Told Between Puffs, February 2017

 

Politics had our hero in a very bad way—he hadn’t been able to muster the strength to attend class since at least All Souls.

“How could I?” He dictated to his nurse from the divan, “When the noble tradition of democracy to which I am heir is disintegrating before my very eyes? Surely, there are many who justifiably fear for their well-being in such a political climate,” he continued, wiping away a tear with the tassel of his silk throw, “but none so much as the haute-bourgeoisie. It is a tragic flaw in our nation’s discourse that such identities—the keepers of Order, Prosperity, and Culture— no longer receive their due deference. As an adjunct professor of American Studies, you should at least have a cursory knowledge of Europe’s greatest tragedy, in which our frères were systematically slaughtered in a populist uprising. Such visions keep me trembling through the long nights. Any day, I believe, agents of the so-called ‘alt-right’ will infiltrate my rooms and take me down to the guillotine.”

So, while he still had a head, Verily decided to Über to a place where noble traditions were still respected. Having surreptitiously left a hundred dollar bill on the back seat of his limousine, our hero ascend- ed the well-worn granite steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Halfway up, he turned to regard the elegant edifices across the street. He had taken ballroom lessons behind those windows, dined with Henry A. Kissinger in a penthouse just down the way, and on that balcony yonder, shared a stolen kiss.

With a profound sense of melancholy, he turned back to the Ionic pillars marking the museum’s tripartite entrance. Paradoxically, the beauty surrounding Verily reminded him that it wasn’t just his country, but also the city of his birth that had gone into decay. Somewhere amidst the opium dens and bordellos to the south, he knew, a society of crazed beatniks decided cement boxes were a proper place to exhibit art. Of course the masses would flock to “museums” that displayed strings of colored lights and television screens; not unlike the matchbox houses Verily passed on his way to and from his summer home.

But now he was safely in the atrium, after a despicably invasive security check, which ended with our hero shouting, “I’ll have you all jailed!” to the multicultural museum guards. He headed straight for the Late Medieval galleries, so as to calm his nerves. As he directed his cool, disinterested gaze at a particularly moving Pietà, he thought of his late Swiss governess, who had taught him how to regard art. “If only every child could be so fortunate,” he murmured under his breath, eyes locked on those of the dying Christ.

And suddenly, as if by divine intervention, the darkness shrouding Verily’s heart disappeared. He recalled one of Feliciana’s most adept teaching moments, which took place during our hero’s fourth birthday party at the Wormser Dom Cathedral in Worms. “If Christ was the son of the Lord, why did he have to die?” asked the wide-eyed cherub. Feliciana set down her slice of birthday cake on the altar, and then, in Swiss Italian, responded, “He died so the rest of us could live by his example.”

Our hero ran out of the museum and all the way back to his apartment, whose entryway he left wide open. When Pilate and his men arrived, Verily would go with them willingly.

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