Flash Fiction by Emily Deibler
Oscar Wilde and John Keats in a Cemetery, Spring 2019
Oscar's death had been bitter, as had the last three years of his life in France, those days after his imprisonment and exile. Not even laudanum dulled the pain in his ear from his injury, and he had liked to think it’d kill him, had prayed for it, prayed more than he had in Ireland with Florrie and her crown of white flowers.
His only respite, when he became more bedridden as the days went on, was Robbie, his first male lover and his most faithful companion; even Oscar’s own faith rebuked him. He couldn’t tell if the thunder in his ear was from God, the sea or his head. Robbie was kneeling by the bed; the priest had left an hour ago.
His vision was blue.
A man, a ghost, came to him that night. He had a willowy form, curls blond, eyes pale. It made him think of a poem, “La Belle Dame sans Merci.” Except, there was mercy in those eyes.
“Oh, you poor thing.” The ghost sat on the bed, and it didn’t creak as it usually did. His voice was thick with a Cockney accent, and he wore duds that were respectable but scuffed at the collar and cuffs.
Oscar rasped, “Are you here to comfort me? It’s a bit late for that, I’m afraid.” The pain in his head eased off. As much as it could.
“I can give you what art has,” the ghost said.
“And what is that?”
“Why would I want more of this?” He had become more spiritual in his suffering, despite the Church rejecting him, but he had so much spirit, thank you, that living more, possibly suffering more, felt superfluous and gauche. “Art is beautiful and empty, and that’s it.”
The ghost took his hands, and Oscar noticed that, besides having flesh, this ghost had oddly pointed teeth in certain parts of his mouth. “Even if that were true, wouldn’t you want a second chance at adventure, at pleasure?”
“The world is too terrible.”
“And yet you still have your lover by your side.” The ghost almost sounded envious.
Yet each man kills the thing he loves
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword
The spring was cold; it’d been so long since Oscar had returned to France. Almost one-hundred and nineteen years. He held John’s hand as a breeze disturbed the reluctantly flowering trees, and their shoes crunched the crisp grass like small animal bones beneath them. The graves here were stoic.
Oscar froze when they found the massive grave they were looking for—oh Robbie, why did you go to this expense? A winged sphinx mounted the tomb, towering far above them, a barrier erected around the display, the glass stippled with all manners of lipstick: pink kisses, black kisses, crimson kisses.
The epitaph on his own grave:
And alien tears will fill for him
Pity's long-broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn.
With John’s hand on his back, Oscar settled his forehead on the glass and wept. It was the first time in over a century he lost a hold, no matter how spare, on his grief.
A native of North Georgia, Emily Deibler is a published poet and author. Her short story “Deer in December” was published in TL;DR Press’ Halloween 2018 Horror collection, NOPE. She has also published her poems “Turkey Hunting,” “Patty,” “Samantha,” and “Daughters of the Sun.” Her debut novel, Dove Keeper, came out in October 2018. She can be found on Twitter at @emilydeibler. She is a regular contributor to Marías at Sampaguitas.