As Exquisite and Unsatisfying
as a Cigarette
by Amanda Krenicki
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
It happened in 1873. I had returned to Dublin; I’d gotten too restless. Everyone I knew was long dead by then. I was heading to a pub when a young man with striking blue eyes and shoulder-length brown hair slammed right into me. He’d been holding papers and books, and I assumed he was a student.
I picked up everything for him and when I handed it all back, our fingers brushed. I felt the twinge of lust, of need, but it wasn’t the same. I desired him, but it wasn’t the same way I desired someone I wanted to kill. I wanted to know him, to make him know me.
When he smiled, his teeth were crooked. I liked that imperfection in him. His eyes were bright and intelligent; they didn’t miss a trick. “I’m so sorry about that,” he said. “I can be so clumsy sometimes...” His cheeks flushed and I was even more enthralled.
“It’s quite all right. My fault, actually. Might I buy you a pint to make up for it?” I asked, smiling. I couldn’t remember the last time I had smiled for real.
He lowered his head, disappointed. “I’m sorry, that’s very polite of you but I’m afraid I have class shortly...” He sounded genuinely flattered at my offer.
“Ah, very well, then. Run along to class,” I said.
He smiled at me again and went on his way.
I was completely certain that I’d never see him again, but I just couldn’t get him out of my head. Remembering his smile helped me sleep at night. I rented a room at an inn indefinitely, planning to stay in and around Dublin at least until I killed again but hopefully long enough to see if I could find him again and court him.
Even if he didn’t want me immediately, I could make him want me. I slouched in front of buildings with a newspaper in front of my face, scanning the crowd for pale blue eyes. I went into pubs, describing him for the patrons and barkeeps. No one knew of him.
When we actually met again, it was complete coincidence. It was a warm spring day and he was sitting at an outdoor café, writing. I knew his profile just from looking at it in my memory. I didn’t think he’d remember a literal run-in with a stranger that lasted not even two minutes but I had to try.
“Er... hello,” I said. “You might not remember me, but we ran into each other a long while ago and I just... wanted to see how you were doing.”
His smile was still crooked. “I remember that quite vividly, actually... I’m doing well, thank you for asking. Would you like to sit?”
Dumbfounded that he remembered me at all, I nodded and sat down opposite him.
“Might I ask your name?” he asked before I could ask him.
“Shax O’Connor,” I answered. “And you?”
“Oscar. Oscar Wilde. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Shax. What a delightfully strange name, if I might say so!”
It was half-insult, half-compliment, as I’d later find out he favored frequently. I laughed anyway; from him, it was charming and sweet.
“Thank you, Oscar. It’s grand to meet you as well,” I managed.
We passed the whole day talking and getting to know each other and making jokes at the other’s expense. He told me of his aspirations to be a writer, and I told him of my travels, though not the reason behind them. He rambled on about his studies and how much he enjoyed Greek and I told him about my mother who always smelled of flour and yeast.
By sunset, his schoolbooks were left untouched, and my infatuation was intolerable. I didn’t have to have him sexually; I wanted him to be the one to cease that incessant desire. I wanted to invite him back to my room, but I remembered all too well the last time I tried that.
I let him go and we parted ways, promising to keep in touch. He knew it for what it was: one day of true connection before it ended. I hoped for something more.
* * *
I waited for sixteen years to run into him again, but no matter how feverishly I searched for him, I couldn’t find him.
I was reading a magazine on a bench in the center of the city when I came across a fiction story with an etching of the author. I recognized him immediately, though he looked a great deal older, by his eyes and smile. He was gaining more recognition. He’d written a book of children’s stories and was briefly in the journalism business for a while. I was impressed by his success.
I asked the owner of the bookshop where I bought the magazine where I could possibly find the author of the story. He told me that Oscar Wilde was in England; London, more specifically. I almost laughed out loud; that was exactly where my William Shakespeare disaster had occurred centuries before.
I went to London and found him; he was easy to find. He was married to a wealthy man’s daughter now, which made him accessible. I debated approaching his house directly; I didn’t want to frighten him if he didn’t remember me. There was no other way to get from him exactly what I wanted, though. On a brisk spring day, I lifted the knocker on his door and tapped.
He answered the door, and his eyes were as bright and quick as ever. When he smiled, his teeth were still crooked. He was dressed in simple black trousers and a loose, billowy white shirt. His hair was still shoulder length and rich brown, the color of ale.
“Hello, Oscar. We met sixteen years ago. I heard of your success. I wanted to tell you how pleased I am that you accomplished your endeavors...” When I spoke, the words came out rushed, all in one breath. I let my eyes meet his, willing him to remember me.
“Hello, Shax. I was so hoping to see you again,” he said, his voice soft and full of wonder. “You look precisely the same as you did then.”
“As do you, Oscar,” I said, bowing for him a little.
“What rubbish! Oh, but I’m quite glad to see you. Would you like to come in? See the house, perhaps discuss your endeavors as well?” He backed up from the door to allow me to come inside.
We drank scotch and spoke of his writing and he asked if I was still traveling. I wasn’t, but I told him I’d been to America and Africa, among other places. After him, I’d visit both of those countries and more. We spoke until his wife, Constance, returned home and I took my leave, afraid to be in the same room with them both.
But from then on, I rented a flat in London and became one of Oscar’s many close friends and admirers. I was in frequent competition with Lord Alfred Douglas, with whom he was quite close. It’s my firm belief that he loved us both. But it’s my firm hope that he loved me more.
It happened one day a year or so later when we were alone at his house. His wife was out with the children. He had two, and it was almost enough to make me feel badly for loving him. We were drinking tea out in the garden.
“So tell me again, Shax, dear, how long have you been waiting for me?” He enjoyed teasing me about my infatuation with him. I wanted to live out the rest of his life by his side.
“Only sixteen years, Oscar, you know that,” I scolded.
“Only?! Why, Shax, that’s practically an eternity. I feel so badly I didn’t try as hard to search for you!”
“You have me now, though,” I pointed out as I stood and walked to his side of the small table our tea was sitting on. He didn’t shy away as I got too close, and moved behind him, draping my arms casually around his shoulders and chest. He never turned down that sort of contact, even before we were a “we.” He relished it from all of his friends and especially his lovers.
“Of course I do, dear. I’m sorry I’ve missed you all these years. If I’d remembered, you could have been here the whole time. With me.” I grew silent at his words. The flamboyant, endearing, charismatic man I loved, the famous author and playwright, which was not far off of the horizon for him, enjoyed his time with me. I meant something to him.
Before I could stop myself, I leaned in and pressed my lips to his cheek. He laughed with delight and I was mildly disappointed; cheek-kissing was another “Oscar” thing to do, and I wasn’t sure it conveyed how much I cared for him.
“I know, Shax. It wasn’t difficult to see.” I felt him shift in his seat and turn his head. His lips met mine and my eyes closed. The world was quiet for a moment.
“I feel it, too,” he said when he pulled away. I stared at him, at a loss for words.
He led me to his bedroom and when we were together, he made me feel human for the first time in eight hundred years.
It lasted almost until the end of his life. I managed to keep him alive with extreme restraint, though he got close more than a few instances. I was always able to rein in my desire at the last moment.
I waited for him throughout his imprisonment. I was lonely without him, but I was determined to keep my spirits up for him. He needed to know I was all right. He’d worry about hurting me otherwise. It was only two years, though, and I had waited much longer for him before.
During the time he was jailed, I essentially starved myself. I brought no one back to my flat. I didn’t want meaningless sex anymore now that I had him. Once he was free, though, my hunger for him was voracious. We were together almost every day and in bed when we could manage it. The last three years of his life were split evenly between me and Constance; they were still friendly even after they had parted ways.
After years of this, he grew ill. I knew it was my fault. I had drained him in the same way I’d drained Shakespeare. We were together too often; I’d stolen his... life essence. The vital energy that kept him alive, and there was no way to repair the damage I’d done. I wanted to tell him, but I didn’t want him to die hating me. He sent me away when he fell ill enough to know he was dying.
“My dear Shax,” he told me as we were lying in bed, “you know I have to let you go.” I knew it was coming, of course. I had caused it. The one time I hadn’t wanted to. My eyes watered. Knowing it didn’t make it any easier.
“You’ve been lovely and fun, and I care so deeply about you but—”
“It’s all right, Oscar.” I’d seen him at his best and worst, far more than I deserved. “I’ve always...” I looked over at him and he was asleep. I think he let me go because he knew his time would be up soon and didn’t want me to see it.
I watched anyway. The newspapers called it meningitis. He had similar symptoms; after he got weaker from me, anything could get him sick. It was an easy conclusion to make. He died in late November of 1900, surrounded by those who loved him.
I speak of him rarely. And when I do, I always play it off as a torrid love affair designed for my well-being and survival only. But he made me feel like my old self, the man I had been while I was human.
I attribute to him some of my wit and charm. I had it before him but he taught me how to be whimsical and joyous and fun, which was something I lost when I became an Incubus.
I do brag that The Picture of Dorian Gray was about me, a beautiful man who never aged. Which, of course, it wasn’t. But it makes for a good story.
Copyright © 2015 by Amanda Krenicki