“When Salvador Dali Identified Oscar Wilde In a Lineup,” Maureen Mancini Amaturo

Apr 20th, 2024 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

The officer tripped over Dali’s walking stick for the third time. “Do you really need that thing?”

“Do I need this walking stick? Perhaps. The visual is everything.”

The officer stared at Dali. “Let’s go.”

They continued into the lineup room. Lieutenant Ernst joined them. “We’re ready,” he said. Ernst looked at Dali who was staring at the ceiling, drawing invisible lines with his walking stick. “We’re ready to begin,” he repeated and escorted Dali to the large, one-way mirror that formed the far wall. The officer moved to the corner allowing Ernst and Dali a clear view through the glass. Ernst pulled a chair over. “Sit, please.”

Dali sat cross-legged with his arm extended its entire length and his hand atop his walking stick. He stretched his neck and rolled his head several times before staring straight. Dali stood again and switched his chair with another.

“Are you satisfied?” Ernst asked.

Staring ahead, Dali answered, “There are some days when I think I am going to die from an overdose of satisfaction.”

Lieutenant Ernst placed his hands over his face and massaged his forehead with his fingertips. He took a deep breath. “Let’s start. We called you here regarding the murder of Algernon Moncrieff, which took place off Picadilly, at Half Moon Street, Number 14. You were there that night, right?”


“Very well. We are going to have five men walk into that room. You will be able to see them, but they will not be able to see you. This is a one-way mirror. The perpetrator may or may not be in the lineup. You are not obligated to choose any one of these men if none appear to match your memory. However, if any one of them looks to be the man you saw leaving the apartment building the night of the murder, let me know.” Ernst flipped a switch, and the room on the other side of the mirror filled with light. “No pressure, mind you. If no one matches the person you saw that night, that’s perfectly fine. I have a copy of your statement—which appears more like a rebus, so thank you for explaining the images earlier. We can refer to it, if necessary, should you want to refresh your memory about the details you gave us regarding the man you saw.”

Dali turned to Ernst. “That won’t be necessary. I am afflicted with the persistence of memory.”

“Are you?”


“Then this should not be a problem.” Ernst looked across the room at the assisting officer and rolled his eyes, then he pressed a button on the wall and spoke into the intercom. “Bring them in.”

Five men entered the lineup room from a side door. A policeman accompanied them and guided the men to stand several feet apart in front of a white wall painted with vertical markings to measure each man’s height. When the men were in place, the policeman nodded toward the one-way mirror and left the room. The men comprising the lineup remained, all slack-shouldered and fidgety, except for one. One man wearing a long green coat with a large, black, fur collar stood, his head held high, as if proud to be on display.

Lieutenant Ernst pressed the intercom button. “Look straight ahead please.” The men who had been rustling about settled down and did as they were told.

Dali asked, “Could you move that man on the left to the second position? Move that taller one to the end.”

“Why?” The lieutenant asked.

“Makes a much more interesting composition.”

Ernst stared through the glass. “And I suppose you want the guy in the middle to lie on the floor with his legs dangling over the platform as if he’s melting?”

“¡Genio! ¡Brillante! ¡Si!”

The lieutenant pressed his forehead against the glass. “Señor Dali, please. We need to be sure you can see these men clearly. Look carefully and tell me if any one of these men matches the man you say you saw running from the murder scene. Please, focus on the men in that room, one by one.” Ernst sighed. “I am afraid we need to get this perfect.”

Dali turned to the lieutenant. “Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it.”

Ernst pulled out a chair, scraping its metal legs against the smooth, concrete floor and plopped onto it. He pointed to the glass. “Please examine the men standing in that room.”

Dali stood. He walked left and pressed his face against the one-way mirror. After a few seconds, he moved to the right, stopping in front of each man for a short time. Dali hesitated. He pointed to the tall, hefty man in a fur-collared, green coat standing second from the right. “Perhaps the guilty man looks like him.” Dali squinted and studied the man in the lineup.

Ernst jumped up and escorted Dali away from the glass wall. “Describe the man you think may be the one.” He leafed through the report in his hand until he landed on Dali’s previous description.

“He stands like a mango, under-ripe, but large. His head, a basket of bread, artisan bread. His hair, fopping in thick waves, parted at the center cascading down the sides of his face like an enchanted mushroom. The face interesting, but bland—not like that of a clock, but like a lobster’s tail, long, curved. But not a lobster’s coloring. His complexion brings me back to the unripe mango, or a peach, or the dawn of a dream. His expression is that of a sphinx with eyes that form a slanted roof over a nose that is an inverted hammer. His face… is a chest of drawers. Lips… full, protruding, as if one drawer is open. The cheeks obscure his jawline. While his face whispers, his clothing screams. There is creativity in his soul.”

The lieutenant sat numb. What the hell is he talking about? He looked at his attending officer. The officer shrugged. Ernst asked, “In your statement the night of the murder, you specifically said the suspect had rosy cheeks. It was night. How could you tell his cheeks were rosy?”

“He had been standing at the doorway, the light overhead aimed directly at his face.” Dali looked to the floor. “Did I say rosy cheeks?”

“You did.”

“Shame on me. Change rosy, please, to unripe mango.”

“I cannot change your statement.” Lieutenant Ernst mouthed to the attending officer, “Why me?” The officer held his hands up, palms out. Ernst asked, “Are there any other details that you can specifically identify that distinguish this person as the man you saw that night?”

Dali stared. He twisted the end of his sharp-pointed, fantastic mustache. The room remained silent for several minutes. “The body. The shape. I look at those men standing there, and I see an orchestra, the instruments not the musicians. He is the cello.”

“Sorry I asked,” Ernst said.

The officer in the corner shook his head. He found it impossible to remain silent. “This is outrageous.”

Dali answered, “The one thing the world will never have enough of is the outrageous.”

“If you stick around long enough, we will,” the officer said.

The lieutenant nodded. “Señor Dali, I’ll remind you to please take this seriously. This is a grave matter. We need your most confident recollection.” Ernst melted into his chair. His shoulders sagged. He rested his forehead in the palm of his hand. “Let’s continue, shall we? So, you are sure that is the man.”

“Can we be sure of anything?”

“If you say it is a fact that this is the man you saw, you must be absolutely sure. Assigning guilt to this man is a reality not to be taken lightly. For this moment, this situation, your interpretation of reality must be completely sure, completely accurate.” Ernst rubbed his forehead. “You do realize that if you are mistaken in identifying that man as the murderer, his life will be altered. Something terrible will happen.”

“So little of what could happen does happen,” Dali said.

“Maybe so, but we must make every effort to be sure what is right is what happens here. There is no room for confusion.”

“You have to systematically create confusion. It sets creativity free. Everything that is contradictory creates life.”

The assisting officer asked, “May I leave the room?”

Lieutenant Ernst shook his head no. “Señor Dali, you are sure that is the man.”


The lieutenant spoke into the intercom. “We’re done here.” A policeman entered the lineup room and escorted the men away. Ernst asked his attending officer, “Will you please bring the man he identified here? The others may go.” He cleared his throat. “Señor Dali, you may go. Thank you.”

Dali rose, straightened his jacket, and waved his walking stick as his good bye. The attending officer walked Dali to the ground level of the police station and left him at the door, then went to retrieve the suspect.

Before leaving, Dali noticed a yellowing mural on the wall to his left. He went to inspect it more closely. Engrossed in the details, he began to recreate the scene in his own mind. Using his walking stick as if it were a paint brush, he swished it in the air creating lines, shapes, and images only he could see. The officer at the front desk asked him to leave. Dali said, “I intend to. But first, I must complete what I see. Gala, my Gala, will sit upon that fox, and ants will climb a single crutch leaning against a horse with no eyes.”

“Huh?” the officer asked. The attending officer who had been in the room with Dali and Lieutenant Ernst during the lineup session returned. He pointed to Dali and twirled his finger aside his temple. He told the desk officer, “This guy’s surreal. You know those creative types. He’ll leave when he gets bored.”

In the room upstairs, Lieutenant Ernst greeted the suspect Dali selected. “Come in, please. Have a seat.” Ernst pulled a chair out for him. “State your name.”

“Wilde. And I am trying to live up to that.”

“Your first name, please.”


Ernst looked at the top sheet in his folder. “Mr. Wilde, do you or did you know a man named Algernon Moncrieff?

“Yes. Quite well, actually. You might say I made the man what he was.” Oscar Wilde fondled a leather-covered book he had removed from his coat pocket.

“What is that book you are holding?”

Oscar answered, “My diary.”

“Was it necessary to bring that along today?”

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.”

“Oh, no. Not another one,” Lieutenant Ernst mumbled. He pulled up a chair and sat across from Oscar. “Mr. Wilde, did you kill Algernon Moncrieff?”

“Certainly not. I loved the dear boy.”

“I want the pure and simple truth.”

Oscar looked away from Ernst. “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

“We talked to some of your friends, friends who knew you both. They say you had turned against Algernon Moncrieff because he was…how shall I say this? He was distancing himself from you. He was moving with a new crowd and seemed to be involved more closely with someone else. Some said you spoke of him as being bad.”

Clasping his hands atop his lap, Oscar said, “It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.”

“Then, in your eyes, did he become tedious?”

“Not in the least. I tried to help him. For that, I find myself a suspect, seated in an unmeasurably unattractive room that does no justice to my apparel. As we can see, no good deed goes unpunished.”

“Friends have been doing a lot of talking, talking about you and Mr. Moncrieff.”

Oscar smiled. “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about.”

“You’re a clever man, Mr. Wilde.”

“I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.”

“Well, you seem to have all the answers. You know everything, do you?”

“Lieutenant,” Oscar shifted in his chair, “I am not young enough to know everything.”

“Enough. The murderer must be brought to justice. A man who would murder another human being is no saint. Granted, Mr. Moncrieff had a past some would say is nothing to be proud of. If you, Mr. Wilde, refuse to tell the truth, your future will be darker for it.”

Oscar picked at his cuticles and rubbed his thumb over his finger nails as if to buff them to a shine. “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”

“Your future is at risk, Mr. Wilde.”

“I find risk infinitely exciting. Predictability does not suit me.”

Lieutenant Ernst turned the pages of the report in his hand. He found statements he quoted to Oscar Wilde. “We spoke to several people who were with you and Algernon Moncrieff the night of the murder. You were all attending a soiree. It was private, or should I say secret? There were activities going on that would be considered scandalous, unsavory to society, or, some might say, not normal.”

“Normal. What a boring word.”

“A matter of opinion.” Ernst stood and paced the length of the room. “Mr. Wilde, in their statements, fellow guests that evening said you and Mr. Moncrieff had a falling out. Several said Mr. Moncrieff fled the gathering for fear that you would retaliate against him, do him harm, but they refused to say for what. They said you threatened him. He made a hasty exit, and he died. He died because he was running away from you, Mr. Wilde. Is that true?”

“A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.”

“Touché.” Ernst sat down again. “Mr. Wilde, tell me what happened that night. What did you see?”

“I saw nothing. I make it a point to be self-absorbed—that way, I am always in good company.” Oscar pulled his coat tighter and ran his hand down the fur of his full collar. “I do not know what happened that night. I heard the gunshots. There was a bourgeoise commotion. The champagne was empty. I left the apartment. I went home.”

“That is the truth, Mr. Wilde?”

“No one is more true than I, sometimes at great risk.”

“The truth will surface. It always does. You do realize that what is not settled in this life will be settled in the next. I hope you are not looking forward to Heaven, Mr. Wilde.”

“I don’t want to go to Heaven. None of my friends are there.”

“Then, perhaps jail? I happen to know some of your friends are there.”

Oscar sneered. “Touché. I believe that is a word you are familiar with?”

“Do you have anything else to say?”

“My words are my income. I prefer not to give them away.”

Ernst inserted the report he had been holding into a folder. “Do not leave town, Mr. Wilde. We are not finished. You may leave this building today, but I have a feeling we’ll be seeing each other again.”

“So many crave my company.” Oscar rose. “I am free to go?”

“For now.”

Oscar left the room escorted by a police officer. When he reached the station’s ground level, he noticed a familiar man. That mustache. The odd behavior. Ah, yes. He was there the night…he was at that dreadful party. He must be the reason I was detained here. “Is that you, Señor Dali?”

Dali froze, his walking stick in midair about to finish an invisible painting. “Si.” Dali turned to Oscar.

“Remember me?”

Dali made three quick swishes with his stick. “¡Finis!”

Oscar walked toward him and stood by his side. “I believe we’ve already met.” Oscar extended his hand.

Dali turned to him and examined his face. “Si, we have met.”

“I assume they questioned you regarding Algernon.”


“Me, too. Seems someone suggested the murderer looks somewhat like me.”

Dali fingered his mustache then turned to brush away non-existent lint from his shoulder. “That night, the chaos, no one could be sure of anything. There was so little defined in the dark.”

“Precisely.” Oscar put his arm through Dali’s. “Surely, neither you nor I could tell just who brought dear Algernon to such a dismal end.” Wilde cleared his throat. “Shall we find ourselves an interesting café, somewhere we can chat in inspiring surroundings, surroundings great minds deserve. I know just the place.”

Dali lowered his walking stick and followed him. Oscar led Dali out the front door. Once outside, Oscar pretended to trip. “The scuff on my shoe is greater than the injury. Do you mind?” He bent down pretending to rub away the scuff, but instead reached behind a large, potted plant and retrieved a hand gun he had placed there before going into the police station earlier. He slipped it into the inside pocket of his coat. “Much better. Shall we?”

They proceeded until Oscar turned toward a street that looked more like an alley. “This way, my friend. There’s a café even you could not dream up just ahead.”

Dali stared. “There is emptiness. Where are you taking me? I see only dark without end.”

“Trust me, there is an end,” Oscar said. “There is a place just beyond the dark that is quite secluded, yet satisfying. I’ve managed to execute evenings of the most amusing nature there.”

Dali tilted his head in interest. “About Algernon Moncrieff,” Dali said, “I do hope they catch whoever shot him. Justice for such an unfortunate incident.”

“Justice can be unfortunate, as well.” Oscar ran his hand along his coat pocket feeling the outline of his gun. “Not much further, just to that dark corner ahead. Yes, when we arrive there, it will be the end.”


Maureen Mancini Amaturo, NY-based fashion/beauty writer with an MFA in Creative Writing, teaches writing, leads Sound Shore Writers Group, which she founded in 2007, and produces literary and gallery events. Her fiction, essays, creative non-fiction, poetry, and comedy are widely published and appear in more than 100 magazines, literary journals, and anthologies globally. Maureen was nominated for The Bram Stoker Award and TDS Creative Fiction Award and was awarded Honorable Mention and Certificate of Excellence in poetry from Havik Literary Journal. Her work was shortlisted by Reedsy and by Flash Fiction Magazine for their Editor’s Choice Award. Funny Pearls UK named her work as their best short story selection for ’23. Also in 2023, the Academy of the Heart and Mind named Maureen winner of their 13 Halloween Tales Contest. A handwriting analyst diagnosed her with an overdeveloped imagination. She’s working to live up to that.

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