I was cleaning up the other day. There’s still all this stuff, just stuff left over from our separation, that came with me in boxes and didn’t really have a reason to. So I was tossing out stuff, and I came across some of the artwork that my daughter had done, just seven or eight years ago. (I kept it, of course.)
It wasn’t exactly on archival paper, you know? I imagined finding (I doubt I ever will) the first representative drawing she ever did. She could barely talk. I was sitting there, trying to make it out as she went – it meandered all over the page, but it had discernible eyes, mouth, and nose. I asked her what it was, and she said simply, “Elmo.” And yes, although really it looked a little more like Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”, sort of melted and running off the table, I could see the intent.
The emotional connection took me to the next thing here. I just had to slip that in, because it’s not a non-sequitur. It’s how I came to understand something.
Imagine yourself a twenty-something someone... say, an aspiring singer. The crowd you run with would probably include musicians, dancers, artists – you know, the usual suspects. Imagine that you get to know one artist, who of course has no commissions (he’s a twenty-something too), so one day out of boredom he asks you to sit for a portrait. And you do. It’s a simple thing, maybe pen and ink, on inexpensive paper. When it’s done, out of gratitude, the artist gives you the portrait. At some point over the next year, the two of you go your separate ways. The portrait, among your papers somewhere, is forgotten.
Many years later, perhaps you’ve discovered he has died. Consumption would be about right, for the period I have in mind. It makes you stop, and daydream for a little while about all of them, your old friends, and how obscenely young you all were, and how beautiful. And then you remember the portrait. You spend an hour or so, rifling through old papers, coughing from the dust you’re stirring up, and then – there it is.
But the paper was so inexpensive, you know? The vital force of every line is in place – it almost makes you breathless, while your head is still swimming about the lust for the present that you all lived. But the paper is so yellow now, and brittle. So the face is yellowed, as though age spots are only days away, all over that once-exquisite skin. The artist is gone, and the drawing itself has aged, and somehow you cannot believe you are no longer beautiful.
I said you were a singer, as a distraction. Suppose you were… a writer. Suppose your name was, you know, Oscar Wilde.
There is only one thing that can happen next. You just need a character name. How about... Dorian Gray?