I had once been a dashing, handsome man. My words could make men and women smile and laugh with joy. I knew a second childhood in those gatherings of us, the young lions. Of wine and song and, best of all, of women, I knew much. Our band of friends was strong and seemed a bond stronger than even that of blood. I preferred them in their best moods but had nursed them in their tantrums. Those of us who withstood the merry vigil were rewarded to watch the rising of the sun. There is magic in those moments that might outshine all the secrets of the stars.
What blessed angel brought her to me, or why, I know not. From that instant I laid eyes upon her, there could be no other. My gaze must have betrayed that yearning so painful. I feel I must have, for eons, already known its frantic distress. Without so much a word between us, our eyes made vows that moment. As I grew to know her, it was more like remembering. I whispered once that our meeting was but reuniting and we shared our tears for the sweetness of its truth.
My own good name and the prestige of my family earned me the blessing of her father. But even as I made special plans to ask her for her hand the world crumbled. She was gone. She lived no more. I would not accept it. They say I was mad with grief. I can not recall. I do remember friends coming round at last, trying to draw me back into the world. But in those sparkling lights and tinkling melodies my heart would seek her out. I’d glance around, so certain, for I felt her there still. My eyes would find her not and I’d remember, she was gone. Thankfully, there were no more parties when I proved a burden to the band. I was no longer who I had been.
In the endless dragging of days, I hungered for death to take me to her. Would it not condemn my soul to Hell, I’d take my own life. Surely, she had gone to paradise, so suffer on I must. I filled my days with books. To her memory, I would read what words of love I’d find. From the library window I watched a year pass. I exhausted the library and would gather books as I found them scattered elsewhere through the ancient house. I learned the storied history of our venerable line from journals, memoirs and diaries. I learned of the estate and its nebulous customs that were otherwise beneath me. I floated through the halls being little more than the whisper of a breeze.
In the long unused chapel, above the family crypt, the great book and notes on its lore of death waited to offend me. The book had said that living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing. I beg to disagree. I should prefer to think that she, somehow, can feel my yearning just as I still feel her in my heart. The soft light, filtered into colors by the stained glass, lit the gathering attended by grief, despair and hopeless fury.
“What know you, oh resplendent Lord, but thy own hateful perfection? Dare you stand in my shoes knowing only what I do? I had presumed that you watch over us, oh Creator, believing that we reflect the myriad within you. Perhaps I have in error disregarded the possibility that we are but the tiny and imperfect things that can dwell within thee not? Perhaps this world is Hell made perfect by appearing to merely be the earth? Just tell me that I am damned, if it is so. Just tell me it is alright to end this torment. And answer me you will not, so may have I surmised and spoiled thy secret?”
When at last my tears subsided, I turned from that hateful place and the repellent falsehood of its joyous, prismatic light. I stumbled back, through the dim and silent halls, to my chamber. The comfort there is spoiled by the vacancy on the bed beside me. I whispered into that void until sleep dimmed the world away. I longed to hear her voice, to know its melody. To the edge of consciousness I lingered passing through it to the faint tones of a harpsichord. Dare I dream I heard that whisper, “I… still… feel…”
story by Joe Stanley