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Robert Ross: I'm here, Oscar. I'm here. I was planning to come later this month, but when I heard how close to death you were, I took the boat over.
Wilde: Thank heavens; I'm so glad you're here. So it all ends in this dilapidated bohemian structure, l'Hôtel d'Alsace, 13 Rue des Beaux-Arts. Maybe they should put number thirteen on my hearse. Quite fitting ... the final address for a homeless man. Just look at this place. It tells a story, doesn't it?
Ross: So here in France they call this a suite, eh? But considering you have nothing to pay, I would stomach this if I were you. Although this thick red-velvet curtain around your bed is somewhat like a shroud. I could help tidy up, I suppose, by cleaning up these cheap French-cigarette ashes littering your floor.
Wilde: Don't move any books or papers,Robbie. A room full of papers and books scattered all over is a tribute to a literary mind. And by the way, I like the red.
Ross: I'm glad you haven't completely lost your sarcastic tongue!
Wilde: I'll tell you what ... I'm not sarcastic about that horrid wallpaper with its anemic-looking flowers. One of us has to go, Robbie, either the wallpaper or I.
Ross: Right now it looks like the wallpaper is winning. It's so dark and damp in here. Nothing we can do about it, I guess.
Wilde: Yes, the morgue yawns for me, Robbie. I'd like to take a walk one more time. But I seem to move in and out of reality. I was thinking ... I have tricked my way out of everything; I might work on a plan to trick my way out of death, too. What do you think? Maybe when that trumpet sounds the last judgment, I shall just pretend that I have not heard it.
No, the laughter is dead, I'm afraid. This nausea, this constant spitting of blood. It's awful, Robbie. My throat is a limekiln, my brain a furnace, and my nerves a coil of angry adders.
Can you give me a glass of that absinthe there, please?
Ross: You're not supposed to drink that, Oscar. The doctors have ordered you to stay away from it.
Wilde: Since when have I taken orders from anybody? I simply can't believe they've got this right, that this death-breeding spore has made its way into my spine. Ah! Remorse is but a beggar's refuge.
Ross: What do you mean by "death-breeding spore"?
Wilde: One doctor has finally diagnosed what has brought on this meningitis, you know.
Ross: What is it?
Wilde: What I just said. This is an attack of tertiary syphilis, he says. This death knell hangs over me from that fateful night three decades ago.
Ross: Are you sure?
Wilde: That's what he tells me for now, but how can I be sure? Frankly, I don't think it has anything to do with syphilis. I think it has to do with this deadly pain in my middle ear. The ear surgery for that fall I took in prison has done nothing to help. But when you've lived the way I have, they can get you to believe anything about the aches of your anatomy.
Ross: No doubt.
Wilde: Sometimes I feel like I'm supping with the dead; at other times I feel the Christ I have battled all my life near at hand. Some things I see very clearly-that zinc box readied for me that goes beneath the earth as if to cover up what one really is. At other times my head is overcome by a wave of ghostly personalities seeking to drag me in different directions.
Ross: Should I talk to the nurse about giving you a larger dose of morphine?
Wilde: No. The morphine doesn't work anymore.
Ross: Then why not-
Wilde: Quiet! Please, Robbie! Silence! Don't disturb this vision. Here it comes again! Look at the size of this cemetery! The famed Père Lachaise, ground for the great. Hundreds of thousands lie beneath. You know, Napoleon opened this cemetery. A whole city of death! Some say about a million. What names, now food for worms-Balzac, Abelard, La Fontaine. None speaking now except ...
Ross: You're slipping away, Oscar. You're not in a cemetery. You're-
Wilde: You know, Napoleon asked to be buried here, too. Maybe ... maybe this spot is reserved for me. But I don't want it here. Bagneux is better, more genteel. You know, I often said that if a man needed a large tombstone in order to remain in the memory of his countrymen, then his living itself would've been an act of absolute superfluity.
I think I see the gardener ... Tell me, sir, will it be a large tombstone?
Ross: Don't go! Oscar!
Wilde: Excuse me, Gardener! Don't walk so fast. Talk to me. Do you tend all these graves yourself?
Are you real, or am I just talking to the wind here? Who are you? I'm not going to miss these Parisian winters anymore, that's for certain. But please say something.
Gardener: I wasn't able to get your attention most of your life, Oscar. Now all of a sudden you want me to talk to you?
Wilde: Why do I think you are ...?
Gardener: Aren't you the very one who said that if I am perfect, I cannot relate to you? What do you want from me now?
Wilde: I should've known! I should've known! You've been mistaken for a gardener before, haven't you? Are you the Christ I'm talking to? You know, I've not done well with gardens and gardeners before.
Gardener: I know you haven't.
Wilde: You know it well, then. Life seems to start off that way: a garden before you ...
Gardener: It did once upon a time.
Wilde: As I look back, my only mistake was that I confined myself so exclusively to the trees of what seemed to me the sunlit side of the garden and shunned the other side for its shadow and its gloom.
Gardener: Your pain is intense now. What do you want from me? To help you escape once more?
Wilde: Look what I'm reduced to: failure, disgrace, poverty, sorrow, despair, suffering, tears even, broken words that come from lips of pain, remorse that makes one walk on thorns, a conscience that condemns, self-abasement that punishes, misery that puts ashes on one's head, and anguish that chooses sackcloth for its raiment and into its own drink puts gall. I often said that I wished I could look into the seeds of time to see what was coming.
Gardener: You've always had a way with words, dear Oscar! You've come to the right place to see what comes to everyone.
You did ask who I am, didn't you?
Wilde: I did. I'm somewhat fearful of the answer. Can I bring Robbie into this discussion? I'm unsure of myself when facing you alone. Can-
Gardener: Not right now. Believe me; he'll have his turn. His mind, he thinks, is very clear and yours is confused. But not long after you have gone, he's going to come looking for me, too. But this is a time for you and me to-
Wilde: My heart is pounding like a hammer within me. This can't be true. I can't get it to stop its blows.
I was fearful of meeting up with you, after all. All my life you've haunted me. I've sought to flee from you. You are ... you are ... Tell me. You are-
Gardener: Do you really want to know?
Excerpted from Sense and Sensuality by RAVI ZACHARIAS Copyright © 2002 by Ravi Zacharias
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.