My Last Duchess

This was a piece written for my university seminar with a prompt 'My Last Duchess' by Robert Browning. The class liked it!

We hear about the persecuted ladies, stifled by domineering husbands in Regency England. What about his side to the story? I assure you, it isn't all ribbons and frippery.

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1. Fabricated truths

 

I will be honest. Too long I’ve hidden behind the security of fabricated truths. No more.      

My mother, vindicative as she was, laid the plans down for my future long before I was able to walk on my own two feet. Human sensitivities were irrelevant. I was a chess piece, moving where I was told, guided by the looming hand of the she-dragon.                   

Naturally, all plans turned to marriage. Father’s death had left a dent in our wealth but we were still stinking rich; enjoying decadent parties and food far too complicated for our bodies. Yet, we were not rich enough. Mother’s desire to compete with the world meant she would not rest until our very souls were made of gold. If she could, I swear my mother would sell our souls to the devil. Perhaps she already has.  My wife was hand-picked from a fluttering crowd of women, all eager for my wealth and the dresses they could buy with it. She was young, pretty and wealthy, ticking all the boxes of the criteria that my mother had compiled.           

“She’s Georgiana of Cumbria, another step to the staircase of power.” My malicious mother disguised command as information, fooling everybody like always.                                                 

The first time I met the girl was at an engagement party. Everyone knew when she entered the room; stupid girl had a herald announce her. Not that she needed it. The ridiculous gown, all feathers and jewels made her look like a dressed up cake, and not even an edible one at that. Battering her eyelashes and that stupid simper that I presumed was a laugh did not even provoke a touch of affection. It made me so happy to know I was doomed to live with this thing for the rest of my life. Love you mother.

 

During the marriage, my heart turned cold within my chest. I was the gargoyle whose smile looked like it had been chiselled into rock. The world would criticize this lack of gratuity. Who could be so ungrateful when they had lands, wealth and a lovely wife? Me. Apparently though, I had everything. In reality, I had nothing.

She was at the wedding, a ghost from the past resurfaced. Jet black eyes, dark hair cascading. She was sent to taunt me. Two emotions, one I had forgotten, were reborn; hate and love. They towed along the anger, anger because my present had destroyed my past and now left me facing a bleak future.           

I thought we were over.                                                                                               

Her timing was immaculate. The power balance had tilted in her favour. She was beautiful, she was powerful and I was vulnerable and passionate.     

  “Congratulations my Lord,” she murmured after the wedding, her eyes staring into mine, their gaze not faltering or flickering. Mockery danced across those angelic features as scorned my new bride from afar. “You could have done so much better,” she teased, leaning into me so that the heat from her body merged with mine. Flashbacks to a time remembered in flames.                                   

That night, the night of our wedding, I did my duty with the girl bride who was all too eager to please. That night, the night of our wedding, I rekindled the flame with the one who had burned me too many times.                                                                                                                                         Under the full moon, I cheated my wife, my mother and society.                                          

Time did not make me grow any more affectionate towards my new bride. She pushed my away by just being her. I returned the favour, visiting her chambers twice a month to do what I had to. Other than that, we lived disparate lives in disparate worlds. I had my real love and she had her material loves.                                                                              

  I thought my wife far too innocent to suspect a thing. Beyond those vacant blue eyes was, I suspected, a mound of tangled ribbons. Her outlook on the world consisted of parties, puppies and perpetual prancing. She knew nothing and didn’t pretend to.

So I don’t know how she discovered my little secret.                                                              Perhaps someone leaked, perhaps someone had been watching me through spyglasses, perhaps someone who wanted me destroyed saw the perfect opportunity. I don’t know. I never will know now. That little, ‘innocent’ prancing girl vanished in a night. In the morning, I was facing a dangerous adversary.                                                                            

 

   It’s funny.  Once upon a time, the star studded words of the poets expressing hate as some malignant spectre struck me as horribly exaggerated. It was stupid how a human emotion can become eulogised as a physical idea. Now, I understand . When someone hates you with all their being, and you can practically see it oozing out of the pores of their skin and poisoning the air with every breath, then the poet’s words come and haunt you. Every dinner I suffered in the venomous power coming from my wife.                                                              

 

  “Love. It’s a beautiful thing. Makes the world a better place for everyone who experience it,” she chimed one silent dinner, twiddling her fork around her plate. Her eyes when they connected with mine, shone with a fierce intensity.                                                                                   

“What are you getting at?”                                                                                     

   She didn’t need to say anything for seconds after I had asked explicitly for the meaning, I understood everything. Her ambiguity only made the threat far more chilling. Cold sweat exploded over my skin. I’d never been scared. Perhaps as a young child I experienced the fear of the dark that every child has, but I cannot remember. I never knew what it felt like to be so scared, the breath was caught by a claw in your throat. I’d never had to hide the trembling in my hands.                                             

My gaze broke away from hers to the darkness of the night outside the windows. Blackness overpowered everything. It overpowered the light in the room, and seized my vision and my mind, seeping into my heart.                                                                                              

A roar of dismissal sent the servants scurrying back to whatever hole they leaked from. Twisted with loathing, I seized my wife by one of her perfect ringlets and dragged the screaming, snarling bundle to her room. She fought like a wild cat but a life of wrongs, the impossibility of  a life of right gave me a power that seemed to be granted from the devil. When I was done with her, the menace had been beaten out of her and she was nothing more than a shivering child on the floor, broken and bleeding.

Perhaps I should regret it now?  Should I feel a sense of guilt?  Can heaven welcome a man such as me? Ha. It was a sin. Probably. But I have committed a far greater sin that God cannot overlook…

Ana was found a week later, dead. Just two days after I had decided to visit her, she was found collapsed, having choked on her own bloody vomit. Poison. Someone had stolen her life and thus taken mine. Only one person could have known such a deed would destroy me.  My wife had taken everything from me. It was only natural to take everything from her. I wanted her to be gone. I wanted her to go in a big finale, a display of my resistance to a world that took and gave nothing back.

 

I stand in front of this picture. I’m waking up from a dream, a nightmare of blanks. I have lost all knowledge of my actions and from when, I don’t know. Someone’s coming into the room. Ah, just my servant but who’s that behind him? Two very stern looking men.                                  

“Lord Sutton, you’re to come with us at once.”                                                          

  “Who the hell are you to order me about?” I snarl back, alert, tense, on snapping point.                    

“We’re the law, Sutton.                                                           

She destroyed everything in life.

Even in death, her iron-grip on me hasn’t been relinquished.

 

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