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Paul Michael Dubal
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preservingbeauty.jpg
Art by Sean O'Keefe 2018

Preserving Beauty

by Paul Michael Dubal

 

I'm a great lover of beauty; that's why I do what I do. I know you will probably misunderstand me. Most people do. Perhaps you think I’m a freak or a misfit. They called me that in school. That was just the teachers. The kids called me far worse, in between the kicks and punches. What was so wrong about appreciating beauty I used to wonder? What was it that I saw that they could not? I suffered many bruises, black eyes and split lips for love. When I came home from school, beaten and bloodied, my mother would smother me, sobbing hard.

“What have they done to you!” she would cry, wiping the blood with a white handkerchief covered in her spittle until it was stained red. She cried a lot, and then she would remonstrate with my father at the dinner table.

“Do something!” she would scream at him, as if he could masterfully make everything alright, to make sense of this hostile world. “What will become of him?” she wailed.

My father would just sit there, face like alabaster, dutifully silent as my mother continued her high-pitched, mournful lament, ticking like a time bomb, his eyes glowering at me. I knew that look and it scared me more than the school gangs who took delight in spilling my blood and humiliating me. It was a look of contempt; no, more than that; it was a look of pure hatred. Not even disappointment. I know he was disappointed. He probably never even told his mates at the factory that I existed. I know he aspired for me to be the captain of the football team, to display the athletic prowess he constantly boasted about from his schooldays, as if to relive past glories from a life turned sour. That just wasn’t me. I was not born as strong as him.

No, I was a sensitive flower, as my mother would sometimes opine. My father would hate it when she said that, but I hated it more. It would make him so furious that he promised my mother he would ‘cure’ me of my sensitivity. I knew exactly what he meant. My father’s perverse way of trying to toughen me up. He would approach me, leather belt in hand, eyes dark and brooding. He would lick his cracked, bloodless lips in anticipation before chasing me upstairs to my bedroom. My mother would retreat to her usual sanctuary, grasping her rosary beads and silently uttering the Lord’s prayer, as if a miracle could save my pain.

That miracle never came. The agonizing snap of leather tearing at my skin never lost its intensity. The last thrashing was as painful as the first. In my father’s perverse reasoning, the greater the pain the faster the remedy.

“I’m doing this for you boy!” he would shout above my tortured wails, as if it was some form of bitter medicine to endure to make me better. I cried to a whimper, curled up like a fetus, until my father exhausted himself. My mother would come and tend my wounds and another miserable day would be over.

I can hear the screams of the latest girl, even piercing the thick, solid walls of the cellar. No one will hear her, of course, but it does irritate me faintly. I’m preserving her beauty forever. What could be more rewarding than that? An act of love, and love does not come without pain. My father taught me that many times.

I could take the beatings until one day he crossed the line. He hurt me in a way that I did not believe was possible. The psychologists would love to study me, to dissect my brain, laid out like a dead flower on a surgical tray, to be poked at by their scalpels. They would say that on that day something snapped inside me. I knew at that point the raw feeling of craving revenge. It was a defining moment. I became a stronger person, but not in the way my father desired.

One day, out of sheer frustration at my repeated failure to be molded into his image, he turned his attention to my beloved collection of porcelain dolls. Forty of them, all possessing their own unique personality. I had given a name to each one. I loved their extraordinary glassy eyes and long lashes, their permanent smile and the pretty dresses. I would talk to them constantly. They never judged and were always there for me, my only friends in an inhospitable world.

After another session with the belt, my father turned his baleful gaze toward the dolls and began moving toward them. Whimpering on the floor, my flesh stinging, I saw his intention written over his angry face.

“No!” I cried, standing in front of the dolls in a futile attempt to block his way.

Seeing my distress, how much I cared about them, only fueled his determination. He tossed me to the floor, knowing that he had found a way he could really get to me.

“A boy don’t need dolls,” he spat, before grabbing Matilda and twisting her neck gleefully until the head snapped right off and rolled on the floor.

Then there was Winifred, Gertrude and Daisy, all eviscerated and dismembered while I screamed and begged him to stop. Like a man possessed, he smashed and ripped apart all forty dolls in a frenzy of violence. When he had finished, my perfect dolls were a mess of sharp, shattered porcelain. Not one doll was spared from the carnage. It was a massacre beyond my comprehension.

When he stormed out of my room, satisfied with his night’s work, I lay there sobbing for hours. Anger mixed with a grief I had never felt before. Of all the pain and humiliation that characterized my daily existence, this was the worst. I felt like I had died with my dolls. I wanted to, but I wanted to live so I could hurt my father as much as he hurt me. I didn’t know how, I knew I just had to.

The girl is screaming again. I will need to attend to her soon. I don’t know why she is complaining. I know it’s a cellar and it’s a little dark in the dim light of the candles, but she is surrounded by beauty. There are over twenty girls all around her, their beauty immortalized. Their mannequin faces are forever held in a gentle smile, their skin absolutely flawless. They are a proud testament to my skills as an embalmer. It’s a skill I’ve developed over many years. I wasn’t so good at first, and even the first few girls were not as perfect as I would have liked them to be. I’m a perfectionist, but I have learned to live with their flaws, proud of my artwork and knowing that with each glorious sculpture, my technique improves.

It really is true art, although I don’t think the world is ready for it yet. If the authoritarian bullies found out what I held down here, they would take them away from me. I could not bear to let that happen again. The raw, impotent anger still courses through me even after all these years, like a festering scab that refused to heal. Not even revenge could quell the anger. I couldn’t call it therapy, but it was still worth it. My anger maturated for years until my opportunity came. It was ironic that I first tested my embalming skills on my father. While it could never have been called a work of art, I was highly satisfied with my work. The sheer, agonizing terror on his face as I skilfully sliced the long hunting blade through his organs was graphically captured in his final, frozen expression. It was a triumph that set me on a rich path. Once I had destroyed the destroyer, my next mission was to recreate my dolls.

And now I’m over halfway there. Twenty-three completed works of art, and seventeen to go, or sixteen after tonight. I enter the cellar, the candles flickering in the sudden rush of cloying air. Dim light fights the shadows where the girl lies chained to the wall. A necessary precaution I’m afraid. Some of them had wounded their flawless skin in trying to escape, and that detracted from my work. I could not have them damaging their beautiful porcelain skin, as the marks would stay forever. It had taken all my skill to repair the lesions on some girls. I can’t allow that.

The girl blinks rapidly against the sudden harsh cellar light. I know she has been here for three days, but she can’t be lonely, not with so many beautiful girls around her. I recall every one of my dolls, can picture their expression as if I am looking at a photograph. Love helps me remember. Each girl takes after one of my dolls, give or take. I can’t always be choosy, because only prostitutes would allow me to lure them to the house. This girl has lustrous golden locks and an angelic face that is twisted in desperation. She screams and begs me to let her go, but I calmly explain that it will be alright.

“You never have to grow old and ugly,” I assure her. “Age is the great equalizer. Everything turns ugly eventually. You deserve more than that. Yours is the beauty of a chrysalis, gone too soon. It should be captured forever.”

She sees my syringe and the black tray of scalpels laid by my side and screams even louder.

“It’s alright,” I explain calmly. “Just a sharp injection in the vein and soon you will drift away, happy in your dreams.”

It’s best this way because I need to make a number of incisions for the embalming process. It’s no good after death. The muscles stiffen with rigor mortis too quickly. It might hurt a little but like I said, when is there love without pain?

I approach her with my best smile but her face is creased in terror. I can’t have that expression, so when the drug kicks in and they can’t move, I perform my art. The paralysis is so deep that they cannot even move their facial muscles. I manipulate their face into the beautiful smile my dolls always had. I loved their fixed smiles most of all. They forever watched over me, never blinking, never frowning.

I move forward and she cowers against the wall, a futile gesture. There’s nowhere for her to go. The chain rattles against her desperate struggles.

“I never wanted to chain you, but what choice do I have? Like the other girls you would try to run away. You would hurt yourself. Can’t you see I’m trying to protect you?”

I run my fingers through her golden tresses and savor the touch. The hair is so important. I grab a bunch of it and run it under my nose. The scent is intoxicating. Such a joy. She screams louder so I decide now is the time. I plunge the syringe into her neck, and she gasps, eyes wide, before I see her body relax and sag. I catch her and gently lower her to the mattress I placed there for her comfort. It helps me in my work too. I unchain her and position her on the mattress.

I marvel at her ornamental grace and then I picture my dolls in my mind’s eye.

“Which one are you my beauty? Yes...I know,” I tell her, suddenly inspired. “I think I will call you Daisy.”



 

Paul Michael Dubal settled in Ontario in 2008 from the United Kingdom with his wife and two children. His day job takes place in the corporate legal field in Toronto but he is even more creative outside the office. Paul’s first novel, Crimes Against Humanity is a critically acclaimed thriller about human trafficking in Canada. He has recently completed the explosive Dictator of Britain trilogy, a dystopian vision of a near future Britain. Paul's books can be found on Smashwords at goo.gl/wdeg6n and Amazon http://amzn.to/2B7YAv4 Follow Paul on Twitter: @pauldubal and Facebook: Paul Michael Dubal

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