The Clarimonde Project – Part Five
– the final thoughts of Romuald…
A tale – and a review – of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ ‘Paradise Lost’
I am dying. I know it well. I sense my rasping breath lift itself unwilling from my chest, hear the rattle behind it that foretells the chains they will use to lower my coffin into the earth.
And I see it also in the limpid green eyes of Séverine as she clutches at her handkerchief, her cheeks stained with her tears, who came to me borne on another ocean of sorrows, came to me as one who had lost all hope for herself, and in so doing, came to give me some semblance of hope that my penitence might have meaning, my betrayal a purpose I would some day come to understand, if never to forgive.
She had lost so much so young, is indeed young still, and even now, even after these ten years of the life we shared in this presbytery I could call my Purgatory, she does not know my secret, or the secret of her choosing. Yet I, who once knew so little of humanity and far less of women, know her well enough to say my secret shall be found, if not the secret that concerns her.
For Séverine is as like to my beloved Clarimonde as one drop of water to another, that same summer sunlight captured in her hair, the same melancholy aspect glittering in her eyes in certain moods, the identical vibrant wit in others, the same fairness of form that has haunted so many sinful dreams since the youth I can now only half-recall. So my decision to have her as my housekeeper became yet another penitence for my sin, yet another flail to whip the soul I no longer have any hope of redeeming.
Ah, what does it matter. I am dying, dying as the day itself is dying, the long tendrils of late afternoon light creeping up the walls of my bedchamber like the vines that will soon adorn my grave. Soon, Séverine will rise to fetch the candles and banish the shadows, and I would scold her if I could for her extravagance, but instead, I shall have her stay just a little longer and let that deep twilit blue linger as it can, and when it has faded to the black of night, so shall I leave this mortal coil behind me and pass beyond, to what damnation I cannot guess.
I inhale yet another precious breath and as I do, what miracle is this? What mirage of the dying mind makes me breathe deeper and inhale a perfume? Is this the one glimpse of Heaven I shall be allowed, the one frantic hope of a life all but gone in the twilight hour? In an instant, my heart, so leaden for so very long, lifts up and up and nearly out of a chest that knows only to wheeze its last, and in these blue shadows, I sense more than I see another kind of light, a light never seen by mortal eyes, the very light of Heaven itself, and my heart, my soul, my deepest, darkest sin…I see you, Clarimonde, beckoning to me…
I exist in this borderland of blue, suspended between day and night, between life and death, and you are here, I cannot question the flower-filled air I breathe, I cannot doubt the vision that has appeared before my eyes.
It is you, beloved, you yourself in every fragrant flower wreath that dances in your gleaming golden hair as you move around our chamber, costly, exotic flowers you thought nothing to buy as you desired when you lived, to wear or to clasp between us, you in this heated heart of perfumed candlewax that scented our desires, sweeter far than any joys of spirit I had hitherto ever known, sweet as the heady, opulent air that always pulsed above your skin, another aspect of my Clarimonde to breathe and to savor and to desire as no woman had ever desired, as no woman was ever desired before nor since.
This cannot be, this must be that last temptation of a dying man, this my last and cruelest punishment of the love I betrayed in my torment, but this perfume in my heart, this scent in my dying soul tells me other wise and sings other memories as fevered as my own dying wish…to see you once more, to feel you by me, to breathe you fully in one last, eternal time.
Clarimonde! It is truly you, it is you wrapped in the sable furs of our journey to Venice, it is you whose furs, whose magnificent clothes, whose very skin exhales all the richest, most decadent secrets of the Orient to tempt me away from all I knew and what little I had, before you came to me.
You come to me now, beloved, come cloaked in sables and russet silks and sacred myrrh, and I see you shining brighter than any candle, far more luminous than any earthly light by my bed, and I feel your heat in this hand that holds my own, breathe in your soul with every inhalation of your fragrance, a soul so pure and a scent so sweet not even the Almighty himself would dare deny us.
Séverine cries, Clarimonde, and I can no longer console her, no longer dry the tears that mourn my passing, but it matters not at all, for she will find my secret, this I know, and she will know to use it well and happily and there find another varied aspect of you, and in so doing, you shall find another kind of immortality.
Bend closer, my beloved. Bend to take this my last and dying breath, let me breathe your flowered secrets in again, and let me taste that glistening drop of blood on your lips. Let me remember the Paradise we lost and as I do, let us reclaim Eternity, and let us be forever reunited, forever one in this lingering twilit blue.
Notes for ‘Paradise Lost’:
Top: Wild blue chamomile, immortelle, pressed violets, golden champaca
Heart: Faded flowers, candlewax, Oriental lotus, black orris
Basenotes: Sable fur, fossilized amber, myrrh gum, bloody sweet accord, mitti. (attar of baked earth)
‘Paradise Lost’ will be available in a limited edition of thirteen antique bottles manufactured in 1907, the year of Lafcadio Hearn’s translation of Théophile Gautier’s ‘Clarimonde’.
Images: Bronzino, Lucrezia Ponciatichi, 1540, Uffizi.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ ‘Paradise Lost’ presentation, my iPhone.
Thanks to Lucy of Indieperfumes for giving me the opportunity to participate in The Clarimonde Project.
Don’t miss the other participants in the Clarimonde Project:
Deana Sidney’s post on Clarimonde, vampire lore and the perils of perfumed port