a spark of life that conscious will cannot extinguish. And besides he has always abhorred melodrama.

It had been so different in the days before society ripped off the mask. He came amongst them newly minted in Berkeley gold, an apostle for a new creed, rejecting the common place preoccupations of the ordinary. Then he amused them, he ridiculed their pretensions and they loved him for it. As lily faded away to green carnation he wandered amongst them and wherever he passed he made beautiful.

By day he entertained them with his blue and white, while in the evening they fawned at his genius. Triumph followed triumph, seven years, seven golden years when he could do no wrong. All ended by a calling card and an obsession with an ungrateful youth. He should have run, they advised him to, but he didn’t, he couldn’t. If there was consolation it was the knowledge that a man’s reputation is made by the calibre of his enemies. And his had been formidable.

Two years they gave him, but in truth the boy really was ugly. He didn’t mind the hard labour; he could almost forgive them for his prison garb, but what he would never forgive was that they silenced him.

He returns to the present and finds himself on the Left Bank; even in poverty he will be chic. Down the cobble stoned alley he wanders, to the coffee house with the scarlet walls. They recognise him and set down a coffee in front of him. They know he can’t pay, but it doesn’t matter, even Emperors have been known to leave their hats.

He sits quietly, lost in his thoughts he doesn’t hear the approach. He takes a sip of coffee and tries to block out the voices of the other patrons. He feels a presence, no doubt another tourist come to gloat at the great ruin of Paris. He wishes they would go away. But they do not. He becomes uncomfortable and not a little annoyed. If there is one thing he could never stand it was incivility. He risks a glance and sees a small rose with golden hair and shining blue eyes. She stares at him. He pretends not to notice and takes another sip of his coffee. She continues to stand there staring at him. He is conscious that the other patrons are pretending not to notice.

She prods him.

‘Go away,’ he hisses and looks away.

She prods him again.

It was insufferable to be defied by one so young.

He looks at her and sees a face vaguely familiar, a face from another lifetime. He gives her his most ferocious glare. She stands her ground, Ah, the obstinacy of youth.

‘Didn’t your mother ever tell you it was rude to stare?’ he asks.

‘No, but she did say it was very rude to ignore other people,’ she says emphasising the word ‘very.’

A wit! He smiles despite himself.

‘And what does my lady require of me?’

‘A story.’

Does she know what she was asking of him? Probably not, the attention of the young is forever consumed by the gratification of their own appetites. Still ruin was no excuse for bad manners.

He indicates a seat. And so it begins.

He is a little hesitant at first, but soon his voice grows in strength, he tells her of fabulous places and unhappy princesses, of amazing creatures and valiant princes. He plays all the parts with aplomb and exuberance, little realising that the ambient noise in the coffee house is falling, as one by one the patrons fall silent to listen to the story.

They are captive to his imagination, an imagination that is once more unbounded by convention or limitation. In the brilliant sunshine that streams in through the windows a phoenix slowly arises from the ashes of humiliation and degradation. As nuance, colour and aphorism flood into his mind, he becomes the man he once was. Resolved that this brief moment will live forever in their memories he pours his heart and soul into the climax of the story. Some gasp in astonishment, others fight back tears, all rise to their feet and applaud. As for the little girl, she smiles and kisses him on the forehead.

He looks up, but the little girl has disappeared. Was she real, for a moment he doubts, in the end it does not matter, for some things it is best simply to accept. He nods to the proprietor and receives in return the highest of honours, for not even Emperors have had their slates wiped clean.

With a faint smile upon his lips he wanders the streets of Paris, most ignore him, a few risk a quick glance, there is even the odd nod of recognition. Even in adversity he knows he will never truly be alone. He begins to see the world in a new light. Where there were once myriad shades of grey, now there are some blues with pretensions, a rather striking green, a colour that could never be accused of modesty and a particularly delicious vermilion. ‘Vermilion,’ the very word itself roles of his tongue.

He sees a middle aged well dressed lady, escorting an obviously bored younger woman. Clearly a mother and daughter newly arrived in Paris, the mother desperate to lose a past and the daughter determined to acquire one. He watches as the mother studies the more respectable of fashions while the daughter pretends not to notice the glances of a diffident young man far too handsome to have experienced much of life. Such an exquisite situation, an idea begins to form. It grows in his imagination unfolding, line by line and scene after scene. He can almost hear the rapturous cries of ‘Author!’ but experience has touched genius and left a tinge of doubt. For he knows society will forgive the criminal, but condemn the dreamer. And yet the temptation to tamper with their natural ignorance is simply irresistible. Of the outcome he is unconcerned for all true artists know there must always be a touch of uncertainty before the resolution of the final act.

Let society, polite or otherwise, think what it will. He knows wherever men and women come together they will talk of him. The body may have seen better days, but his spirit will be immortal.

He quickens his stride for there is not a moment to lose. He is resolved to begin writing as soon as he returns to his room, the room with the ghastly wallpaper. Clearly, one of them would have to go.

Submitted: January 07, 2018

© Copyright 2022 apj1465. All rights reserved.

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