Conclusion-

            Today, I am dreaming. I dream of the flame engulfing us both. I dream of the wine bottles, rolling of the shelves and crashing into pieces. I dream of the shards cutting at me, slashing at my skin. I dream of blood, blood that turns golden as I weep. I dream of Carlton watching me die.

            I cry out that he betrayed me, that he said we would see the flame together. I weep and I weep, but the tears never come. It is then that I realize that I never wanted to weep, that the tears do not come because there are no tears. I realize that weeping for myself and for him would be like shattering crystal for the sake of the sound of it.

            It is on nights like those and only those that I have woken up, drenched in hot sweat. Those nights were the ones not far from that awful night. I couldn't sleep and I'd lie awake hour upon hour, just thinking and panicking in a silent chaotic stillness. I sat there among the thin, silk sheets contemplating, wishing, and slowly dying. The face of my worst fear, stared back at me through the dark, it seemed to loom before me and watch closely. Its eyes were sharp and glassy. It brought such fear crashing into me that I shut my eyes like a child hiding from his imaginary terrors.

            To escape the fear, I would look at Jacquiline, lying there beside me. She's so calm, her face betrays what she felt after he died. She has no regret and she has no wishes, nothing ahead of her, but what she has now. This is her future. And as I looked down on her, the smooth, soft skin of her face fringed by her black lashes I see that the fear I feel comes from her. The panic that seizes me is when I am near her. She is poison for me now,  but I keep her because I want to die.

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            A day after it happened, I was there again. I was standing in front of the large chateau, on the path leading to the garden beside the large estate. It was also black with ash and done out fire. The roses stood in their vines and bushes beside the blackened house. I could hear it crumbling from the inside, the occasional cloud of dust and ash forcing its way out the windows and doors as parts of the walls crumbled.

            It was foolish, but I went in. It simply had to be. Besides at that point, I still felt as if death had cheated me and let me live. I walked in, like a lost wanderer to his doom. One could probably guess what I was doing there in the first place. It didn't hurt that I should look for him. The very day after sitting there in the rain, watching him retreat into the fire as the rain and mud splattered at me. I remembered the broken feeling of not being able to cry out to him…to never say good bye.

            I found his body in the house. I had been afraid to find him really. I had known that when I found him, there would be only a charred skeleton of some sort. I didn't consider that the fire did not even last long enough for that.

             I didn't find him in the wine cellar, but at the door. His body was still intact, but the burns were evident. He had died from the smoke inhalation. I don't know really what happened after, but I know that I stood staring down at him. His hair was finally faded, something it had been expected to do since the age of twelve or younger. It had dulled into a lifeless colour that which I could not pinpoint. This was not the god with his golden touch and his marvellous grace. This was the fallen angel after having his wings torn to bits and bits. He had his gold coating and the inner gold had melted away in the flame, yet I could still see the treasure there as he lay there lifeless. The feeling of such rich pity came over me and I stood there frozen. I thought of shaking him awake. The pallor made me think of the death which stood there laughing at my shoulder.

            Unattainable Death.

            As all who lay dead with their eyes shut, he seemed to sleep. He might have been breathing as the black, charred ashes fluttered over his face and left streaks of blackness there. The smell of the old smoke and the burnt area covered the overpowering smell that might have taken over the place and I was able to stand nearby.

            Oh, to look at such death in the face is of a twisted torture. Why did I remain here facing it, wishing it never were and wishing that I could have it? Why hadn't I died when I wanted to?

            I fled, you know, because I knew that I would weep for him hour upon hour. What did he deserve that I should give up my everything for him that my tears would have flooded dry for him. I hated him for this one thing. That in order to care one must give his all. For this, he had to die.

            I had a coroner come and have him buried. I couldn't have had a funeral for the fear of the outcome. Who would come for him? No one, but me. He was buried in Paris. Les Innocents. I would have sent him to his home country, but I didn't know where he had really come from. So, there he was buried under the soil and under the grass now. His tombstone merely stated, The Golden God. I could put naught else lest there were a recognition.

            And I….am still here, however.

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                        The thing about remaining here and feeling like you have come back from the dead, after a rest, is the feeling of utter uselessness. I sit or I stand, it doesn't matter. I look at Jacquiline or I look away. It doesn't matter. I laugh…it's not real….I cannot cry anymore. I feel nothing actually.

            There is only the fear; the constant fear that one day I'll look back at all those who I've cared for and they'll have gone. I'll look and they'll be leaving me and I will be trapped in this body, trying to call out to them and crying even, but they'll walk away with their back toward me. Jacquiline is the one I cannot lose. It took awhile, but I had to scramble deep within myself just to find my love for her. Now, that I have found it she is my hold on this earth. I need her more than the refreshing taste of water.

            She is my water now.

            The only thing is that I may need her, but love her….something is gone there. I know I did before all this happened, but now it is more like an addiction. My need for her renders love obsolete. I love her because I need her, but I do not need her because I do not love her.

            I can only fear that she will come to see this and leave me. It had been a form of torture for me for days on end and Carlton's warnings seemed to take on new light as I looked at her, as I touched her, as I kissed her. Was I the convenience or was she.

            It was one day as we rode through Paris in our carriage that I couldn't bear it any longer. She had opened the drapes to the carriage window and looked out, "To be alive, Jaques, it's a blessing today!" and with those words she leaned up and kissed me. I didn't move at first because of late when she did this with such joy, I felt a rising panic enter my gut and I'd freeze up. It was like recovering from shock again and again. Then I would kiss her back and it would be like old again.

            I broke away, though, because I felt the beginnings of a new panic. She looked at me in surprise and I tried to make my pulling away look casual and I played with her hair and simply watched her. She smiled; it was a small smile that said that she knew something was wrong, but she wasn't going to ask because she trusted me to tell her.

            I leaned back slightly and then I asked, "Jacquiline, would you ever leave me?"

            She looked at me, not in surprise but in mere contemplation, "You ask this from fear or mere curiosity?"

            "Both, perhaps. My curiosity begets my fear."

            She laughed and held me closer, her almost shadow like locks brushing my cheek. She answered softly, "Even if you cast me off yourself, I wouldn't leave you. You need me as I need you."

            "Do you love me?"

            "With all loyalty, yes, I would have no one else."

            "Do you swear yourself to me."

            "I swear all my being and all that belongs to me to you."

            "Why?"

            "Jaques Cléon de Verie! You act as if you do not know me!" she cried, her laughter making my heart lighten, but her questioning made me sad. I looked at her, looking up at me. It was such greyness, such deep consternation, and such profound affection. Is this what could have made me so happy? Is this what I wanted? It seemed at that time to be so. I had only wanted her to be able to look at me with that expression. I wanted to be able to call her my wife and hold her like this. No hiding. No deception.

            Now, here she was before me. She seemed to be under a trance, a loving one in which only I could break, yet the magic was out of my hands and I had handed her the bottle of poison saying, "Drink if you will."

            She drinks of me everyday, taking me within her as the dragon spurts the flame. I am hers and she is mine, but I have disowned her privately, only knowing that she stays with me as the slave stays with the master who frees him.

            "You could leave me now. Turn your lovely face from mine and I will not hold you."

            She didn't smile again, but nor did she frown. She simply tilted her head more so and replied, "What do you fear of me, Jaques; that I might cease to embrace you, that my love for you is only a dream, and that I ask of your affection purely for the sake of betrayal's bite."

            "Betrayal is not always pre-planned, Jacquiline."

            "Jacqui is who I am to you. You know not any Jacquiline. Jacquiline is the one who was murdered that night among the violins, but Jacqui goes on with you and loves you before her own life. I have naught left but you, Jaques…my Jaques, You are my chosen bondage." Here she clasped my hands to her chest and looked earnestly at me, not blinking. "Give me all the jewels in France and England, even the cursed gold of Spain…. I will cast it away if it meant that you might hate me for it."

            I know what you think of me now or perhaps what you ask of me now. Were her words spoken in such truth and confidence enough to thaw my now cold heart? I can tell you that there is no answer there, for I knew it not. I was stirred yes, but no rash feeling of abandonment came upon me and I couldn't give myself to her in turn. After years of swearing my life upon hers, all vows meant nothing now that she spoke hers.

            I smiled at her.

            Yes, smiles are everything to some and nothings to many others. For, Jacqui, all smiles is a breakthrough. For me, however, a smile is like the actor's mask…so pretty, so glittering in all its décor, yet it covers true expression. The frown, the face of agony, anger's gnashing of teeth, desire and want filtered in the iris, sorrow, and finally the peace of death. Smiles are everywhere, but they are nothing. So I smile often and still do.

            I wonder if my smile stands out, whether it catches attention. I know at one point it did, as you know, a regal woman once told me so. Smile often, she says, and in doing so I fulfill another promise without reluctance. I like to smile; in fact, it's rather fun to watch the blind ones smile back to its contagious ability.

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            That evening, we had a fight. It wasn't physical of course, but it was awful. It wasn't like fighting with Marjoline as there were no tears, but I was getting close. It was our first and better yet I think it was our worst. As all arguments are, they begin with something simple.

            Jacquiline had come in the room. I was having one of my introspecting moments where I simply sat and looked out the window. She, seeing me in this state, thought it was quite amusing and threw a pillow at me. It didn't even reach me, but it startled me out of my reverie. I picked up the pillow and set it on the seat beside me.

            "Haven't you better things to do?" I asked irritably.

            She laughed and moved over to me, sitting near my knees and hugging them, "Oh, Jaques, my grumpy, solemn, and occasionally depressing love, what is it?"

            I shook her off and stood up. I just didn't feel like dealing with her. "Don't bother asking if you don't know."

            There was silence as I crossed the room to the bookshelves, with a pretext of finding a book.

            "And just what are you insinuating, Monsieur?" her voice was soft and icy.

            "Never mind," I answered, pulling out one of the books and flipping through it, not seeing the words.

            "Jaques…I never mentioned it, but you've been like this for ages…I don't understand. Was it Carlton?"

            I was almost outraged. The sound of his name coming from her mouth seemed poisonous and bitter. I didn't like it. I shut the book and snapped, "Don't say that name!"

            She let out an exasperated sigh. Yet, when she spoke it was softly, comfortingly, "Jaques, a month and a half has passed since Ca-since he was here. I know it must be hard for you and I know that there's so much behind the whole incident, but I think its time you move on. He let us have life, so do him an honour-at least-and live it."

            I had set the book down by now. She was trying to understand, but she couldn't understand. She thought I hated him, that I was still angry and bitter. She thought that I was upset because of hatred.

            "You... don't… know… anything," I spat.

            She stood up, her cheeks blossoming a red and her voice ringing, "Well, I try! I do try! But, forgive me, I was only trying to confide in my husband."

            I looked away.

            "My husband who barely speaks to me anymore, who rarely looks at me except to give these blank stares or to glare as if I had betrayed him!"

            "What are you talking about?" I asked scornfully, angry with myself for not begin able to look at her now of all times.

            "Is it really about him, Jaques, I know what we went through was detestable. It was hell…"

            "You don't know," I said simply, but coldly. I hated when they thought they knew.

            "If you're angry with me for not understanding, then you could do me the grace and put me in the know. Unless, of course, you're too full of yourself to let me understand you. You like being misunderstood, don't you?!"

            "DON'T YOU BLOODY DARE ACCUSE ME OF SUCH THINGS!" I shouted, my voice startling the two of us. It had made her stumble back. I swallowed, feeling the heat of the moment deteriorate into guilt as she stared at me, the fear I hated most in her eyes. I had awakened a memory in her and I could see it from the way she was staring at me.

            The shock of my shouting, actually shouting at her, stunned her into silence. She sat down, where she was, not moving, as I grabbed my red cloak up off the back of my chair and stalked out through the door.

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"What's come over you, Verie?" 

            "What are you talking about?" I asked, taking up my mug and downing it. How many had I had in the last hour?

            Michel had found me sitting on a sidewalk in Paris, after a hard carriage ride there I had stopped and got down. My wandering had led me to that sidewalk and there I had fallen where I simply sat there, sitting and looking at the opposite brick wall. He had been just heading over to that tavern of his and he invited me along. I doubt it was because he was making an idle invite, but mostly because he must have been concerned.

            So now we were here, in the corner of the tavern, ordering drink after drink. Well, I on my part was ordering the drinks while Michel seemed to have finished awhile before.

            "You've downed five pints so far and I just watched you order two more and since a moment ago I said that I had had enough, so either you are not paying attention to me or you're trying to die. And if you're not paying attention to me, I prefer that you succeed with the latter."

            I managed a rather half-hearted laugh that might have come out as a sob, if I hadn't coughed it out. I had been drinking exuberantly, not because I was attempting to render myself intoxicated, but I was drinking merely for the feeling of listlessness. I was so comfortable in my depression.

            "But, seriously, Jaques; what is the matter?"

            I looked at the waitress, winding her way through the tables toward us, holding the two mugs carefully, "There's nothing wrong."

            "How did you come about slouched on the sidewalk like some beggar? Were you reminiscing?"

            I sighed and finally looked at him, his brown eyes, as usual, were big and wondering. He watched me over the top of his knuckles over his arm rested on the table.

"I had a-a-shall we say-disagreement with Jacquiline," I muttered bitterly.

            He was silent for a moment. Then he spoke, his voice full of pure sarcasm, "Then she had her personal guard come in and force you into a carriage where you were smuggled to Paris and dropped on a sidewalk to wallow in misery?"

            I buried my face in my hands, letting out my exasperation.

            Michel laughed sheepishly, "Sorry, what really happened?"

            I lifted my head from my hands and stared at him, my eyes wide. "I shouted at her and left…I ran away like the coward I am!"

            I was surprised to see his eyebrows raised in a form of sardonic distaste.

            "What?" I asked blankly.

            "Do you really want to know?" he asked matter-of-factly.

            I stared at him. "Yes."  

            "Jacquiline has been coming and speaking to me recently, you know. She thought I might know what was wrong with you. I tell her I don't. So, I am inclined to find out. What did you two fight about?"

            I was annoyed now. "How about you go on and tell me, since you and Jacquiline seem to be so confidant with one another."

            Michel folded his arms, his smile not fading. "I am seriously tempted to reach across here and shake the living soul out of you until you're willing to stop being a pitiful little thing, but I won't and you know why?"

            I supposed he was waiting for me to reply, so I looked away and frowned. "Why?"

            "Because not only am I a gentleman enough to bring a lady back her love in one piece, but I am also a Christian and my beliefs pertain to not destroying your soul. Now, we may talk now and then nowadays, but I would wonder if you care?"

            "If it is good for her, then I don't believe I do," I answered haughtily.

            "She says you are cold with her and distant. You, apparently, don't speak to her often."

            "That's not true," I began lamely.

            "You've been ignoring her. Why?" he asked, ignoring my answer.

            "I have not-"

            "Give it up, Verie. Is there another woman involved?"

            I was so shocked and angry with that, that I brought my fist down on the table, knocking over the mugs and making the waitress call out, "No hustling, boys! This is not a peasant tavern!"

            I ignored her. "There is nobody else!" I shouted. "There never will be anybody else, not for me, not ever!"

            "I'm glad to hear it," Michel replied idly, snitching a towel from a passing waitress and mopping up the mess, the mead had made on his cloak.

            I looked back at him as his eyes raised. "Maybe I'm being selfish," I said finally. "But it's because I love her and I don't want to lose her even if I don't...even if I can't..." I paused, and Michel waited, knowing this was no time to interrupt. "Even if I can't give her anything right now," I finished flatly.

            The silence came and went, then he said, "You're driving her away."

            I picked up the mug and sort of looked down into it, feeling even worse as the seconds ticked away, "Perhaps, it's the best thing I can give her."

            "Nonsense," he snapped, folding his arms again, "she loves you."

            "She loves me," I repeated, liking the words, but hating the sound, "perhaps."

            "You know she does. I didn't need to tell you this."

            "Michel, I want to die again!"

            "Do you? Is this behind the belief that there is nothing after?"

            "I don't know…it's behind the belief that it has to be better than this!"

            Michel watched me, his dirty blonde hair getting mussed as he scratched his head reflectively. "Do you want to know what I believe?"

            I shrugged. "I suppose."

            "On this earth, a man has two choices. It is either to live without pain now and be rewarded with life without pain or live by pain and be rewarded with life with pain. Now, I'm not just talking about this life."

            "I don't under-"

            "You don't understand, I know, but perhaps if you tried for the best effort to live as you did-even if it means giving up on your grief, you'll be a lot happier, believe me."

            "How could that work?"

            "Simple, it's like this…you are feeling empty and you show this to your wife through your coldness to her. You wish she understood so that you don't have to tell her, but of course, she-like many other people out there-is flesh and blood so she won't and you won't tell her about it. There's the problem. How do you solve it?" he paused here, seeming to wait for me.

            "I…tell her just…to make her happy."

            "And in so doing you will realize that you're all the more at peace, knowing that she understands."

            "But-"

            "Yes, its frustrating knowing that she doesn't comprehend your issue without your having told her and I know that you know that this is childish thinking, but what are we all but children somehow. You need to trust that she loves you enough to want to understand, understand?"

            "No…" I said, sorrowfully.

            Michel laughed shortly. "What is it that bothers you."

            "I don't know," I answered truthfully, "I just do not find life amicable…it all seems so superfluous, somehow."

            "It is, Jaques; you have no idea how much it is," he sighed, for the first time.

            "But…you like living…"

            "We're born, we live and we die all in a little over ninety years if we're fortunate. Do you see that it's all temporary? This is what I'm saying! You're time here is so short and so temporary, you can either decide to live it or lose it. You have everything, Jaques, a home, a beautiful, intelligent woman who loves you, and the rest of your life. Then, you go about telling people you want to do. That this is your desire is what you tell them. How could you desire something so selfish?"

            I squinted, feeling the tears coming, "Sometimes you want something so badly, you picture them so clearly, it's as if they're already real."

            "And you want Jacquiline," he concluded, "you do love her still."

            "I want," I said, "to be able to love her. Sometimes I think I could. I can picture it. I think it would make me happy. But I think perhaps it's not in my nature to be happy. Happiness is simple, after all, and I've never liked anything simple."

            "Happiness isn't simple," Michel leaned forward and whispered, "men who try to be happy are the ones who are the least happy. Don't try anymore, just…be."

            I gazed at him, his gaze returning was almost disarming. It was strange, feeling that peace wash over me as he spoke. His outlook wasn't the most positive, but he had something so clear and something that made so much sense, that I could do naught, but believe. And I wondered what I was doing with everything I had when I couldn't even appreciate. "Why do you help me, Michel? The day I met you, you were the most indifferent, cold, calculating man I've ever met, yet at the drop of a hat you come to my rescue."

            He grinned and shrugged. "I've told you this. I lack the stamina for a complete vivacity; therefore I spend time repairing yours."

            I laughed and stood, but then I sat down again. "I think I need to just sit for a while."

            "Whatever you like, Verie."

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            Very much later that same evening, Michel hailed his carriage and had me driven to the palace the Petit Trianon where I stepped up the front steps quickly, but not before saying good bye and thank you to Michel.

            I reached our suite and stepped in. It was quiet and dark, but warm like all the summer night, yet humid in our Mediterranean climate. Yet, I was shivering. I was shivering because everything was hazy and I was wishing I hadn't drank so much and I was shivering because, though Michel had comforted me, I still felt cold.

            I wandered into our bedroom and of course I found her. She had the sheets wrapped around her and she stared at me as I walked in. I felt like we were children again, clinging to the last of our small existence as little things. The frightened little girl, clutching and clasping her beddings as her hero enters, the equally frightened little boy carrying a sword that's too big for him to carry.

            She wasn't crying and that's the difference between her and Marjoline. Marjoline would have been weeping, but Jacquiline's eyes were dry, no sign of tears from even earlier. I had been gone for five hours and it was two o' clock in the morning. Her bedside candle was lit and she sat there in her chemise, looking so lost and forlorn.

            I had forgotten what I had.

            "Oh, Jacqui…" I breathed. I swallowed, but the lump wouldn't go down and my eyes began to sting again. How many times could a full grown man weep in a day. I didn't want to move, rather I wanted to pin this picture in my mind forever. The look of her lips trembling in trepidation of what I would do to her, the look in her eyes, as she watched me, unblinking owlish eyes that stared and stared, waiting as patient as a kitten.

            I watched her move out from under the covers, they slipped away like waves out of light blue water. She seemed to be drifting toward me, like a shadow, my own shadow.

She stepped up so close, then she went down. Silent and serene, she sat at my feet and I stood there, not knowing what to do until she said, breaking the silence with her whisper.

            "If I am beneath you," she breathed, her whispers like feathers drifting down from the ceiling, "would you love me again?"

            How her voice trembled.

            I knelt, I almost fell in my agony to reach her. In that moment, I pined for her more than I've thirsted for anything. I went down beside her and enfolded her, just then. We were quiet and no words passed between us. Just silence and then I heard her whispering softly to herself or to me, I couldn't tell. Her eyes were shut and she was shaking, but there were still no tears.

            She whispered frantically as if to cast a curse with the incantation, "I am nothing.  I am nothing. I am nothing. I am nothing. I am nothing."

            I stared in half horror and half something else. It was just too awful. I clutched her by the waist and shoulders and held her close and I fought her incantation like a warlock would to a witch.

            "I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you."

            Second upon second. Hour upon hour. We sat there, intertwined in some other world of sorrow and redemption and redemption won.

            It was within that night and through all I felt there. My need for her, her need for me. Our love and devotion became something new and special. I was nothing for her because she was everything to me.

            Through this I am redeemed.

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            And so, reader, I can only stop. I can lay down the pen and hope you understand. I can only hope you know what I say when I cry out to you in tears and exposed sorrow. This is what humanity is, to love or never love; to be loved or to pine for.

            Then, it is…to understand death and all its devices, to experience sorrow until it seems utterly useless. Crying helps, but it is not the end.

            It never ends with tears…it goes on.