I watched with ambivalent reflection as the pallbearers stepped; right foot, left foot, right, left. Their faces bore the stain of indifference, the mark of desensitization from years of bearing death’s physical burden. I could not help myself but feel a pang of ire, of indignity that they could act so apathetically reverent in the face of life’s final curse. I scoffed in my own quiet manner, covering my discontent with a feigned cough. Such men were the scourge of London life, the most base of all humanity for caring so little.
But ah, thought I, they must not be able to find employment elsewhere, heartless as they are. The thought nearly caused me to laugh in mocking, but as I recalled the corpse that lay so quietly in the coffin, my face drew quickly back into mournful solemnity.
I had not seen the body, of course, since it had fallen from the good graces of life, but I did not need to. I had its look memorized, forever engrained in my grievous heart, never to be erased from my memory’s keen eye. I knew the porcelain face, so smooth and so light that it rivaled the marble depictions of Apollo and Artemis. I knew the deep eyes, so profoundly blue that the Creator must have taken drops from the south seas and placed them like sapphires upon the snow-white face. I knew also the flaxen hair, woven from Olympus’s finest golden fleece and draped so becomingly over the beautiful shape of the face. Yes, indeed, I knew well the man inside of that wooden box, and I was mad with bitter grief. His face in the forefront of my mind was ceaseless—and yet it was so comely. I could not forget him, as much and as poorly as I had tried.
But for as much as I adored him as much as I knew his heart and understood his world, there have always been those who speak ill of him. They tell of anything and everything he has committed that could be counted for sin, all that they had also done and were too proud to ever admit. They must not understand. They must not know how much he lived, so vivaciously and so independently. His spirit was so free—perhaps they all envied him! Perhaps that is the reason they all speak of him in foul descriptors and arrogant adjectives.
Of course, there is no more the man to envy. He lays cold as the stone floors of the church from whence he came, beneath arches of hatred and distrust crafted by all those surrounding him. They can no longer speak severely of him, for he can no more defend his soul while he goes to his eternal rest. He is free now, in some way, for to never again bear the trials of a naïve, misanthropic world.
What was it they used to say of him, you ask? I know. I was there when they spoke of him, standing in corners and as visible as the tea stains in the scarlet rug. I watched with malice sparkling in my pained eyes as their lips spoke curses unto him.
Said one man, “He’s no good, gentlemen. He spent last eve in one of the dens—he was there with a couple of harlots hanging off his arm. Don’t know what all he was doing—no, no one’s ever mentioned him there before that I know of—yes, sometimes he’s seen at the theatre on that side of town but they say it’s just out of memory. Apparently he went there oft awhile back. What? No, I wasn’t in the den. I heard it from a man—oh, just yesterday, yes. He said it was around a fortnight ago. When I heard, I wanted to believe it to be untrue, but by the way he acted at Lord Lovell’s soiree a sennight past, I must say that I see a man very much in need of morals.”
My eyes were moist with brimming tears, but I fought them back and maintained my poise. No one needed to see my feelings for him magnified.
But I knew what they said was not the truth. I knew the man better than they, and I knew that what they were saying of him was not at all describing of his ‘morality.’ How could they know him when they never even gave him a second of their time? They only liked to talk about him. Did they care what it meant to those who knew better of him? Absolutely they did not. And they did not see the poor woman in the corner, whose heart was bleeding and whose mouth was drying.
No, no. None of those men knew that beautiful, perfect man in the wooden box, and now they never would. I recalled this as I watched, my eyes fixated on the casket. He was so close to me, but now so far. His physical being would return to the dust from whence it came, as strapping and as dazzling as it had been; his memory was left with me and with others, though I most humbly must admit that very few knew that memory as it truly was, myself included; his legacy will be left across the English landscape and in his inherited fortune, left to be taken by those who deserve a piece of him.
Yes, he was incredible. His spirit was as free as the mockingbird that came and sat outside my window in the summer. The man was not only lovely outside, though well that I knew, but valiant and bold in the mind. He’d the body of Apollo and the independent brilliance of Aristotle. He read books—he had a library full of poems and articles and descriptions of foreign lands, and he would sit up late some nights to indulge in his favorite text, some French book from which he always said he learned much of his wisdom. It was given him by a lord whom he had been close friends with and he treasured it as his life. It was I who came to his side while he read, a tray of steaming tea in my hand; and his weary but curious eyes smiled at me and invited me to gaze at his perfect face, so alluring and so full of mystery that I had to accept the invitation.
Of course, I wish I’d had more time at his side; often I watched his life from the wings. This was how I knew him, by his gentle, curious character.
And for all the things he’d done, for his wonderful influence, he got no merit. He got only words of despising and loathing from men who kept careful company. Is that any way to taste life? Of course, he and I thought not. But we inhabited—I still do—a society of harsh judgment and immoral hypocrites.
What could he have done to earn such words? Why did never he speak ill of the men who gauged his life? How was it, if that was so, that these men spoke no good with his name, called him corrupt? I thought on it sometimes, in the evenings and nights he was not at home. He was no alcoholic, this I had observed. And while many a time I suspected lechery, I knew it common for any man—bachelor and married alike—to take for himself a lover. I was not excessively jealous, though some envy did pass with throbbing through my heart. My feelings for him had always tended toward admiration, and I saw by his loving gaze that he hid his feelings of the same nature best he could. He did not care for the women who graced his presence by moonlight. He could not. He was everything good and he was everything to me.
I recall too clearly when I heard of his demise. Victor had run to where I’d been in the parlor finishing the preparations for morning teatime, his face all askew and his voice troubled. I knew by his countenance that all was not well and I sent up a horrible cry without yet knowing its reason.
It was explained to me in hurried fragments.
He’d been found this morning in the attic, my lord—door ajar as it never was—amidst a sea of crimson blood, a dagger steeped into his heart and no trace of another in the room save for the eerily vivid eyes of a painting from his youth. I was told disdainfully that the scene was horrific, that I ought not look and it would be better simply to remember him as before, if I even wanted to remember him at all.
As Victor spoke, officers entered the house, rushing and bustling here and there to attend to the situation in a timely fashion and sneering in contempt of the household and its master.
“He deserved it, I’ll say,” I heard muttered behind me, causing me to gasp in ire and nearly strike whoever had spoken the words.
That morning caused a shift in my heart. My love, my master, was dead. I had to suffer, to mourn in solitude, for the house and the town around me mourned not. Their days were not altered by his passing. They had never cared for the man and rather reveled in his passing—this but cost me more tears.
And I never saw his body, as had been recommended. All who had seen relayed to me that it was grotesque and looked very unlike the man I had known, advising me not to go after the body for want of a last look. I cannot relay how much it would have done for me to see his face but one last time, no matter how he looked, but as I do not hold a post of any great importance, there was not any way for me to follow my own orders. As he was, I was not permitted to indulge in my own curiosities. I had to fall under the influence of a society that forbid many words and encouraged propriety in such a manner as to destroy the individual.
But he was not that, you see—he was more. He was adventurous and curious, always paying great tribute to his whims. I think this is what they don’t understand: he lived a life of suppressed pain so that he could live more than everyone else, and it was beautiful. I knew there was a certain pain in his blue eyes, but that pain was dazzled by something far less simple to attain, Athenian, godlike perfection.
He did not complain. He did not share the woes of his world, though I knew they existed. He lived for himself; he indulged in the world, but never did he let it show that the world was causing him any inflictions. And I always found that admirable.
Some nights, I admit, I did find my own self thinking on the deeper questions of his soul. It must be as spotless as he, I thought, but then recalled some of the talk that was about the town. If he wasn’t perfect, then what was he? I wondered. And then I knew. His perfection was sought in the realms above and not within the standards of our dastardly, base society. He transcended all notions of good or bad; he sought sensation and sensation alone, which made him pure and whole and unblemished everywhere but in our world. He was meant to be the exception, not the rule. I don’t think that anyone but me ever understood that, either. Oh, did I understand him! His heart shone to me like the find token of handicraft that it was. His ‘friends’ had tried to remould it, to make it something that it was never intended to be, but he declared he would have none of their influence, as that would be for them to sell him their own souls, and no-thank-you, he did not need them. His own soul was enough to last four lifetimes.
I often admired his words, his eloquence. He had been well schooled and perhaps too well-read. But he had spent a long time in his studies and I never knew what it was that he read; whatever it was must have made him speak words of honey.
Oh! But I speak too long; I say words that do not belong in my station. For I am but his mourner; his household belongs now to a society that was cruel to him and though I think it a great injustice, I was glad to play a part. I shall carry his torch; I shall go into a world that thinks ill of people like him and like me and tell them what is true. What influence might to do corrupt a soul. And one day, they will all be like him, all the people of this great world. Maybe one day they’ll understand.
I watch, with tears brimming in my eyes of dueling joy and sadness, as the casket is lowered and though I stand at the back of the crowd, I understand the responsibility that has been placed upon me because I knew him. The grave will be filled and the mourners will depart but the name upon that stone will forever be etched on my heart.
Dorian. Dorian Gray. My one love. My life.
Society took his sins and put them on a cross. Society crucified him. And they always tell me, perhaps love and greed share a face.