By Michael Conroy
“Your wife is dead, Mr Haze,” and something that looked like grief came over him: Patrick Haze, that is: author, poet, philosopher, recent widow, and father to five beautiful girls.
The physician exited unwitting stage right and Haze, observing from out the corner of his eye, regained some sly composure, and, although the river of his psyche had regressed into a stream, woe still flooded its banks, deepening his facade. Silken handkerchief in hand, sunglasses hiding his face, “Say goodbye to your mother, dears,” he said, and “Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye—goodbye,” they all intoned, and then, terribly tearful, flitted out of the room with the father they adored – two in his arms, three by his side – the one man and only man, whom they loved as wife Persephone does husband Hades.
Patrick Haze was a soluble man. Drifting through the permeable (to him) strata of society, mixing with the crème and the drink of the literary chic, he left his taste, his ideas, all places he went, bitter and sweet alike. He was like ultraviolet light, unseen, though its effects can be harmful if left unprotected; other days he was like infrared, a fiery spectrum, all heat and fury and power. He was any number of wavelengths, both known and undiscovered, though he spent most of his time in the visible light, to keep up appearances. He felt it best to do this, maintain a veneer of social-acceptability, of a normal human relationship, which he did most convincingly.
Little hands holding on tight to his spidery digits like so many Chinese finger traps, marching along like the Von Trapp family singers, they exited the hospital behind a veil of grief, fending off the paparazzi with all the fury of his turn – heading for home.
Little was known of Haze’s early life, and he was always rather vague, quite reticent about it to biographers, the press, whoever it might have been and did not concern. He was certainly exotic, that was sure enough. He had a subtle twang to his voice, distinct, but generally unnoticeable. Rumour had it that he was descended from royalty, prince of some far off clime with many thrones and dominions and legions, somewhere far away. He was, at once, obscure and incredibly renowned. Highly regarded, he was a literary celebrity. Virtually unknown, he was a snake, made visible by the movement of its body, glimpsed just for a moment, but then lost in the grass.
Driving down a tunnel of autumn, leaves fell and died all around him, light fading through the branches as he sped on as though piloting a chariot to Olympus. Slowly one by one, in the backseat of his chic automobile, like pastel coloured dominoes, their heads drooped and their bodies slumped sidewards and into sleep, a darling slumber full of gaiety and whimsy.
Five varieties in his box of chocolates: one bold, another shy, one aloof, the next charming, the last something else. All were beyond beauty, as blessed as Aphrodite with their divine features; all were incredibly intelligent for their young ages, well-versed in a ubiquity of subjects and interests; and they all belonged to him. First there were Daphne and Penelope, the big pair, then Mavis and Dolores, the little pair, and, finally, Pamela, his own darling little Alexei Romanov.
Daphne and Mavis were both musical creatures; D an accomplished pianist by the age of five, as adept on the violin as Clara Rockmore at that age, and just as skilled with the Theremin; M was a little soprano in the making: she would rise early to sing Puccini in the mornings, warming the soul and the heart with her celestial voice, matching the birds in the beauty of their mellifluous song. Dolores made equally creative pursuits of art, poetry and prose, a little Virginia Woolf with far too much interest in the Marquis de Sade. Penelope was the dancer, ballet of course – like Margot Fonteyn in miniature. Though no one talent was exclusive to but one girl, for there was considerable overlap in what they were good at – they were all skilled in fencing, and several martial arts. As blurred and misty as their identities had manifested themselves in life, they were individuals, each with their own wants and desires, passions and distastes. All of which were deemed suitable by their father.
Then, of course, there was Pamela Haze. A fay, nymphetic creature, more dominant than her four sisters, though the youngest, and older in mind than in body, her wide precocious eyes impenetrable to the unknown machinations that went on within. There was little she did not get away with. It was her smile, Haze believed, those small, sharp white teeth, like a string of pearls between her lips.
How he loved them, those girls! So much so that the birds would sing his love to the sun and the flowers: a paean by proxy. Those attractive little necks, the serene curvature of their spines, the waterfall slope of their shoulders, pink flamingo knees, small girlish feet, neat little toes: he adored, desired, worshipped every bit of them, his little Fates and Furies, goddesses in every sense, with a love that moves the sun and other stars. Indeed, they loved Haze also, and would often regail him with loving encomiums, along with pretty poems and songs declaring their adoration for him, their most venerated, puissant father, monarch and godhead, deserving of worship.
They were precious stones to him, the rarest of jewels. But no gem, from the darkness of a mine, is uncovered bright and glinting, nor are they perfect in their raw form. Perfection was the hellion prince of his desire, and so, like diamonds, he cut away at them, his girls, brutal and precise, until they were all he desired them to be.
And so they were home. And what a grand old mansion it was, like Scarlett O’Hara’s house with a touch of Castle Dracula. Columns and grand archways, misty windows, and ensconced by all of Eden it was a place of ominous wonder. All its windows would flash and twinkle in the moonlight, with a sort of silvery splendour, as though unseen hands had lit up all the rooms to receive a charming host of fairy guests.
So he put them to bed, each surrounded by their cherished possessions, things he had bought them, to comfort them and mesmerise them, like fay fruit in the land of Faerie, for his works of love and enmity to fulfil. His fingers lingered over their origami limbs, their caresses longed for but soon forgotten.
The squeaking deliquesence of ice in his glass sounding subtle in his ear, as though in faraway solitude, he sat alone on the shore of a murky grey sea, looking out solemnly over the boundless and unexplored ocean, while he waited in the quiet dusk. The evening twilight was a time of reflection and perception for him, of planning and of patience. The time in which the mantis takes flight nocturnal. He waited there, in his garden, drink in hand, for his Muse to speak, to sing – to talk of many things: shoes and ships and sealing-wax, cabbages and kings.
He smiled to himself.
As a writer he detested parents and relatives of strangers and idiots who insisted that any mere garden variety protégé, child of any old upstanding members of society, should become a wordsmith. For simply stringing a few lines together, perhaps even a rhyming couplet, did not pertain to his art; these things were not what made a writer. It was not a talent, as such, something to be idled with and shown off, but something beyond, something cosmic and unattainable, brilliant, pure, and everything. The morning and the evening, night and day, the oldest of crafts, the dissemination of stories. Writing was transcendent, a divine occult practice, its joys and rewards forbidden to the uninitiated. It was, in the purest sense, magic. The words for him would dance about on the keyboard and come together on the screen, or bubble away awhile inside their inky, primordial soup until their literary Darwinism, his natural selection, should dictate the path along which to grow, evolve, and be expelled from his mightier pen in lines of inspiration across the page.
He cultivated words and language as he did his girls, all of them his to direct, like actors on a dim stage, and bend to his will. He was a prescriptivist, after all, and bore great distaste for the many vulgar neologisms this wayward age had spawned, he himself revelling in the archaic and foreign syntaxes, dead semantics and other pursuits of a linguistical nature.
He smiled once more. His rictus grin seemed disconcerting in the penumbra, like the Cheshire cat’s in Wonderland. His girls. They were everything. And to actuate his plans for them, his dainty, clockwork, little ladies, to chisel their marble perfection as he had carved his own, then conditioning was needed, behaviourism necessary, now that she was gone and he remained, their most unerring father . . .
Michael Conroy is a final year English and Creative Writing student who is currently looking for an agent for his first novel. He reads as much as he can and particularly admires Brett Easton Ellis and Vladimir Nabokov.