Nemo’s Nic-Nac Emporium: Ch 1. Purple

 

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{Chapter 1: Purple}

“Why purple?” I asked.

Because it is the shade of royalty.”

“How do you mean?”

Are you familiar with the tropical mollusk ‘murex’? It is a predatory sea snail. The mucus glands of murices can be used to create a purple dye—‘Tyrian purple’. That’s where it first came from.”

My befuddlement at this explanation must have translated to my face, because Mr. Nemo stopped tinkering with the tiny clock in his hand when he looked up at me. He smirked (as subtly as he could manage to) and continued:

“It was extraordinarily rare and difficult to produce. Tens of thousands of murices, in addition to a considerable amount of labor, were required to create this dye. It was, therefore, notably valued in its rarity. Only esteemed members of nobility could afford such a luxury. So you see, purple is the shade of royalty.”

“And that’s why it’s your favorite color, is it? Isn’t that sort of twisted, being drawn to something because of its exclusivity? Don’t you think color is the sort of universal pleasure that everyone, regardless of class or ranking, should have access to?”

The clockmaker chuckled and resumed his work. I felt my cheeks growing red, his laugh, whether or not it was meant to be, seemed patronizing to me. After a few more minutes of fiddling with his clock, he seemed to finish up with whatever it was he was doing with it. He set it aside and looked up at me once more.

Do you think me a callous man, Arthur?” he asked, quite genuinely it seemed.

“I think it’s awfully cruel and regressive to reinforce or romanticize any sort of hierarchical system in the modern day, whether or not that reinforcement take as simple a form as the preference of a color.” I felt strongly about this, and attempted to convey my words with a degree of intensity that would not be lost on Mr. Nemo. He considered my words as he took off his eyeglasses and rubbed the lenses clean with his shirt.

Perhaps. And yet, is it not equally cruel to deny a man the power of indulging in extravagance? Is it not also regressive to discount the possibility of growth? He will never aspire for greatness, who has nothing to aspire to, my boy.”

“I don’t know if I value indulgence and extravagance the way you seem to. ‘Greatness’, as you describe it, seems to be an elaborate mask of a term used to disguise vanity. In a similar vein, ‘aspiration’ can be equated with a fruitless endeavor to prove one’s superiority to others. It is not so much callousness I identify you with, Mr. Nemo, but an alarming inclination to tend towards conceit.”

“Aha! But, Arthur, my dear boy, do you derive no pleasure in differentiating yourself from me? Do you find no sense of delight, not the slightest, in distinguishing yourself as the antithesis of a sybarite such as myself? Are you not, in the satisfaction you achieve in drawing the distinction between your morals and my own, putting yourself in a position, be it one relating to a spectrum of ethical righteousness, of superiority?”

Preposterous! No. Of course I was not putting myself in a position of superiority. Yes, I was glad that I didn’t share Mr. Nemo’s demented outlook on luxury, that I didn’t agree that some are more deserving of it than others. But does that mean I am no better than he is? How could that be? Does my overwhelming discomfort at being likened to someone like Mr. Nemo support his assertion? Am I indeed, in my evident need to see myself as someone entirely separate from him, just like Mr. Nemo? Are we all?

While I sat in silence and considered his peculiar convictions, Mr. Nemo found another clock to tend to; this one was rather large with a brass mantel.

“Mine’s yellow.” I said after a while. It was all that I could manage to say, because, at the moment, it was the only thing I was absolutely sure of. It was the only contribution I could make to the furthering of this conversation that had not been tainted by the seed of doubt that Mr. Nemo had so unperturbedly planted in my mind. He put down the crown wheel in his hand and looked up. “My favorite color,” I added, “it’s yellow.”

He smiled in a way that I can only describe as quaint, and softly asked, “Why yellow?