Before us stood a golden door.
“And behind the door?” I asked.
“What always lies behind any golden door?” my host responded. “Touch.”
I reached out to print the door with my thumb.
“What do you feel?” my host inquired.
“Youngness, youth, beauty.” I touched again. “All the springtimes that ever were or ever will be.”
“Jeez, the man’s a poet. Push.”
We pushed and the golden door swung soundlessly wide.
“Is this where Dorian is?”
“No, no, only his students, his disciples, his almost Friends. Feast your eyes.”
I did as I was told and saw, at the longest bar in the world, a line of men, a lineage of young men, reflecting and re-reflecting each other as in a fabled mirror maze, that illusion seen where mirrors face each other and you find yourself repeated to infinity, large, small, very small, smallest, GONE! The young men were all staring down the long bar at us and then, as if unable to pull their gaze away, at themselves. You could almost hear their cries of appreciation. And with each cry, they grew younger and younger and more splendid and more beautiful…
I gazed upon a tapestry of beauty, a golden phalanx freshly out of the Elysian fields and hills. The gates of mythology swung wide and Apollo and his demi-Apollos glided forth, each more beautiful than the last.
I must have gasped. I heard my host inhale as if he drank my wine.
“Yes, aren’t they,” he said.
“Come,” whispered my new friend. “Run the gauntlet. Don’t linger; you may find tiger-tears on your sleeve and blood rising. Now.”
And he glided, he undulated, me along on his soundless tuxedo slippers, his fingers a pale touch on my elbow, his breath a flower scent too near. I heard myself say:
“It’s been written that H. G. Wells attracted women with his breath, which smelled of honey. Then I learned that such breath comes with illness.”
“How clever. Do I smell of hospitals and medicines?”
“I didn’t mean-“
“Quickly. You’re rare meat in the zoo. Hup, two, three!”
“Hold on,” I said, breathless not from walking fast but from perceiving quickly. “This man, and the next, and the one after that-“
“My God,” I said, “they’re almost all the same, look-alikes!”
“Bull’s-eye, half true! And the next and the next after that, as far behind as we have gone, as far ahead as we might go. All twenty-nine years old, all golden tan, all six feet tall, white of teeth, bright of eye. Each different but beautiful, like me!”
I glanced at him and saw what I saw around me. Similar but different beauties. So much youngness I was stunned.
“Isn’t it time you told me your name?”
“But you said you were his Friend.”
“I am. They are. But we all share his name. This chap here. And the next. Oh, once we had commoner names. Smith and Jones. Harry and Phil. Jimmy and Jake. But then we signed up to become Friends.”
“Is that why I was invited? To sign up?”
“I saw you in a bar across town a year ago, made queries. A year later, you look the proper age-“
“Well, aren’t you? Just leaving sixty-nine, arriving at seventy?”
“My God! Are you happy being seventy?”
“Do? Wouldn’t you like to be really happy, steal some wild oats? Sow them?!”
“That time’s over.”
“It’s not. I asked and you came, curious.
“Curious about what?”
“This.” He bared me his neck again and flexed his pale white wrists. “And all those!” He waved at the fine faces as we passed. “Dorian’s sons. Don’t you want to be gloriously wild and young like them?”
“How can I decide?”
“Lord, you’ve thought of it all night for years. Soon you could be part of this!”
We had reached the far end of the line of men with bronzed faces, white teeth, and breath like H. G. Wells’ scent of honey …
“Aren’t you tempted?” he pursued. “Will you refuse-“
“No! To live the next twenty years, die at ninety, and look twenty-nine in the damn tomb! In the mirror over there-what do you see?”