'The Melting of the Will' / Leo Mares
Leo is studying Psychology and Philosophy at The University of Melbourne, whilst also training as a classical pianist with a teacher from the Australian National Academy of Music.
For Leo, creative writing is an activity sporadically practiced – often for the sake of personal catharsis. The style of writing borrows heavily from Evelyn Waugh’s short stories, by capturing the author’s acerbic criticisms of the British upper class, as well as Waugh's characteristic blend of absurdity and irony. Unlike Waugh’s stories, which are primarily written in the third person, this is written in the first person, and as such the sheer pomposity of the protagonist is clearly expressed. In writing, Leo found Waugh’s style enjoyable to work with, as it allowed Leo to indulge his own verbosity, and have an excuse to enjoy doing so.
THE MELTING OF THE WILL
It was a shared notion between my siblings and I that the marriage of Sir Reginald Donald Applebee and Adelina Moretti was a complete and utter farce. However it was a potentially profitable farce, and thus the children of the old man offered their presence at his wedding in pursuit of a vital agenda.
Our father, Sir Reginald Donald Applebee was a true conservative in every sense of the word. He was not willing to make any concessions as far as sharing his immense corporate fortune with his offspring. Of course, there was the exception of his provision of prestigious education for us: a high quality secondary school, Winchester college – a mere £32,700 per year – and then a good university education, at Oxford - no less - to which he executed clever financial endeavour to enter every single one of us, despite my siblings being what I would consider academically inept. Apart from this grand gesture, he made no further movements in terms of providing his children with finances from his enormous fortune - despite many of us evidently needing it. Our pitiful annual allowances were barely enough to keep body and soul together and thus I deemed him a miser as such. You see, back then I was an aspiring writer and - much to my dismay - I had discovered that no level of prestige regarding my education would bring the recognition that my colossal talent deserved; whether this was due to bad luck, or just the ignorance of the industry and the general population of the world, I will never know.
My father had forged his fortune from a company that was of his own founding. ‘Applebee Soaps’ was the title, and it provided as little innovation as the name did provide creativity. However despite this, my old man had managed to corner the British market with his truly generic and pedestrian soaps, and thus he moved on to conquer the soap market of the entire world. Unfortunately there was not the same demand for my cutting edge commentaries on Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, as – and it’s a great shame to acknowledge - we don’t live in a world filled with erudite individuals such as myself.
My father’s way with women was not at quite the same standard as his way with soap. He was in his twelfth relationship since the long-bygone divorce of my mother, and nearing the evening of his seventh decade, and this time for some inexplicable reason he had decided to marry the girl. The woman in the spotlight this time around, Adelina Moretti, was an Italian actress at an age no more than 3 years greater than my own. She was a B-Grade actress, and had starred in a myriad of utterly kitsch action films that had never made their way out of Italy. Upon my investigation that yielded this information, I also discovered that she had participated in even greater depravity than the sort of cultural atrocity previously mentioned: Yes, this woman had featured in a variety of morally questionable burlesque shows. However this was not at all a bother to my father – being quite the depraved soul himself - as he was a truly superficial man, and was concerned primarily and exclusively with the fact that she was immensely handsome, surely the best one he’d had yet. This was the reason for marriage, and I have no doubt my siblings also acknowledged this. Yet the celebration of his actual marriage didn’t matter to us, as I know we were all there with a strict agenda – one which justified attendance to all his birthdays and events of the like – it was to charm him to the point which he included us as the sole recipient of his will. This was so that when he slid off the mortal coil, it would ensure us a comfortable life through the means of the delightful inheritance, which was so tantalisingly within reach. Of course, I assumed that in her marriage to the old ugly patriarch, Ms Moretti held the same agenda as we did our attendance at the event, and as a result she was now a threat to my acquisition of the riches.
I have never been one for weddings, one could even say that I consider such events with absolute contempt, or I at least hold an immense aversion to them. And a balmy evening on a private stretch of the French Rivera was no exception, however I kept the thought in the very front of my mind that if I played my cards right, this magnificent coastal manor would one day be mine (finally I would be able to live a lifestyle similar to that which Proust had described…)! It was no wonder my father had moved here from London, as England had little to compare with what France could offer, and my two-storey apartment in Chelsea was rendered truly unglamorous in comparison to the idyllic beauty that radiated from every corner of this glorious establishment. As I crossed the bridge toward the manor’s antiquated gates, the rich mauve waters glistened as an amber sunset sky smiled down gently upon them. It was six o’clock, and the wedding was just about underway.
Before I could even take a second to stop and view the sheer tactlessness that was the enormous glass statue - which entailed a hulking depiction of my father in a modernist style - that stood in the entry hall (my father did not share the keen eye for aesthetics that I possessed), I was already subject to an irksome assault by some irrelevant friend of the family. After addressing me by my first name - evidently lacking in adequate propriety and respect for a member of the family’s inner circle such as I - the peasant began to regale me with facile waffle.
“I say!’ ‘If it isn’t Nick!”
“That’s Lord Nicholas Ambrose Applebee, to you sir” I retorted harshly.
“Oh my apologies sir! I’ve just been admiring this wonderful work of art”
“Is that right?”
“Indeed, I hear that it’s a creation by a family member”
“Oh that would be Beatrice - my sister – I believe she considers herself a sculptor. I suppose you could strain to call her an emerging artist, I’m not a fan of her work personally, as I have a somewhat seasoned appreciation of modern art. However I’d consider it reasonable that a gentleman of your disposition appreciates such a work. You should let her know how you feel about the object, it could be just the encouragement she needs.”
The man appeared slightly bemused for a second; it wasn’t evident whether he processed my slightly pointed remarks.
“…You’re involved in the arts aren’t you”?
“I don’t believe my work would be to your tastes. Now if you’ll excuse me I must go and greet my father immediately.”
With that final comment I pivoted with the grace of a dancer and strode briskly through the crimson oak doors and into the dining hall.
The dining hall – a space once more decorated in a predictably ostentatious manner - was awash with aural energy, as elegant strains of a string quartet cut through the incoherent murmur of various wannabe aristocrats pretentiously babbling about ‘the horrendous impracticality of Marxist theory’, or the ‘low quality of the Paris Opera as of late’. The hall was filled with people, and with exception of the black tie butlers that flitted through the crowd like mosquitos, every single individual that filled the space was adorned in radiant garments and toting a demeanour that oozed with European aristocracy.
I hardly had a chance to search for my father amongst the clientele, as the explosive sound of smashing glass and a characteristic cry of rage identified him instantly. Silence filled the room as my brother cowered in fear, violin and bow clutched preciously to his chest, as my father’s surprisingly menacing five-foot-eight figure stood poised above him, face contorted with rage and a broken bottle of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Grand Cru (£10,000) forcefully gripped in his right hand.
“Imbecile Son! I asked you to get the quartet to play Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue, not Haydn’s Opus 76 – are you purposely trying to ruin my event?”
“I’m sorry father, I thought that Grosse Fugue may be a little heavy to begin with…”
“You’re evidently just as useless as your brother and sister, I thought you would have somewhat of a refined taste in music, being a son of mine – though I be ashamed to admit it – as well as a musician yourself; what a disgraceful choice…! How dare you play such pedestrian light and fluffy music at my wedding of all places! Haydn’s Opus 76! Do you take my guests and I to be peasants? If you don’t amend this issue right now, I’ll come over there and turn that violin into firewood with my axe!”
“You wouldn’t dare, this instrument is a 16th century Stradivarius!”
“I’ll do what I like with that which I have ownership over, and that includes you and that damned instrument – I demand Beethoven, immediately!”
My sincerest apologies father, the Grosse Fugue right away!”
With that he gestured to the three other terrified musicians, and the four of them begun to play Beethoven. As I saw it, the situation was nothing but another borne out of tasteless choices from both my brother and father, if it were up to me, I would have requested something toting nothing but cutting modernity, perhaps Schoenberg or Webern – now that would be sophistication! Regardless, I was pleased with the preceding, as it rendered my brother – another inferior artist to myself – most definitely disqualified from the contest of being included in the will.
By half-eight, the festivities had progressed out onto the terrace, on which the guests dined a meal of Dickensian proportions. Bread from Spain; matured cheeses from Southern France; Lamb with spices from Morocco; Exotic fish from Japan (which my father promptly spat out and complained extensively about); Pasta from Italy and a fabulous Bulgarian stew comprised the various parts of this glorious feast. The evening’s events had progressed propitiously, and things were looking up in favour of my acquisition of the will. Following the sheer embarrassment that was the incident with my brother, I had observed many other extended family members’ attempts to schmooze my father – including the gentleman I encountered in the hallway - either with vapid flattery or empty chatter regarding their various banal achievements. However all of the approaches mentioned had been met with cold rejection or complaint, and with my father’s conduct utterly antithetical to the manner of every other guest – as an extreme rudeness and vulgarity pervaded his entire being.
Upon reaching the terrace I also caught sight of his fiancé, a curvaceous woman that exuded sexuality, with a perfectly fair face that suggested immense defiance of her age (even though she was considerably youthful in comparison to my father). She was dressed in an extremely revealing manner, most certainly an action of her partner’s demand. I felt immense attraction toward her and if it weren’t for the issue of my father, I would certainly like to have my way with her. The two of us would be perfectly apt as a couple, as my own level of physical perfection would be reflected in hers. Not only that but it would surely make me the envy of other men – so rightly deserved. Her expression was one of glum endurance, and she made not a single effort to interact with any of the guests. Apart from the occasional voracious glance up and down her scantily-clad figure, my father seemed thoroughly disinterested in her conversational capacities, as it appeared that he was far too concentrated on the vigorous demolition of each course as it was presented to him, and the incessant spitting of insults toward the butlers as they brought each dish. I however, made a concerted effort to interact with her, partially to determine whether my suspicions were true, but on the whole as an attempt to passively make a favourable impression with my father. This endeavour proved rather futile as she spoke very little English and evidently projected an insuperable barrier against all that she considered of inferior class or disposition. The woman had significant pretentions, however I was certain that it would be no particular difficulty for me to dismantle them, in the circumstances that I decided to pursue her following the death of my father and my acquisition of his riches.
Before the bride and groom were to say vows, a gift was to be presented to the couple. Much as expected, my goody-two-shoes sister - Lady Beatrice Ruby-Sapphire Applebee - had prepared something especially to daddy’s liking. She was obviously proud of her work, as she announced it in a tone that was drenched with the sickly sweet ostentation that was so characteristic to a young bourgeoisie such as herself.
“Daddy, before the vows are given, I’d like to give you a gift I made to celebrate this wonderful occasion!” She crooned, her tone unmatched in the sickly sweetness of its flattery.
“Your attempts at endearing me are pathetic as usual Beatrice.”
“My apologies, I suppose I will address you by your name. Everyone come through to the entry hall, Sir Reginald Donald Applebee is about to receive his wedding gift – oh, he and Adelina’s wedding gift that is!”
My sister – a complete imbecile as usual – had left the vacuous fiancé out of her oration. She must have forgotten that it was a wedding, in lieu of her fiscal agenda. This was good news for me however, as the more she antagonised herself, the more of an angel I would be in my father’s eyes. As my sour-faced father followed Beatrice back through the dining hall, he clasped Adelina so firmly that it was as if he was worried she would blow away in an imaginary wind. Adelina on the other hand, displayed an expression of pure discomfort as she tried not to resist my father’s desperate grasp. As she skipped along in front of them my sister appeared absolutely self-assured, evidently certain that this brilliant strategy would surely win my father’s financial favour away from the Adelina’s meddling efforts. Indeed, Adelina certainly was a meddler, and I would have been throwing her looks of furious reproach if it weren’t for the fact that watching her walk was such a divine pleasure.
We passed once more through the crimson oak doors, and as we reached the centre of the entry hall, I noticed that the statue from before had been covered in a huge velvet cloth.
“It’s time for the unveiling everyone, this is a work for father that I have spent the previous few weeks on, it’s my greatest yet!” My sister exclaimed.
My father looked unimpressed – “Get on with it!” he retorted grumpily.
With that my sister ripped off the cloth. What appeared out from under it was unrecognisable, as the figure that had once stood towering in the image of my father was now a deformed ruin. A small waterfall of droplets cascaded down it, pooling in a previously unseen – but rather substantial – puddle on the floor. The statue wasn’t made out of glass; it was made of ice, which had evidently melted due to the presence of the cloth. My sister screamed in shock, omitting an ear-splitting sound.
“OH NO, THIS IS NOT POSSIBLE - IT’S MELTED!”
I smiled gleefully to myself as I surveyed the scene, my sister had truly dishonoured herself with this foolish move, and it had provoked my father into reaching the heights of his rage. Not only that, but I was glad to witness the destruction of such an ugly excuse for a work of art!
“IDIOT DAUGHTER! WHAT ON EARTH IS THIS MONSTROSITY?”
“I’m… I’m sorry daddy! I didn’t think it was going to melt!” Beatrice sobbed.
“NOT ONLY THAT, BUT YOU’VE RUINED THE FLOORS, NO YOU’VE RUINED EVERYTHING!”
My father took on an animalistic appearance, as rage coursed through him. He turned toward my sister amongst the group of startled guests, and begun to run toward her – to the extent that his physical capability allowed – with his fists raised. He was prepared to strike at anything that would serve as a means to diffuse his rage. However, upon doing so he failed to notice the water on the floor, and with a final, desperate effort to regain balance, he slipped and fell. A cracking sound echoed throughout the hall as his head hit the ground. He lay in the puddle, unmoving as guests tentatively gathered around to see if he was all right. However it was no use - Sir Reginald Donald Applebee, was dead.
The mid-afternoon sun smiled gently upon a garden of brilliant roses, and I found myself once again an idyllic French setting, a beautiful private park in Normandy. The large floral clock struck three, and the funeral of Sir Reginald Donald Applebee was just about underway.
The sound of Haydn’s Violin Sonata No.1 wafted out from under pear tree, it was instantly recognisable as my brother’s playing; the instrument resonated an air of contentment, certainly a result of being finally free to play repertoire of his own choosing without my father’s various explosive objections. Regardless, I knew that what my father said was ultimately said in truth, it was still light-and-fluffy music - once again, I would have chosen something high-brow like Stockhausen if it were up to me – however my brother’s pleasant expression showed that he was ignorant to this, either that or the fact didn’t bother him. I made attempts to listen in to the details of the music, although this proved futile as the sound was overpowered by the wailing of thirty professional mourners who had evidently been hired to provide some sorrow to this truly arbitrary event. They were dressed in a decadent manner, matching the style of the individuals who had come authentically as guests. However the two groups proved antithetical to one another, as while the mourners were on their knees making all sorts of awful racket, the clientele – which were a similar affair to the attendees of the wedding – were partaking in the characteristic inane balderdash about ‘the price of imported fruits’ or something of the like. Quite predictably, my sister Beatrice was nowhere to be seen. No doubt afraid of the shame she would face if she were to attend, however it was most likely no one would even notice the difference if she were there.
I spotted Adelina across the park; presented in an extremely provocative manner, in a sequined red dress that showed more skin than it covered by about two-fold. With her limited English she was voraciously flirting with my father’s best friend, a dilapidated old thing possessing colossal wealth. The man had a look of boyish joy on his face as he revelled in the attention, whilst his own wife looked on in disgust. Adelina’s conduct was utterly inappropriate for the event, and lacking any courtesy or consideration whatsoever, however this failed to bother me, as her appearance provided sufficient stimulation to keep me awake through the afternoon’s truly banal proceedings.
I was told that my father had meticulously planned this funeral in his will, and it was evident as its complexity and decadence was unrivalled in any of his previous undertakings. The coffin – made of gold, and encrusted with an array of diamonds that glittered like the cosmos – was to be placed in a grave overlooked by a set of three colossal statues of the man about to be buried in it. However these weren’t of my sister’s making – as that would be truly ironic - but instead were a product of the team of forty men that arranged the whole affair, including such individuals as those that were also responsible for the creation of a man-made hill, upon which the entire park was situated. Even in death, my father had attempted to spend as much of his money as possible, in an attempt to leave nothing for his children who so desperately lusted after his riches. What hadn’t been spent on the funeral was dedicated to building a museum in his honour, which depicted the Applebee soap legacy in all of its superficial glory. The museum was to be situated in the man’s house, and thus confiscated the final piece of his empire away from the prying reach of anyone but himself.
As the coffin was lowered down into the earth, not a single guest seemed the slightest bit wan, and even the professional mourners had to strain for tears. How could they feel sympathy for someone who sees others as nothing but a means to personal pleasure? It was no wonder – my father was defined by poor qualities and I truly detested him. The fool got what he deserved. Good riddance to one of the most egotistical, pretentious, rude, selfish, violent and perverted men who ever walked on this earth! Despite this, his death did have its drawbacks, as it seemed that it was up to me to become rich without his help, and I swore to myself that I while I would never be anything like him in character, I would be sure to be as rich as he was. I planned to write my magnum opus when I returned to London, and upon doing so I had no doubt in the world that the world would recognise my supreme talent. Yes, it would certainly be with my debut novel that I Lord Nicholas Ambrose Applebee would be crowned amongst the cultivated as writer extraordinaire, a position that would exude my rightly deserved superiority over the peasants below!
I laughed to myself as I walked between rows of flowers swaying gently in the breeze; the sound of violin permeating through the air as my brother played the finale of the sonata. As I passed him, I threw a large stone in his direction – I’ve never liked the music of Haydn.
Image - Champ d'avoine by Monet (public domain)