"Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, and nothing can cure the senses but the soul."
- Oscar Wilde
Though the calendar would name the season as autumn, the afternoon is one stolen from an earlier month, the fullness of the summer sun returned for a single day. A string quartet plays in midst of the rose garden, and the sweetly melancholy notes are carried with the warm heady scent through the rich air, lingering as the haze between overhanging branches. Yet despite the music, there is a silence to this day which will not be broken, as if it truly has been stolen from another time, and so refuses to bear the marks of any present presence upon it. I walk slowly among the emerald and gold, the colors just beginning to show the rust of season's end. A church bell sounds in the far distance - I force myself to focus on the musicians, so that I will not hear the inevitable proclamation of the hour. I do not wish to think of how idly I have spent this day. Of course there is no shame in letting hours pass as one delights in the beauties surrounding one, and certainly there are none who would chasten me! And yet... and yet I find that I have no recollection of any particularly lovely thing from the day. I have walked blindly beneath the sun, I have scarcely noticed the music or blossoms or warmth or fragrance. They have existed solely as background - but background to what? I find no lingering trails of thought in my mind, merely a dull sort of numbness, as one who is ill and has woken from one heavy, dreamless sleep, only to fall directly into another.
Whyever does Man constantly search for endless life? If only he knew what dreadful ennui set in, he should stop such a ridiculous quest at once.
The music bursts into a flurry of passionate notes, and my mood sours. Did I not specify that the music have no sudden changes? This is the last time I let any musicians be hired without first having explicit recommendation by Mephisto; every time I allow any others I am rewarded with absolutely flippant disregard for my instructions. Thus is the folly of man, thinking his decisions could hold more wisdom than ours. Such arrogance without merit, it is quite preposterous.
The music resolves into smooth patterns, and I feel the tautness leave my muscles. I breath deeply, and again notice the fragrances around me. I close and open my eyes slowly, and again they are soothed by beauty. Overhead, dense vines of pale yellow jasmine drip graceful tendrils from a trellis elegantly wrought of some dark metal. The sky beyond is a clear, pure cerulean - a perfect foil for the blushing leaves. The gentlest of fairy-fire limning sun-faded green, studded with flecks of brilliant aquamarine. A solo violin flies upward in a birdsong of pure rapture, shedding drops of sunlight grown heavy and full with the lateness of the day and the season, pregnant with all the warmth of the year that has passed...
A bird soars overhead, a dove, its outstretched wings radiant in the light. I watch it, and time slows in the intensity of my observation. Its wings beat in powerful strokes, each movement carrying with such ease through the high and rarefied air. The very space it has passed through seems brighter, the bird casting a negative shadow, bringing only light and never dark... no, a scrap of true shadow appears, yet not behind it but below it, dropping away from it, cast off and left behind. Yet even this loses its darkness, as it falls through the sun-saturated air, becoming brighter as it is purified by light and motion. And it lands on the ground before me: a feather of pure white, clear and unstained.
I kneel, and a tear slips softly down my cheek as I take the feather carefully in my cupped hands. I hardly dare to touch it, fearing it will disappear, fearing more that I shall stain it by the slightest contact with my skin.
But it remains in my hands, unsoiled and unstained, losing the luminosity of the sky but still pure...
Until a breath from Heaven snatches this scrap of joy from my feeble grasp. I cry out in pain, reaching helplessly toward a thing I know I should never catch.
I am frozen in the sudden intensity of emotion. Then before I have quite decided what to do, I call out:
The briefest of moments, and one stands before me, his youthful cheeks flushed and loose tunic askew. But he stands at attention and smooths his clothing, quickly catching his breath so that his voice will flow gently. "Yes, Master?"
"Bring a bottle of wine to--- to my rooms. Have two of the girls sent up, and have Amir meet me on the way."
"Certainly, Master." He takes off at a run, a run filled with joy in the very motion, and I have not the heart to rebuke the boy for his lack of decorum. I slowly follow the fading afterimage of ivory and gold, my own pace weary and jaded. There is no joy left in this body prolonged by mere existence.
But I will wrench some pleasure of this day.
Amir meets me while I am still passing through the gardens, and a few brief words are all I need speak before he too turns from me, moving off to ready the remedies of Araby and the Orient. There is a room of the house dedicated to their use, and Amir is quite practiced in such ministrations. The distillations of poppy and cacti and other strange things carry such wondrous properties, once known only to the holiest of holy. (I wonder - is it thus fitting or ironic that they seem to suit us so well?) I shall have the curtains drawn and soak in the warmth of candles, for I grow weary of sunlight.
I pass through the rose garden, and consider for a moment having the musicians moved indoors, where they may continue to--- but no. They have already disregarded my commands. I shall have them remain out here, to play to empty air, for they are deserving of nothing better.
At last I reach the house, and pass into the comforting quiet of the main hall. The air is gentle and motionless, lightly fragranced with incense and flowers. I pause and take a long, slow breath, noting contentedly that the air does not startle my body with the myriad unexpected pollutions of the air out of doors. The light of the grand chandelier overhead is far more soothing than the harsh sunlight, and the gold moldings on the walls certainly more beautiful than dying leaves. What a lovely place I have created.
At the entrance to my private rooms, I find two of the girls waiting for me, both clothed in diaphanous wraps of jewel-toned fabric, which reveal as much as they conceal. One holds a serving-tray with a bottle of one of my richer wines, and a delicate crystal glass.
I open the door and wave for them to enter, my body growing eager in anticipation. I can smell the oils Amir is warming, and one of the girls is already offering a glass of wine to me, her eyes dark and inviting. The memory of the emptiness the garden brought me falls away, the dullness and ancient yearnings again pushed aside and forgotten. The sky is nothing but an empty expanse, why should I have longed for it? Things are far more pleasant here, in the dusky saturation of lamplight, where the drapery-laden walls gently enfold me.