[Prose] Spot of Joy

by Robert Gould

Inspired by Robert Browning’s dramatic monologue, “My Last Duchess“.

Lucrezia de' Medici (1545-1561) Alessandro Allori Italian 1535-1607

Transgressive and blessed; my life was boiled down to two points of interest. There is no breeze to shift the dusty stock that remains six feet deep under soil, a neighbourhood of thirsty roots and blind, lumbering larvae. But my legacy is not restricted to a wedge of tombstone; to this day servants give pause as their eyes meet a set resting in taut lids, chancing flagellations from impatient masters – all in the name of tasting my thrills from a painting on the wall.

My dear Duke of Ferrara has the distinction of being the first man to share a chamber with me, and on the night of our nuptials I sat perched on his bed like a pinioned bird. My eyes traced kidney-shaped emblems of iridescent mosaic arcing above chalky pillars. My husband emerged, his naked gut groped by candlelight. From darkness the rest of him followed, still tense and bloated from that evening’s feast.

“And still my hunger persists…” his stroll toward me seemed to say, and I welcomed it. Surely the singular advantage of this requisite union was to be our congress? My Duke may not have been in his prime when his path crossed mine, but all around the palace were memories of his glory, and it was likely my adolescent heart fell for a portrait rather than the man himself. He was late for our first acquaintance, and I recall my father pacing the withdrawing-room, decrying the pitiful manners of my Duke. But I waited patiently, gazing upon a preservation of his halcyon days as I did so. His lips were plump but rigid, his skin was as white as milk, with a chin and cheekbones set to pierce its glutinous film. When my Duke finally did appear, all I could recognise were hard, black eyes that promised me embers of the young man rendered in oil paint.

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