At the centre of the room, wearing a silk evening gown is Grace Tranfield; she is waiting to greet the newest member of the Ibsen club. His name is Dorian Gray, supposedly a fine young man from a slightly impoverished background, directed to her for the sole purpose of taming his disreputable character. It is a cruel punishment that Satan would bestow upon the seraph! An inequitable form of suffering one should think!
On the red checked armchair she is seated, her legs crossed and hands placed on the armrests. Her face imprinted across the pages of a heavy volume, her pursed lips in the letters.
He arrives dressed in a grey suit. On Grace his eyes fall and thinks that her pose would be perfect for a painting. How good Basil was to direct him to her! The creator gifted her with brown peahen coloured hair and black glazed eyes. Her superior truthful red aura dominates over his mistrusting pink one.
The equilibrium in the room is shifted. The balance is no longer in harmony. Noticing him, she slams the book down and abruptly moves to the edge of the chair and slowly lifts herself up to welcome him.
‘My name is Grace’, offering her hand.
‘I am Dorian Gray. You are too pretty to be sitting here inhaling old fumes of archaic books. Trying to read yourself to death it seems,’ he chuckles and continues. ‘A pretty picture like you should go buy a fancy gown and experience the vast pleasures the world has to offer. ’
He kisses her hand. ‘Privileged to come into your acquaintance. However –’
‘Books teach you many things which pretty dresses can’t.’ she said witheringly
‘I disagree with that. Books are tiresome.’
She leads him into the palace library. Bewildered, he looks around the room as if the books could consume him. She gestures for him to sit on a leaf green divan, which overlooks the winter garden. Rough and louche he appears in the grandiose library.
Like a mirror her face reflects the landscape of the garden. He tries hard not to stare at her Godly perfect face. He wishes to get away from her glazed knowledgeable eyes.
On the opposite side she sits herself in the middle of the coral sofa. The wall high bookshelves are her background. If you looked from afar you might actually make the mistake of thinking she is seated on a shelf as her expression belongs here with all the books of knowledge. Yes, this is her habitat!
He takes off his cashmere scarf and proceeds to twisting it around his thin cruel fingers. She looks out of the window. He makes no attempt to talk to her. From the side of his moss green graves he watches, the vision of her lioness beauty.
She ever so gently kills the silence with her inquiry, ‘So tell me about your interests Dorian?’
He seems dazed, like a snake slithering wearily from its shelter.
‘I like the theatre, The Place Theatre. Shakespeare plays satisfy my minds thrust for the art of preforming. I am a lover of Ophelia.’
‘Ophelia – she isn’t real!’
‘Alive she is yet dies over and over again all for me. Oh I have wondered about the Opehelian kiss?’
‘You can wonder yet don’t know the answer! Very surprising!’ she says dustily
Then pursues again ‘Any other sort of interests?’
His face is distorted for a second and in his mechanical brain he debates something; he faces away avoid the face of knowledge.
‘Maybe, but I don’t think we need discuss those.’
A smirk appears across her face, ‘Oh I can very well guess what sorts of interests you are referring to Dorian – dens, philandering, brothels and public houses’
‘Is it that obvious?’
‘You have that air about you Dorian. You walked in and I knew the sorts of interests you had’ she bitterly announces into the room.
‘You know nothing of the worldly experiences I’ve had. Yet young forever I will remain. Forever young and beautiful. Shall out live my Sybil. Oh Sybil Vane my lover, oh it will be sad! Her beauty will die like her last performance.’
‘Tonight we shall see Chekhov performed. I like Chekhov. If you are unsatisfied simply go home.’
‘Chekhov – wouldn’t expect you to know of him. What an awful quality in a woman that she should know more than her fellow man. Simply barbaric and tragic! Your beauty is degraded by all this knowledge.’
‘If you don’t want to be here – then leave.’
She twirls out of the library only a step behind her he is like a night stalker.
‘But I do want to stay. Your beauty! It fascinates me!’ he declares vehemently
‘I assumed that so I have booked us a table to dine.’
At the bar she orders a bottle of wine and hors d’oeuvres, asking for one glass only.
‘What shall you have?’
‘I’ll have glass of whisky and a steak’ to which she informs the waiter off.
They go to sit, she on the right, the right hand with exalted power and Dorian sits on the east which is the direction of the mighty farewell.
In silence the meal passes. Her knowledgeable eyes and face he avoids so as to prevent the inevitability of his nightmares. He thinks her unsettling. She observes his whole manner and is unable to conclude whether he has a speck of morality left or whether will always remain a loathsome creature. Her manner is dominant and knowledgeable, not the stereotypical one of the middle class women only concerned with frocks and frills.
She exclaims, ‘my driver is waiting for me. We shall meet at the theatre at six.’
‘I can’t wait to begin to court you! Oh it will be very artistic Lady Grace! I shall request a motor car.’
She arrives at her destination – home, heartedly thanks the driver and unlocks the door. She rings for the maid, Ava, who appears quickly. Grace tells her she would not be home for dinner so only to prepare a meal for herself.
Into her boudoir she goes and in the fastest manner possible undresses. On the Persian rug, her expensive yellow dress, her stocking and her low heels, are scattered. She is not impoverished, but her figure is small and petite. Her curves are womanly indeed, making her body fuller. She is unconcerned about the effect she has on men. She battered Loenard’s marriage proposal with her lips and her heart was only conquered with revenge. Even though he raggedly wanted her still, preferably in bed.
She is dressed in her costume; a tattered ash coloured gown, a pair of walking boots, a hat and purse in hand. Out of the commode she takes out casket she takes out a lump of fresh green notes.
The darkness devours the day. Worried that she would not be able to find Sybil, Dorian’s fascination, she nervously plays with the money as she enters the disreputable theatre. Into the portal to world of female oppression she descends, locating a man.
‘Is Sybil here?’
He slurs, ‘What business do you have with her?’
‘That simply doesn’t concern you!’
‘Why should I tell you?’
He stands in front of her to bar her way. She shoves him aside and into the chair he stumbles.
Two women scrub the stage so Grace goes up the flight of stairs.
Politely she says, “Sorry! I’m here looking for Sybil. Could you tell me where I can find her?’
One woman goes over to her. The other sits on the stage. Grinding labour they have to carry out – another lifeless day. They are poor working women, and have no saved dignity here.
‘Grimshore Close number 19, not far from here’
‘What can I offer as a thank you…?
‘To be you my Lady even just for a day, expect we know that isn’t impossible.’
‘Yes, so the best thing I can offer is money’
‘Anything that you give us my lady will be glorified.’
She hands them both some notes which flicker before their eyes.
Grace walks along the overgrown and rooting labyrinth streets of Soho. Outside one house a blue handkerchief, another house has a broken window and muddy footprints on the wall of another. She wonders what the significance of these traces of life are and what kind of lives these people lead? Obviously in parallel to hers, yet destined to meet.
The house she is directed to is one tinted with factory air and the door looks like its handing for its life. She knocks carefully – once, twice and footsteps are heard approaching. The door opens very so carefully and she meets a young man, just one of the many dwellers on these streets.
She says, ‘I’ve come to talk to Sybil.’
Along the crying corridor they walk and into a seating room of sorts.
‘She isn’t here but I presume you’re here regarding Sybil’s suitor.’
Grace nods, ‘I came into his acquaintance today and I could smell his mortifying interests. I believe he is deceiving Sybil. It’s best you keep Sybil away from him. He isn’t a gentleman and regard towards women is like that of an mindless, unintellectual creature who should be used only for men’s physical lusts.’
His eyes register this information, the news like a banner on his lips and he is triumphly relieved to have it confirmed.
‘I knew – there was something not right about him’ the pause shatters, ‘He did seemed like an illusion. Oh Sybil is so young! Too young to realise!’
‘My proposal is that you take Sybil away. Overseas preferably. That would be best for her.’
‘My family can’t afford that.’
Retrieving the poignant green notes she hypnotises him with it.
‘The amount here should cover for all the expenses and beyond.’
His response is that of shaking his head to the bundle of money. Pale becomes his face. Never is his life has he been hovering frantically over the honey combed notes as now. He looks down at the floor and presses his hands into his face. An exhausted tear melts on his raw cheek.
‘You have to take the money and take Sybil away! I want to save her from that wretch!’
He breathes labouredly.
‘How will I be able to take her away?’ he murmurs
‘Do it by force if you have to!’
His ivy expression unravels. His washed out rosy cheeks.
‘After what I learn today I do have to take her away at all costs!’
‘Take the money’ she says pushing it into his creased palm.
Ever so slowly his child like hand wrap around the notes. His childish eyes feast on the abundant supper.
‘She will be saved.’ She smiles.
‘I have not introduced myself or offered you a drink. That is highly unwelcoming of me – a negligent host.’
She quickly intercepts, ‘No! Not at all! There were more important matters at hand.’
‘My name is James Vane. I’m Sybil’s older brother and a sailor. I head of to Australia soon.’
She claps her hands, ‘that is perfect! Simply perfect!’
She walks over to him and they shake his hand. There is a harmony in the air between them.
‘You are a wonderful brother’
‘What you are doing for my sister is – ’
‘I’m glad I could do something.’
He rushes to open the door for her. He thanks her and she wishes them luck.
She lets the items from before guide her through the toppling team of houses along the rail like roads.
Inside her villa she goes and into her boudoir she undresses putting on a quartz coloured dress, a pair of embodied toe mules, applies her rouge and brushes her hair. Combing it so she can put it in a bun with a heavily decorative pin.
By the door she sees him standing wearing another attire.
He draws her very figure with his pencil eyes. ‘A perfect painting!’
He purchases the tickets. They are ushered inside, being engulfed by the eagerly waiting show. From the balcony they hang down into the scene of the theatre. Anybody here would think them a couple. This thought makes his lust thirsty. The shiver upon her skin even worms desire into him. His hand hovers near her left thigh not touching – the painting! Unable too fully drink her refined beauty with his eyes. Oh such Beauty! Tonight he isn’t enveloped into the performance. Dorian conjures a cigar in his fingers and lights it.
‘Can I have one?’
The sound of her voice drills into his mind lust that needs to be sacrificed. He lights it and hands it to her.
The way her orange peel lips form around the cigar. The imagination of the kiss! What would the reality be? Such wilderness and wonder! How she plays with me! Pretends she isn’t aware of my near touch. Oh the passions of two different women Ophelia and Grace!
She takes her cloak and out onto the street scene she goes standing under the lamp looking like a lamplighter. He makes his entrance onto the street.
‘I want to can catch the portrait of Ophelia.’
Dorian attempts to dig his claws into her but she flies down the street.
The chase that my mind experience is petrifyingly arousing! How much the more seducing my prize will be when I win.
She has led him to the Palace Theatre. An artful performance he feathers.
We hear banter in the background of the infamous Soho landscape. He seizes her hand and he smells the scent of his victory and this makes him feel like a man that has risen out of a burning down house alive.
He cages her in his body and kisses her.
Animal cries come from a young girl that has appeared. Grace uses her nails as daggers and her fists as hammers at Dorian – gets him off and spits at him. Unnoticed is the girl and she is their audience.
‘Vile creature how dare you abuse me?’
The girl like a lioness ambushes her prey, with hunger and violence.
With sore anger the girl says, ‘Prince Charming. My Prince Charming – you were meant to be. I saw what you did. I am not a little girl yet so naïve to believe your performance. Damn foolish to believe you loved me. Minutes before now I was plotting my suicide when you didn’t come. My brother told me he wanted to take me away from England, from you. He was right to call you a wretch, a low life, a bastard. How empty I was to not believe him but rather believe you, the serpent and the devil. I never want to see you again in my life.’
Gathered in her hands is a Medusa’s head made of a bundle of gowns, scarves, robes which she throws at him and that fall onto the damp dirty road, turning turn into litter not at all out of place. Dorian blinking repeatedly appears to be dumb founded.
The girl turns to Grace, ‘you are the woman who saved my life. You ripped away the canvas of lies and revealed the truth. You are the Goddess of Power. It’s because of you I’m still alive so I should get on my knees and offer gifts and thanks.’
Turning to Dorian she hits him twice with a profound rawness she didn’t now she possessed.
‘How dare you treat women as game birds and think you can do whatever you like with them against their will.’
‘Nicely done Sybil. A great performance!’
The woman’s company he walks away from and his destination a small shaded house. Everything he lusted for has vanished before his eyes. Grace has destroyed the beauty in his artful life and Opehlia broke his heart. The Ouija board is turned. He goes to misty opium dens and subdues himself in his delightful and sinful pleasures.
The women walk hand in hand to the Vane’s household. Cynthia Vane receives Grace like her own daughter and treats her like she descends from the mighty palace. Their sparse foodstuff they give to her and apologize. Looking in from the window, one would see a family together. One will look past all the hanging window frames, ripped curtains, dim room and see a family, united after a plight.
The next morning the news of Dorian’s death is what everybody and everything is whispering about. The air and streets are haunted by this news. As soon as Grace and Sybil hear of his joyful news, the very next night they locate his house and burnt it down with his own cigar. Nothing more exists of Dorian Gray. It was as if he was just an optical illusion.
By Elena Kokonova
This is one of my recent short stories. I hope you enjoy reading it a lot as much as i did writing it. many thanks