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The Courtauld Institute of Art

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PROSE

Priscilla (pt. 1)

Confessions of a heartbroken father’s journey through loss, redemption and morality

A short story based on a Félix Vallotton painting titled Intrieur Chambre Rouge avec Femme et Enfant (1899)

by Margarita F. A. Chiclana

24th November 2019

Félix Vallotton, Intrieur Chambre Rouge avec Femme et Enfant, 1899 (Photo: Art Institute of Chicago)

I have lived this lie for two years, and I wonder for how much longer I can block my moral values. I am sorry dear Alfred. I am so sorry. I often pray for forgiveness for what I am doing. What I have done. I take refuge in this selfish act of love for Ariadna. I don’t expect anyone to understand the complexities of the domestic. Nor do I expect to be forgiven. But what is a man to do? How can you negate happiness, when you have all the tools to provide it? Judge me, despise me, look down upon me. I stand by my choice. A choice of lies. A choice of love. 

 

I understand a lie is a lie. We are taught, under any circumstance, not to do it. Yet, I’m sure you’ve lied before. To your parents, friends, significant others, pets? And who hasn’t? I’m not trying to excuse my actions, I am begging for a little empathy. You have to understand that I would do anything for Ari. The woman I married, the woman I love, the woman with whom I created a family, the gift of life! But we lost her, we lost Priscilla. Our beautiful baby. A pale, chubby, fresh-out-of-the-oven smell baby. And she was ours. We had created her. And it was a dream. We became an unstoppable, unbreakable team of three. But she was taken from us. Snapped up in the blink of an eye. And the aching grief consumed us. A deep melancholy enveloped our home; every room was filled with memories of Priscilla. The laugh and sobs that so quickly filled up every corner of our home, was now gone. Replaced by silence, a breathless, heavy silence. You, dear reader, you are my escape. I need you to understand the pain, the raw, disorienting pain of losing a child. Our first child, my dear Priscilla.  

 

I, I… I didn’t know how to deal with Ari. She rarely left her bed, she ate little, refused to bathe or speak. Thankfully, Etheldreda -our beloved maid- looked after the house and helped caring for Ari. And you know, Ari’s grief started translating into a longing. A profound longing for Priscilla. Trauma forbid her to process the loss and she soon started asking about her. She asked, every morning, when she was coming back from the doctor. How long she was going to be in the park with Etheldreda for. Had she eaten today? 

And it became harder and harder to explain where Priscilla was, day after day. Being the agent of heart-break, to my beloved Ariadna, every day of my life, was unbearable. Breaking her heart broke mine in the process. And I couldn’t do it anymore. Not to her, nor to myself. As selfish as it may sound. Interpret it as you may, but Ari had to go. I had to find a place for her to recuperate, away from the fantasy of Priscilla. 

 

Ah, stop it, I can feel your judging gaze, hear your gossip. It’s easy to judge from a distance isn’t it? Can’t you see that what I do, whatever I do, everything I do, it’s for love? Pure and simple. For her. For love.  

 

You have to understand that Ari’s state was rapidly deteriorating at home. She refused to eat, to speak, to bathe. This arrangement, at least, allowed us to gain some normality, a boost of energy. And for as much as love dictates my decisions, I soon realised it was not enough. It didn’t heal Ari. Regardless of how much I tried. 

The power of love is not all-encompassing, there are barriers that it cannot cross. And I’m sure you know this, you must’ve experienced it to some extent. By love I don’t mean a romantic love alone. I mean care, empathy, understanding. And that is why I did what I did. Why I do what I do. I don’t expect your approval.

 

With Ari away, Etheldreda became my companion, much more than just the help. In her I found someone I could talk to, someone who understood and lived the pain we endured, a friend. We spoke about Ari often, we shared memories over whiskey at night. You have to understand this isn’t where I saw my future going, neither did Etheldreda. Specially because, I must mention, Etheldreda would’ve much rather lay with Ari. But that’s another story, a story not mine to tell. I know you know where this is going but allow me to explain. It wasn’t lust, it wasn’t an act of passion that led us to conceive Alfred. It was an act of love, an act of love beyond the bodily, physical description of making love. Alfred was conceived through the love of two people for another. For Ari. And before you let your imagination run wild, we had agreed to this, together. I know, it sounds irresponsible, ridiculous, absurd, wild, call it what you want. But how, how could I heal Ari’s pain? I had no alternative. And now, here I find myself, explaining, excusing myself for doing something for the love of another. But who are you to judge my decisions? How would you have dealt with this? Would you be able to see before your eyes, your loved one, fading away and do nothing about it? I doubt it. We all think -assume- our decisions are moral. But if my decisions are ruled by love, can they be immoral?

 

Confessing as I am, I might as well tell you about the skeleton in the closet. Yes, yes. Quite literally. You'd be amazed how well quicklime masks a smell. She wanted to take him away, you have to understand. Just give me a chance to explain myself, and if by the end you are not convinced, by all means, call the authorities.

Margarita f.a. chiclana

Staff Writer

Margarita is currently doing her MA in Art History, specialising in Latin American and Eastern European contemporary art. Originally from Madrid, she has been living in London for the past five years. She is passionate and opinionated about contemporary art. If you disagree with her, please get in touch to discuss over a beer. She is interested in exploring the de-colonisation of the western art historical narrative, the effects it has had in our own education as art historians, and what museums and institutions are doing (or not doing) in order to promote, understand and support non-western narratives. She will be reporting about the status of Latin American and Eastern European narratives in particular as her interests and connoisseurship lie there. As mentioned, please do get in touch with her to share your thoughts; she's always craving a beer!