Authors: Oscar Wilde
Would this be the last time she ever saw him? Right now, she thoughtâif she had any control over itâyes.
“Take care of yourself, father,” she said.
He lifted his head from his hands. His face was red and bulbous, wet with tears and the runny nose that always comes so crudely with the territory.
“I only told you becauseâthat painting, it's so remarkable, Rosemary!” he cried. “You're truly an adult with that work. It's foolish of me to continue covering your eyes from the truth. I respect you too much.”
The words she'd so long waited to hear from him went straight through her. Years of yearning for him to believe in herânot just because he was inclined to as her father, but because, as a man of intelligence, he was genuinely impressedânow felt like a waste of time. What did his support matter if he was not honest with her? Financially speaking, it was her mother's money that got her by. She didn't need her father for that. When she left, she shut the door so quietly it was as if it had been closed all along.
Like I was never there
, she thought,
like I never even existed
volatile summer storm was heading for London. The sky was ashen, with low clouds and a rumbling thunder in the distance. Soon it would pour, and Rosemary, having done such a haphazard job of wrapping the painting, was risking it getting water damage. Still, she took her time. A couple of young men offered to help her, for the painting was visibly heavy and Rosemary tipped precariously under its awkward weight, looking like a girl who may faint. She caught her reflection in the painting's shiny frame and scarcely recognized the deathly looking girl with the chalky complexion and the dark half-moons under the eyes.
She'd been to Dorian Gray's home once before, but it was in secret. Not even he had known that she was there. It was early in their friendship, the night she first had the dream, where her subconscious took reign and her body lunged beyond her control. In the dream, Dorian was on top of her, but he had only his shirt off, and her hands grazed the smooth mounds of muscle. She still had her knickers on but his hand was reached down them, playing its way finger by finger down, down, down. His forefinger traced the folds of her vagina and circled around her clitoris for a stretch of time that was Paradise and Hell at once. When he finally touched her there, the climax was immediate and seized every muscle in her body. It was when she was about to explode that she woke up and, dazed, realized she was furiously rubbing herself against the mattress. As soon as she thought to stop herself, she exploded, muffling her hard-earned cry of release into the pillow.
Never before had she known such a dream, and certainly she hadn't ever found herself relating to her bed in such a way. Too shaken to fall back asleep, she waited for dawn, then hailed a hansom and rode to Dorian's house. She emerged from the cab but was intent on not being seen. She lurked outside the gate, touching the gold poppies, feeling that in doing so she might collect some sacred essence of Dorian. Just knowing she was close to him was all she needed. The sky had been pure opal, and the roofs of the houses glistened like silver against it. The peace in knowing he was sleeping just yards away was the greatest she could remember.
This time, she didn't bother with hailing a hansom. That would be too reasonable a choice, and this was a day for spitting in the face of reason. It was a day for walking too far, for carrying too much, for being too alone when the rain began to fall.
Exhausted and beaten down by betrayal (and chances were she would hear of more betrayal regarding her oh-so-dear friendâ
really, like a sister
âHelen!), Rosemary couldn't think straight. The facts she'd just learned from her father fled before her mind like frightened forest things. Around them swirled hallucinatory horrors: Helen's chilling laughter, Dorian's gray eyes aglow with intrigue as he listened to Helen's depraved teachings, the toxic smoke floating from Helen's languid exhalations.
It was nearly three o'clock in the afternoon when she arrived at Dorian's home. She did not knock right away, but loitered on the doorstep, looking for signs of lifeâ and finding none in the blank close-shuttered windows and their staring blinds. Clutched by the anxious thought that he could be in bed with Helen, she set the painting down and pounded on the door. An elderly valet opened the door at once as if he'd been waiting for her.
“Yes?” he said, taking in her disheveled appearance with-out a flicker of surprise in his sunken old eyes.
“Ahem,” Rosemary became self-conscious and straightened herself as best she could.
, she thought.
What am I wearing
? She had an ample collection of dresses, but chose a most ragged one so old and ill-fitting that she used it only when painting. It was flecked with the myriad colors of sunsets and oceans and alabaster moonsâand the gray soul of Dorian's eyes.
“Good afternoon, Sir,” she said, submitting a bow of her head as she was unable to curtsey with the ungainly painting in her arms. “I am here to see Mr. Gray.”
The sunken eyes registered her with a heavy blink.
“Mr. Gray did not say he was expecting anyone,” replied the valet.
There was a dagger of lightning and then a slam of thunder that made Rosemary jump.
“Yes, I'm afraid we didn't settle on an exact time,” said Rosemary.
The rain began.
The valet looked at the wrapped painting in her hands and then at the growling sky, seemingly unimpressed with both. Rosemary huddled closer to the door for shelter, hoping she could inspire some empathy in the man.
“Please,” she said. “May I just step inside for a moment?”
She mustered a chatter of her teeth, though it was quite warm out.
The valet seemed to consider, then at last he backed away from the door, leaving her just enough room to slip in with the painting.
“You may wait here while I see if Mr. Gray is available,” he said.
“Thank you,” said Rosemary, entering. “I have a painting here for Mr. Gray and I know he would be devastated if it were soaked.”
“Yes, you chose a fine day for delivery,” he muttered. He took the portrait from her and set it carefully against the wall.
Rosemary found herself in a somewhat somber hall with richly lacquered wood and high ceilings at the back of which was a spiral wainscot staircase. A pelt of wind slammed the door behind her, causing her to jump yet again. A magnificent chandelier made a mild stir above. Rosemary had long tried to picture what Dorian's home was like, and it came as no surprise that it was large and impeccably maintained. But there was a gloom and imperious silence she'd not anticipated. Something about it felt unlived in,
in, even. Dorian Gray, the charismatic youth of such astonishing beauty and grace was . . . lonely? Unfathomable! Yet the sense of isolation was present everywhere Rosemary looked. Even the valet, with his eyes like worn, sapless wood, was a kind of loneliness personified.
“You may wait here,” said the valet. He grunted and headed up the stairs, looking down on her throughout his ascent.
Rosemary wondered what to do with herself in the huge hall. There was a chill present that she hadn't noticed outside, and she had gotten wet in the sudden downpour. She hugged herself and stood by a bare coat rack, the least valuable looking thing in the room.
It was not long before she heard the slow steps of the valet plodding down the stairs.
“Mr. Gray is having his breakfast in his private dining room,” he said, pointing listlessly up the stairs. “To your right,” he said. “And then the first door on your left. It is open.” He then promptly forgot all about her, disappearing behind a pair of doors leading out to a back patio.
. Who had a dining room on the second floor? And who took breakfast so late in the day? It occurred to Rosemary that Dorian may have some quirks to his personality. It was a refreshing idea, and the first time she'd ever considered him to be anything but perfect. Newly inspired, she left the painting where it was and went up the stairs. The only nervousness she felt was that of excitement. She had missed Dorian.
At the landing, the house parted ways with itself and split up into two wings. Rosemary turned right, toward the west wing, where she passed through a door that opened unto a hallway. On her left was a smaller door with a sliver of pale light indicating it was ajar. She tapped lightly just as a bolt of thunder rattled the windows. She pushed the door open.
Dorian sat alone at a small oak table. The room appeared to have been a bedroom that was converted into a dining room, with a terrace attached. Stooped over his plate, Dorian emanated a most unusual dejection. Pangs of adoration and self-consciousness took turns at Rosemary. She cursed herself for coming here and wanted to run away. If only she'd collected herself before rushing over here. She felt Helen's familiar reprimand, “
” hissing like a snake.
Oddly, Dorian did not turn to see her when she entered, though he seemed aware of her presence, for he stopped eating and sighed as if he had to face something he'd been dreading. Rosemary deemed it best to act exceedingly happy.
“Why, good morning there!” Rosemary said with forced cheer. “Though, actually it is high afternoon. May I?” She gestured to the vacant seat beside him. He nodded and yawned loudly, then returned to his eating. He still would not look at her. She took the seat.
Being close to him still held its humiliating enchantments. She bowed her head shyly, a flush of pleasure stealing into her cheek. Biting her lower lip, she wondered what facile excuse she could invent for her appearance, not to mention her inexplicable frenzy and showing up at his door without invitation.
Act as if nothing is wrong
, she thought.
Just be natural
. But what was natural anymore? She was not the same person that she was before she met Dorian Gray. Ah, she wasn't even the same person she was hours ago! Her father, the only man in her life, the man she worshipped and trusted with the entirety of her being, was just a liar. The celestial angel she'd long to know all her lifeâher motherâhadn't even loved the pathetic man. Ah, that angel was a fallen one, perhaps.
“Dorian,” she started at last. “I'm sorry for not telling you that I'd be coming at this hour, but I figured I was more or less expected, since we agreed that you would take the painting as soon as it was ready to go. I thought it would be done days ago, but since I didn't hear from you, I really didn't think it was much of a rush. But, wouldn't you know, paint takes so long to dry! Much longer than you'd think. It always surprises meâeven after all these years!”
. She was so nervous that she was going to just keep talking. Usually, when she did this, Dorian looked at her with amusement, a spark of flirtation lighting up his eyes. But today he was altogether indifferent. He just went about finishing his food, now and again dabbing his chin (which was uncharacteristically stubbly) with a silk napkin that bore his initials in a steel-colored thread. When he was done, he tossed the napkin on the crumb-filled plate and took a long sip of his tea.
Still, he said nothing. It was as if he was stalling or perhaps preparing to make eye contact with Rosemary, who was willing him to look at her. She needed him. She needed him to love her.
“Dorian,” she said. At last, his eyes on hers. His face was as beautiful as ever, and there were no signs of fatigue, but there was an absence in his eyes, an unknown darkness filling it. Rosemary went on chatting, but now, with his cold gaze upon her, so stark and unfeeling, she felt that she was on the brink of a wonderful danger.
“You look well,” she said, her voice trembling. “Yes, as well as ever! But, honestly, you do seem rather withdrawn and seeing that you've taken your breakfast so late, I'm prompted to ask: Are you feeling all right?”
In the background rose a sudden, small dinging of a bell. It startled Rosemary, and she looked around for the source. Then, glimpsing the service bell on the other side of Dorian, she realized it was him ringing it. In a flash, the old valet swooped in and cleared the table. In another flash, he was gone.
Dorian stretched in his chair and yawned again. He rubbed his eyes as if his head ached. It seemed he'd been going over and over a problem in his mind, sleeplessly, for days. Yet he really did look well. He looked beautiful, in fact. She was not surprised when he did not say the same of her.
“You look thin,” he said, speaking at lastâhis voice hoarse and dry as if these were the first words he'd spoken since waking. “I hate when you become thin,” he said, looking at her with black eyes. Rosemary had never seen them so lightless. And his tone was so begrudging. How at odds his unblemished face was with his manner! He was like a water lily: What one saw of him was the bright, vivacious beauty bobbing on the surface, but in the turbid waters below lurked unknowable slime and disease.
“I've been eating heartily,” Rosemary lied. Eating had become a near-intolerable chore. She only bothered with it when her stomach began to gnaw and growl. Dorian dreaded the sight of a skeletal girl. When he'd sat for her he had often eyed her full figure with approval. Occasionally, he suggested that she could stand to gain several pounds. Whenever she was around him, she was so nervous as to devastate her appetite, but on the few occasions they had lunched together, she'd made a point of scarfing down everything her plate.
She would have carried on fictitiously about how much she loved to eat, but Dorian had lost interest. He stared out the window that looked onto the back patio. Everything there was gray and wet. Rosemary was anxious. She both wanted his attention and wanted to get out of the dining room which felt haunted by Dorian's . . . what was it, gloom?
She stood up and clapped her hands.
“Shall we find the absolutely perfect place to hang your portrait?” she asked, and started toward the door.