Flash Ficton

 

Doors of your mind – an old tale.

 

‘This is me, your lover and husband-to-be. Look well and tell me if you wish to stay or go.’

Judith stared at the rugged face and its huge, full blue-tinged beard.

‘I’ll stay.’

‘But I fear you can see things that should remain forbidden to a wife.’

‘How do you know that?’

‘You have a strange woman’s wisdom that I can’t fathom.’

‘You are right.’ Judith contemplated her reply. ‘But should you have secrets from me? Shouldn’t one know everything about one’s lover?’

‘Perhaps, but then you need to get rid of that moral compass.’

‘Sharing your bed, your table, your hearth, means that I will know, sooner or later. Don’t we all have seven secrets to our character? They are revealed in marriage, through the doors of our minds.’

She listened to his empty laugh.

‘I’ve never heard that one. Why seven? And who will open my doors? Or, are doors a metaphor I haven’t understood?’

She thought he was trying to mock, but it was hollow. She looked into his eyes. It was an inappropriate stare, rude, impolite - the sort of scrutiny that infants give a stranger, without embarrassment. He didn’t look away, but withstood the examination. She noticed his mounting anger, which flashed across his face.

‘Well?’ he demanded. ‘What do you see?’

Her voice sank to a whisper.

‘A torture chamber, dripping with blood.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ he hissed.

Now she saw him evade her gaze. Time to change the subject. She had already said too much on this one.

‘Can I open the curtains? It’s bright outside and so eerie in here. Now my eyes are accustomed, I can see how cold and damp the walls are. Can’t we light the fire? How can the day be so bright and warm and your house so cold?’

‘Leave the curtains!’ He paused to consider her words. ‘You see a torture chamber in my eyes?’

Judith admitted, ‘Yes, but perhaps, it is my own fear I bring with me from my past.’

‘Why are you here?’ He demanded. ‘You can still flee.’

Now he was shouting, but she remained calm.

‘I notice you haven’t denied my observation. Tell me. Are you the torturer or tortured?’

He evaded her question, but instead repeated, ‘Why did you come with me?’

‘Have you never been intrigued by the bizarre?’ she asked.

He was silent. She had noticed his forearm muscles relaxing, after his recent rage.  Bristling, blood-gorging muscles had receded. Protruding blue veins flattened, but her last question reversed his temper. He clenched his fist and looked awesome in his fury, but she felt no fear.

‘You have that look again,’ she heard him shout. ‘Stop searching,’ but her mind was busy unravelling the next mystery.

‘You are a rich man, who rarely has to work, and then, never physical toil. Why are your muscles those of a labourer?’

He softened his look, but she spotted the effort it cost. She knew their faces betrayed their thoughts.

‘Are you opening doors again?’ he demanded. ‘Which one this time?’

She fixed him with that stare.

‘I just saw your armoury. What do you need that for, in my presence? Your armoury and treasury,’ she continued, remembering her words about his wealth. She knew she had revealed herself to him.

‘Ah’, he drawled, ‘My treasure house. It’s my gold that keeps you.’

‘Not at all,’ she lied. ‘I have money enough.’

‘One never has enough,’ he mocked. ‘I wonder what is behind the doors that preceded your wealth.’

‘Perhaps, I was lucky. Someone else did the torturing and conquering for me – before my time.’

‘Nevertheless,’ he argued, 'You don’t deny your gold is bloodstained, too.’

Guilt stabbed her. Is one never free of avarice, not even in the bedroom?

‘Don’t stop now!’ She felt his face close to hers. ‘Look into my soul, as deeply as you can, while you still have the chance,’ he urged.

She let their eyes meet again. His were beautiful, and the rugged, but perfect features of his brow destroyed any residual wish in her, to leave him. Lust was filling her breast. Her eyes blurred behind unruly tears and his beard washed into a garden of great beauty – albeit, watered with blood from his mouth. She wiped her eyes with a sleeve. The blood disappeared, leaving only the garden.

She felt him seize the moment, take her and force her roughly onto the marriage bed. She didn’t try to resist. As she let his movement excite her, she turned her head, and from the new angle, saw the sunlight behind the curtain. A shaft glanced his head and illuminated a secret garden in his long thick red hair – a garden of unrivalled beauty. There were sculptures, perfectly aligned between vast and dense clouds of roses and plants that thwarted her efforts at identification. Waterfalls, fruits, rocky promontories hung with exotic birds, filled her vision.

His movements subsided. Now she could focus and saw that the birds were picking at corpses, and that the waterfalls were tinged red, the roses scarlet, fronting lilacs of pure black. A passing cloud uncovered the afternoon sun and bathed the room in evening red.

She felt his weight lift and his gaze follow hers as he rested on one elbow. She rose and pulled back the drape and light flooded the room, warming the air, but causing a shiver to shake her. Before her, a vast kingdom, seemingly without edges, a universe that disappeared in unending splendour, where every aspect hinted at the riches of this man – her man – and the ochre sunlight spoiled it for her, with that hint of the blood he had spilt to get it.

‘Stop now,’ he commanded, but she thought his voice irresolute. The red disappeared as pure white light flooded the room. She turned to him. His face was in shadow, but his body dappled with light, reflecting from a vast mirror at the head of the bed. Now the room warmed and the feeling of dampness receded. The play of light entranced. She fancied he was surrounded by water, floating. She felt encouraged. Perhaps the first five doors could be ignored. But she heard sighs of grief as the surface shimmered and waves lapped at the edges.

‘You have seen enough. Go no further, I beg you.’ His voice was contrite, pleading even. Gone was the power person of distended muscles.

‘Why, why my love?’ She answered. ‘The red between us is gone. You are so beautiful, seem to be resting in a lake. How the light can play tricks. Is it a mirage?’

She stepped to him and as her feet touched the light display, the sighs became louder. She stooped and touched the light, and was amazed to feel wetness. Without thinking, she put her damp finger to her lips. It was salty.

‘Where does this water come from?’

She watched his head droop, and his tears fall into the dappled light show. The sighs stopped as the tears touched. The water disappeared as a cloud past over the garden.

‘Stop now,’ he pleaded. ‘There is nothing more to see. Just love me as I am, as you know me.’

‘There is nothing more? There is no seventh door?’ She quizzed him.

She waited for his answer. Nothing came.

‘There is a seventh door,’ she exclaimed.

She watched him slide exhausted to the floor, but he couldn’t resist the impulse to turn and look at a series of pictures on a remote unlit wall. She noticed he was sweating and realised the room had become too hot for comfort.

She reached and stroked his forehead and fancied a strand in his beard hair was her naked torso. The moment was broken when he pushed her hand away with a rough action. She was fighting for air now, as the temperature continued to rise, but the pictures demanded her attention. He didn’t resist as she released his grip on her arm and walked toward the wall.

Three portraits were of women of stunning beauty, draped across luxurious garden furniture. They were hung with heavy jewels, including ostentatious wedding rings, drinking finest wines with sweetest morsels. ‘Trophy wives,’ she concluded, but noticed the pictures distort and show signs of scorching in the unbearable heat.

The pictures had brass plates on the bottom span of the frames. ‘Fortune,’ she read and, ‘Horn of Plenty’. In the third picture, named ‘The Way We Live Now,’ a woman studied Beardsley’s print of Salomé, holding up the head of John the Baptist, blood pouring from the severed neck.

The fourth picture was of an empty bench in the same garden. This frame, too, carried a small brass label. She barely managed to decipher the text as smoke and flames filled the room.

‘The Settled Account,’ she read aloud.

 

The original title to this story was A kékszakállú herceg vára; literally: The Blue-Bearded Duke's Castle and is a one-act expressionist opera by Hungarian composer Béla Bartók. The libretto was written by Béla Balázs, a poet and friend of the composer, and is written in Hungarian, based on the French literary tale La Barbe bleue by Charles Perrault, itself based on an older tale, thought to emanate from Normandy. My reworking uses the setting, 2 figures and seven secrets from Balázs’s libretto. That apart, it is original.