The Daughters of Lord Wilberforce

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A sample of the first scene of my latest comedy, The Daughters of Lord Wilberforce, now available on Amazon

 

 

Melodramatis Personae

 

 

Five actors are needed to play the roles of:

 

LORD WILBERFORCE, an old aristocrat

LADY WILBERFORCE, his wife

AMELIA, her eldest daughter

CECELIA, her middle daughter

CORDELIA, her youngest daughter

MR LAWSON-LAWSON, a lawyer (doubled by the actor who plays LADY WILBERFORCE)

 

The entirety of the action is set in a single room in a mansion.

 

 

 

SCENE I

 

London, 1920. A Mayfair mansion. In the middle of the parlour there is a half-constructed pyramid

 

ENTER LADY WILBERFORCE carrying SUITCASES

 

LADY WILBERFORCE

(yelling)

I’d say ‘see you in hell!’ but I doubt even Satan could devise so cruel a torture as continued cohabitation with you, sir! You could school the very devil!

(aside)

I’ve had it! There is a certain kind of money that just proves too expensive! I was happier selling flowers in Trafalgar Square than in this mansion in Mayfair! I had a better time being written up in the books of the constabulary than in Book of Peers of England!

Yes, we all live in prisons of our own making, but not even a deranged architect could have designed such a madhouse as this place! It is the brainchild of Daedalus and M.C. Escher!

Well, I’m off!

Where? Anywhere! The bottom of the precipice sounds strangely endearing, to be honest. I hear it’s beautiful there, this time of year.

 

ENTER running AMELIA, CECELIA, and CORDELIA

 

AMELIA

Mama!

CECELIA

Dear mama!

CORDELIA

Dearest mama!

LADY WILBERFORCE

You’re all forty! I stopped being maternal towards you years ago!

AMELIA

But mama, think this through!

CECELIA

Consider it carefully!

CORDELIA

Give it due thought!

LADY WILBERFORCE

There is nothing to think about except for freedom, the most divine of gifts.

AMELIA

Surely the greatest gift the gods have given us is diamonds.

CECELIA

And emeralds.

CORDELIA

And rubies!

LADY WILBERFORCE

No, it is freedom! I wish I could have taught you that!

AMELIA

Do not fret it, dear mama, we have no need for education.

CECELIA

We’re rich, remember?

CORDELIA

Or we shall be, imminently.

AMELIA

As soon as, you know…

CECELIA

Can’t be too much longer now.

CORDELIA

Can’t you just wait a tad bit more? I mean, the end surely is just around the corner now.

LADY WILBERFORCE

It has been around the corner for years now! The whole world is a corner and the end is always turning around it, fleeing from us!

AMELIA

But do consider the following… Logically…

CECELIA

Mathematically…

CORDELIA

Medically…

LADY WILBERFORCE

What are you going to say? That logically, mathematically, and medically he cannot live much longer? Yes, I quite agree with all of you. And perhaps he would have died a long time ago, were he not the devil, which, logically, mathematically, and medically, he very much is. But the scales have fallen from my eyes, and I refuse to spend the few years of life I have left in service of hell.

AMELIA

But mama, you’re still young!

CECELIA

A spring flower!

CORDELIA

A mere fledgling!

LADY WILBERFORCE

Oh, fiddle-faddle, I am seventy-five!

AMELIA

Precisely. You still have time.

CECELIA

You could easily stand him another two decades.

CORDELIA

It would be no trouble at all.

LADY WILBERFORCE

At the rate he eats up one’s life-force, I’d be lucky to live to 76 if I stay one more second in this labyrinth.

AMELIA

You speak about him as though he were a monster.

CECELIA

Some kind of ghoul!

CORDELIA

A vampire!

LADY WILBERFORCE

No, no, no, ghouls are upstanding citizens. And vampires are at least honest and upfront about their intentions, always waiting to be invited in. He is worse than that. Do you remember his last wife? He was sixty when he married her, and she was thirty. Well, the marriage ended five years later, when he was forty-five and she fifty!

AMELIA

You’re exaggerating!

CECELIA

Please, mama, that was never fully confirmed.

CORDELIA

You know perfectly well the lab results were inconclusive!

LADY WILBERFORCE

Yes! Because the poor thing barely had any blood left in her veins for analysis! No, no, no, my dears, I have made my mind up: I’m leaving.

AMELIA

Can you seriously abandon your three daughters?

CECELIA

The lights of your life?

CORDELIA

All alone without no one in the world to take care of them?

LADY WILBERFORCE

In a heartbeat. You’re all forty! It’s high-time you started fending for yourselves.

AMELIA

We’re planning to. You know I want to open a restaurant.

CECELIA

And I plan on becoming a gifted musician.

CORDELIA

And I have been meaning to start taking fending lessons.

AMELIA

Wasn’t it fencing last week, Cordelia?

CORDELIA

Well, yes, but I have been doing some research and I do not think I have the calves for it, Amelia.

CECELIA

Oh, Amelia, we should buy some calves.

AMELIA

Well, I will need them for the restaurant. What do you want them for, Cecelia?

CECELIA

What do you mean what do I want them for? When one is rich one need only want!

LADY WILBERFORCE

And when exactly were you planning to follow all these dreams?

AMELIA

As soon as we can afford them, of course.

CECELIA

And no sooner.

CORDELIA

Not a second before that.

LADY WILBERFORCE

But don’t you realise that dreaming is for free?

AMELIA

Perhaps the generic version of it, the one the poor people have with all the advertisements.

CECELIA

I am a girl of taste and will only accept expensive dreams.

CORDELIA

Just think about the sort of dreams we would be able to dream with some moolah!

LADY WILBERFORCE

But the best thing about free things is that they lead to freedom!

AMELIA

Sounds like freedom is crawling with the proletariat.

CECELIA

Not exactly my kind of crowd.

CORDELIA

You probably have to take a bus to get there… it makes one shiver to the very bones.

LADY WILBERFORCE

Don’t you realise you’re poor too, my children?

AMELIA

Oh, nonsense!

CECELIA

Applesauce!

CORDELIA

Pure banana oil!

AMELIA

Papa is rich.

CECELIA

He’s loaded.

CORDELIA

He’s swimming in the rhino!

LADY WILBERFORCE

He’s not your father!

AMELIA

Mere semantics.

CECELIA

Nothing but details.

CORDELIA

We try to focus on the bigger picture.

AMELIA

What I meant to say, dear mother, is that step-papa is rich, which makes us rich as well.

CECELIA

Or will make us rich.

CORDELIA

As soon as, you know…

AMELIA

As soon as he kicks the bucket in the Elysian fields.

CECELIA

As soon as he is laid to rest in pieces.

CORDELIA

When his pyramid is completed. I mean that both in the metaphorical and literal sense.

LADY WILBERFORCE

But don’t you realise that a man who builds an Egyptian pyramid as a mausoleum for himself is non compos mentis?

AMELIA

Whatever could that mean?

CECELIA

Please remember that our education in Latin will begin once we receive our inheritance.

CORDELIA

And not a second sooner.

LADY WILBERFORCE

When I say Lord Wilberforce is non compos mentis, I mean to say that he is not of a stable mind.

CORDELIA

Oh! A stable! That’s what I’m going to do with my part of the money. I’m going to buy a stable and ride horses all day.

CECELIA

Whatever happened to fending?

CORDELIA

I don’t have the calves for that.

CECELIA

And you do for horseback riding?

CORDELIA

Do you need calves for that? I would have thought a horse would suffice.

AMELIA

Well, I intend to use the loot I shall inherit to buy a restaurant in Mayfair. Then with the profits of that restaurant, I shall buy another restaurant in Mayfair. By the end of a year, all of London shall be mine. Well, just the fashionable parts of it, at least. I might burn down the East End.

CECELIA

Well, please do not burn down the concert halls. As soon as I receive papa’s oof, I shall buy a gorgeous Steinway and Sons grand piano. I think I shall become one of those great, eccentric pianists that travel everywhere with their instrument, at outrageous expense. But never mind, I can afford it.

LADY WILBERFORCE

Have you forgotten you don’t play the piano, Cecelia?

CECELIA

I obviously plan on taking classes, mama, as soon as I have the money for it.

 

Abbas Aqil et le génie

Voici un petit conte inclus dans mon livre The Gate of Orient: Nightmares of Arabia

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Abbas Aqil et le génie

Chaque grain de sable dans le désert d’Arabie a été partout en Arabie grâce aux opérations du vent et du destin. En raison de la courte durée de la vie humaine, on oublie fréquemment que l’éternité est réelle. D’innumérables générations marcheront sur la même terre que nous lorsque nous en serons dessous ; ils regarderont la même lune avec des yeux rêveurs en se demandant si quelqu’un ailleurs est en train de la contempler, et ils ressentiront les mêmes cassements de cœur que nous avons sentis, toujours en nous méfiant qu’autrui ait expérimenté une telle douleur.

Néanmoins, être humain est une bénédiction, car on arrive à oublier. Qu’est-ce la mort sauf la possibilité de désapprendre tout ? Mais tout le monde ne partage pas ce bonheur. Sur la terre, il y a des esprits, condamnés à posséder de terribles pouvoirs, qui portent leur immortalité autour de leur cou de la même façon qu’un esclave supporte ses chaînes : en pensant toujours à une liberté impossible dans un futur impossible.

Il était une fois, deux fois, trois fois, un génie. Peut-être c’est le même génie dont on vient de parler. C’est difficile à dire, car le temps change toutes les choses, et elles deviennent méconnaissables à leurs êtres anciens. Si quelques dizaines d’années arrivent à produire des changements atroces sur les corps, imaginez ce que l’éternité pourra atteindre. Présumons qu’en effet celui-ci est le même génie que notre pêcheur a tiré hors des eaux du Nile. Présumons, toutefois, que le temps n’est pas le même.

Comme esclave éternel de la lampe, le génie avait voyagé autour du monde entier, dans les mains d’un maître ou d’un autre. Au point de sa vie où nous le retrouvons, il abhorrait la solitude imposée de la lampe. Sa plus grande joie était d’accorder des vœux, puisque cela signifiait qu’il serait dehors, en respirant l’air frais.

Bien sûr, il s’amusait aussi avec l’inoffensive (pour lui, du moins) diversion de truquer les désirs qu’il concédait. Celle-ci était son unique occupation, car tout le monde demandait la même chose encore et toujours et, pour se débarrasser de l’ennui, il décida de donner un petit bout de soi-même à chaque souhait : de la richesse ? Oui, mais de cet argent qui fait que les amis et la famille s’en aillent, après les avoir trop approchés ; l’amour ? Bien sûr, mais on le trouvera dans la fille su sultan ! Et son vœu préféré jusqu’à ce point : un remède contre la calvitie… partout sauf sur la tête.

Pendant une période de trois siècles, l’esprit voyagea dans sa lampe, passé de main en main, de ses origines obscures dans un tombeau égyptien au palais luxueux d’un pharaon et après aux mains de son meurtrier. Perdu dans le labyrinthe de l’histoire (que l’on sait maintenant sans aucune sortie), il termina par se trouver dans un marché.

La lampe arriva aux mains d’un marchand qui n’en sût jamais le secret merveilleux. La raison ne fut point l’aveuglement naturel des êtres humains, mais le fait que ce commerçant utilisait des gants pour manipuler ses marchandises, car il craignait de les salir aux yeux des clients potentiels.

Un jour, un homme nommé Abbas Aqil visita sa boutique. Comme on pouvait supposer par son nom, c’était un vieillard austère, reconnu en ville pour sa sagesse. Il menait une vie agréable au Caire, non pas car il était riche — il ne l’était pas – mais puisqu’il ne désirait rien de plus sauf la chance de travailler comme un tailleur en paix et en solitude. Bon, il avait un souhait supplémentaire : il voulait acheter une lampe qui lui permettait de coudre pendant la nuit.

Sitôt qu’il arriva chez-lui avec le prodige, il commença à travailler. L’obscurité ne s’était pas encore étendue par le ciel, alors Abbas Aqil se concentra d’enfiler son aiguille sur-le-champ. Il coudra pendant des heures et avec son art créa des patrons merveilleux sur l’étoffe. Ceux qui admiraient ses produits pouvaient facilement penser qu’il était un graveur et non pas un tailleur, si exquis était son habilité, si précise sa main, qu’il arrivait à imposer complètement sa volonté sur le tissu le plus résistent. Tout cela entraînait un problème, bien sûr ; ses compositions étaient si magnifiques que personne ne voulait les porter sur eux. Ils craignaient de les profaner avec leur humanité.

Toutefois, le tailleur continua à travailler jusqu’à ce que le coucher du soleil tomba sur le Caire. Ce fut soudain, comme une tempête de sable. Un moment avant, l’astre du jour brillait avec sa puissance arabe de toujours. Un instant plus tard, comme s’il avait été attaqué par un nuage de locustes, le soleil disparut blessé sous l’horizon.

Comme il n’avait pas encore fini ses chemises, Abbas Aqil se leva, marcha vers la lampe et utilisa une roche silex pour l’allumer. Il entendit un son semblable à un hurlement, mais il présuma que cela s’agissait d’un excès de pression s’échappant par la cheminée bloquée de la lampe. Par conséquent, il essaya de la désengorger. À son insu, il la frotta.

À cet instant, un génie très puissant sortit de l‘artefact enchanté. C’était un cauchemar noir, semblable à une tempête maritime. Ses yeux étincelaient comme des éclairs, mais comme des éclairs qui ne disparaissent jamais, qui illuminent et effrayent les cieux durant toute l’éternité. Ses dents ressemblaient aux serres d’un aigle colossale et ses cheveux étaient épais comme une jungle noire.

« Je suis le Génie de la lampe, dit-il. Quel est votre vœu, maître ?

—Tais-toi ! Je désire de la paix ! Du silence ! Je veux une maudite lampe qui ne m’interrompe pas lorsque je travaille ! » réplica Abbas Aqil, qui à ce moment, avait déjà retourné à son siège et ne détournait pas le regard de son aiguille.

Le génie s’introduisit dans la lampe comme un enfant réprimandé et utilisa ses pouvoirs magiques capables de créer et arrêter toute vie dans l’univers, pour maintenir une petite flamme allumée pendant quelques heures.

 

The Gate of Orient

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The following is an extract from a tale in this illustrious book by Ian Charles Lepine. If you are interested in a signed copy send me an email at iancharleslepine@gmail.com

Hasna Maha and the Cave of Diamond Stars

Before I was born, the stars conspired against me and placed themselves in ambush rather than in constellations to bring about my doom. I was the daughter of a merchant in Cairo; he, through sheer industriousness and diligence rose to the top of his trade, always buying merchandise for its true value and lending money without interest to those who needed it. Honesty and kindness in people in that line of business is so rare, that soon the sultan himself took notice, and asked my father to come to the palace where he became the court treasurer. It was within these marble walls that he also met my mother, a favourite of the sultaness.

By the time I was born, we were as wealthy a family as there was in Cairo; but what is the point of rising if not to fall? What is the point of rising high if not only to make the fall as fatal as it is fated? Because of these reasons, the stars allowed us to climb until the very heavens knowing full well we would dash ourselves to pieces on the way down.

Since our riches were the product of only a few years rather than ancestral in origin, we were looked down upon by the rest of the aristocracy who had never worked a day of their life, and, consequently, had no idea what money was worth. A nobleman named Asad Ataullah, who lost the post of treasurer to my father, swore himself our eternal enemy, and spurred the other bluebloods to try to humiliate the man who gave me life and play tricks on him.

Tired of the constant slights of which he was the object, my father sought to procure an alliance that would prove most beneficial to his only daughter and which would place her forever above the reproach of petty noblemen.

That’s why, when I was two years old, he promised my hand to Almas Anwar, the fifteenth son of one of Cairo’s most distinguished families. Being so lately born, he could of course not expect any of his family’s fortune, which meant he was in dire need of an advantageous match. My father promised an outrageous dowry in exchange for Almas’ noble blood, and, in such terms, the marriage was agreed to when my future husband and I were both but children.

To ensure that our hearts grew into one another like creeping ivy, we were forced to spend all our time together since our earliest days. Even by that time, Almas was proud and haughty. He mocked at the poor and threw stones at the elderly. I, however, knew that papa had worked hard to acquire this marriage contract, and maybe because of him and not so much because of the boy, I grew to love Almas, despite his defects.

Some of my sweetness rubbed on him and perhaps some of his impishness passed on to me; such is the nature of human spirits, for when they are close to one another, breathing the same air, basking in the same sun, bathing in the same springs, eventually souls will begin to commingle and produce a temperament born out of two halves. The human soul is like incense. At first it seems so concentrated, but given enough time, it will fill a room and everyone in it will inhale its owner’s essence.

And we were so young, only sixteen, when we got married, that there was too much space inside us for something new. After we were joined in wedlock, we would often sneak out of the palace to go on strange and wondrous adventures.

One incredibly hot day, about a week after the wedding, we decided to swim together in a spring in the outskirts of Cairo. The stars, having long awaited to bring down upon my head their black doom, at last loosened it over me. Twilight fell on us like the blade of a scimitar, and to our wonder, at that very second, a meteor shower began.

Almas had left the spring and was drying out on the bank, but I remained behind for a few minutes. I dived to the bottom one more time and was enjoying the subaquatic view when I felt a cramp on my leg. I panicked, started splashing around, calling after Almas, yelling for help, scared to death.

He didn’t come.

I had to drag myself out of the water with no one’s help. As I crawled onto the shore, I saw that he was still looking at the comets as they poured their hatred on the Earth, scorching the air with molten lead.

‘Didn’t you hear me?’ I screamed at him in deep anger.

‘What?’

‘I could have drowned. You didn’t come for me!’

‘Oh, I thought you were fooling around.’

Almas insisted that we remained for a while, but I was so angry at him that I declared my intentions of leaving that very instant. O! Curse my rashness! As we made our way back into Cairo, a sudden desert storm was born from the womb of Fate, and he and I, driven into confusion by the raging winds, feared for our very lives.

The sand under our feet started convulsing as though a gigantic desert serpent were shaking its colossal tail in the bowels of the Earth. Such was the violence of the elements, that, upon turning my head back, I saw Almas no more. The storm had claimed him.

I yelled for him, but the wind drowned out my voice. Still, I tried and tried, and kept quiet in order to hear if he called back. I was about to despair, thinking on how I would break the news to his father, when I heard my name pronounced and lost in the vertiginous air. I turned my head in the direction I thought the sound came (a near-impossible feat, for we were in the middle of a whirlwind) and saw that the sand before me had fled down a sinkhole of daunting depth. It had swallowed Almas, for I fancied that he was calling at me from the very bottom of it.

What could I do? If I went searching for help, I would not be able to find my way back to this place. How could I lead a search party to the precise spot where Almas drowned in the sand? The desert is featureless, and the only landmarks are its cruelties, in the form of corpses, which it buries with its unfeeling winds. But if I went down to him, maybe we would both be lost and there would be no one there to save us. Then I remembered that he was my husband, that we had made a vow to stay through everything together, and upon that thought, the floor collapsed below me, which saved me the pain of jumping into the sinkhole of my own free will.

I fell and fell for as long as I can remember. Maybe at one point I hit my head, or perhaps the passage was so long that I fell, this time, asleep, for the next thing that I remember was awakening on the floor on an enormous cavern. I came to and thereupon I saw Alma wondering around. I called to him and at last we were reunited.

‘Are you crazy?’ he asked me, ‘why didn’t you go for help?’

After such other complaints and criticism, we began exploring the cave. The ceiling was so high that at times we forgot where we were and simply assumed the sky to be overcast with granite-coloured clouds. We walked through galleries after galleries in the dark until we saw a light far, far away in the distance.

It took us another hour of dragging our fear and feet in apprehension before we could see what it was. We had entered into a new gallery the roof of which was bespotted with what we at first mistook to be stars, but, upon further examination, turned out to be diamonds, there, up in the heights. They reflected a light from some hidden source and somehow amplified it, bestowing upon the whole underground world a mysterious illumination.

Having been lost for several hours in the cave, we began to get hungry. Luckily, Almas caught a glance of a tree in the very middle of the enormous chamber through which we now roamed. When we arrived at it, however, we saw that its fruits were transparent and diamond-like; nevertheless, they were not hard to the touch.

I refused to eat of them, though. I knew us to be in a magical land, and as one of my pastimes was reading, I knew better than to eat the food to be found thereat. Almas, on the other hand, had never read a book in his life, and, in spite of my repeated entreaties, he bit into the diamond fruit.

“See?” he said to me, “Nothing happened.”

A second later, he began experimenting a certain numbness in his body. A moment after that, he expressed the need to sit down, but could not achieve such a feat. He could not move his limbs…

It was then that I beheld the nightmare that sits at the centre of my tragedy like a monarch in his throne, like a monster amidst his labyrinth, for from his stomach there began to grow a crystal infection, a creeping vine of diamond horror that wholly claimed him in less than a minute.

I cried as the perfect clarity of the rock glazed his eye, the last part of him that the crystal cancer would devour; I called out his name in vain, in vain, as the diamond veins locked him up in a transparent prison.

Once the echo of my own voice subsided, the whole cave shook; the very air trembled as in a deep fright, and the wind spoke terrible words:

‘I am Al-Qadir, the genie of the Diamond Cave; who has dared enter my dominions? Who has plucked the immaculate diamonds from the magic tree?’

Afraid as I was, I knew only I could save Almas now.

Thereupon, I took a deep breath and addressed the diamond-lit darkness.

‘Al-Qadir, my name is Hasna Maha. The youth I came here with is called Almas Anwar.’

As I pronounced those words, the diamonds that were incrusted on the ceiling of the cave dropped to the ground as in a hailstorm of brilliant and dazzling light. Some of them fell on me, bruising and cutting me badly. But, once they all lay scattered on the rough floor, they appeared to suffer a mystical animation, and, gradually gathering themselves into a muddled mound before me, they began to throb, to vibrate, to move, and, before my eyes, as though carried by ants they assembled themselves into a heap, a column, a humanoid shape, and, at last, a terrible genie.

‘We did not wish to trespass on your dominions, o, mighty spirit… We were driven hither by a desert storm. My husband, smitten by hunger, took one of the diamonds of your tree.’

‘Then his punishment is fitting to his crime.’

‘Is he dead?’

‘He cannot die.’

‘Is he in pain?’

‘The diamonds run through his blood, cutting their way through his veins. But his voice is also frozen in crystal and therefore we do not hear him scream.’

‘Please! Please, you have to show him mercy! He didn’t mean it!’

‘He chose his own destiny as all men do,’ replied the genie, ‘blindly, and without meaning to do so.’

‘Please, you have to let him go!’ I beseeched again. ‘I’ll do anything.’

I saw a horrifying smile form in the genie’s mouth. He bared his diamond teeth, which were sharp as razorblades, nay, as scimitars.

‘A life for a life,’ he said. ‘For too long have I been trapped in these sombre depths, for too long have I been the torment of the diamonds. You must exchange places with me. Only if you agree to this, will I free your husband.’

I hesitated for a second, but, were our roles reversed, I knew that Almas would do the same for me, and so, unhappy that I am! I agreed to the spirit’s frightful conditions.

Thereupon, the genie produced a dagger made of diamonds and a crystal lamp, that same crystal lamp that you gifted me some days ago. He told me to prepare, to brace myself, to push through the pain, to bethink myself of the man for whom I was doing this.

He came up to me and I closed my eyes out of sheer terror. I felt the dagger going through my skin and being driven through my body and into my very heart. The pain was unlike anything I ever felt before. It was like having a star inside me, incandescent, extreme, colossal. It burnt, it almost made me burst, it pushed me out of myself.

A single tear slipped out of my eye and the genie caught it with the crystal lamp. That was all it took, for in that moment, the pain stopped—at least that of the flesh—and the heart of the diamond star inside me was transformed into a heart of void; the heat, the fire, the light, were replaced by the eternal cold of the black nothingness that surrounds the stars and keeps them in place.

 

 

To be continued

 

 

 

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Sonnets to the Eternal Feminine is a collection of art dedicated to a platonic impossibility. Apart from sonnets addressed to some of the masterworks of painting, music, literature, and sculpture, this anthology features Ian Charles Lepine’s terrifying voyage into Topus Uranus, as narrated in The Artist’s Archetype: A Short Story of Love and Horror.

The poems alternate between the wealth of love and its desolations, and are perhaps best summed up by the following piece:

Though I your love did with my heart pursue;
Though I admired you like th’ evening star;
And thought through you I could be made anew,
And loved you madly near and from afar,
I never knew you’d give me such a gift
Without vouchsafing but one yearning kiss;
Instead, in your blue eyes I was adrift,
And drowned in you, and cursed each day such bliss.
One time my hands you held; I wondered why;
For you were promis’d to another’s soul;
And as I scan the past, I classify
Your loss as Pyrrhic gain that made me whole.
For in my hand you placed a poet’s quill;
And blood in inkpot has improv’d my skill.

 

The following is an excerpt from the short story found in this volume

 

 

The Artist’s Archetype: A Tale of Love and Horror

In an inhuman paragraph in one of the books of The Republic (the exact placement of which will be readily apparent to the pedant, but the critic must excuse the author’s bibliographic negligence), Plato states that it is the philosopher’s duty to return to the cavern, even after he has grown accustomed to the truth of the light, for he must find himself amongst the men of darkness if he is ever to help them sever their bonds.[1]

In the last day of the year 1899, I was busying myself with yet another unpublishable book of vanity, which my agent was sure to reject: this time I was concerned with an anthology of poetry called The Siren of Solitude which encompassed several narrative poems, all of which, in emulation of either the Northern Star’s constancy, or the tired man’s monomania, spoke about the relationship between death and love, between Eros and Thanatos, with the inevitable emphasis on the latter as I was at the time having trouble at the amorous conquest of my beloved Claire.

The collection opened with a number of sonnets I had written to those I have loved through varying epochs of my life, my blue, white, and ultra-violet period, as it were. But though these pieces may have borne the name of the demoiselle in question, they were actually addressed to a vague iteration of female essence, a sort of feminine ideal I had glanced at through the shadow figures of Young, an archetype of beauty who was very ill defined, but—all of the authorities could agree upon this—was blonde.

This was the case for the first couple of poems, however, those pieces comprised within the range of the celebrated Sonnet V, ‘Like Godlike Nectar Thy Night-eclipsing Soul’, to the ambitious, bold, and incredibly (un)successful Sonnet XV, ‘I Will Not Give My Verse to Thee Again (which was highly praised by Mr Ruskin and no one else), were, of course, dedicated to Mademoiselle Claire-Juliette Blanche, a girl had troubled my desires for years, and, who, though I eventually became blind to her beauty through the doom of actual blindness, I continue to think the fairest creature on this Earth.

In order to give the book more weight, I decided I needed four more sonnets, and fell to composing them at once in the late hours of the night. I disdained the miracle of electric lighting, believing that lucubrations are to be achieved etymologically, and, instead, seeking to conjure up the atmosphere of the Romantics, I took a walk, pencil in hand, and stood on Victoria Bridge, where I allowed the light of the moon to illuminate my inspiration.

The sonnets composed during this fateful night read as follows.

Ian Charles Lepine dedicates these humble pieces to Mademoiselle Claire-Juliette Blanche, the muse, the goddess, the desire behind all these rhymes.

I

Your kisses are like butterflies of breath,

Your heart does beat the rhythm of earth’s song;

Your eyes the stars exceed, for while beneath

The vaulted sky, their light fore’er is strong;

And unlike stars, they will forever live,

For ‘tis impossible they stop their light;

And yet, each time you blink, you darkness give,

For like, as the jealous clouds that sometimes night

The very day, whene’er you blink, you free

An instant of your gaze from my existence:

And, if to be perceived is but to be,

You kill me every day with this resistance.

And yet, you close your eyes when you me kiss,

And though I’m dying then, I die of bliss.

 

This, of course, was one of the most fantastic fits of fiction I have ever written because at that time I had not kissed Claire and I was very ably existing while she ignored my attentions. I kept on walking along the Embankment, obsessing over the fact that my beloved was often to be seen in the company of some louche lordling who cared not one whit for her, as was evidenced by the fact that—and it pains me to speak ill of this character—he had never written a single sonnet to her. You can, dear reader, appreciate the degree of ill-usage to which this man subjected her. The next sonnet was born out of that reflection:

 

II

Some men for years have walked this earth and never

Cared to look to heaven, where beauty intense

Is framed in star, and moonlight tinged in silver.

These dolts whose eyes are blind, and minds are dense

Due adoration to the sun refuse;

And heeding not its true, majestic flames,

They worship gods of mud, and stars misuse:

Of moonlight wonders they don’t know the names.

So men who in you wonders cannot find,

Who cannot see your beauty, love your charm,

You must for Heaven’s sake leave far behind;

For from them, lovely fair, you’ll find but harm.

It takes not that the stars be cloudly hidden,

‘Tis true: some minds don’t care to look at heaven.

 

I kept on walking along the Thames, and I couldn’t help but wonder how love is a universal link between all mankind. How every person has loved, how a poem from antiquity, ripped from Oblivion in some fragment by Sappho could have just as easily be written today. I felt myself slowly slipping into the past, and alongside the symbol of Heraclitus, I slipped as well into the affected style of the ancients:

 

III

Methinks that heaven a light no longer holds;

The very sun shines dark without thee here.

Thy glow from heaven’s no distinction shows

From all the stars of that inhuman sphere

That pierce the void and bring in light forbidden,

Whilst trodden answers do deceive our mind.

How is it then a thing of light is hidden

In earthly space of shadows dumb and blind?

Beyond the theatre, off the world, a purer

World of forms and lighted pow’rs doth dwell:

A world where concepts live in truth of number;

And Music’s song in beauteous life doth swell.

But when thou leav’st my side to live your light,

The theatre’s over; cometh o’er my night.

 

At this point, the night was starting to get very cold, so I just resorted to the blazon technique of Petrarch to describe the loved one, instead of, well, contributing anything new, really:

IV

Like godlike nectar thy night-eclipsing soul

Is made th’ elixir to my soul’s desire.

O, love, would that my love sufficed at all

To quench such love of thy most starlike fire!

Thy pale-dark beauty of most fair complexion

Burns like a sable day in diamond welkin;

Meanwhile thy lighted heart of red perfection

Beats through thy frame of porcelain beauty silken.

A maid in skies enthroned I hold thee ever,

And yet, so far, thou art so far ‘bove praise.

That my night’s self will ever run this fever,

And I’ll assay in lines of moonbeam verse

Forever. For such a thing of love I see:

Thy emerald blue eye enchanteth me.

 

I returned home and, as I defrosted in front of the fireplace, I read over the work of the night, feeling rather pleased with myself. As always, there was that fear in the background of my mind that that those vitriolic words my poetry professor at university addressed to me when I showed him one of my sonnets would actually be true. But then I started to muse that he was teaching Chaucer to freshmen students, and really that’s enough to disqualify the validity of any opinion that he had.

At any rate, as I finished rereading and improving upon Sonnet III, I realised something strange had happened. Though hardly an apologist for the Spenserian style of affected medievalism, I found that, while I addressed Mademoiselle Claire-Juliette Blanche in the first two sonnets with the pronoun ‘you’, I had somehow drifted by sonnet three and in sonnet four she had become a ‘thee’. I thought little of this at the time and explained my archaism away by considering the fact that the ghost of Shakespeare past had come to me in the night.

I went to bed, proud with a poet’s triumph, which is to say, penury, and thought about maybe including a laurel crown, apart from the lily I carry everywhere, into my regular attire.

The next morning, I made my way to Mademoiselle Claire-Juliette Blanche’s house at 5 Dover Street in Mayfair, to pay due devotion to her eyebrow, and was annoyed when I saw another gentleman caller there before me. This time it was one of those coxcombs with an absurd name like Reginald or Archibald.

I guess I had no right to indulge in anger, for many men worship the stars, but I rather felt that Claire was not trying at all to cover herself with clouds, and what’s more, that she paid more attention to that nincompoop than to me. When the monster finally left, and I was alone with her, I showed her my poems.

She was… unenthusiastic, to put it mildly. Probably the sheer number of sonnets I had written to her had made her build a resistance to being loved; for instead of swooning over every third word, she donned her art critic’s bonnet and was harsh about my use of semicolons, she critiqued the frequent use of the modal ‘did’ and generally, it pains me to say, she was quite insufferable. She had one valid complaint though, about Sonnet IV. She read the line she had reservations with in that way women have that makes men feel humiliated for ever giving them one moment’s love.

‘Well, let’s see,’ she said, ‘Ah! Here it is: “Your emerald blue eye enchanteth me”. Well, you see what the problem is with that, do you not? My eyes are quite simply green. No blue to them at all.’

‘I assure you your eyes also look blue, darling.’

‘Not at all, you are most sorely mistaken.’

‘The eye cannot see itself, so how would you know, darling?’ I riposted making the italics very clear in my tone.

I left shortly thereafter, deeply hating her and yet expressing eternal devotion as I walked through the threshold and onto the street. So what if that line was scientifically wrong? It was artistically right.

Somewhat miserable, I returned home, to prepare the manuscript for delivery to my agent, who was sure to exhibit even worse taste than my muse; unfortunately, while my muse only makes me want to die, my publisher can achieve that end if he withholds my cheques.

I reread last night’s four sonnets and thought about what my ‘beloved’ Claire had said yet again.

‘Confound her!’ I screamed out loud—I am not crazy, I was merely soliloquising—‘she’s right. Her eyes are green.’

That line in the poem would have to be changed. Or I would need to find someone with blue-green eyes whom I could love instantly. I laughed at the idea. People don’t fall in love fast enough to meet with a publisher’s deadlines. Nothing can ever be accomplished so quickly. Then I thought about the other gentleman caller that Claire had entertained right before my eyes. ‘On the other hand…’ I thought. ‘Confound her again, then!’ I said.

It’s really easy to forget that love is not about being in agony every waking second and that in fact it should bring one at least some slight measure of happiness. My point is that one should find a girl who treats one better than one deserves. Love is not a meritocracy. It has something of the theocratical dictatorship, but that’s it.

At that moment, feeling wronged, unappreciated, and possibly affected by the lateness of the hour as well as the long drag of absinthe I usually take for my health, I realised that Claire was not the girl for me, and not only did I swear to break all ties with her, but also with her entire gender. I must confess, however, that this was not the first time I had declared such noble resolutions. Barely a day went by in which I didn’t forswear all women, or at the very least, Claire. She was just that kind of girl. At one time she had infuriated me so much I even got my forswearing of her notarised.

I decided to focus on my work, rather than her, which was rather futile because most of the sonnets were addressed to her. I accordingly reread the poems, looking for any stray semi-colons I could cut, and that is when I realised something which had missed me throughout an entire career of love poetry. The poems were absolutely the works of genius, of course—what person of sound mind could possibly deny that?—but they were not authentic. For the one part, this meant they were good; for in the words of Mr Wilde, ‘All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling’, which naturally should be avoided at all costs.

As I read over last night’s work, I couldn’t help but notice that I did not feel that way about Mademoiselle Blanche. Not, at any rate, now, after her shameful behaviour that morning. I decided not to change the line about the eyes. Eros allegedly has some idea why he does what he does, thought, I, and who am I to try to amend his work? We must trust blindly in him, as we trust in the invisible hand of the market. Caught up in these contemplations, I gradually realised that some other lines in the poems were not at all about Claire. The further I read, the more they appeared to be miles off, in fact.

For example, consider this passage in Sonnet II: ‘So men who in you wonders cannot find, / Who cannot see your beauty, love your charm…’ This was a straight up falsity. Everybody loved her. That was the problem, of course. She was so astoundingly beautiful that one did not need to know about art theory to appreciate her.  Or, take Sonnet III: ‘How is it then a thing of light is hidden / In earthly space of shadows dumb and blind?’ Well, she was hardly a thing of light. She was childish, wilful, and spoilt. A bit of a brat, if we’re being honest here. And the whole premise of Sonnet I was, frankly, derisory. I did not feel like I stopped existing whenever she blinked. Sometimes I was quite thankful when she indulged in nictitations, because she would go the longest amount of time without doing so, which was rather unnerving. One had the impression that she would go for one’s neck at any second. And how would I know what her kisses were like when I had never kissed her, or anyone before, for that matter?

Thinking about all these things, and still rather livid at her treatment of me which descried a very lax understanding of how courtship is supposed to work, I came upon an epiphany: I had de facto if not de jure dedicated the sonnets to someone else, though someone who at the time was unbeknownst to me.

But who? Who? WHO? Upon spelling that word in capital letters in my mind, I stumbled upon the answer. The sonnets did not belong to her, but to Her. What could I do about that? I was so tired, I was almost falling asleep at my desk. But I had to do something. I swallowed a whole glass of absinthe, and in a rapt of poetic frenzy, a state which produces both the best and worst works of an artist, I quickly penned down another sonnet, originally titled ‘She’ but then quickly reworked into ‘Elle’ because going French is a very wise move for book sales:

 

Elle. Can there be a better word than elle?

How did the letters mix to make such sound?

How in a word can such great beauty dwell?

And yet it does; my mind in this is sound.

Her mind is sound as well, or rather music;

For, when she sighs, I hear strange symphonies,

As though her very breath itself were magic.

And when she breathes on me, I have epiphanies,

But then again, how is it that her soul

Can welcome thoughts of galaxies entire,

Without her losing for one breath control?

How is it that her mind can bear such fire?

Her name I do not know, I call her elle,

But I do know that stars her name must spell.

 

My last act before relapsing into slumber was crossing out Claire’s name from the frontispiece and changing the dedication of the book from her ungrateful person to ‘To the Eternal Feminine, the muse, the goddess, and desire behind all these rhymes.’

That change having been implemented, I resolved to send the manuscript to my publisher the following day.[2]

This is not the story about yet another literary failure in my illustrious, though genially misunderstood career. It is the story of a dedication to the Eternal Feminine. Indeed, that phrase, the Archetype of Woman’s Beauty was my doom; for I quickly came to the conclusion that, though I had written countless verses to many demoiselles, and indeed, the amount of rhymes I had consecrated to the fane of Mademoiselle Claire-Juliette Blanche was high enough to make the place a fire risk, for it was only a matter of time before the candles would light the whole thing into a conflagration of pentameters, I really had not written a single sonnet to a single real woman. In my entire life, though some of them were indeed addressed to some married ladies, for whom I had in my later years developed quite a preference as there was no danger of our actually consummating our relationship.

It was at that moment that comprehended that I didn’t love Claire. Whenever I delved into love poetry, I simply spoke of my love towards an idea, and if I needed that idea to have blonde hair, then, then and only then, did I think about her. Most things about her rather annoyed me, in fact, and I had a much better time thinking about her than actually paying her a visit. Her self got in the way, as it were, of my love.

Then I realised that in this idea, she was not only herself, but made up, stitched, if you will from parts and qualities of everyone I had ever loved. I soon discovered I had created a poetical Frankenstein’s monster; but, is not all love basically a Gothic novel where the vampires that suck the life out of a victim are only slightly less literal?

I was, however, still very much mad at her, so I did not change the dedication back and, upon that thought, I collapsed onto my desk out of sheer exhaustion.

That night I had a dream, perhaps conditioned by my earlier reading, for on the nightstand next to the bed lay Plato’s Republic, and Archetypes and Collective Unconscious by Jung, the basic volumes that a young bachelor has lying around his garçonnière.

I dreamed I found myself in front of a terrifying, white light the power and refulgence of which I could not comprehend. One knows oneself to be a committed bibliophile when one makes literary references in one’s dreams, and I remember thinking that this is what Dante must have felt as he stared at Beatrice’s form in the highest sphere of Heaven. I feared I would go blind, but I was happy to, considering I had been treated to a sight of paradise. What else is there to see? Will not all beauty reveal its intrinsic ugliness in comparison to the absolute?

When I woke up the next day, it was already light out. My valet wished me good morning, thinking I was buried under the covers which lay crumpled on the bed as though in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption. Knowing my policy that any time before one o’clock was much too early for human interaction o’clock, he quietly brought in my breakfast on a silver tray, as God intended, and promptly left my bedchamber. It’s strange to think that not everyone grew up with butlers, but I guess all of our experiences have been different. Still, I don’t know what I would do without George, or Niles…

As soon as I opened my eyes, the horror commenced.

I woke up not sitting at my desk. Perhaps during the night, I had made my way onto the bed. And yet I quickly realised I was not lying upon the mattress as such. I had somehow fallen off during the night—which was most bizarre, for never had that happened to me before—and stranger still, I had apparently rolled during my reverie and ended up actually under and not just to the side of the bed. This was most disconcerting for the space between the floor and the bed frame was not large enough for me to have squeezed in; or, consequently, to weasel out from.

I was trapped.

I panicked.

Then I realised I could just lift the bed a bit and stopped panicking. I proceeded to undertake this course of action and managed to get out. Having experienced more excitement in that period of two minutes than I had during the last year, I was ready to call it a day, but I still had to have breakfast.

It was my intention to take up Plato with one hand and resume my earlier reading, and with the other hand to pick up the glass of orange juice that had been brought to me at bed in a spirit of due feudalism.

And so, I did.

But only for a second. For, the moment I lifted the glass to my mouth, it inexplicably fell to the floor. I experienced no muscle spasm, no sudden nerve attack or relapse of my strength. In fact, I never let go of the dashed thing; and yet it fell right through my hand and shattered against into a thousand crystals. My first instinct was of course to change my nightgown and socks, but for some reason, they were not wet. The glass had simply decided to ignore me.

I had to take care of this mess, however, for a man has responsibilities, however small they are, and therefore I leant over for the bell I use to call my valet so that he could take care of everything. But as my hand hovered over it, something sinister happened. I couldn’t really grab hold of it. My hand was non-existent, or maybe it was the bell; or perhaps existence itself had suddenly collapsed under its own ontological weight and decided to take a sick day.

I almost swooned at such a horrifying experience. Was I dead? Was I a ghost. ‘Damnation,’ I said, ‘I am a ghost.’ Suddenly I had an idea: ghosts don’t appear in mirrors. I ran towards the bathroom to look into one.

I remembered a second before I got there that that lore was only applicable to be vampires, but I did not wish to waste a trip, and the mirror did reveal something to me: or rather it revealed me, but not exactly. Rather it reviled me, it reviled what makes me me.

Before my eyes was the silhouette of a man, a human shape, with a human face, in which two hollow, human eyes of an indeterminate human colour perched above a human nose, under which there was a pair of human lips.

If this was God’s idea of a joke, it was definitely not humane.

I could barely distinguish myself. If one were to take photographs of non-descript sections of skin on different people, jumble them all up, and then ask their respective owners to identify which belonged to them, they would most likely not be able to tell the difference. We have that idiom in our language, ‘to know something like the back of one’s hand.’ Who on earth could recreate that in drawing? In fact, which part is the back? The palm or the other side? Would you, curious reader, be able to pick your own leg from a line-up of people with similar skin colour? When one finds a hair in one’s plate, one hesitates for a second whether to boycott the restaurant. Could it possibly be one’s own?

Unfortunately, this is a good place for a cliff hanger, so if you want to know what happened next support art for once in your life and buy the book, it’s only $10.

L’Amour en Marbre: The Disappearance of Mlle Iphigénie Blanche by Ian Charles Lepine

L'Amour en Marbre Cover

This is a free sample of my new murder mystery novel, L’Amour en Marbre: The Disappearance of Mlle Iphigénie Blanche. If you are interested in a signed copy, do message me at iancharleslepine@gmail.com

Chapter One: The End

 

Love is a precious flower that grows slowly, but, between some people, in the right hearts, in the right circumstances, it grows in an instant; like a moonflower, it blooms in a second and its petals are all the more wonderful for the vehemence of their miracle. But early springs mean early winters; and sudden joys, immediate sorrows.

Losing someone you love is worse than losing a limb, for someone’s love covers your entire body; for they have kissed every inch of your skin, and, therefore, when they’re gone, you feel flayed, as though your emotions were exposed, out in the open, asphyxiating air; you feel a phantom limb pain, but the limb that you have lost is, of course, your entire self.

Time passes but some wounds are too great to ever be covered by years or scars. Wounds that are the size of oneself can never heal: what’s there to heal, when you are like a human hole in the universe? or rather losing someone you love is like having a hole in the floor of your mind. You don’t learn to walk across it; you learn to walk around it, you train yourself not to look at the pictures of the other person in the living room, because that would be almost as painful as taking them down.

What could he do but make the hole literal? To turn the metaphor into a gaping wound? Wholly, holily. He walked towards the bookcase and retrieved his Bible. That, if nothing else, would hold the answer. Not because of its morals, though, for the word of God is still a word, and it appears conveniently to have been written in the language of man, and when has that ever saved anybody? No, the Bible held the answer to this unsolved problem that his life had become in quite another way.

He opened the book to page 455. At the very top of the page, he could now see he had casually stumbled upon Jeremiah 29:11. Strangely enough, it was the first time he had actually bothered to see what was there.

It did not disappoint:

‘For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.’

It was nice to see that God still retained that characteristic sense of humour of his which so endeared him to the Egyptians (hurling the Red Sea at them, talk about a practical joke). But how could it be that he had chanced upon a quote about hope of all things? It was particularly striking, especially when one considered that starting on the next page he had hollowed out a section of the book, and therein was the actual answer: a pistol.

The juxtaposition of hope and despair was artistically right, if nothing else in his life had been for the last five years. He of course had not planned it; he had merely opened the tome at random and stabbed at it with a knife a few years ago, not knowing he was going to chance on that particular verse. God is veritably in the details; the coincidence indeed betrayed intelligent design, this, at any rate, proved it: in the world there are miracles, they just happened to be black, to be irrelevant, to be almost insulting really.

He dropped the Bible to the floor just like in a minute the pistol itself would drop the shell casing of a bullet, just like his soul would drop the flesh casing of his spirit. He walked towards the bathroom and climbed inside the tub, pistol in hand, thinking how he was at last ready not to have to make this choice again, not to have to pull the trigger ever again. According to his watch it was 7 pm. According to everything else, it was a nightmare, and it was time to wake up.

How can death be so completely strange, so foreign, how does it have this absolute otherness to it when it is something we all experience, when it is one of the few universals in this world? Well, it doesn’t. Not when it is one who actually experiences it; if he had died instead of her, he perhaps would not have complained… it was the fact that she was gone…

He never got over her loss, maybe because he never tried to. When one spends most of one’s time in memory, when is it that one really lives? The year in which the remembrance takes place, or the year that’s being remembered? For a coma patient, what is reality? A dingy hospital room or that dark forever of eternal dreams? When one spends most of one’s time in memory, what is time?

Losing someone you love is more than just losing a person, for something else is ripped from you by an impassive, passive destiny: you lose the world, a great crack opens under your feet, but you also lose the moments you would have had with them, the laughter, the caresses, the future opportunity to apologise to them for being a human being, which is a crime few of us have escaped, you lose time with them, time you never had, but could have, you lose the possibility of time, the possibility of a future… What does it mean to live? What is it to have a child? To be born? A gift of life, which is a gift of death. C’est la vie, c’est la vide: a journey from nothingness to nothingness, with a stop and a change of trains along the way. The only difference is the direction, somethingwards to nothingwards. There is a perfect symmetry to it, he supposed. It’s the rhymes that give it away, that betray God’s design, God’s treacherous design… life, death, cemetery, symmetry.

He held the pistol’s muzzle to his head. Outside there was a bed shrieking, constantly smashing itself against the window pane. In his mad fancy, he envisioned it felt the desperation of the soothsayer that tried to warn Caesar about his imminent murder without being able to make himself heard.

But this was different, when the victim and the murderer are the same, no warning may change their resolve. Except… Oh, that dark, gaping abyss of cycloptically threatening him with a bullet, that perfect circle of Cimmerian oblivion inside the gun’s muzzle reminded him of her impossibly dark pupils…

The day she disappeared, over five years before the present nightmare, they had had a fight; there had been little reason to it, save that Fate often conspires, almost as a matter of principle really, to make people leave us forever at the worst possible moment, just when we are angry at them, just when our ‘I love you’ is replaced by the slamming of a door as we storm out in a rage. But being in love is mostly all about crying the word ‘love’ as scornfully as one can manage, often at the heavens, often while being lapidated by the rain. Oh, the rain, the rain, they had first made love while it was raining…

In many ways, losing her felt like losing his faith and then suddenly finding out there was a God, but not a forgiving one, not a particularly benign one, but a sadist with a thunderbolt. Though, at this point in the tragedy, he rather inclined to the view of divinity held by the Hindus; for their Shiva has more than four arms, and the way his life had turned out that was the absolute minimum to accommodate for the number of thunderbolts that had been incessantly and pitilessly hurled at him. That was the only way to explain the hell in which he had lived for the last five years.

But not all is lost: no matter how bad things get, we still retain our ability to suffer. That never leaves us, and there is some comfort to be had in that consistency.

He placed the gun’s muzzle inside his mouth; a taste of metal reminded him of that time they had kissed each other so much, so long, so lovingly, that a single drop of blood had landed on his tongue.

Love itself is rigged.

He had half guessed it in the moments of abstraction and ennui that one invariably experiences when sitting out on the terrace of a café in Paris; spleen might very well be on the menu everywhere, it might very well be the national dish, because that is what one gets every occasion when, as a bachelor, one looks over the rim of a cup of coffee at young couples having their promenades through the city, walking hand in hand and engaging in all the lies that they must tell each other and themselves in order to keep loving.

Back then, before meeting her, he had half suspected that he was to be forever alone, outliving everyone and eternally wandering the sand wastes until the eons themselves succumbed to the forces of entropy. Now, talk about romantic prospects, there are no sand wastes in Paris.

In those days, he had been in a committed relationship with Erato (the muse of love poetry), so no, he was not looking for something serious at the moment. And yet he would sit on a bench by the park and watch young demoiselles walk by trying very hard to make their bonnets look fashionable, and he would write sonnets to them; but there was a bit of problem with all this; for, fourteen lines later, he would be more in love with the poem than the girl in question, which is, perhaps, not the desired result. When the work of art surpasses the muse, that implies that the whole theological hierarchy has been turned on its head. This was not entirely bad, however; indeed, dying alone seemed like the perfect way to stay in love with the idea of love.

A compromise had to be made: he would die alone and disenchanted…

Oh, if only he had never met her, but no; instead, she had forced herself into his life, with her charm, with her grace, with her intelligence and her absolute loveliness, her horrible, horrible loveliness, and so, instead of loving love, he fell into it, fell into her (for what is a lover, but an abyss?), and, as he fell at breakneck speed, he was able to note quite personally, that love is remarkably like a bottomless well, for you never stop falling. The crash won’t kill you, but the doubts might.

But then something even more horrifying happened, for he was thrown out of love, against his own will and hers, thrown out of love as though it were a hot-air balloon at a gut-wrenching height. He had landed, we all do, but he had survived, and that was indeed the problem; for, now he finally understood it, love is rigged.

There is no way in which it can triumph, no matter what you do, no matter how much you care for your sweetheart, you are destined, predestined, rather, as in some horrifying Greek tragedy with none of the art, none of the morality, but all of the brutality, to hurt them, to break their heart, to make them know a kind of suffering that seems almost inhuman in scope, but that is the crowing privilege of being a human being.

He cocked the pistol.

It is indeed quite strange, in most cases, a heart is broken because it goes unnoticed. We simply bump into it, accidentally knocking it from its pedestal as though it were a rich vase; or we step onto it without meaning to, like it was an ant. In such matters, there’s always recrimination to soothe one, ‘how could you do this to me’ and so on, and so forth; and the other person invariably replies ‘so sorry, was that yours? I didn’t see that.’ Nevertheless, when it is Death that rips away your loved one, when he dooms or woos her from under your mortality, you don’t even get a chance to blame anything but their mortality, their vulnerability, their humanity; and was not that why you loved them in the first place?

But then again, we should have known, of course, us more than anyone, because Paris is the city of love, and French is the language of love, and it is already the nineteenth century, so someone really should have noticed the phonetic resemblance between ‘c’est l’amour’ and ‘c’est la mort’, because now he could guarantee it was not a mere coincidence. Perhaps another of God’s practical jokes?

Words are, of course, a trap, for they make us believe we can grapple with reality, the way he was grappling with this pistol. But saying the word ‘love’ doesn’t mean you understand it, it doesn’t mean you understand anything. You can shoot a gun, but you could probably not build one. Nevertheless, sometimes we can use words to reveal relationships between these traps of language. L’amour, la mort, is only the most recent in the endless list of unsolved mysteries and miseries. Here’s another one: every creature who makes use of language will languish; delightful, is it not? Living only to die? Speaking only to end up mute? Loving only to lose the ability to love, which was what made life worth living? Naturally, words being what they are, to open oneself emotionally by means of them is but to open up in the same manner in which a bear trap displays its iron jaws: we expose ourselves with the express intention of closing down on someone and crushing them into us. That’s what we all want really, to trap our lovers inside us.

But it cannot be done.

Love is rigged. Even if you manage to live happily with your lover, Death will come between the two of you one day. And it will be impossible for one of the pair, the weakest, not morally, but physically, humanly, to refuse its advances, because it has more money, and a better job, and a nicer hearse. Two scenarios unfold, either she dies making you the most miserable man on Earth, or you do and your last act on this Earth was to make the person you loved the most drown in pain.

Maybe that’s why she left, if left she did. To spare him the agony of her death? Could it be? Household pets sometimes run away when they sense the end is near, not to put their owners through the ordeal of watching them die. Human beings seldom do that, because they lack the humanity of cats, perhaps… One does wonder… if everything is against us from the very start, why we bother to fall in love? He could only think of two answers.

One: it is worth it, despite the pain, the sorrow, the woe, the wailing, the promises never to do it again.

Two: we do not choose it at all and have as much agency in selecting our doom as a moth flying into a searing light.

A poem she had read to him a few years ago on the nature of love came to mind. It was a sonnet by the illustrious M Ian Charles Lepine, whom Iphigénie deemed the brightest artistic mind of the century. He himself had his reservations about such pronouncements, but the sonnet per se was, as anyone possessing any taste, or the least screed of artistic judgment would assert, beyond lyrical reproach:

‘There is no wisdom but to be in love,

And welcome open-armed its precious folly

That makes one negligent of what’s above,

What one should do or what consider holy.

There is no wisdom but renouncing knowledge,

And, in agreement of love’s labyrinth,

Render ourselves by freedom into bondage,

And seek in tears a scent of hyacinth.

There is no pleasure but to seek our pain

From those who make it that we drown in dew;

For what is love, but fresh, and acid rain,

Which burns and cools alike? What shall we do?

If we are all condemned to feel its stings,

Let us drink poison from the clearest springs.’

Love is indeed a death sentence, but we get to choose our poison, which is the only reason why we bother having free will at all. The complication is not the present: the real problem is having had free will, having been born in the first place, having had to choose between choosing and not choosing.

Sometimes he wished he had never met her, even though this pain was just a testament to the joy he experienced five years ago. But bliss in the past cannot hold a candle to woe in the moment. It’s all a chemical reaction really, like trees turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, so does death turn joy into misery. It’s but the residue, the waste matter of happiness. And like with carbon dioxide, one can die from breathing it too long.

But maybe that’s the purpose of grief, the reason why it happens in the first place: to make loss matter, to make it irrevocable. Because dying and not being born in the first place are very similar states to the person who leaves; but not to the one who stays behind.

Even though he would never give her up, not one second, not one locket, not one lock of hair, he wished none of it had been real, that none of it had happened. He wished it all were a lie, a novel, most of the benefits and none of the drawbacks of actually being alive, being able to remember her, but only as a literary character; someone who was fundamental in the creation of his own personality, but the perdition of whom did not constitute a tragedy in real life; someone whom maybe he even loved, in that certain abstract way we sometimes have, but whose demise was not catastrophic, because, as some friend had told him (back when he had friend) whenever their literary discussions became too agitated, ‘literary characters are not real.’ He wished she had not been real… Although… well, who amongst us can actually claim to be real? You go to any building in Paris where more than two people are currently in the same room at the same time, and it will be fundamentally filled with lies. That, instead or water, is the main element whereof human beings are comprised.

He wished he hadn’t seen here there and then, that first, fatal, fated, day when they met. For she looked so beautiful, seating on a flower-print chair in a sumptuous parlour, with the light caressing her as if the Sun God himself had claimed her for his love; the sunbeams that fell on her had made her skin glow into a mysterious—nay, a miraculous white; they had taken all the colour of her, stripped it from her features like the ages pried away the pigments of multi-coloured gaudiness from Greek sculptures. The past is always idealised. It’s almost too crass a subject to discuss in polite society, but, the ancients would paint their works of art in the most astoundingly tacky and meretricious hues. Indeed, if time had not destroyed those pigments, we would have thought twice about making the Greeks the cornerstone of our civilisation. The impression of white, gleaming marble we have of the 5th century BCE, and indeed, most of Antiquity itself is, of course, a modern invention.

Maybe this memory he had of her then, crowned by a halo of light that did not stop at her head but surrounded her whole body (for there was no part of her that wasn’t divine), was also a fabrication of his fancy; for, now that he thought about it, Iphigénie had indeed looked to him like a marble statue, which is rather improbable.

She sat in the couch in front of him, not speaking, staring straight at him, not moving one inch, one eyelid, one muscle, one particle of her static wonders; and meanwhile he could only think of how beautiful she was, of how much he wanted to kiss her and touch her; but something forbad him to do it, and it was not only the rules of engagement in the conflict of love, the ungentlemanly code in the war of attrition that is courting a girl, or the etiquette of commingling in polite society (which is very much the same thing as the other two), but something much deeper, and it was the same reason for which one does not touch the Vénus de Milo at Le Louvre: for she was art, for she was above it all, not really of this earth, and he wouldn’t dare profane her pentelic skin with his touch.

The Way of Saint James is perhaps Europe’s most renowned pilgrimage; it has a history going back to the early Middle Ages, and it is a path that takes people from the very cliffs of desperation unto the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Some pilgrims completed it while crawling on their hands and knees, as though, as human beings, we weren’t doing that already in our own, bipedal way. Presumably, this trek will fix everything; some may undertake it because they suffer from disease or despair, which is but a disease of the soul, and they think that perhaps a miracle will cure them; the real miracle, of course, is that people are actually willing to do such an absurd thing as this. The miracle was within them the whole time! Again, God’s idea of a sense of humour.

The pilgrimage ends at the cathedral, when the devout kiss the foot of the Apostle St James. Naturally, the foot of the statue is in a bad way now, for the kisses it has received have damaged it irreparably, mainly because humanity erodes divinity.

It was just like that with her… He was afraid of touching her, because if he damaged her, the loss would be irreparable, as she was holier than the statue of a dead man, for she was a living miracle. But loving another human being is diminishing them. Each time you kiss someone, you plane a little of their personality away, every gesture of love is like hitting a marble statue with a chisel, for you try to leave your mark on it, to make it yours. And if you love too much, you will break them. She was a work of art, of course, but if he couldn’t not touch her, he at least wanted to own the copyright. And the only way to do that was to make her his. The problem was that she was already her own, that she was already made; what could he do then, to have a hand in the fashioning of her lovely self? Only but to help her grow, to collaborate on the creation of her own masterpiece, to share authorship of her person with her person.

Still, his first impression of her had been that she was not real, not flesh and bone but alabaster and ivory. He felt what Pygmalion must have experienced before Galatea had been doomed with life… And now, now that she had been doomed with death, who could commiserate with this pain? If Pygmalion had accidentally knocked Galatea off her dais, and had seen her break on the floor, would he have found amongst her fragments the pieces of his own shattered heart?

He was about to pull the trigger when he remembered something. It was perhaps not transcendental, but it seemed so vitally important that he simply could not go through with it; he simply could not kill himself; not until his doubt was resolved. Ignorance is of this world, we must not take it to the other one.

Just like someone may wake up in the middle of the night to look up the etymology of a word in a dictionary because not knowing will not allow him to consign sleep, in that same manner, he stopped himself from jumping off the cliff of life. This was the question: the Spanish call the apostle Santiago. We call him St Jacques. The English call him St James. But it is the same person. Why is that? He couldn’t go to the great beyond with that doubt in his mind; it would be irresponsible, he would be all cross in the afterlife. We know nothing about death, but it is safe to assume that the reference section in the public library is probably not very thorough. And etymology is at the root of all of us, it only made sense to make it the root of his death as well.

He climbed out of the bathtub, gun still in hand, and walked back to the bookshelf, from which he produced his always reliable Larouse Dictionary of First Names. Say what you want about the French, but even the poor often have a decent reference section at home. You couldn’t say that about the English.

Jaime, Jakob, Jamal… there it is, James! ‘The name of two of Christ’s disciples in the New Testament: James, son of Zebedee and James, son of Alphaeus. From the Late Latin Iacomus, a variation of Iacobus, from Greek Iakobos; though we often think of James and Jacob as two completely different names, they have the same etymology. See: Santiago.’

Typical of these things to make you hunt down information through several parts of the book as though as though it were an exotic bird instead of just giving it to you right there and then… Then again, he was in no particular rush, for Charon’s ferry did not leave until midnight. And missing it wouldn’t kill him, not precisely.

He leafed through the second half of the dictionary.

Sabina, Sandalio… Santiago. ‘Literally Saint James. Iago is an archaic Spanish form of the name Jacobus.’

Well, that, at any rate, was that. He scratched his head with the muzzle of the gin. Saint-Iago, Iago, Iacko, Jacques, James. What a strange world. Santiago, Jacques, and James: three names to a single body, linguistic triplets if he ever saw them. What a strange world, pity he was going to leave it behind.

He started walking back into the bathroom.

For many, The Way of Saint James ends at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. But there is a further stop, for the really devout. Cape Finisterre in Costa da Morte. In Roman times it was believed to be the end of the Earth, hence the name; and it was only appropriate that it should be placed in the Coast of Death, a passage renowned for its treacherous waters that have caused myriad shipwrecks in history.

He climbed back inside the tub and put the gun into his mouth.

Tradition dictates that, after kissing the granite foot in Compostela, a pilgrim is to walk the ninety kilometres that separate the cathedral from Costa da Morte. When he arrives at Finisterre, he is to burn his clothes to signify he has achieved purity.

He had done something more extraordinary: he had kissed not a statue, but a miracle, and now he was going to powder burn not his clothes but his entire mortal coil. His only regret was that, he would not die with her kiss upon his lips; Death would be the last lover he knew.

He pulled the trigger.

 

Writing Tips for Young, Aspiring Authors

By the illustrious M Ian Charles Lepine

 

One: use prepositions and nouns. Don’t be shy!

Two: an easy way to keep your work from being monotonous is to use verbs other than ‘said’ when tackling dialogue. Try using stronger verbs, such as ‘devour’, ‘stab’ or ‘emasculate’.

Three: make arrangements to have everything you ever write published posthumously, so as to avoid dealing with shame and dishonour, and to take advantage of the free publicity bump that comes from a mysterious death (it is better if you hire a hitman).

Four: verbs are encouraged, but not necessary. Use them with caution: there is nothing more tedious than a narrative where things happen.

Five: many guides and style manuals will tell you not to repeat words if you want your sentences to flow smoothly. If you follow this advice, you’ll become a good writer. But why stop there? Take it further. Take it to its logical extreme. Do not repeat letters in a single paragraph. Become a GREAT writer.

Six: finish your work and commit suicide to stop yourself from becoming derivative. It happens to all of us. There are only so many letters in the alphabet (see tip No. 5).

Seven: have your characters describe other characters as ‘deep and complex.’ And bam, your characters aren’t flat anymore. It really is that simple. Or have a character consistently hold a set of beliefs and suddenly make him renounce upon all of them and act out melodramatically because he is sooo deep. (I am looking at you, Ibsen, no one I have ever talked to thinks A Doll’s House was well achieved).

Eight: especially in romantic stories ask yourself ‘What is keeping the characters from finally being together?’ If nothing is, then your plot is not very well constructed. Keep asking yourself this question: ‘NOW, what is keeping my characters from being together? Is it me? Why am I doing this? Why should they be happy when I am so alone and so miserable?’ Remember kids, great writers are always miserable.

Nine: typos are inevitable and nobody will hold them up against you. It is up to you to step up to the plate and recriminate yourself for them. Hire someone to whisper ‘Thou art mortal’ into your ear all day long.

Ten: you don’t need to be British to use the Oxford Comma; however, you will need to apply for a special permit to utilise the Australian ultra exclamation mark, and the Canadian semi-conscious colon.

Eleven: looking up the seven habits of highly successful people does not figure amongst the seven habits of highly successful people; likewise looking up writing tips is mostly a waste of your time. Get back to writing, that’s how one gets good at writing. Believe me, enough unprompted advice will make it your way anyway. People are poison and none of them have any idea what they are talking about.

Twelve: good artists borrow, great artists steal, regular moles burrow, great moles steal burrows.

Thirteen: do not trust ALL the muses. Thalia is mischievous but delivers. Clio always allows the occasional anachronism to slip through. Calliope sometimes gives you beautiful passages that say nothing. Erato is amazing but sometimes will lead you to write pornography. Euterpe is great for polishing and ornamentation, but not for laying the groundwork of a story. Polyhymnia’s style has grown antiquated. Terpsichore has no place here and neither does Urania. Melpomene has, over the years, given me very little to work with. Do not be afraid of ditching all them if Apollo himself becomes available.

Fourteen: nobody, and I DO mean NOBODY knows exactly where to place the comma after closing quotation marks in dialogue. Check any book you like, the usage is not consistent, and, if it is, the editor is a fascist.

Fifteen: There is literally no way to write a book that everybody thinks is a masterpiece. Shakespeare averages 3.5 stars on Goodreads. I myself probably hate all of your favourite authors. The definition of a classic is a book that is loved by the right people and hated by everyone else. Being a bestseller is almost a guarantee of mediocrity. Above all things, remember this: writing is all about experiencing fun unending torment.

Kerameikos Museum

In November 2017, I wrote to the Ministry of Sport and Culture in Greece with the intention of making known my poem Kerameikos, Athens, and with the hope that it might be displayed in the Kerameikos Museum in the capital of philosophy.

The poem is based on my visit to Kerameikos cemetery back in June 2017, and especially on the tombstone of a girl who was buried there in 4 B.C, whose name was Eukoline, and whose tombstone appears here.

Eukoline.jpg

You can read the poem here: https://worhttps://iancharleslepine.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/kerameikos-athens/

The poem celebrates the universality of Greece, and so, as part of this proposal, I asked several people, including Brenda TapiaMario Nox, Karime Nieto Delgado, and Dany Szelsky to translate it into six different languages. I am forever grateful for their efforts.

A few months after sending the email, I received a self-generated notification telling me that the ministry had received my message. Little happened after that, until, some months later, I opened my inbox to find this email.

 

Screen Shot 2018-02-05 at 8.15.56 PM.pngNow, as you can see it is literally written in Greek, which means I couldn’t read it. Fortunately, Google has given us the technology to crack this encyption code. The email reads as follows:

‘The poem “Kerameikos, Athens” inspired by your recent visit to archaeological site and which you had the courteous initiative to deposit translated into six languages, is a presumption that 155 years after its accidental discovery, Kerameikos, Athens continues to exert lively charm and genuine emotion to its visitors.

‘True evidence is the lyrics and thoughts of Greeks and foreigners, known or less well-known travelers and poets, who drew inspiration from the ancient cemetery (see: J.
Stroszeck, A. Schellinger (eds.), ‘In einer Ruhe die wundernimmt. Der Kerameikos in literarischen
Zeugnissen von 1863 bis heute “, Publishers Cadmus, Berlin 2018).

‘In conclusion, please know that we are looking at the possibility of displaying the poem in a suitable place in the museum, in the event of a future museological redesign.’

Though of course there are no guarantees at all, the fact that the Ministry wrote back at all blew my mind.
Oh, and the person who replied is none other than Dr Eleni S. Banou, who can be seen here, casually strolling next to Obama.

Screen Shot 2018-02-05 at 8.39.46 PM.png

Kerameikos, Athens

The following is a poem I wrote during a visit to the Kerameikos cemetery in Athens in 2017. It was mainly inspired by this piece, a ‘handshake’ tombstone. This design was very popular in the 4th century BC and presents the deceased bidding farewell to the living by dint of a handshake.

This is the tombstone of a girl called Eukoline, who died a very long time ago, but who lives on in name and poetry.

Eukoline.jpg

 

 

We are forever the past

That lives and kills us

Through the falling of the sands

Of lives and days of shadow.

The inhuman wind buries as well as discovers

The ruins and wonders of humanity.

 

Pericles and Cleisthenes and

Other ghosts haunt these steps.

Their tombs have been forgotten

By oblivion,

For that is the consequence

Of knowing the world,

And being in it.

 

The Earth spins

Around the terracotta instant

Of a Grecian urn, but the axis

Of a man is the measure

Of all the stars

And all their cinders.

 

The movement of the years

Is the illusion of an ekphrasis:

After everything, Athens remains,

And its dead are part of the cemetery

Of the living, with all

Our art and miseries.

 

Pericles and Cleisthenes are interred

In the life of Kerameikos, as are

Plotinus and Kant and everything we are

And have been ever since

Man has been God,

And time eternity.

 

Greek is entombed

In our language,

Be it Latin, Spanish, Italian,

Portuguese, German, English,

Humanity or life; we all speak

Using the same tongue.

 

The road to Plato treads this earth,

And a statue of Athenian wood

And humanity walks

Every year through

This landscape of sun and philosophy

Until the very brink of time.

 

We know not where the dead have gone,

But we can breathe their lives.

Their thoughts

Are the olive tree

On the Acropolis,

And the myth

That Poseidon struck

With his trident

Unto the floor of the Erectheion,

As the Caryatids bore

A mute and marble testimony

To the mute and marble destiny

Of the stars.

 

Plato lives in Kant,

As the owl

Of the drachma in the euro.

 

The potters of the past chose

Kerameikos because of the clay deposits

of the Eridanos river. We chose Greece

because of its light and philosophy.

And ever since, we are the clay that

The past moulds into man

Through the centuries.

 

Kerameikos vouchsafes us

the tombstone of a girl.

Her name was

Eukoline;

And she died leaving behind,

Her parents, her grandmother, and dog.

The tombstone is a sculpture,

Or an epiphany of marble:

The girl holds the hands of the living

And never lets them go.

The Paths of Formless Love

An extract from my new play, The Paths of Formless Love, available now. Message me for details at iancharleslepine@gmail.com

The Paths of Formless Love Kindle .jpg

Act I, Scene IV

A park. Some bushes, or at least bush-like things

ENTER GEORGE I

GEORGE I

Oh, indeed I know she will be here!

I burn in love for fairest

[He seems to forget her name. He looks at smudged writing on his hand]

Isabelle?

I say, is that right? Anabelle?

At any rate, that she is belle is certain.

Oh, Isabelle, how much I love you! Oh!

[He has something in his hand, and starts tearing bits of it off, throwing them at the audience; at first sight it appears to be a flower]

She loves me,

[Tears a ‘petal’ off]

she doesn’t;

[tears a ‘petal’ off]

She loves me,

[Tears a ‘petal’ off]

she doesn’t; Alas!

I love so much that I have ta’en upon

Myself to rip the petals off all flowers!

To cut down oaks, and cedars, even willows;

To… yank the legs off crickets emerald-blue!

[Big reveal! It was a bunch of cricket legs he had in his hand. Oh dear!]

To snip the whiskers of the softest kittens!

To work my way in dismemberment

Of all the kingdom animal! For her!

Alas! All that in love I’ve done so far

Has not been well received by her. For girls

Indeed are quite ineffable, like God,

And because that they do our worship merit.

But if not crickets, how to win her heart?

(Sonnetically)

Well I a plan have made to win the fair.

‘Tis said that women really don’t want love;

For care they care not, of that I am aware:

And when they pray to God in heaven above,

They ask not for a man who swims in money.

Fiscal responsibility they hate.

They do not want a dote that’s always funny,

Or man who can of Kant or Plato prate.

They ask instead for someone who, perhaps,

May have not e’en one farthing to his name,

Who may be callèd rich but in mishaps,

And who, for bread he cannot buy, eats blame.

A poet! That’s a woman’s dream, I grieve…

And for I love, I will my love deceive.

 

 

ENTER GEORGE II

[GEORGE I sees him and immediately hides behind the bush or bush-like thing]

GEORGE II

My dearest Isabella! How I pine!

How I willow, how I oak, and fir!

You have made every day a hell for me,

For hell is that dark place where God is not;

And you’re not here, and therefore I’m in Hell.

Isabelle! Isabelle! My love!

O, Isabelle, I long for your lips

More than for sacramental bread, for what

Can holier be than you? And taste so well?

[GEORGE I works himself into a fury. He is about to stand up and hit GEORGE II in his stupid, stupid face.]

Oh wait. Oh dear. Oh my, now that’s embarrassing!

‘Tis Anabelle, I love. Oh, Anabelle,

Anabelle, my dear, my love, my star!

My unforgettable and lovely belle!

If only I could show you my devotion!

But that could never be, that much I know.

(Emphasising the rhymes)

I am a simple man, a rustic, even,

A man who in you sees the universe,

But his own wit torments him like a demon,

For never could he woman woo with verse.

I never words could speak in iamb form

I never could devise for love a rhyme;

I never could on stage a part perform,

[Maybe he should wink?]

Or to a lover’s quill consign my time!

And you, my love, may even love right now!

The now is not a present then to me,

When you perhaps have given holy vow

To other men who speak poetically.

But I a plan to win your love have thought;

Which takes after the wit of Rostand’s plot.

 

(Blank versally)

I have my master’s poem with me brought,

And it to fairest Belle I’ll give in love.

So that she may her heart in rhyme delight,

But choose my lips to kiss and hands to hold.

So with my master’s rhymes and my great looks

We might between the twain come half a man

That is deserving of my dearest Bella.

But hark! Who comes! Oh, no, it is my love!

I must needs hide behind this bush at once.

[He runs towards the bush]

(Dropping the melodramatic lover’s plaintive tone)

I never. My dear fellow, what on earth

Are you doing back there, hogging all

The hiding space of such a perfect spot

For spying on love? Move over, damn you. Now!

GEORGE I

Oh, it’s you. You’re Archibald’s new man.

GEORGE II

No, I work for Reginald.

(Beat)

I think.

GEORGE I

I thought that it was I who worked for him.

GEORGE II

No. I. I don’t. I don’t think so.

Anyway, how did you get here

Before me? You passed out, did you not?

GEORGE I

This is a very strange world, indeed.

I say why were you doing speaking out

Like that, as though you were alone? It’s strange.

GEORGE II

Oh, my rustic man, you understand

Not this. I was soliloquising!

GEORGE I

(Prosaic)

To whom?

There is no audience who can hear you, mate.

GEORGE II

(Poetic)

To the squirrels and the birds and trees,

To anyone who’ll listen. Maybe even

The God of love himself, Eroticus!

ENTER ISABELLE & ANABELLE, hand in hand. They are two very beautiful ladies, in belle époque dresses (same design, same colour) and headwear elaborate enough to have merited an architect and engineer during the design stage. They couldn’t be more different from each other, though they are wearing the same clothes.

[Both GEORGES hide]

GEORGE I

Shh! Here comes fairest Anabelle.

GEORGE II

Wrong! You mean fairest Isabelle!

GEORGE I

Oh, thrice fair, fairest Isabelle, my love.

GEORGE II

Oh, thrice fair, fairest Anabelle, my love.

ANABELLE

Oh, Isabelle, do you ever think of love?

ISABELLE

Dearest Anabelle, I have never

Given you any indication

Otherwise! I wake up and start

To think of love. I think of love when I

Should eat my breakfast; but I’d prefer no doubt

To eye devour sonnets rather than

Indulge in the Victorian equivalent

Of Captain Crunch. You see, even cloying

Poems do not cause indigestion, right?

But that I think of love incessantly

Should be apparent to everyone,

But it does seem I have no other function!

ANABELLE

That is nonsense! I know perfectly well

That you are a round character.

Irrespective of what critics say.

Besides, most people are really flat,

So why should characters in plays be round?

ISABELLE

You are right! There’s more to me than love;

I live to live, laugh, love, lash,

Lacerate, liquidate, and lather!

ANABELLE

To speak of number three in your list,

Oh, Isabelle, I am in love!

GEORGE II

NOOOOOOOOO!

ISABELLE

(Confused)

Was that a squirrel?

GEORGE II

Yes?

ISABELLE

(Jolly once again)

Alrighty then!

(Beat)

Who is it that you love, my dearest friend?

ANABELLE

I hope that someone comes along, and soon.

GEORGE II

YESSS!

ISABELLE

The squirrels sure are restless now.

Let us walk around, why don’t we, love?

ANABELLE

As you please, my dear. I love to walk.

It’s how I keep in touch with lower classes.

GEORGE I

Psst! You love Anabelle, that’s right?

GEORGE II

(Thinks about it for a second)

Indeed I do. And you love Isabelle?

GEORGE I

(Doing the math in his head)

With all my heart.

(Beat)

Then we are allies.

GEORGE II

Good.

ANABELLE

You know, I really am in love with nature.

ISABELLE

Look, a bug!

ANABELLE

Nevermind. Ewwww!

GEORGE II

Then what’s the plan? Because a plan we need.

GEORGE I

So hear me out, I thought we could the sonnets

Give to them. And so we’ll crumple them

And throw them gently at their feet. When they

The verse have musèd over, and Love himself

His magic has effected, then present

Ourselves we shall, and marry them right then.

GEORGE II

I can see not e’en one defect with this

Great plan. Machiavellian would be

Proud of your strategic skills, I know.

But we should write our names into the note,

So that they know from whom the sonnet came.

[They do that and afterwards crumple up the sheets of paper where the sonnets are written]

GEORGE I

Now, pray remember, do it gently.

[They throw the paper balls with great force, hitting both Isabelle and Anabelle in the eye]

ANABELLE & ISABELLE

Ow!

GEORGE II

Bullseye! I’ve heard that pain and pleasure mix’d

Have won to many a man a precious bride.

ANABELLE

We are under attack!

ISABELLE

Is it the squirrels??

[Anabelle picks up and opens the paper ball that hit her]

ANABELLE

Not unless they now can write in verse.

ISABELLE

I would like that. I’d like that very much.

ANABELLE

[Reads the sonnet quickly]

Oh, Isabelle, I am in love! In love!

ISABELLE

So quick, my dear? With whom? Do you know?

ANABELLE

With the man who wrote this gorgeous note!

It’s signed! George the First is the name.

[George II is alarmed by this]

GEORGE II

You idiot, you hit my love with your sonnet!

GEORGE I

Which means…

GEORGE II

It serves you right.

GEORGE I

Oh, no.

GEORGE II

Oh, yes.

[ISABELLE has been reading her SONNET this while]

ISABELLE

Oh, Anabelle, I am in love! In love!

ANABELLE

So quick, my dear? With whom? Do you know?

ISABELLE

With the man who wrote this gorgeous note!

It’s signed! George the Second is the name.

[George I is alarmed by this]

GEORGE I

You idiot, you hit my love with your sonnet!

[They start fighting, and roll through the floor out of their hiding spot and into the ladies’ sight.]

ANABELLE

Are you George the First?

GEORGE II

(50% positive about it)

I am, dear miss.

ANABELLE

Did you write this note?

(Beat)

Well?

GEORGE I

(Not 100% sure about it)

I did.

ANABELLE

I shall love you forever, then, well,

Maybe not on Sundays. That’s the Lord’s.

ISABELLE

And are you George the Second?

GEORGE I

(50% positive about it)

I am, dear miss.

ISABELLE

Did you write this note?

(Beat)

Well?

GEORGE II

(Not 100% sure about it)

I did.

ISABELLE

I shall love you forever, then, well,

Maybe not on Sundays. That’s the Lord’s.

(Beat)

ANABELLE

Well?

ISABELLE

What are you waiting for?

GEORGES I & II

Ah?

ANABELLE

To formalise the union, we must take

Some steps: dot the Ts and cross the Is.

GEORGE I

I dot my Is with smaller Is, which then

Are likewise dotted. It’s rather time consuming.

ISABELLE

I dot my Is with little squirrels!

ANABELLE

I roses

Use for mine. I love all flowers so!

GEORGE II

But what shall we do here?

ANABELLE & ISABELLE

Give us your rings!

[The GEORGES give rings to the ladies. They just had them, I suppose. The rings are identical]

ISABELLE (to GEORGE II)

(Solemnly)

You may not be a squirrel, but I swear

That I shall love you madly and forever.

GEORGE I

(Tapping her on the shoulder)

It is my sonnet that you have, my love.

ISABELLE (to GEORGE II)

(Solemnly)

You may not be a squirrel, but I swear

That I shall love you madly and forever.

ANABELLE

(To ISABELLE)

And likewise here I plight my love to you,

[ISABELLE grabs her by the shoulders and turns her around, in the direction of GEORGE I]

And promise to forever hold you dear.

(Beat)

ISABELLE

I see there’s some resemblance twixt you twain.

I say, are you related anyhow?

GEORGE I

They say there is a brotherhood to men,

And Jesus Christ is like an older brother.

Or some say a loving aunt perhaps.

But it is true my mother bore quadrupeds,

At the least, it could have been some more, in sooth.

But we all had private rooms, and therefore

We never saw each other until now.

ANABELLE

Do you not mean quadruplets? Th’other thing

Is more impressive though.

GEORGE II

Whate’er you want!

And you, gentle maids? How did you meet?

ISABELLE

Can you not tell? We are twins indeed!

Well, I should clear that up, I think:

We are dizygotic twins. You see,

When two fertilisèd eggs find home

In walls úterine at the same time, then

The twain form zygotes.

GEORGE I

(Didn’t get any of that)

Yes! Of course! Of course!

I can see the resemblance clearly in sooth!

[There is none]

I love gothic architecture, and therefore

Dizygotic is quite pleasing too.

GEORGE II

Well, I don’t care if you have zygonians,

I will love you either way, I swear!

ANABELLE

(To George II)

Are you being ironic?

GEORGE I

(To Isabelle)

Never! I only

Make use of irony ironically.

ISABELLE

(To George II)

I asked him. Why did you answer?

ANABELLE

Huh.

I don’t know. I guess it was the speech tag.

GEORGE I

Since we are getting married, maybe we should

Get to know one another. I say,

Would you like to play at questions?

(Condescendingly, mansplaing as far as one can mansplain in just nine words)

I swear

We shall go rather easy on you!

ISABELLE

Yes!

You start.

GEORGE II

Alright. Dear Anabelle, I wonder,

What is your favourite colour?

ISABELLE

It’s transparent.

My turn: are the sculpture palettes of the

Late pre-dynastic period of

Ancient Egypt art, or propaganda?

You can work on that for a few minutes.

I’m looking forward to your paper, George!

Meanwhile someone else can ask a question.

GEORGE I

(To ANABELLE)

Er… What is your favourite animal?

ANABELLE

The Ebola virus. Now’s my turn at last!

To what degree does The Communist

Manifesto conceive of free will

As the driving force behind all social

Change? Don’t forget to justify

Your answer. Considerable bibliography:

Fifteen to twenty-five sources.

ENTER A MESSENGER

[Both Georges feel saved by the interruption]

MESSENGER

Mademoiselles, there’s been a tragedy!

By which I mean, yet another one.

To us this time and not in the third world.

Walter and his brother met their end!

ANABELLE

What? How?

MESSENGER

Bear accident, miss.

They were pursued by a bear and well,

At this point we know quite well who won.

ISABELLE

Oh no! But what end can be avoided purposed

By the mighty Gods? It was Fate.

MESSENGER

It was a dare at the London Zoo.

But now we need you at the theatre, quick!

For we are missing two roles, for the play,

The Comedy of Errors must survive.

ANABELLE

Let us go now, Isabelle. Rehearse

We must to save this day from further loss.

George, come to see me act tonight!

You may love me more, as I love you.

Look for me on the stage, I will be dressed

In Syracusan garb!

[Kisses him on the cheek, this is a Victorian play]

GEORGE II

Wait, you love me? May I ask you why?

ANABELLE

You may absolutely not. We’ll work

On finding reasons why I love you later.

Meanwhile you may compile a list of, say,

The top 100 things you like about me.

ISABELLE

As for my part, Dear George, I will affect

The dress of mystic Ephesus of old.

George, any speech of love the Bard

Gives me, know I’ll address to none but you.

[Kisses him on the cheek, this is a Victorian play]

[ANABELLE, ISABELLE & MESSENGER begin to leave, last lines delivered almost out of the stage]

ANABELLE

So, who do you think is cuter, huh?

ISABELLE

Well, George’s hair is perfect beauty.

But th’other man has the most gorgeous eyes.[1]

EXEUNT ANABELLE, ISABELLE & MESSENGER

GEORGE I

(In hysterics)

Oh my god. What has happened, what?

GEORGE II

Which one am I marrying? Do you know?

GEORGE I

Of course not, they are identical!

One drop of water split in two depletions

Could never reach so true and great resemblance!

They are a mirror to each other’s self,

And might indeed look on the other’s eye

To guild their face with makeup and with shade!

They’re more alike than like to like, I say,

And with no aid, they might prove Aristotle

Wrong when he said A is A; for now

It clearly appears it can be B!

GEORGE II

Well,

Of course they are alike! They are twins!

GEORGE I

(Shocked)

Was that what she was saying when she talked

About fertilisation? I thought she merely

Spoke about how to grow a garden!

[Both collapse onto a bench or on the floor, whatever we can afford]

Wait. Is that what a zygote is?

I thought that was Klingon! Oh, dear God!

(Beat)

GEORGE II

They love us now, and who of us can tell,

GEORGE I

How this whole mess could ever be made well.

GEORGE II

(Concerned)

Did you just finish my sentence? Why?

[GEORGE I doesn’t seem to understand the question]

GEORGE I

Oh, I don’t know. I didn’t even try.

EXEUNT OMNES

 

[1] Hopefully we’ll get actors with the same eye color. Wigs might be a good idea to make their hair exactly the same.