The Vase of N’Hahn
His breath caught in his chest, his heart skipped and his eyes dilated as they fell upon her. The elderly attendant led her out, his white gloves caressing her smooth curved body. Murmurs, quietly excited and amorous, began in the front row and swiftly spread across the onlookers as though carried on a breath of wind.
There she stood: the Vase of N’Hahn.
Jack wanted her. Jack had to have her.
He had never been more certain of any fact in his life. He must have her. His mind, within the breadth of a moment, had been totally stolen. His imagination was filled with her red and ruby complexion. She was all he could see.
The bidding began.
“Please don’t do it,” muttered his friends but he ignored them.
Hands were raised, calls were shouted out. Higher and higher it rose. Jack matched every bid until it was just he and a fellow rival who was perched on the far side of the room. His hand, Jack’s hand, his hand, Jack’s hand. Higher and higher.
People close to the rival could see the beads of sweat starting to form on the poor mans brow, each bead accounted for by a raise of the hand. A small stream ran quickly down his forehead and wetted his deep brown eyes. He blinked it away.
Jack’s hand went up. The rival hesitated. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed his brow. A victorious, self-serving grin broke across Jack’s face. He knew he had the man broke. It might take a few more bids but the vase was his and his alone.
Surely, just as he thought, the man raised his hand twice more before giving in.
The beast within Jack roared.
He ushered them in, demanding more so than imploring them to be careful. The two men grunted in assent as they broke the doorway, each carrying the end of a brown wooden crate; Fragile decorating it on all sides.
“Follow me,” uttered Jack quickly as though the proximity of the men to that which he loved was repulsive to him.
“In here, in here!” as he led them into the back room, which he had dubbed ‘The Study’, though study had never taken place within its walls.
Large mahogany bookshelves did stand upon three of the walls, with many unread books collecting the dust that sifted through the room. The fourth wall held the window which looked into the back garden. A towering hedge with ageing leaves obscured any view, which delighted Jack, as that meant no one could see in. No one could peer at her without him knowing or inviting.
As a result the room lay draped in shadows which scurried to the corners as soon as the door was opened and from the corners the shadows watched; watched the the men lay the box on the floor; watched as the men pried the box open and listened as Jack whimpered anxiously; watched as she was set upon the rich brown centre table which lay barren.
Jack dismissed the men without a word of thanks and followed them out, ensuring the front door was locked.
He had her alone. That which he had longed for. That which he had loved since first he saw her.
A chill of nerves ran across him. What was he to do now?
He tip toed back to the doorway and peer in.
There she sat, as beautiful as ever. Her redness more ruby in the dim, her ruby now appearing black. He admired her for a time from the doorway before moving closer.
Then he admired her from the tables edge, drinking in every curve and every line.
The shadows watched on.
With trembling hands he reached for her and felt her cool, smooth skin beneath his fingers.
She was flawless.
In his hands she even seemed to glow. The dim moved back and the shadows hid behind the bookcases.
He stared at her longingly, lovingly.
He had her.
The chatter patted around the living room gaily. Spirits were high but none so much as Jack’s. He felt lighter than the air he was breathing. He floated from conversation to conversation, out to the kitchen to bring more tea and then back again, never letting his feet be marred by the cold ground on which everyone stood. He was above them all.
“So, when can we see it?” a female voice enquired. A murmur of assent passed amongst them and rose up to meet Jack on his high.
“Now, I suppose, if you wish to,” he said offhandedly as though he couldn’t care less about it, though deep within himself the fire of his pride was stoked, and the bellows of attention inflamed him evermore.
He led the small troupe out across the hall to the back room, to the study.
It’s door stood magnanimous before them. The large key protruded from its home awaiting its turn. Jack kept his back to them but smiled to himself as he reached for the key, his anticipation for their approval superseded even their anticipation for seeing her. They had all heard so much about her, and if their dear friend was in love with it so much, it meant a great deal to them.
The door swung silently on its hinges. The shadows that were pawing over the vase scuttled a retreat again to the corners and eyed the strangers warily.
The troupe made their advance, falling in line behind their beloved friend.
Wordlessly he gestured to her sitting on the table. They gathered round and looked on.
Their eyes sat on her for a few moments before flickering between each other, no one wanting to speak. From somewhere beyond the shadows awkwardness presented itself, quietly resting its arms on the shoulders of all in the room. Jack felt it.
“What?” He asked impetuously, “what is it?”
Silence greeted him. Awkwardness waved at him.
“It’s nice,” came a single voice from a face with hazel eyes and a few nodded along.
“Nice!?” he bemoaned, “Nice!? Can’t you see? Can’t you appreciate her?”
The two friends, Silence and Awkwardness, conversed together once again.
Jacks blood ran red, red like her skin that sat on the table.
“Well then,” he restrained quietly, “if you can’t appreciate her then I suggest you leave”.
Voices attempted to make reparation, proclaiming previously withheld praise, but it was to no avail. It was obvious this was mere flattery and falsehood.
A voice of reason broke rank, it’s tone a steely blue.
“A lot of money for something shabby.”
Jack flew to rage and embraced the passion, engulfing it within his chest.
“Shabby?! She is beautiful! Flawless! The image of perfection sits before you but you are all too blind to see it!”
Jack’s arms gesticulated wildly whilst some blue eyes rolled and other looked skeptically at one another.
“Get out!” Jack roared, “get out if you can’t see!” And the disgruntled and wounded crowd made their way beyond the hallway.
Soon he was left alone with her, just he and her and the dim. The snap of the door shutting broke the stillness. His heart settled and his breathing steadied. The tempest had past.
He stood alone with her, gazing at her for some time. Gradually and almost unnoticed, like a tide encroaching upon the shore, a sense of unease washed over him and soon he was drowning in it. He felt unworthy to be here with her, how could his eyes look upon her beauty? She deserved the quietness and the solitude, where only the shadows could fondle and caress her. He turned abruptly and left the room, stealing one last glance before the door shut and the key turned.
Many months had passed but his mind still lingered on her.
During fits of passion where he could not control himself he found himself peering through that small keyhole, if only to glimpse her perfection. He never dared open the door. How could he? How could he allow himself to see such beauty? How could he be so arrogant? So selfish?
She deserved reverence, idolatry, not to be gawked at and pawed at by someone a lowly as himself. No, he never allowed himself to use her like that. How could he? He loved her.
Jack often sat thinking about her, though his face never showed it. He held the same look as if he we pondering a puzzle or enjoying a book. Within his mind he sat in a fog, her image clouding his every thought.
And it was just this expression he held whilst he sat outside the small cafe, awaiting his coffee.
The waitress smiled at him as she laid it before him.
“Good morning, sir?” She asked politely.
“There are many things good about it I suppose,” he replied genially.
“The weather is certainly one,” she answered.
For it had been an exceptionally good week given the season, and this morning the sun was freely bathing itself within a blue ocean above, with not a captive cloud to be seen.
The waitress smiled once again and disappeared back within the dark cafe.
Jack sipped his coffee but the taste did not arouse him. Nothing did anymore. Not since he had seen her. The world had slipped into a lesser dimension since and only in his dreams, when he held he once again, did anything stir him.
Even that sun sitting within a cloudless sky seemed grey. For all he was aware it could have been a miserable November day.
He sipped again and breathed deeply.
His mind attempted to return to her but he struggled. The fog within his mind had thinned somewhat and was rolling like an early morning mist.
He breathed deeply again. Thinner and thinner, as though the sun was burning it off as he sat.
He stirred deep within himself.
Something was in the air. Something was dogging his mind and awakening his senses.
He breathed again.
There was a scent, a richly sweet scent that the air carried to him.
“How strange,” he thought to himself as he sipped the coffee, his tastebud tingling.
The fog dissipated entirely. Calmness and peace lightly breezes over him.
He threw his eyes to the sky and squinted at the sun. It was certainly a good morning.
The smell strengthened around him and he sat contently within it.
His eyes fell across the road and amidst the purple spots that now marred his vision he saw the source of his peace; a flower shop with blooming pink roses littering its open windows.
He languidly finished his coffee, paid and sauntered across the road in his new reality.
The scent intensified as he approached and he smiled.
“Peony roses, sir,” the dumply lady in an apron said to him, her blue eyes beaming. “Tough as old boots, they are, can survive frost, flood and drought.”
Jack nodded and handed over the required amount, lifting the pot and plant and taking the scent home with him.
He found a home for the rose amongst the barren flower bed that rose up beyond his bedroom window and soon the rose was planted in her new home.
When Jack awoke in the mornings his mind was filled with her scent. As he looked out the window there she sat against a sky blue backdrop. Every moment of his life was now filled with the scent of the rose and the joy she brought with her
The scent spread itself across the house, into every nook and cranny. Nowhere was left untouched by her influence.
Jack stood before the door. The key protruding from the lock. He waited.
A chill of fear ran through him, but for what reason he could not say.
He breathed deeply and once more the rose filled him, every inch of him and his fear was quelled.
The door swung noiselessly once again and the shadows bid their retreat.
Jack walked to the brown table and looked down.
There she sat.
No dust touched her, no mark spoiled her, yet she sat changed.
Her red glow was dimmed to a rustic brown.
Her skin showed cracks and flaws he had not seen before.
The dim no longer retreated from her.
There she sat, cold and lifeless.
“Very nice,” said the lady who had entered behind him.
She paid her money, lifted the vase and left the house.
Jack stood by the table and breathed deeply once again. The scent of joy all around him.