© 2016 E. A. Black
I have spent more than half a lifetime trying to express the tragic moment. - John Locke
It was with a deep and vexing disquietude I regarded my mistress, Berenice. Such vivacity! Such radiance! Her very essence breathed life into this dreary household. She, agile, graceful and overflowing with energy, overwhelmed my master, her cousin Egaeus, a man of as much darkness as Berenice was of light. She eclipsed him in my eyes; and I basked in her sanguine presence; reveled in the sweet scent of her raven hair as I brushed it one-hundred strokes each night. Her very being warmed every room in which she reposed, warding off the deep chill that permeated stone and mortar. Her lilting voice brought joy unto bleak halls and draughty rooms; so fortuitous was her chosen lyric: "Smit with those charms, that must decay, I grieve to see your future doom; They died - nor were those flowers more gay - The flowers that did in Eden bloom. Unpitying frosts and Autumn's power Shall leave no vestige of this flower." Alas! If only I could have foreseen what was to come!
It was my function to tend to my lady's needs, and I did so to the best of my ability. I carried to her tea by the dawn's early light and warm milk as the stars ascended the heavens. The mere thought of her brought a skip to my step and a leap of my heart. I dressed her, fed her, bathed her; I indulged in her soft skin and gentle caresses. When I poured her bath, I gazed longingly at her svelte form. Such beauty! Neither Leonardo's sensuous Leda nor Dandini's spirited Helen outshined this fair woman. Aphrodite in all her glory could not surpass the exquisiteness that was Berenice.
Nocturnal cravings beget fever dreams that burned at my very core; and in my shame I fed my hunger, quenched my thirst for her but in my solitude she became larger than life itself. I followed her, petted her, and would have fallen to her feet should she have but asked yet she did not regard me in the same fashion. The focus of her lusts and adoration was the wretched Egaeus. He, in turn, ignored her ministrations, much to my growing pleasure. She wept on my shoulder nightly, and I stroked her hair and skin, lending comfort but craving more. As her cries and desperation grew, I was emboldened; caressing her slender form until I at long last gave in to desire, brushing light kisses against her wet cheeks and weeping, closed eyes.
She regarded me as if seeing me for the first time. My Berenice, my Leda, my Helen, whose heart was stolen from me by another yet she returned at the mere touch of my lips! My obsession knew no bounds; the mere touch of her lustrous tresses or the scent of her on her nightgown drove me into paroxysms of euphoria.
In time I took to wearing her discarded linens, feeling the silk that had touched her tenderness so sweetly. I wore them beneath my daily dress with her none the wiser. I once wore one of her chemises for seven fortnights before washing it so I could feel as if she lay skin to skin with me. Her pantalettes caressed my lower body, touching my heat. I breathed in her aroma as if devouring her. I longed to feel her warmth between my thigh and against my lips, but her undergarments were a poor substitute.
She grew to anticipate my advances yet she resisted, pained by her obsession with Egaeus and her descent into martyrdom. Alas! Her dignity of body forbade her rest with me, and I was taken with her stately lassitude, which grew as her cousin's interest in her faded.
The pall that descended upon this alluring creature came upon gradually at first. Lethargy extinguished the light in her eyes and spread across her face, destroying its radiance. Raven hair had gone as yellow as the asphodel that grew along the walkways outside our residence. Such small blooms bode ill, a portent of the rise of Thanatos.
Fits soon followed the caul of deterioration. Her species of epilepsy often ended with trance, as if she departed her body; spirit floating about the eaves like the lost soul she was. My darling Berenice! So bereft of joy! With sunken eyes and hollow cheeks, she roamed the yawning corridors, lost in her troubled thoughts. She rejected food and drink. Rest came with difficulty and sleep was lost to Stygian shores. Ribs rippled through her skin and her spine grew so prominent I agonized over her well-being. This revenant, this specter replaced my beloved Berenice like a changeling invading in infant's cradle.
As her illness overwhelmed her vitality and essence, Egaeus regarded her with great interest, becoming obsessed with her fading condition. In his monomania he regarded only her sweet mouth, in particular those shiny white pearls that lurked within. I caught him drawing her lips away from her teeth as she slept under the surreal spell of laudenum. She was none the wiser, but I witnessed his despoilments on many occasions. Rather than risk losing my position, I said nothing nor did I make my presence known.
Only when this broken flower approached the dark shade of her final night did he propose marriage. Woe unto me, her remaining spirit lifted and she accepted his offer. She retreated from my advances, feeding on his growing scrutiny. I increased my adoration in quite a shameful manner, throwing myself to the floor in front of her to rub my hair against her feet, an act that repulsed her. By the blanket of night I slipped into her room whilst she slept and stole her perfumes to wear upon my person so her scent would float about me always, but her sweet bouquet devolved from the freshest of roses and lavender to a sickly undertone of the grave.
Her fits grew more intense and frequent, soon relegating her to bed on a permanent basis. Weak and still as her winter descended, she was helpless to resist my attentions, although she whimpered in my presence. I stole moments with her when Egaeus departed her rooms to pour over his antiquarian volumes. Although he wished for her death and I wished for her life, we both wished for her total subjugation to our will, but I achieved my goal before he. A prisoner to my benefaction, I stroked her as I bathed her and enjoyed stolen moments brushing my lips against her pallid skin as I dressed her. For weeks I tended to my needs in every touch of her skin and each stroke of my hand. Following each fit, she grew weaker and, lacking hope, she retreated into her mind which was as broken as her body.
Following an energetic fit, her breath eased from her lungs and her heart lay quiet, and I took advantage of the hushed moment. After stripping myself of my clothing, I slid beneath her bed linens to lie next to her. Behind locked doors I caressed her still warm flesh beneath her silk nightgown, imagining pulsations beneath her skin and the rise and fall of her sunken chest, yet neither were to pass. I lifted her in my arms; her head hung backwards at an odd angle, mouth gaped open, lips cracked from illness. Drunk with desire, I slid beneath her gown to caress and kiss her heat, wishing for reaction whether eager or reluctant yet getting neither. My Berenice, lost to the Keres, and lost to me forever! The tenebrous mouths of death gnashed their teeth upon us both, and woe! I felt as lost in life as she was in death. I dressed and ran to Egaeus, told him of Berenice's misfortune, and he crumbled into a heap, burying himself in morbid contemplation. The early morning closed upon me thus; I fled by harsh light to my room to tend to my misery alone and shorn of joy.
As night devoured day, her funeral preparations were set, she was laid to rest, and I gathered her silken gowns, pantalettes, and chemises for storage, secretly keeping some garments for myself to bring her to life if only in my troubled mind. Exhausted, I retreated to my bed and soon fell into fitful sleep. I then found myself lying spread-eagle in my bed, Berenice's pantalettes bunched between my thighs. A wild, disturbing cry awakened me from my nocturnal sufferings and I stumbled, weak and confused, into the hallway. I followed my fellow servants to Berenice's resting place to find a horror more dreadful than my weak mind could fathom; a terror more insane than death itself. My Berenice lay in her grave as spread-eagle as I had lain in my bed, her head twisted at an obscene angle, gasping, blinking, and wide-eyed; her gaping, bloody maw stripped of teeth. At the sight of her I knew Egaeus had violated her in a way I could only dream, and in the end he had the upper hand. I had lost my Berenice forever, unable to give to her what Egaeus had forced upon her so viciously. She wailed, incoherent words poured from her mangled slit of a mouth, crazed eyes gaped at me begging for explanation, and with a cold heart I turned, walked away, and never looked back.