My uncle had a picture that he hanged on his bedroom wall, above his bed. Unlike many who put a cross or other religious paraphernalia in such private places, he had the portrait of a skull. Underneath it he had written on the fading pale beige wall paint two words : Memento Mori.
When I was seven years old – an age he said was a crossing over point from childhood to early maturity – he showed me the picture and told me what the words signified.
“Remember that you may die,” he intoned softly, “memento mori. The advice to kings and priests alike, and the advice we all fail to realise till it is too late. Do not fail little one, when you take your choices and your risks, remember this, remember.”
My uncle was a powerful man in business. I did not appreciate this at the time, being so young, and even when he finally was found dead – apparently by his own hand – when I was eighteen I barely knew his import or why this might have made the death so mysterious. I only knew that he had unusual friends, and that they attended me at the funeral, and thereafter guided me in my early career, which followed largely in my uncle’s footsteps.
My own parents had been distant from me all my life. They led a peripatetic existence and I rarely followed. I was ensconced in schools and left to my own devices, and in those years turned to my uncle for company. He taught me many strange things, many secrets. So my soul is full, full of secrets.
One thing I know, my uncle’s advice was true wisdom. There is a price for everything, even patronage, and he had enjoyed that also in his time. I understand that nothing can last forever, and there are bargains you make that have a time limit. My uncle’s friends acquainted me with all this on my twenty-first birthday at a party which is best left undescribed.
But still, my fate is set, and mainly happily for the moment. I have many, many years before my price comes due. In the meantime I have a room in my palatial flat which no-one enters but I. All that is in the room is a table, with a few items on it. A candle I keep burning, a skull, and some other devices. Above the table I have written two words in on the wallpaper, and they glow in the candlelight, a perpetual reminder.
I visit the room at least twice a day and read the words. “Memento Mori”.
I will not forget.
(c) Helen M Valentina 2016