The Dying Glory
by Yelena Dubrovin
Try not to become a man of success, but rather a man of value. — Albert Einstein
Dr. Spider arrived home shortly after eight. He was late for dinner and paid no attention to his wife waiting for his arrival. He took off his coat and proceeded directly to his music room, his favorite place in the house, connected to the den where his collection of Flemish and Dutch paintings was displayed.
On the wall across from the piano was a painting, a moral tale, Death and the Miser, by the Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch — “the master of the monstrous, the discoverer of the unconscious, an eccentric painter with tormented vision” — Dr. Spider’s favorite.
Dr. Spider had bought this painting at an auction house in Germany where he read in the description that Death and the Miser served as a warning to anyone who has taken life’s pleasures without being sufficiently detached and unprepared to die. Who could feel indifferent to this fable? Dr. Spider fell in love with it. He studied the painting many times and felt its magic.
Often, looking at this picture, Dr. Spider brooded about his own death, which he feared obsessively. He saw the painting as a demon that he would fight with all his strength. Nevertheless, he could not know how much time there was left for him and he tried to invest in life as much as he could.
His greatest desire was to leave a legacy, to build a monument to himself during his lifetime. His voyage through the sea of time should not be in vain.
Dr. Spider was one of the greatest American scientists, “a pillar of science,” as his colleagues called him. He himself felt that the reward of his life would be to write a page in the book of history with his name in golden letters.
Like Napoleon Bonaparte, Dr. Spider was gifted with an astonishing memory and passionate zest for life. When he was young, he wanted to conquer the world of science, to find the cure for so many threatening diseases. Time rippled by so fast, faster than he could even imagine; the unfulfilled dreams did not bother him any longer. He gazed at himself in the mirror and his eyes dimmed with pain — he had visibly aged during the last ten years.
His favorite dog curled up in the corner by the fireplace and rested peacefully, enjoying the warmth and crackling of the wood in the fire. Dr. Spider placed his aching body in his favorite armchair, stretched out his legs before the fire, and stared at the dancing embers. He was tired and felt his age pressing heavily on his shoulders.
He lay back and closed his eyes for a second, slowly dozing, returning in his dreams to his youth, turning the pages of his life back to where he saw himself again, young and handsome, surrounded by his parents and his servants. He saw angels above him, singing to him with their pure beautiful voices, and white clouds, dancing around him like brides in their white gowns on the day of their wedding.
But, suddenly, through these clouds, he saw a familiar face from the Bosch painting, a face with a twisted grimace, disheveled hair standing straight up on a longish skull, and protuberant eyes laughing at him. It was the face of the Devil or the face of Death, staring at him through the white clouds, long bony hands trying to reach for him.
He heard his own loud voice barking like a dog. When he opened his eyes, his dog was asleep at his feet and the fire in the fireplace had almost gone out. He looked at his watch — half past twelve. The house was immersed in night-time stillness.
He slowly surveyed the room with his foggy eyes and thought sadly that he was surrounded by all these beautiful objects — furniture, bronze vases, old sculptures, magnificent oil paintings in golden frames — that he had collected with such tremendous passion throughout his life.
And yet, in spite of all these wonders, there was something missing in this house and in his life. He bent his head, staring at the dying embers in the fireplace and fell into deep meditation. Then he raised his eyes and observed the room again with some curiosity, recognizing suddenly that perhaps the warmth and love that he needed now the most had been missing from his rich and successful life.
He felt the coldness of the walls of his old house, the cool wind penetrating through the window chinks, piercing his flabby skin like sharp needles. He shivered from the cold and, wrapping his shoulders and knees in a woolen coverlet, groaned and closed his eyes again.
Time passed by, but Dr. Spider was still sitting at his fireplace — his shoulders hunched over, his head drooped down, and he, steeped in slumber. But even in his dream, his mind was searching vainly for some remembrance of his past and, slowly, as he disconnected himself from reality, a mystical power took him back in time to when his young, free spirit had had so many ambitious hopes and still sought new heights.
He could not separate his past from his present any longer, as he could not distinguish between dream and reality. In his hallucination, he now saw a long, billowy and tortuous, almost impassible road, covered with stones. A small stooped figure shuffled slowly along it, struggling to reach the end of the road, the road that was leading him to fame and success.
But there, at the end, instead of all the expected glory, he saw the devilish face of Death, staring down at him from the Bosch painting in its heavy golden frame. It was a dark, unfathomable road, with neither a clear sky nor a glimpse of light around it. As a black curtain of dust fell upon it, there was no sun, no wind and no stars, just a black moon, hanging sadly above it, and the silent shadows moving slowly along the road behind him.
Copyright © 2009 by Yelena Dubrovin