Riches to rags

This is the diary of Bert, a broken man, with a broken heart, yearning for days gone by.

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1. Riches to rags.

Firstly I’m no saint, and I don’t pretend to be anything of the sort but everyone judges anyway. I mean well but I’m no longer treated well. I’m in love, with a woman who no longer lives. My heart is shattered, along with my will to survive. My confusion is my comfort.

The painted doll looks up at me, disgust marrs her youthful features. It took me longer than my friends expected to realise this look was reserved solely for me. I didn’t listen; I’m a dreamer, a hopeless romantic. I somehow imagined she actually cared for me the way I pretended to care for her. My marriage to Penelope took place 8 years ago to this day, the biggest façade of my life; I am more myself now than I ever was in her company. Her father Giles, landed on his feet when he pawned his youngest leech off to me. It actually began as a joke believe it or not, but looking back I now see the clearly thought out plan of father and daughter deceit I somehow missed originally. It started when I mentioned to my ‘good friend’ Giles that I was feeling a tad lonely after the death of my 1st wife Josephine, the love of my life. It was never an attempt to replace her, how could I? It was impossible; no women ever existed like her, and never will again, not for me anyway.  It doesn’t hurt anymore; it just sickens me that I allowed myself to become such a fool, flattered by the attentions of a silly whore. I harbour a lot of self hatred, it bubbles to the surface every now and then before more important things take over. I look at the photograph one last time before I shred it with my trembling fingertips and throw it to the wind.

I wrap the black and white print around me for warmth that gives over to a distinct chill as the ice from the disgusted glares quickly extinguish my temporary comfort. People do not like me. Perhaps they are afraid and don’t care enough to ask questions, I never experienced this side of society’s cold shoulder until now. It saddens me to admit that I was once on the giving side. Now I’m homeless. So what? Apparently this means I’m dangerous which goes along nicely with being ridiculed on a daily basis. Everyday I see young vindictive rogues kicking whimpering dogs and tearing ribbons out of their younger sister’s hair, it’s me they keep away from. I see women daring enough to tempt men of stature (men I used to know) into illicit, regrettable encounters, yet I’m the filth that litters this city’s park. During the first few years I naively believed that I would just be a nameless wanderer because I didn’t resemble my former self at all. You are never protected by anonymity; it is just a cruel substitute for a mask that ignites unwanted curiosity.

I remember the day I found out what Penny was up to, I’d had suspicions but as soon as I knew for sure I found I didn’t care, it was almost a relief. From then on she didn’t care that I knew, she never loved me and I never loved her I was just temporarily fascinated by her shiny hair and rouged mouth. I watched her ride her horse from my estate to the town every day knowing she would be spending the night in someone else’s arms. I felt like a free man again, I had the house to myself every night to play poker with my friends. I even extended the olive branch to Giles, but to this day I’m not sure that he knew that I knew what his precious little princess was getting up to. If he did he was laughing secretly about it while he drank my single malt and smoked my cigars. If I ever dare to close my eyes long enough there’s only one face that swims to memory. Hair the shade of autumn at its best framed delicate cheek bones, her eyes were the colour of sage, and when sunlight hit, flecks of gold danced in the green. I lost everything the day I lost Josephine. The cowardice in me got the better of me when after I’d spent too many a night at the mercy of a pack of cards I made the mistake of lending money I couldn’t pay back. Josephine died of scarlet fever while I took some time away to keep my head down which I badly disguised as a holiday with friends. That was the moment I broke, I’m still broken.

My aging brain whirrs as these thoughts spin, it hurts. I question too much, or too little. Either or both, that’s my problem, I don’t do happy mediums. I’m an extreme kind of guy, a complex man with issues, but at the same time I live the simplest existence imaginable. I have daily tasks such as obtaining food and water. Easy really, there are plenty of available litter bins which open wide to receive a half eaten hotdog bought from the vendor across the way. I was very lucky only yesterday to find a fully discarded one, still warm! The feeling was parallel to one I felt many years back carving the Christmas goose on a table with food enough for one hundred guests. Memories are painful now, they flash back into my head sometimes and my new way of living seems more obtuse than ever. What was I saying? There’s really only one task left I suppose, the one of not being attacked on a nightly basis while I sleep on my bench.

I took another brief vacation after I confronted Penny about our relationship, which was when I realised that I had a habit of running away. I’m a coward, I realised that a long time ago, it’d bother me normally but this time it had a positive end result. She eventually moved on, one day she just packed her things and left, as simple as that. I don’t even really recall when, I may not have been home. She took with her several valuable things of mine but I didn’t care, possessions were just material, which is easy for me to say now as I currently own four things, all of which fit nicely into my overcoat. After I returned to my home everything had changed, the house felt as empty as my soul. I also felt older, I felt tired. Days filtered into the next and time became a blur, much like my life today, oh the monotony of survival. My friends seemed to filter out of my life as my loneliness increased, so I sought new ones from places gentlemen such as myself should never be spotted. I anesthetised myself with the magical power of the Papaver somniferum on a nightly basis, it provided freedom from my constant anxiety and the meaningless hand I was dealt. It prematurely aged me, but there’s a price to pay for anything pleasurable isn’t there? I couldn’t grasp the concept of punishment when all I wanted to do was enjoy myself. Hadn’t I had enough bad luck? It was like I was living the life but I resembled the portrait. Like I’ve said before and will most likely say again, life is too short to obsess with beauty and money. So with the influence of my new friends, unlimited glasses of amber nectar and opium flooding my receptors, I momentarily began to tolerate my life again.

When I drift off to sleep on my bench, it is not sheep I count. I envisage my furniture dancing through the windows of my old home, piece by piece. Sold to pay back what I owe. I can also still hear the angry mob formed from my large staff demanding their unpaid dues. I see them unnecessarily stomping through the rose gardens that border my estate. My Josephine’s ashes were showered over the yellow roses she planted, still alive as she lives not. Oh Josephine, would a rose by any other name not smell as sweet? But really, who seeks revenge on mere flowers? Out of my pocket I take an unsealed envelope inside is a dried flower, once sunshine yellow now dark mustard the rose looks withered and sad. I decide to set it free, I watch it billow up into the wind, spiralling out of my reach and my control.

My life is in uproar; my servants have left me alone in this unfurnished shell of a building which will only belong to me for 24 more hours. Everyone has left me. I feel like I did when I was eight years old, I ran away from my parents at the carnival. I had wandered off because my father was arguing with the ticket vendor over which class of tickets we had purchased and I was embarrassed. My father was a wealthy man yet he rarely parted with any cash, my mother was pleading with him to ‘live a little’ which resulted in a full scale argument. These arguments laced my childhood like poison, offensive to my young if not slightly large ears. Looking back I think this contributed to my happy go lucky attitude in later life. I’m not making excuses for gambling or being taken for by a young hussy but I’m thankful for not turning out the way I could have done.

The grimy streets of London shocked me. I never knew the dire conditions some people lived in and quite frankly it was never my problem, until now. Over the years I adapted, I even made some friends who were in similar situations to mine, though I never fully disclosed how far I had fallen. My story is and was depressing but I’ve learnt to look forward now because the past no longer seems real to me. I’m not sure how I see my future evolving; the truth is I’m quite happy, despite the resentment I feel. Have you ever heard the phrase ‘be careful what you wish for?’ I often lamented over the complex issues in my life; the huge estate with only me and Penny to fill it, mounting bills, unsatisfied members of staff. I longed to be a simple man leading a simple life. I envisioned myself in a little white stonewashed cottage on a shore somewhere, a fisherman perhaps. These were deemed unwelcome ungrateful dreams by my peers who were continuously thankful for their lavish lifestyle, happy to endlessly laze about the house, their well dressed bodies ridden with gout.

I’d still like to get there one day, I’m not getting any younger but everyone’s got to have goals right? I’ve been thinking about moving on for a while, hitch a ride somewhere coastal and see what awaits me. Let’s face it; despite what the kids think these days, there are little prospects in cities if you want to be genuinely happy. I’m just a man with a complex past, I have a dream, and I will create a future. My future.

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