Confession of a Fallen Woman

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Composed of a short series of transitory vignettes, this descriptive narrative summons up the trials of a woman whose public renown and honour conflict with the debaucheries of her secret life and love affairs. A first draft.

Submitted: January 06, 2012

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Submitted: January 06, 2012

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Confession of a Fallen Woman

 

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The saccharine bouquet of mimosa sifted in through the open casement, bathing its idle occupants in perfume. Inside, the light was dim; the sun’s morning resplendence was tempered by the silk drapes, which stifled its sharp intensity to a soft haze.  The bedroom was silent except for the persistent ticking of an ancient mantle clock and a faint rustling emanating from behind the dresser. The bustling chaos of the city seemed a thousand miles away, and Jane was exulting in the intoxicating aftertaste of her latest exploit.

Her fingers quivered as she pulled a pair of opaque tights up copious, sallow thighs. She adjusted the brooch on her flaming red dress meticulously and the corners of her plump lips curled upwards. She had always been precise, attentive to the little details, the ostensibly inconsequential minutiae that escape the attention of the vast majority.  She had, for instance, noticed the tiny blood stain in the centre of the sheets and the bowl of fruit, a mock-up, whose unnatural lustre exposed the pretence. Her eyes had fixed upon the subtle distortion of his iris, which dripped down slightly into the white albumen-like boundaries, almost reminiscent of a child’s failed attempts to colour inside the margins. 

Releasing a soft sigh, she positioned herself at the bottom of the bed and inspected his sprawling body. His mouth was open slightly and a thin stream of saliva leaked out, leaving a perfect snail’s trail across his cheek and onto the pillow. He was white as snow from the chest down, where clothing had blocked the sun’s rays from tampering with porcelain perfection or presumptuously imposing its coffee-coloured gloss. She was quite fascinated by the prominence of his blue-black veins which embossed his transparent skin; she held her right hand over one of his snowy legs and examined the stark contrast. There was something ethereal and inexplicably illicit about the carnal, breathing proximity of their mismatching bodies; there was something about his gossamer whiteness which shocked and appalled her. The satisfaction she had felt vanished just as suddenly as it had seized her; she grabbed her bag and wadded through the clutter of his apartment, searching for the way out.

This was the first occasion on which Jane realised the sickening perversion of her own morality. What a statement! Of such an admission she had never thought herself capable. This new-found cognizance molested her with shuddering revelations; she had sullied her own good name, a name embellished with honorary letters and never spoken without the garnish of such epithets as “well famed” and “noble.” But these were the mere vestiges of eminence, the superfluous adjectives which were the haunting accompaniments to every exceptionally learned personage, not because they were warranted but because they had become something of a convention. She wondered if society would continue to apparel her name with such grandiloquent appendages if they knew her real identity; how her colleagues, students and relations could pay homage to an impostor.  But a true heroine, such as those featured in the very finest, most daring of literature, could not delight in perpetuating the deception; a real heroine, equipped with the utmost moral probity, would expose the temptress that lurked beneath the gloss with valiancy and a show of repentance.  In truth, a real heroine would have the strength to face the abjuration of allegiance from former allies, encounter public disgrace and ignominy with stoical implacability, and endure the scorn of her former votaries and devotees for the benefit of what they call spiritual salvation. To endure all this without complacency or self-pity would evince eventual forgiveness, and although her renown would never be wholly restored, she would no longer have to face the world’s persecution but rather its tolerable indifference.  

That evening was the same as any other in their fallen lives. The old mantle clock seemed to have assumed a certain peremptory dominance, amplifying their silence in an almost sardonic tone of voice. Dinners at the house were once colourful. Jane invited guests and played music. The door bell would ring incessantly and she would leap from the table in alluring black raiment, totter to the blue front door in her heels, and greet her latest visitor with all the pomp and ceremony of a polished thespian. In retrospect, she had exhibited her eminence as a flamenco dancer flaunts the seductive potentials of her body. She had been anything but modest. Her visitors were always men of certain distinct, invariable qualifications: they were, without exception, handsome students whose infatuation was manifest in their overzealous reception of their hostess’ most commonplace observations, their fierce habit of always bowing and simpering, and the peevish obsequiousness which seemed to infect the lot like a kind of malady. Jane’s husband, Henry, perceived the heavenly glow that illumined his wife’s cheeks, her self-complacent stiffness and her annoying propensity to name them all her “honourable protégés”. But he would have been the last person in the world to voice complaint. He knew very well that his male assistants, his future successor, even the hall porter in the bank would have risen from their chairs in outrage; they would have run these snivelling, impudent youths from their homes with a tirade of invective, vociferating abuses not worth repeating in any respectable pages. He could have enumerated a catalogue of all the frightful, ungentlemanly actions to which such men would resort, rather than feign blissful ignorance. His father would have laughed at the recreant man who sat in silence affecting nonchalance while an army of fops appropriated his rightful property.

But Henry was a singular sort of man. He knew about his wife’s adultery and the imminent disgrace which loomed over their household like a morbid cloud. But he was the kind of man who sat still and waited for disrepute, anticipated infamy and welcomed reproach, consumed by the impotence of one who views all good things as invariably destined for putrescence and corruption. He had never pretended to be anything remarkable and his prospects, beyond the respectable station of bank clerk, were meagre. In his youth, he learned the art and technicalities of his trade without passion or engagement, but fuelled instead by the potent influence of duty. He had been tolerably contented then; he had not longed for anything more. But his life changed upon his wife’s elevation to that daunting echelon of noble science, her honorary membership of the learned societies, and her position at the vanguard of something which society attributed such great importance. He was haunted by the abrupt impression of lofty views and incongruous pretensions, incongruous for a man of his humble origins. He was sometimes frightened by his wife’s attainments; he felt inconsequential and overshadowed by her achievements, which left him figuratively castrated. And now, in the evening of their lives, he was tired. His love for her had withered along with the disintegration of her former morals and the transformation of her character beyond recognition. He was the only one who saw her weakness, unanchored as she was to any definite, firm-set identity or sense of selfhood; it was this very lack of stability and self-awareness which left her so wholly at the mercy of external forces and superficial accolades.  Now, he chose to watch as she spiralled unknowingly to the sad culmination of her own self-degradation.  

The shafts of light illumining the walls had ebbed until they were no more than fine, attenuated threads which dappled the magisterial Renaissance prints on the dining room walls. Henry waited patiently as his wife laid the table with steaming receptacles and a set of immaculate silver cutlery.  She did not look at him but seemed to occupy one of her habitual, all-consuming reveries; her fingers moved mechanically but her eyes had lost their glint. They stared, unblinking and morbid, two unseeing vessels of sharp reflections. She sat down and began to eat. The only tell-tale harbinger of her inner agitation was her mouth, which sloped ever so slightly downwards on the left side, seized intermittently by an almost imperceptible convulsion. Slowly, he picked up his fork and stabbed a perfectly cooked potato. The fork clinked against the china and the unexpected sound made her shudder; she turned abruptly and stared at him with those vituperative eyes, reproaching him as if he had been the procreator of an unforgivable cacophony.  “What is it, Henry?” she demanded, her lip quivering slightly. “What do you want from me? What in the hell can I give you?” Her question hit the air and froze, sounding discordantly in the echoing room. He looked up from his plate with that exaggerated air of exhaustion which characterised his every movement, permeating the very air he breathed. “I’m damned if I know,” he said simply and continued eating. 

After the china had been cleared away and they had both retired to their separate bedrooms, Henry’s wife began to undress. Every evening, she performed this necessary rite with the same sense of sedate ceremony, as if under the inspection of a king and his royal retinue. She circumspectly removed each layer, pausing intermittently to fold each garment she had cast off in the manner of a snake during sloughing season. Afterwards, she stood unclothed in front of a frighteningly veracious mirror; she had never quite managed to steel herself against that inevitable moment of unsophisticated nudity. What a beauty she had been; a seductress of the most bounteous dimensions, a silhouette of soft contours and downy perfection. Her eyes looked away despairingly, shielding themselves from a reflection of coarse angularity, protuberant bones and wilting flesh. Turning away, she consoled herself in the only way she had ever been taught; through carefully devising logical arguments to refute what it was she really saw. Ratiocination and logic were at the heart of her vocation as a scientist. If she could perform the most complex crystallisations and titrations in a laboratory, surely she could come up with at least one sound reason for rejecting her own ravaged reflection. This quite simply must be within her power. If one of her “honourable protégés” had lain with her that night, she would have beguiled and seduced him with the elusive solutions to innumerable mathematical equations, and delighted his hollow, unversed mind with talk of Van der Waals forces and the wonders of infinity with feigned equanimity. But here, in a state of quiet, solitary confinement, she was privy to the mediocrity of these outdated enticements; the world of science was progressing at a rate which had finally surpassed her own limited capabilities. She was old and her faculties were incapable of the kind of heroic longevity she had fancied possible; the irrefutable truth was that she, once a woman to be admired and emulated, was losing the vitality and initiative which had made her so conspicuous in her youth. Her students’ adulation was beginning to be influenced by an insidious solicitude which manifested as an offer to carry her books or an entreaty to sit down. Decades of fostering her own independence and her colleagues’ unwavering confidence in her competencies made such presumptions of weakness repellent.

But at least she had one consolation: she had her standing and the many highly esteemed reports she had had published in the most serious journals and publications. Her name, whenever mentioned, was said by men with grave faces and who bore the ostentatious pins of the learned societies on their breasts. She still derived pleasure from the venerable silence which encircled her like an invisible hallo in the university halls and lecture theatres; students, with heads full of lofty ambitions and smoking cigarettes, ceased their chatter when she drew near them, some raising their caps and others murmuring an almost inaudible, “Afternoon ma’am.” There was a time when she thrived on their silent deference and basked in the awe that erudition inspired, but now, as she shuffled through a hall of reverential disciples, she was struck by how artificial it all was. Had they known of her corruption or her disavowal of virtue and duty, the internal mechanics of her mind would cease to be the subject under scrutiny, and her perfidy, her faithlessness and her lust would occupy the minds of her protégés, young men whose minds are predisposed to meditate on carnality and the fleshly sensualities of a fallen woman.  A femme fatale.

Before entering the lecture theatre, her heart would race and the close air made her feel as though she had just entered a stiflingly hot climate. Breathing deeply, she tried to imagine what lay behind the door to this impressive, expectant amphitheatre; she prayed for self-composure and an undisruptive audience, almost as if she was preparing to give a hortative sermon to an audience of reprobates. She opened the door and walked into the room of silent spectators at a slow-paced trod. The caretaker had placed a stiff-backed wooden chair in the centre of the room, despite her most obstinate expostulations that she was not dead yet. Her gnarled fingers quivered slightly as she placed her hat on her desk and looked up at her students. “Good morning”, she said in as loud a voice as she could muster. The chair seemed to taunt her from the periphery, but vanity banned her from succumbing to its dangerous inveiglement and an overwhelming sensation of lassitude.  She was the queen presiding over this tiny, pedagogic dominion; she was the irresistible temptress; she was a Peter Pan in heels.


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