The Make-Believe Ballroom – Full Novel (2004)

THE MAKE BELIEVE BALLROOM: A Novel (Full text, from 2004)

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For those who think, “It has to be better somewhere.
And for those who know it’s not.
Book 1

The book can produce an addiction as fierce as heroin or nicotine, forcing us to spend much of our lives, like junkies, in book shops and libraries, those literary counterparts to the opium den.

—Philip Adams

If all else fails, tell the truth. If that fails, write a book about it.

—Roger Solomon Manwell
Prologue

Of all character traits, emotional and psychological, insanity and a sense of humor are the most human. Few penguins have been observed telling knock-knock jokes. Beavers are likewise humorless creatures, if, of course, you exclude the sinister comedy that is their lives. They’re furry little construction workers with shitty jobs, short life-spans, and their eloquent log homes have little retail value. Raccoons are thieves and lions are lazy, but only a human being can be a maniac and comedian and get paid for it. Crazy lions don’t get shit. No one laughs at Llamas. Except crazy people.
Is that what makes a man a man? The knock-knock jokes and whoopee cushions? Is it those eat the can of donkey spleen and salamander testicles for the grand prize television shows? Is this what it is to be man, grandest creature of all, Homo Sapiens? What would Freud say about that kind of shit? What sets man above the other creatures? Pi, Pies in the face, super soakers, aids, super computers, philosophy and nuclear war? The mind has always been my obsession—the reasons, the why’s, you know, the philosopher’s alibis.
Beavers share a common bond with men. We’re both silly creatures. We’re silly enough to be duped into monogamy, but every now and then our mates catch us being men. That always leads to trouble, for beavers and for men. We’re knotted like a thick blonde braid with these working-class quadrupeds. Makes you want to sing, doesn’t it? Ah, singing. Singing is a beautiful thing, in humans and in nature, but there are few animals capable of playing the piano.
Is that what it is that separates us? Our grand symphonies and operas? Indeed, more to me has been said of God through Ave Maria than the Bible or Koran or Bhagavad-Gita. Surely there is mania, subtle, poetic and graceful mania, in these masterworks of human thought. There is a bit of mania in music, like the Vedas, spiritual chants, Voodoo ritual dances and primitive drums. Insanity can be beautiful. Insanity can be noble.
Insanity is apparent in other areas of nature, of course. There are faint traces of it in other animals, but to a lukewarm degree; it’s rare to find a zebra in a book depository building with a bolt action rifle looking to start some shit. They’ve got those hooves, hard to grip a rifle with a stumped up foot, you see. But a human has the ability and the inclination to do this. They have the beliefs to justify it. It is just as easy for them to justify their beliefs as it is for me to justify mine.
Nothing interests me more than these peculiar bipeds. It’s easy to condemn them as irrational creatures with a penchant for doing incredibly stupid and crazy shit. Exhibit A: Mardi Gras. It sure is fun though. I’ve been arrested at Mardi Gras a couple of times. You might’ve seen me on the episode of cops dedicated to Mardi Gras. The show staggered the imagination. Outlaw bandits ran around with flopping tits, covered with fancy, multi-colored beads. They rolled around on the ground covered in piss, vomit, and alcohol. God bless America.
Swimming pools are hard evidence in support of my argument. Anyone that spends more than ten minutes in a man made puddle should be sent to the corner to think about what they’ve done. They should be removed from their home for their third offence. No soup for them, either. They will learn the error of their ways or die. Murdering someone because they like to go for a swim is a bit extreme, but they have to learn somehow.
What am I trying to say? You could ask. Simple: human beings are wonderfully insane creatures. There’s something fascinating about how the circuitry of a burnt out mind works. I imagine dark rows of bluish diodes shifting about with occasional sparks like lightning bugs in tangled trees. This was my obsession.
This is what brought me to Herman.
I’ve invented a simple test to determine whether or not you’re insane. If you fail this test, you’ll probably enjoy my little story. If you pass it, I don’t like you. Tell me if this sounds familiar:
It’s three o’clock in the morning. You’re hungry, bored, and having trouble getting to sleep. You put on your robe, tie it, and head downstairs to look for some food. You open the fridge. You explore behind milk cartons, jugs of tea, tin-foiled covered bowls from yesterday. You find nothing. You give up and return to your room. This is normal. Food is necessary.
Thirty minutes later, you repeat the process, thinking, “Maybe I missed something.” This is not a reasonable excuse. This is not rational. Congratulations! You are insane.
Ever contemplated the origin of the cosmos while taking a shit? If so, once again, you are insane. Interesting person, perhaps. Insane, definitely.
Put this book down and look around. (You have to pick it back up or you’ll hurt my feelings. Could you live with that on your conscience?) If there are any signs of swimming trunks you must commit yourself immediately for the safety of your family. Do it for the kids man! The kids! Would you want them to turn out like me? For heaven’s sake man, something must be done. It’s a shame that there are people that share my outlook. What do I want to do with my life? Waste it. Waste it and enjoy wasting it. I’m ashamed of being human, and proud of it.
My grandmother is a kind woman. She had five children and, when my grandfather had open heart surgery, she had to support them all by working twelve hours a day and six days a week in a cotton mill just to buy them shoes and keep them fed. She had no concern for herself and wore the same rotted pair of Reebok’s for at least fifteen years before we got her a new pair for Mother’s day.
She was just a wee lass when the Titanic was swallowed whole by the hungry gullet of the sea. In the summer. we walked around in her fenced in yard to look for June bugs. We’d tie their legs to a stick once we found them just to watch ‘em fly around in circles. She collected porcelain angels and did her crossword puzzles every night. Other than that, she played a mean harmonica. I’ve never met a more superstitious person. In twenty seven years, she never missed a day of church. In keeping with the law of the Lord, she never cursed when angry; she spelled the words out. Sometimes my uncle was an ‘a double s.’
She thought a cross could keep her toilet from overflowing. Some quiet nights she stood in front of that American standard porcelain God shouting, with her crucifix held in front of her, “The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!” I couldn’t make this shit up. Superstition is a pure distillation of insanity.
Sorrow, regret, loneliness, heartache – all wonderful traits for human beings – but apparent in other animals. Regret is hard to see in the lower animals (you know, the animals that are too dumb to wear clothes and work at McDonalds) but it’s there. My grandmother’s cat, Entae, a runt of a black tabby with a gimp leg, had to be Italian. She exhibited a lot of common human characteristics. Other than cat food, she’d only eat ham and lasagna, spaghetti, rigatoni. Baloney was out of the question.
After eating about eight bowls of lasagna one night, I believe she regretted it almost as much as my mother, who had to truck down the stairs at three in the morning with a plastic baggy bought with the sole intention of scooping up cat shit and other less friendly bodily excretions.
There is more insanity at work here than you might notice at first glance. Let’s examine: there is a company, made of men that launched, funded, and marketed a product to be used primarily in dealing with cat vomit. The logic behind this is staggering. Staggering.
How could this come about? Let’s muse. Want to muse with me? Come on, I’ll be nice. One day there are three young business school grads on a train. They see three cats form a small circle and vomit ritualistically all over their patent leather loafers. A day which will forever live in infamy.
“My god!” says Grad I to the other two with a slack jawed gape. Tiny tendrils of drool dangle from his mouth.
“What did he do this time?” Grad II questions.
Grad III just sits there with a blank gaze. He stares at the birds for a while. “Durrr,” he adds emphatically.
“We could make a product designed for dealing with this situation!”
“Out of what?” asks Grad II. Grad III is still staring across the horizon with a doleful look on his face.
“Little trash bags!” he said.
“Brilliant! We could paint little paws and bones on them. It’d make millions. People love buying stupid shit for their pets.”
“Ahh,” the third one nods in agreement. Together, Grad I and Grad II make Grad III the boss. He sits at his desk and just agrees. His employees consider him ideal for upper management.

I have an uncle that believes dogs have the power to talk, but instead use psychic powers to make people think they’re not talking.
After a cursory glance at daytime television, it becomes obvious that people have little concern for the fact that they only have about fifty years to live. But they’re content to use the one life they’re allotted with spray on hair treatment and boots that turn into roller-skates.
This is a massive universe, staggering in size. Some say it’s terrible, some say it’s wonderful, and some just drink beer, play the lottery, and pay little attention to social matters.
Some believe the universe is wonderful because it brought forth life. There are others that believe it’s terrible for this very reason. Any man that spends a significant amount of time in an IRS building will have little humility before the wonder that is life.
Omar Khayyam had it right in The Rubáiyát:
A moment’s halt – a momentary taste
Of being from the well amid the waste
And Lo! the phantom caravan has reached
The nothing it set out from, oh make haste!
This perspective of Miss Milky way seems to be lost on men who spend their days concerned with raking in as much money as possible so they can have nice cars with digital surround sound and a little voice-operated flip-down DVD screen that can’t be watched while driving. They don’t have peacock tails or feathers, but they do have voice-operated flip-down DVD screens and they work just as well and serve the exact same purpose.
I’ve spent most of my life watching and judging others. No, I’m not Christian: I’m just interested in human behavior.
There is nothing as horribly entertaining as insanity at its most terrible and fabulous: dancing. Dancing is a seizure with style. There’s nothing more insane. Dancing has to be the craziest of all human inventions. More terrible than the atom bomb, more insidious than the first pointed stick someone thought would be nice to fling at a rabbit. More ghastly, perverse, and demented than the sequel to Caddyshack. It chills me to the bone just thinking about it. To the bone.
If our culture is ever unearthed, billions of years in the future, after every single car with digital surround and flip down DVD screens has been buried under thousands of pounds of earthen ash, I pray that a vastly superior alien culture never comes to Earth and stumbles upon Sweatin’ to the Oldies with Richard Simmons. What would the vastly intelligent alien races with pointed ears, glitter, and rhinestone collars think of us then? They’d be laughing from Sirius to the other side of Andromeda. This haunts my dreams.
If we’re ever to move forward as a species, I think that it’s vital, important, pertinent, imperative, necessary and essential to seek out and eliminate every single VHS recording of Michael Jackson’s Thriller just so we don’t embarrass ourselves in front of the other galactic civilizations. What would they think of us then? All our toupees, plastic forks, glide on deodorant, and little cell phones with catchy ring tones can’t beat away the fact that we’re dying and doing a poor job at it. Dying is a lot easier and less complicated than we make it out to be and a lot more entertaining than most people give it credit for.
I always wanted to think that humans had a higher purpose than the other animals. Because we could use microwaves and laser printers, we must’ve been ordained with some important task in life. I don’t know, something more special and fulfilling than playing checkers or slinging burgers out of plastic windows. Could that be our purpose? Life is temporary; plastic lives forever.
After years of research, I found humans to be the least intelligent of all creatures on the Earth.
Every day after work, paid slave labor really, I walked down the walkway with grime and dirt all over me, covered in dust with blood on my elbows. My cat would be asleep in the grass. Just lounging in the sun without anxiety pills, nerve medication, cigarettes, opium or Dairy Queen. She had no care or worry about paying her light bill or the cat across the street with the great personality and caring eyes. Nothing. The sun, the grass, and the occasional grasshopper is enough for her. She is not cursed with consciousness.
My neighbor’s cat would be stalking mine. A dog would wait for the right moment to surprise attack on the cat too occupied with my cat to know what was about to happen. Of course, there are drawbacks to being forever carefree. Cars. Cats are often hit by cars. Humans are often hit by cars. Cats still come out on top. In lieu of the fact that they just get hit by them and don’t have to pay for them beforehand, they win.
If you didn’t laugh at that, you’re communist.

So, ladies and gentleman, what higher purpose do we have? Working at a fast food joint doesn’t seem to be a divine business venture. Functional, yes. Divine? Far from it. And, for some reason, I don’t believe that popping pimples has much to do with the Glory of God or the penultimate destiny of the universe. Call me crazy, but I don’t see how this really matters in the grand scheme of things.
This talk of insanity reminds me of something a friend used to chant when presented with something he didn’t understand: “Crazy? I went crazy once. They put me in a box. The worms ate through the box. I hate worms. Worms make me crazy. Crazy? I went crazy once. They put me in a box. The worms ate through the box. Worms make me crazy. Crazy? I went crazy once…”

Why lapse into this rambling inanity now, you could ask. Halfway through the story, the necessity of this small squib of a prologue will become apparent. This story is about an old man whom many in our small redneck mill village believed to be crazy. Crazy? I went crazy once…
A cousin of mine once wrote to the senator of our great state of South Carolina. She had a wild theory about why everything, as she put it, was kickin’ up dog shit:
“Dear Mr. Man in Charge,
Ninety-nine percent of children that get involved with drugs, gangs, violence, and small after school republican groups, have ketchup in their system. Coincidence? I think not.”
There has yet to be a reply. Sad sad sad.
She lived alone in a small box-like apartment. The same kind of apartment Herman lived in. Apartments in some parts of the south are ground level, like homes, and have front porches, back porches, and a clothesline divided up between the houses. They’re made of brick and insulated but dank. These are the kind of apartments that always leak when it rains.
Herman Prince was a guitar, dobro, mandolin, fiddle, piano, saxophone, and music theory teacher. He spent a lot of time in front of his house shouting at pigeons, begging them to have some of his bread. I once saw him using tape and cardboard to fix a broken window on his car. The first time I saw him, he was using a lucky rabbit’s foot to scrape ice off his windshield in the winter. He drove around town in a noisy station wagon with rust speckled along the doorway. The muffler always dragged the ground behind him.
Ordinary, maybe not. But what is ordinary? Ordinary is just a kind word for boring.
My dad introduced me to Herman on a long and lazy day in May. My friends had graduated and I was stupid enough to ruin my future on a whim by telling one of my teachers to give a donkey a blowjob for a bucket of baloney. What a waste, but no matter. My life was going nowhere and I was glad. I couldn’t picture myself in a dim grey cubicle pecking around on a keyboard with a tie and a suit. I couldn’t picture myself doing that. I couldn’t picture myself paying thirty grand to go to college just so some pompous blowhard could read to me. And I’d just quit my job. No school, no job, no money, no friends – everything I’d always wanted.
There are certain confessions I’d like to make before I continue. If you’d rather skip to the story than listen to me moan and groan about everything, I welcome you to find the first chapter and start there. Chances are, however, if you do that – something bad will happen to you.
I was born and raised in the American south. For the record, I’m writing this in an outhouse with crayons on the back of a box of cereal. Though we are often stereotyped as insignificant hillbillies, we pride ourselves on being insignificant hillbillies. We have little technology and only a dollop of intelligence amongst us. Yes, it’s true. We’re all crazy ass religious nuts with more shotguns than teeth. We all vote republican and have sex with our relatives. I take offense to this. I have never voted and I could care less about religion.
Yes. Everything you’ve heard is true. Even the things that cancel the other things out, or the things that go on to say that there are a number of reasonably intelligent and sophisticated people running around in the south with clean clothes on.
Yes. It’s all true. We all sit around on the back of pickup trucks with a piece of straw in our mouth, petting a coon dog and plucking a banjo while maw and paw ride horses to the general mills store to get feed fer the chickens. That’s our culture, ain’t it? You’ve seen the movies, read the books, and heard about the absurd backwood odysseys that often crop up in the south where everyone has an outhouse. Want a true shock? Like the kind you have in those dense mystery novels when the harder than stone heroine with the tortured past finds out her brother did it? I’m writing this on a computer in a room with electricity! And by the grace of God, we have indoor plumbing. I don’t even own a banjo.
Our town sits between two big cities. These big cities have a combined population of eight to ten thousand. They have all the fancy eating places like McDonalds and Burger King. We have curb markets and family owned grills that line our littered streets. Main Street consists of three churches, a tennis court, a basketball court, a gym, a family owned drug store, City Hall, a doctor’s office and post office. We’re also proud of our traffic light. Yes, one traffic light.
This town is beyond boring. It’s like an English speaking wasteland where forgotten shadow figures lurch through the barren streets at night, asking for money or cigarettes, just wanting to keep their lives going. We go through robotic motions every day, and that’s our life. We just live and die and disappear. No news reports or memorial services, just cheap caskets and plastic flowers. We live like hungry robots wrapped in skin, burning under sweet Sol, going through the motions ‘til we die or get murdered for twenty dollars.
These gravel roads are dark, packed with rotting houses, heavy with fog and garbage. People around here get on drugs because there’s nothing else to do. Few of us could afford college even if we wanted to go. That’s for folk with fancy high school diplomas and people that go on to do big things with their lives. Going to college has nothing to do with learning. No one goes to learn; they go to get a piece of paper that says they’ve learned. One of our graduates, God how we’re proud, became assistant manager at a cotton mill on the outskirts of town. He even climbed his way to the top of the retail world when he was featured on a billboard. “You’ll be grinnin’ when you try our linen,” the sign read. Pure class.
Everybody knows everybody in this town. Most spend their time walking up and down Main along the littered sidewalks, or filing in and out of churches. There are thirty five churches within ten square miles and one library. This is not a healthy ratio.
As such, Herman was infamous in our little town. Of course everyone said he was crazy. “He never stops talking,” they said. “Good guitar player, though,” they added. “I heard he makes really nice birdhouses,” some gushed. It was true. He made and sold birdhouses of high quality, hand painted, lacquered and varnished. On Saturday’s he had yard sales for his birdhouses. For a couple of dollars extra, he’d even sew a name on a small cloth and hang it from the perch for the name of your bird. Still, rumors buzzed like bees.
I’m guilty of the same thing. I’ve made up rumors myself. “They say that man has the largest…” Why did I do this? For attention? To have someone know that I was alive? I really don’t know. I’m not a psychiatrist. I’m not anything, actually. Just one of those lonely shadow figures that creep along the fog-lined streets at night, watching other strange faces light up in the dark with burning cigarettes, speckled along the streets like fireflies. Just looking for my home, for something to keep me going. For something to make the struggle worth it. And that is what I’m doing now.
Herman was the grandmaster of crazy, my father said. Apparently, continuous talking is enough to make somebody crazy. Spending twelve hours a day in triple digit heat for two hundred dollars a week to pay for TV’s and name brand shoes, however, is completely logical. It’s normal. Of course it is. You’ve got to pay for designer slacks and stylish shoes, paper napkins and nice collections of jewel studded carrying cases with certificates of authenticity at low low prices, priced to own! Get yours now!
There were maybe five or six two star cafes in our town, since Taco Bell and the other high class eateries were too classy for us. The one hotel that graced Main Street was set ablaze by the owner in order to collect the insurance money. He’ll learn, in prison, that in order to collect the insurance money you have to have a policy. If you’re going to be dumb enough to break the law, you should be smart enough to know it. Wal-Mart wouldn’t even be caught dead in our tiny town. Not even the Wal-Marts that dropped out of high school would come about.
So, how did I meet the grandmaster of crazy?

I grew up with my grandparents and didn’t meet my father until I was a grown man. I met him and found out he was a talented guitarist, artist, and pothead. He told me his father played, his father’s father played, and his father’s grandfather played. So I had to play. I had to be better than they were. And of course, I knew Herman was a guitar teacher and I knew how crazy everyone thought he was. There are people around here who think I’m crazy. Especially because of one rumor that suggests I danced around on my front porch in a wedding dress while a strange Hispanic man laid under me and filmed the entire sordid affair with a cigar in his mouth and yellow spandex draped around his exotic shoulders. This isn’t entirely untrue. (The dress wouldn’t fit and the young man stole the camera. You just can’t find good help these days. And plus, I started the rumor.)
So, my dad arranged a meeting for us.
It was sometime after noon when the alarm clock rang. My dad was going to take me to Herman’s house sometime around two. I would drive myself, but I had an unfortunate accident involving my car, a liter of vodka, and a swing set. I’m not proud.
No one was home when I opened my eyes. I threw off the covers and stood at the window for a minute or so yawning. It was too early for me, and I didn’t really feel like showering. Thankfully the heat had dropped under ninety degrees.
Thank God for small favors and favors for small Gods.
The sun drifted wistfully over the mill behind our house and the deck in our backyard. Even Sol had overslept.
“It’s ‘alf past five already,” I imagined Sol saying to the stars when the intergalactic alarm went off. “Oh bugger, better put the kettle on.” And so Sol rolled out of bed. Even stars have to pay the bills or God turns off the light. He has the power to do this. We know it. Sol is a clever girl and knows it too.
Whether or not our sun is male or female, as of yet, is pure speculation. However I refuse to believe that a male sun could keep up such a long commitment. Unfaithful buggers.
It had been a late evening for Sol the day before I met Herman. The moon didn’t show up until sometime after ten. Sol complained to Alpha Centarui A and his twin sister, even Wolf 359 popped in for a bit. His solar system didn’t support life. He always bragged about being able to sleep late. But he always brought Sirius, the biggest prick known to man. “I’ve got a G2V spectral type,” he boasted. “I am the brightest star in the galaxy, you know. It’s cool, you want to have sex with me. I get that a lot.”
“What about Canopus?” Sol asked. “Canopus has certainly put on weight. Vega, now she’s a big girl.”
“Canopus? Vega?” Sirius laughed. “You can’t be serious.”
Sol and the Local Group resisted a ridiculous word pun and went back to their game of poker. Giant solar flares threw mammoth cards.
“No!” he shouted. “You’re not serious, but I am! How terrible that must be for you!”
“Makes you want to go Nova doesn’t it? Sometimes I don’t want to get up in the morning.”
“Well, take your pills,” the neighborhood chimed before they lugged back to their sleeping worlds.
“See you on Thursday,” said Sol. “We’ll play pool.”
I imagined that Sol and the Local Group had an understanding. The first and most important rule: never invite Sirius to parties. The second and not quite as important rule: never let the life that relies on us know that we know it relies on us. “If life knew we were aware and conscious, it’d be devastating,” Sol said. “They would always want us to perform odd jobs and we’d never get any sleep. Not that we do anyway…”
“Some days,” thought Sol as she spun above her blue-green water world, “you just want to pack it in.”
Today was a day like that for Sol and for me. Many months had passed since I was voluntarily fired from my job, and getting up before lunchtime was a chore. My dad tried to get me another job, some sort of volunteer work, but I don’t do volunteer work unless I’m being paid for it.
The money was good enough with the old job to provide all of life’s little necessities: cigarettes, Tylenol, books, hot wings, my nerve medication (some sort of anxiety ailment that causes my chest to hurt all day everyday), a pint of vodka or six. The work didn’t bother me. I just woke up one morning and felt like Sol, sans the billions of dependant life forms. I just had one: a seventeen year old brother. He said I could quit if I wanted to as long as I could still pay his cell phone bill. As long as I paid that, he said, we had no qualms.
If I hadn’t quit my job, I never would have met this aging miser. I would’ve met him sooner, and after we agreed upon a time and location, he stood me up. As an eighteen year old with a large nose and no cash flow, I know what it’s like to be stood up.
The only peculiarity about this: we agreed to meet at his house. The next time we spoke, he told me he forgot how to get there. Then he asked who I was and why I called. He asked me if saw Hank to tell him he was waiting for his call. I told him I’d keep a look out. He forgot how to get to his own house. This struck me as clever, intentional or not, so I went home to play a bit of chess with my brother for a while.
The next day, after another scheduled meeting, he stood me up again. Only this time I figured I could leave a trail of bread crumbs and he’d be able to follow them over the meadow, through the woods, and all of that gibberish. My father didn’t like driving back and forth to the same ground-level apartment complex every day. Gas costs an arm and a leg and grave robbing is illegal. So my father was pissed.
He wasn’t too fond of Herman even though he urged me to take lessons from him and “admitted” his “savant like musical talents.” I didn’t know if he disliked him out of wounded pride, because my father was a one timer failed guitarist. He admitted his “savant like” talents. My father thought a savant was a mix between a genius and a retard. Those are his words.
He admitted that he was a very kind and caring person, but he hated him. Why? How can you hate a kind and loving person? It’s easy, actually. People do it all the time, everywhere. It’s easier than knowing them
My only real worry was that he would eat all of the bread I took such pains to place. I was chased around by a few cats, some pigeons. A strange man in an electric wheelchair even followed me around shaking his crooked finger at me for being wasteful.
“People are starving!” he yelled. He slammed his high-end scooter into over drive and bounded towards me at the blistering speed of five mph.
“So are pigeons!” I responded. “And they don’t have the evolutionary advantage of skipping round to the Fast Stop to pick up a loaf, now do they?”
The man shook his head and trudged on. I knew him, otherwise I wouldn’t spend so much time trying to pretend to be clever with him. He went to the same mental health department as I did some odd months back, and he always complained about the coffee. They never had coffee at our anger management meetings. This, he said, was the main problem. My anger management class really pissed me off. I was glad they were out of coffee. Those people kicked around in bunny slippers with their brains wired together by Thorazine and lithium. Coffee was the last thing they needed.
My old companion on the motorized wheelchair used to work as a forest ranger before his brain collapsed. The police reprimanded him and sentenced him to two months in our wonderful upstate institution.
As the story goes, one day the man saw something that made his brain try to gag itself. In the woods, men are sometimes forced to resort to horrible things in order to survive: eat their friends, wipe with poison ivy, eat at Arby’s. The survival instinct is there, a strange knack we inherited from our tree climbing ancestors. The old man came to the conclusion that deer somehow planned to murder him while he slept. He barricaded his doors, set traps. He realized then that he never wanted to work with deer again.
When the arresting officer found him downtown, butt naked with a pair of antlers in his hand and covered in deer blood, the man jeered, chortled, slapped his hands and sprung to his feet. “They don’t taste good!” he shouted. “They never come to help with the plumbing!” This quip secured him a couple of months in our famous hole in Columbia. Now he’s in an electric wheelchair. Just spends most of his time riding around town, picking up pecans, shouting at strange men that leave curious trails of bread along the roads.

When Herman didn’t show up, my dad took me home and parked his truck. It idled in the driveway, shot off tendrils of smoke from the rusted radiator. My dad jumped from the torn leather seats, littered with empty Tylenol bottles, roaches, and shotgun shells.
“One more time,” he said, “and we’re done with him. Just because he wants to visit the old folk’s home, he thinks we have to wait on him. He can forget that shit.”
My dad dragged my heavyset amplifier out of the back of his truck, set it on the splintered blacktop that ran beneath his feet, and lugged it across the sidewalk to my front porch. He stood there with me for a moment. He took his hat off and rubbed his balding head just to give me the fear of hereditary disease. It always worked.
“Here’s a pack of cigarettes,” he said. “Don’t tell your grandmother I’m buying ‘em for you. She’d tan my hide if she found out I was givin’ you cigarettes. Now practice son, practice and you might be better than me someday.”
“A lofty goal,” I said. “Come by tomorrow. I’ll leave a message on his answering machine about his no-shows. Clever though they may be.”
My dad nodded, flicked his cigarette in the tall grass that lined the porch. It bounced beside my cat, startling her, and she darted across the yard. She hid under one of the run down automobiles my uncle worked on in the yard.
I dragged my amplifier into the living room and, already tired, I dropped it beside the door and kicked off my shoes. My grandmother sat under the lamplight in the family room, inking tiny blurbs into one of her massive crossword puzzle books.
“Where you been?” she asked. She sat her crossword on the stand beside her aged recliner. “I made vegetable stew and you ain’t even wait to finish it. Why you always runnin’ off with that old fool anyway?”
“Because he’s my father,” I replied. My brother walked through the living room with a friend. My grandmother removed her glasses and sat them by her crossword puzzle.
“What’s up, faggot?” my brother asked. He sure did love and respect his big brother. I felt like I was more like a father because I tried to teach him things when he was stolen from his mother.
“Ha,” he said, giving me the finger. “What’s up?”
“My blood pressure,” I shouted. I flung a candle holder at him. It slapped the wall and spilled onto the floor as he darted aside.
“You missed, lefty,” he said. “We still gonna check out your telescope when it gets dark?”
“If it gets dark, sure.” I looked around. “Things are not what they seem.” I vocalized the Twilight Zone theme.
He disappeared out of the room with a slight chuckle. I heard him flip the switch on his video game system as it plugged into him again. My grandmother turned her attention to me.
“I know he’s your father and you want to spend time with him, but he’s a bad man. He ain’t never have anything to do with you and now he’s back actin’ everything is fine. We took you in and raised you when he ain’t want nothin’ to do with you.”
“At least he doesn’t beat me every time I say ‘damn’ or ‘hell’ or even ‘pissed.’ He might not be much of a father, but he’s a good friend and that’s more than Stanley will ever be to me. He doesn’t beat me when he catches me with a cigarette, either.”
“Because he doesn’t care about you,” mother said.
“He had a funny way of showing it. Most people say I love you with flowers or candy, not with drop cords and leather straps across the back.”
“He bought you everything you wanted.”
“And he never gave me the only thing money couldn’t pay for: just a little time. He could’ve at least thrown a baseball with me or watched a movie. Anything would’ve made me happy. Instead he puts me in the back room and fills it full of toys, enough of them to hide me completely so he wouldn’t have to spend any time with me.”
“After he had that open heart surgery, he couldn’t get around like he use’ta. He was always hurtin’ and too sick to get out of bed. You know that, Thomas. He had emphysema.”
These talks happen all the time, but my grandmother is a good old lady. She spends most of her time in the recliner by the lamp in the living room with a word puzzle, like her mother, a glass of tea, her cat Entae, and some country and western music going. She played a damn mean harmonica just like her mother.
At night she watched Wheel of Fortune without fail, then dusted off the collection of porcelain dolls her mother left for her when she died When my mother dies, I’m going to steal all of her dolls and leave them in wicker baskets all over the state. I think that’d be a good gesture about her nature. She was content, but had to have her tea, her crossword puzzles, and her cat. It seemed to me that she needed them as much as I needed cigarettes.
She didn’t much care for my real father, as my grandfather didn’t before he found the bucket and kicked it.
My real mother became pregnant with me at the tender age of fifteen. My father spent most of his time playing guitar and smoking pot, so my grandparents thought him unfit to be a parent. They even went so far as to draw up a restraining order against him.
Since my mother was on heavy doses of cocaine while pregnant with me, my grandparents tried to adopt me when my mother gave birth. They couldn’t then, but after child services came to the house and found me in a baby pool in the living room and my mother in the bedroom asleep, they stuck me in an orphanage as the slow machine of bureaucracy churned. Interestingly enough, the only side effects of being a cocaine baby is never having a heart rate under 160bpm. Fun stuff. I can never relax. It seems like my heart pumps not blood, but cocaine.
After a couple of years in an orphanage in those tiny beds and stark white burgundy floors (all the walls were white and all the floors were a shiny sort of burgundy), my grandparents adopted me. My grandmother is my mother and my great grandmother is my grandmother, the lady that tied strings around the legs of June bugs in the summer.
My surrogate father, after being released from the orphanage, beat me like a rag before he died. If he hadn’t died, I would have killed him myself. He never let me stay out with friends or smoke. And every time I brought home a grade lower than a one hundred, I’d be tied to the same radiator and spanked. He tied me and my brother down because he had emphysema and it was hard for him to chase us. Sometimes, just to fuck with him, we’d run in his room at night and throw water on him just to run around until he tired out.
He didn’t let me stay out later than ten on school nights. This is enough to warrant murder in and of itself. He hated my friends and kept me from them out of spite. He never let me go anywhere, he never let me do anything, and he spent all of his money just to keep me happy in my tiny bedroom full of toys I didn’t want bought by people that didn’t want me to begin with.
“I don’t want to argue with you again, Thomas,” my grandmother/mother said. “There’re some hot wings on the stove if ya hungry. Some mashed potatoes on the table, too. But get out of the way, my stories is on.”
Within minutes, she was wired to the television again, nodding with glassy eyes. Entae dozed on her lap.
After supper, my brother and I played a game of chess, listened to some music, (Chopin, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis) and then went to look through my telescope. I sat on the deck for a while with my brother as he looked through my telescope.
I had just stubbed out a cigarette when my grandmother bumbled down the back steps by the deck. “Telephone,” she shouted. She piddled toward me in a floral muumuu. For people that have never been to the south or been around a really fat man, you may not know what a muumuu is. A muumuu is a towel with delusions of grandeur.
“Thanks,” I said. She handed me the phone and started back for the house. “Bring it in when yer done with it,” she said. “If you leave it off the hook, it’ll go dead.”
“Hello?” I said into the phone.
“I was on my way,” Herman’s rapid voice explained. “I got sidetracked when I saw bread all over the road. That bread looked nasty, so I assumed that old man had been tryin’ ta feed the pigeons that dirty stuff. But the pigeons must’a hurt that poor old man’s feelings or something and ran him off. We can’t let the pigeons get sick, buddy. We can’t let that happen.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Pigeons are quality birds. That much is true.”
“Pigeons is good birds. After I got all them crumbs up, I went to the grocery store and got some of that San Francisco bread – the fancy stuff. Cost me damn near five dollars, but it was worth it. Them pigeons sure liked it. And no self respecting pigeon could’a ate that other stuff.”
I’d spent days wandering around in the summer heat carrying a guitar case like a bum, but I could at least take solace in the fact that somewhere a group of lucky pigeons enjoyed an evening of fine dining.
“You should come over tomorrow, bud,” he said. “I ain’t got nothin’ planned. Nothin’ special anyway. Just sittin’ round, pickin’ for a while.”
“What happened?” I asked. There’s one problem when it comes to meeting someone that isn’t there: you can’t pretend to forget your wallet when the check comes.
“I would’a called ya yesterday bud, but I had to go to church and God’s only open on Sunday.”
“And the day before?”
“Scooby Doo marathon.”

I despaired, hoping all the while that someone somewhere on Earth at sometime was doing something more fun but enjoying it less than me.
It’s all fine and good to be lazy, though. For one thing, I’m just glad I didn’t have to dig any more ditches for some head honcho construction tycoon. They fired me for not showing up and – this might be important – also for being linked to a small case of arson involving a tractor, a bundle of plywood I was to carry, and a bunch of random janitorial utilities that had cropped up around outside the mill where we were digging the tunnel. The case is still pending because, as my lawyer suggested, I plead insanity. I had certified papers to prove it too. Captain Smug Asshole down at the probate office will have to pine over the lost opportunity to ruin the life of a youth just looking for a good time.
It was an overcast Tuesday afternoon with damp grass from the day before. My dad pulled up in front of our house and honked the horn of his ragged pickup truck. I put away my drawing, and strode toward the truck.
A few little girls with young girl braids jumped rope in the yard in front of Herman’s – a mirror home to his, precise and exact. We pulled into the section B driveway of the Leisure View apartment.
The Leisure View apartments resemble cupboards with small front porches and littered, tiny front yards and low ceilings. The best thing about living in such a neighborhood is everyone is too embarrassed about where they live to come and borrow sugar.
Herman’s apartment looked just like all the others. They looked like small brick Lego blocks connected together. People from up north say they look like houses because of the fact that they’re shaped like them and only have one floor.
A slide with overgrown grass beside it lay in waste behind a rosebush and the water of a small baby pool with a yellow alligator’s face on it bobbed and swayed with the trees as they sang their song of approaching rain. A rusted mailbox drooped beside a birdhouse with a wooden redbird atop it – on which the number 11A stood out in stark black print with white trim.
My dad turned off the truck and it sputtered to a stop. “I’m tellin’ you,” he said, “he’s about five or six shades past crazy.” I looked at his apartment for a moment. For a moment I thought of all the stories we’d been told about him. People treated him like a homeless man even though he never asked for money, and people would hurry to avoid him in a store.
“Crazy?” I asked. “You forget who you’re talking to. I spent a month in the rubber hole.” I lifted my shirt. “See?”
“There’s a difference,” my father said. “You’re that other kind of crazy. The smart-ass-spends-too-much-time-by-himself type crazy. It’s not a destructive, pathological type of mania. Your mother has it, but you just take shit too far. All Herman does is flap his lips.”
“Lips cause nothing but trouble anyway,” I said.
“What about eating?”
“Exactly.”
He turned his head and chuckled, looked across the battered sidewalk.
“You shouldn’t try to cut things out of you anyway, boy,” my father said. “You’re not a qualified surgeon. We don’t want you to get busted for practicing without a license. We’ve seen it before, you know.”
“Wasn’t your brother arrested for something like that?” I tried not too laugh. He knew what I meant.
“Yes, Thomas. My brother, your uncle, was arrested for practicing proctology without a license.”
We looked at each other for a moment. After that moment, we decided it was that funny, but agreed not to talk about it anymore anyway.
An old man stood in sandals and a tank top in one of the other yards, bent over the hood of a broken down Corvette with grease up to his elbows. With a walker, at a steady pace, an old woman combed the streets for cans to recycle. Everything seemed normal, save for a strange group of Janitors that stood smoking cigarettes at the end of the road. They seemed unprofessional to the extreme; their threadbare suits looked like costumes. Same uniform, hat, and yellow glove dangled from their back pockets. Bunch of bums really. My kind of people.
“He’s a nice man,” my father said. He lit a joint and passed it to me. “Try not to have a panic attack this time.”
“No promises.”
“He’s really lost his shit, but he’s as nice as they come. Especially since that wreck. He’ll talk your fuckin’ ear off, man. Don’t pay him any attention. He never makes sense. Just nod and force a smile and take one of your pills.”
“That shit dulls my brain,” I said. “And I’m southern enough as it is.”
“You know, he’s full of almost half enough shit as you.”
“It’s that bad, huh?”
My father laughed, saying, “he’s a good teacher. Ah, somebody should just give him a joint and calm his ass down.” Those little squiggly lines of heat beaded off the sidewalk. “Man it’s hot. I’m going to pick up some more xanax’s for you. You wanna have a few beers later on?”
I passed the joint back to him, inhaling, going, “Ah…”
“You gone drink with me or not, boy?” he asked. He took the joint, put it to his lips. He wiped the sweat off his forehead, saying, “Well?”
“Nah, conflicts with my medicine. Makes my chest hurt.”
“Well, I could use a few. Maybe that would settle me. I’m about to run man, so, just don’t get too personal with him, you know? He’ll never stop calling, coming by whenever he wants. It doesn’t matter to him. Take everything he says with a grain of salt; watch out or you just might step in bullshit. He makes shit up for no reason, man. Just don’t ever feel sorry for him.”
“Thanks for the advice,” I said. I got out of my dad’s camouflage truck, amp in one hand, guitar in the other, and headed toward the door.
“See you later,” my father said. “Make sure you give him the ten dollars or he’ll hound you forever. And,” he added, “if it’s at all possible, try to get your head out of your ass long enough to get some sunshine. It’s been too long since you been out of that house anyway.”
“No promises.”
My dad pulled out and turned around in the turnaround at the end of the road. Steep, wooded banks rode up on both sides of the road. I walked along the long brick sidewalk, up to the door, dropped my amp and guitar.
As of this moment, the element of surprise and suspense must be lacking in this little squib of a story. To up the suspense, maybe I could gun down the kids at the playground, take their bikes, hop in the car across the street, kick the old man in the throat, and laugh derisively as I barrel down the back roads with little regard for life or limb as a fiery explosion licks at the charred fender of my smoking muscle car. What will I do? Will I open the door? Will anybody give a shit either way?
Stay tuned. Continue reading

Bite Sized Philosophy: 14 July 2015: Philosophers

 

A philosopher holds a unique, almost exalted position in academia, a position distinct from that of the other sciences, the hard sciences; such as physics, math, engineering, and biology; as well as other, similar branches, psychology and theology. It is the discipline of questions and inquiry. The willingness to question, while now applauded and admired, was once quite dangerous. This is also the reason for the enduring popularity of famous philosophers. Another is their willingness to answer, or attempt to answer, questions in matters science has yet to discover.

The dangerous part of being a philosopher is to question long-held traditional, religious, and spiritual beliefs. This has cost philosophers their lives and livelihood. Socrates was sentenced to death; Galileo was put on house-arrest for being a proponent for the Copernican model of the solar system, and he was kind of being a dick about it.

There are countries in the modern world where questioning religious or political beliefs can get you sentenced to death. No person in the history of the world has brought pain upon anyone by being curious except for the pain imposed upon them by those who think it is dangerous. The impulse to ask the kind of questions philosophers normally ask seems to be a uniquely human impulse. While I am sure that how factors into an animal’s rationale in nature, such as How can I get to the food? I doubt, however, Why do I need food?  is a question considered by River Bison. (I apologize for any thinking River Bison I may have offended.)

Douglas Adams said there are three stages of civilization: the how, why, and where stages: How do I eat? Why do I eat? and Where shall we have lunch?

What makes a philosopher? How is someone given the title of philosopher? What does it mean?

In Charles Darwin’s era, before we split the atom and mapped the human genome, biology was natural philosophy. This label was applied to those who offered theories regarding long-standing, unsolved questions in regards to our knowledge about nature and the universe.

 

____

 

The choice one makes when becoming a philosopher or studying philosophy, knowing it to be a thankless profession of challenging beliefs and institutions upon which millions depend, for one reason or another, for purpose, or meaning, for comfort.

Philosophical and theological institutions cater to a unique human need, perhaps a pertinent expression of our genes to survive at all costs and because of our higher brain functions, capable of expressing our resistance to mortality. The system of philosophy arose to facilitate the existential resistance to our own non-existence: to cultivate the idea that purpose feeds worth to what is fleeting, allowing a sort of compromise between mortality and immortality through what we think of as our legacy, an acceptance of our inevitable end if, we can put purpose to chaos, which gave rise to our oldest mythological beliefs. It was a way for us to explain the inexplicable in a time where the systems we now take for granted didn’t exist. It is a unique and storied branch of academia put in place to ennoble the highest aspirations of our creativity, intelligence, and patience.

To explain lightning, we had Zeus; for the explanation of winter, we had the story of Demeter’s sadness regarding Hades’ kidnapping of her daughter. We now know that lightning is caused by positive and negative charges built within cloud-banks, producing a spark when the two clouds collide. Well, there goes Zeus. We know that winter and all of the seasons are caused by the Earth’s 23 degree axial tilt. So, there goes Demeter, Persephone, and Hades.  The Norse believed that Thor was the God of Thunder and that winter was caused by Ice Giants. The philosophy of the Norse culture is more pessimistic than The World as Will and Idea by the pessimist: Arthur Schopenhauer. Even the Gods are killed in Norse mythology–by the Midgaard serpent.

The skeleton key for understanding a civilization is their mythology; it represents their fear, desire, their psychosexual and subconscious urges towards the profane and taboo; the characters representative of these attributes are the externalization of a rich, curious culture, representing the collective unconscious of an entire civilization, and it allows a unique glimpse into the mind of ancient thinking peoples. Looking at the way past civilizations are described and the way we learn of them, and what we learn, affords us an idea of how we may be remembered someday, either by analyzing our heroes and villains, as it has been with Greek and Roman mythology, or the teachers and their schools of thought, which is more a type of ancestor-reverence than mythology in China and East-Asia, or by the histories embedded into their religious traditions, as it is with many cultures in the Middle East. The value of philosophy is, more than anything, despite its pretentiousness and abuses, an invitation to think. The brain, like our muscles, becomes stronger the more you use it, and it is the most powerful weapon we have. We may not have the speed to outrun a cheetah or a tiger, but based on precepts developed by philosophers, such as the scientific method, and techniques of measurement and engineering developed by Greeks, we can build machines that can get us the hell away from animals that would have caught and enjoyed the greater majority of our ancestry, the strongest as easily as the weak. Philosophy is systematized questioning, whose answers are not always either right or wrong: rather useful an individual or not. It is a system that sets us apart from animals, figuratively and literally, as anyone who has had to flee a rampaging T-Rex would attest.

Release date for The Chameleon Mirror set: 24 August 2015

From chapter 17, A Pocket-Sized Mirage

That’s the conceit, that to put on costumes put on make-up put on masks remember your lines and it’ll mean something, someone may love and maybe you, and maybe it’s more, more than a group of costumed men reciting words of men and women now long dead. It’s just how characters without character become great if for a moment, Alain may at his best be some Iago or a Lear, but strove I felt to be the King’s fool. And I guess he was, I’d give him that, perhaps more Edward though, and his bastard’s revolt, to be sincere, a director like Pinocchio had Gepetto loved him. And it’s easy! so much easier; isn’t it? To play Proust’s goddess Mme. de Guermants or the enchantress Albertine or perhaps Bovary, because it meant something, somehow, someone cared. Because they meant something to so many, and through osmosis this makes us mean something, at best, if not to ourselves but someone. So we say the things they say and wear their clothes, what do those without talent do but play some better written part? Continue reading

Backwards

Of all things that would behave differently if time ran backward
one thing would stay the same:
Waking up and going to sleep.
In time rolling forward, you wake up and put on clothes.
At night, you take off your clothes and go to sleep.
In time rolling backward, you take of your clothes and get back into bed.
You stay asleep for a while, then wake up rise from bed
and put your clothes back on.

A Nervous System

We have seen that normal development of the brain depends on interaction between genetic inheritance and environmental experience. The genome provides a general structure of the nervous system. Nervous system activity and sensory stimulation refine the mode of operation. This ‘fine-tuning’ doesn’t mean the addition of new components or connections. It is achieved by elimination. Continue reading

The Structure of Living Systems

A zygote is a diploid cell that fuses haploid gametes into a fertilized ovum. The question for our purpose is how the fertilized egg develops from a single cell into a living organism. As castles are made of brick and stone, organisms are constructed by cells. The animal can be unicellular (one cell) or multicellular (many cells.) In addition to the two types of cells, there are two types of organisms. There are the ancient prokaryotes and the (relatively) new eukaryotic organisms. I’d like to take a moment to note the differences between the two fundamental cells of living systems. I’ll start where nature started–with the prokaryotes… Continue reading

The Poetic Sensibility

When writing about writing and how it is done and understood, I must acknowledge the bitter truth: there is no way to teach the poetic sensibility and practice will not cultivate it. The poetic sensibility is either present in you, or evolves as you come of age. No matter how much you study or emulate the techniques and practices I’m trying to illustrate (and attempting to demonstrate,) without the eye—without the sensibility—technical precision means nothing… Continue reading

Sometimes a Cigar is More than a Cigar: Allegory

EVEN IN THE MOST ORIGINAL AND IMAGINATIVE narratives, it is common to start somewhere identifiable and familiar to the reader. This is a universal element of literature, the establishment of a reference point, a commonality. As much as I would like to start the insanity with the first sentence, and I really, really would, it is inconceivable if you intend to be understood. If not… Continue reading

Marco Polio! The Word Virus

Note. This intended to be experimental, expressionist, and is done in the vein of self-parody and irony. This is a rambling mess included for the sole purpose of extending the concept of the eukaryotic idea. DAVID HUME WAS A POPULAR SCOTTISH philosopher and naturalist. He didn’t live long enough to become acquainted with Darwin’s On the Origin of Species or Mendel’s theory of dominant and recessive genes, but he was very keen on science, nature over myth, and proof over faith. Conceding a less deterministic, pre-programmed ideal of humanity and the cosmos, he believed the abdication of free-will was a means of obfuscation, a way to defer responsibility for one’s actions… Continue reading

(c) Brandon K. Nobles – Necromancy

1
Ghosts in our poetry and prose
Are much like us –
And did not know
Where they came from
Where they’d go;
The Dream Machine – a factory
the Glass Castle – Memory
has scattered lanterns through this web
through which we commune with the dead;
that treasure chest –
that hallowed vault
The Grave of Yesterday is lost
To history – the Greatest Liar
is Gasoline;
and Time the fire.

That is the madness of our lives
To know that all will fall in time;
when this we know so much must go –
We lost our Paradise,
we know:
Green leaves are lovely,
yet the change
that transformation in the rain
Draws us in; it lets us know:
the scene is over;
though the show
Goes on –
as it must go.

Life though priceless has a cost;
as everyone must pay for all:
And strange it is to think
some may –
have such a dreadful debt to pay;
What’s true for one
is true for all;
Leaves are most lovely
as they fall.
For all we know there is no show
there is a closed door
nothing more;
although we somehow know:
We are performers in rehearsal
Desperate for a role.

The past expires in the fire
no King but Entropy,
and this Conductor in its Bluster
made Despair a crime;
And in our pain
to stave off change
we built an altar for our shame.
And the embers we remember,
Valentines, Thanksgiving dinner;
Snow-angels, snowmen,
that December.

What we think and what we dream,
is more than idol worshiping:
it pushes us and focuses
the lens through which we see;
Those golden moments once thought stolen,
with a pen may breathe;
And this lens so much depends
On what we wish to see;
and windowpanes that we have stained,
Have framed this fantasy.

As for this storm in which we’re born –
are pearls by blind watchmakers formed;
And this mirage must give us pause
to let us know that though we go;
through narrow bars immortal stars
Burst into life
each time we write;
This pen – this magic wand –
with proper spells may defy hell
this is a real seance.

We all know hope
If truth be told
Is our desire in a robe;
Yet to deny this lullaby
Is yet more painful still;
For our Fair queen
In love with grief
Denies love not to feel;
There is a reason hope is treason –
And faith must take the hill.

An overflowing wishing well
is proof enough that this is hell;
And in this scene grief is made King
the Queen forsakes the throne.
It may be brief;
it may be tragic,
There is magic in this madness:
a canvas picks up those left stranded –
And this voodoo – Necromancy:
gives rise to what is everlasting.
From the grave onto the page,
from ashes to the canvas –
With every line we defy time.
We are the Necromancers.

An opera, painting, or poem
Is life in a more lasting form;
With life being one brief season
Snow on the desert’s face –
Is the reason there is meaning
in a most cold quiet place;
This calls on us who have the touch,
To create and then replace –
What is fleeting with a beacon
That someone may trace –
Through tangled strings of history
back to that seat of grace.

All those moments
once thought stolen,
are safe within the maze;
Ariadne in her reverie,
gave all the keys away.
And in that second – resurrection!
Dawn is a reborn day:
The King of grief has been impeached:
The Queen delights in May.

(c) Brandon K. Nobles – The Glass Umbrella

I

We are the footprints by the Sea.
The waters come,
and waters leave.
Miss Sea, you see,
your children taken;
Children of the Sea forsaken.

See me see Miss Galilee.
Bring back what she took from me;
bring back what you swallowed whole.
The yawning, old,
and wide mouthed urn,
lolled on, but never turned,
her deaf ear,
to me,
to hear,
my confused shouts at her.

Without a word at all to say,
she waves at the night and day.
She rolls about within a dream,
the carousel goes by overhead;
to it she turns her mirrored head.
She simply looks to it, and all,
and we, like leaves,
around her fall.

The beach we leave our footprints on,
The waters come,
and then they’re gone.
We are but footprints by the Sea;
The waves come in,
and then we leave.
Miss Sea, you see,
your children taken.
Children of the Sea forsaken.

Ancient sea, Miss Galilee,
can you see yourself in me?
As I see myself in you,
glowing white, and tinged with blue.
Can’t you see what you have done?
The lolling sea saw none.

II

“I see,” I said, and that was that;
standing at the shore of black.
I hear my own words echo back.
In those waters,
I saw me;
another reflection in the sea.

This was after ten years passed:
I returned, sat in the grass,
thinking of all who walked that shore.
Never did I see her face,
a glass umbrella had replaced,
the girl whom I adored.
My love would walk the shore no more.

But nothing else, and nothing more;
no more of who I once adored.
No more to God could I implore,
or to the umbrella in her stead.
The face of the mourning sun turned
red;
the glass umbrella, from the sea,
rolled ashore and laughed at me.
Then I knew,
and saw it all,
inside the glass umbrella fall.
I saw myself again, alone,
forever by the Sea to roam.

On that day I watched her play,
with birds about the shore.
I heard her laugh and nothing more,
as the Sea,
came and took my love from me.
Buzzards circled overhead,
like nature’s garbage men.
I heard them call,
and heard her laugh,
and felt the kiss of Caiaphas.

III

A finch had washed up in her place,
from the well amid the waste—
who floundered by the Sea,
and then flew on.
The bird fluttered for a moment,
and was gone.

As beautiful as the Sea might be,
her own face she cannot see.
In my dreams, she comes to me,
and sees her picture on the wall.
By my family, and me,
a portrait of Miss Galilee.

As wondrous as she looks, at night,
shimmering with the silver light,
she looks sadder in the dawn.
When the sun shines in her face,
when daylight takes the nighttime’s place—
she yawns again, and sighs.
Children of the Sea walk home.
Deaf, Miss Galilee rolls on.

Earlier in my life, I went,
found a home which I could rent.
I called my child to say:
“Come see me, come see the sea;
we’ll have some lunch,
then get ice cream.
You have to come;
you have to see,
the face of lady Galilee.”

IV

A while we stood,
where lolled the waves,
under a sky where seagulls played;
for her, my world, for once, to see,
the lovely face of Galilee.
From the waters, walked ashore,
played a while,
bonne nuit, amore.
She splashed about the waves, my
child,
and then she splashed no more.

I remember she flew in.
We had some sandwiches, and then,
hand in hand walked with a grin.
She laughed the day away.
She wore a blue dress, made of lace,
and had a smile upon her face.
At night she walks my dreams this
way—
for when she splashed,
that faithful day—
the Sea took her away.
The waters took my living dream,
and left me here to stay.

The Sea looked into me, you see,
and saw what she could take from me;
my dreams could not just let it be.
And when it looked, at me, it saw,
the same thing when it looks at all.
How could she tell me what she sees?
The way she sees us all go ’round,
she often speaks without a sound.
She sees us dance,
and hears us call,
all at once,
but not at all.
The glass umbrella falls.

We are the footprints by the Sea;
the waters come,
and waters leave.
Miss Sea, you see,
your children taken;
Children of the Sea forsaken.

Legend of the Chameleon Mirror & The Artist’s Garden

1
An Italian princess, noble born, some years before Napoleon, born blind but beautiful; cheerful and sweet and loved. She could not see but wasn’t bothered: as sound and touch were good enough. She had a happy childhood ideal; full of love. One day she woke to find a candle, with a rather large flame on her bedside table, too close; and she watched the dancing fire – a strange dance, almost alive: orange and red and blue and white. Her father was talking but it seemed as though the flame was speaking to her:
“She’s in the country…”
She finally realized she could see and panicked. She screamed. Her father turned round and looked, “Hey!”
She looked at her father’s face. For the first time and, somehow, she knew his voice by heart and habit. And yet each time he spoke, how strange! she could only think about the flame.
She leapt from her bed and fled the room. She didn’t know where she was going but kept on running. Each new corridor rose out of mist, a blackness she didn’t understand. Guards both young and old looked on confused, servants, butlers, cooks; they all moved in and out of long hallways through different paths. The story of her flight reached the groundskeepers and the horses were brought round. Her father and the yardworkers and gardeners set out to find her before dark. It got cold in the hills at night.
Everything was frightening to her new eyes, the sun more so than all; so terrific and overwhelming, a spirit made of force and fire, the largest, most beautiful of candlelights.
“She’s in the country…”
Nothing shook the feeling that the world was somehow wrong, the colors off; she tried to squint to take it in, subdue the light, to conquer it, to shut it off, hoping she could tame the sun, make it relent. And she came upon a mirror. It was her, she knew by instinct, as she had known her father’s face, despite never having seen it. But everything was wrong in the reflection: the eyes and hair and her complexion, chestnut colored eyes, a lovely brown, dark hair still curled – as her maid had no chance to have pressed it. She began to think – how strange! her eyes could lie, how strange a thought.
“She’s in the country…”
She heard the distant murmurs of approaching horses, her father calling out:
“Alissa!” he called. And others with him: “Signorina Alissa! Signorina!”
The retinue of men, in strange dress and manner, approached her, slowing down. The horses, what a sight! for new eyes beyond belief, such strange machines, covered in hair, larger than she’d have thought. Her father dismounted and ran up to her, pulled her into his arms and turned to walk away. He saw the mirror and turned around. He said: “So what did you think? Aren’t you the prettiest little girl in the world?”
No, she thought – she didn’t say it – she’d never thought of such a thing, a mirror that is – why would she, how? How could she have been told, and why tell the blind that such a device existed, knowing they’d never see themselves? He told her what it was, a mirror. She was intrigued and asked. “Papa,” she said, “Are there other mirrors? Better mirrors? I don’t believe it worked, the one I saw.”
“Of course,” he said. He dismissed the other men, helped her onto the horse. He made sure she was secured and mounted the horse in front of her.
“Hold on!” he said.
She wrapped her arms around him as the horse broke into a gallop. The sky she’d often heard was full of clouds and birds was empty then and barren, an ocean she had thought, an ocean without end. And the moon hung like a thumbnail above the treetops in the distance. They rode toward the castle and must have taken a more scenic route. She saw such things beyond belief: birds in flight, rolling hills and vineyards, bright and strange. Back in the castle she felt lost; She’d made her way around for many years without help. She held her fathers hand and he led her to a washroom. Another mirror, oblong with a gold frame above the wash-basin. Something was off; It was wrong as well. She looked away. In her father’s bed chamber she found another, a smaller vanity mirror, wrong again and so on: mirror after lying mirror; she didn’t trust the glass. They stopped for a moment in a gallery, a well-appointed, spacious room, comfortable chairs and divans.
Each picture, each painting, she thought was an honest mirror, mirrors she could love. He introduced her to the family; his father then his uncle, distant relatives, the rest, and then her among so many, how few with that same hair and eyes, no other was a true brunette. The painting had it right, she thought, and each mirror had been wrong, imperfect glass that lied or changed to spite her. She said as much, asking her father, “Could you show me a better mirror?”
“A better mirror?” he asked.
“Yes,” Alissa said. “The best! Only the best. One that is as accurate as this.” She indicated the painting and smiled.
“I will in the morning, sweetheart.”
“You promise?” she asked. She took his hand and swung it back and forth. “Do you promise? Do you? Do you?”
“Yes dear,” he said. He smiled. “There is someone I can see. I promise.”
He never lied to her, and a promise she could count on, unlike her mother.
“She’s in the country…”
They were quiet at the dinner table. It was too long, she thought. The table, feeling lonely, a new feeling for the dinner table, a feeling she had not felt before. Two men in uniform stood on opposite sides of the dining table with white kerchiefs draped over their wrists, on call. She finished her meal, they took it away, and her father finished, and the table was cleared.
“Are you ready for bed?” he asked.
“Not yet,” she said. “I want to see the prettiest thing you have.”
He took walked toward her, took her hand, and said, “It’s not in the castle. But I’ll show you. You’ll love it.”
2
The night had crept up on them quietly, bathing the now dim dining hall, its candles blown out and left smoking. That candle light, those flames still seemed so personal, like living things. And she liked to watch them as her father spoke, to relive that moment when she first awoke again.
He led her from the dining hall through winding corridors with torches hanging on the walls. The shadows thrown, such strange patterns, with light and darkness split by lanterns.The castle doors came slowly slowly down and moaned. Everything seemed to make some sound or sounds, as if they spoke, not as a consequence of movement, not for her, but from personality; the doors were old and groaned but did their duty still; they had purpose, as all things did, all personable and alive. Soon they were in the courtyard, and under the canopy of distant lights, the stars! There they were, scattered in that endless ocean, stretching on and on forever, without end. A black ocean full of fire, anglerfish with entranced planets, hypnotized and trapped by its spell.
So much to take in, so very much! So much she knew she’d never know, never could know, never hear of all of them nor their names, and silent all of them, so far away like all of space and quiet, She fell asleep underneath the constellations as her father spoke, imagining those distant fires as candlelights themselves, with the same voice.
“And that is Ariene, and Toros, and Pesci there, and my sign Acquario, your mothers there, Gemelli, and yours..,”
Alissa was fast asleep. Dreaming in color, too; she was a fire like the rest; and spoke to kids as that same flame that managed to light her life, bring her the stars; among them now and uncontained by mirrors or frames unbound by math just change; never stopping endless never still. Breathing and stretching in such freedom with such relish, a longing she had never known and it went on. Sparks struck into flame and swelled orange at first then red, then white and finally blue and bright bright beyond compare it flashed and ebbed away. One after another flaring into flame and life just to subside as had all others growing faint, growing dim each light, each point she had just slept under in such peace. Each point followed in its fashion, some larger and some brighter yet none of them were lasting; finally they were far away, as far as they had been when she had listened to her father. She heard him speaking, voice of the last stars each fading, ever darker, ever gray. She woke in the comfort of her bed. She could hear father talking to someone, a woman; the voice was familiar.
Alissa heard her father say, “Whatever you ask,” he said. “It’s yours.”
The woman walked into the room. Alissa’s father followed close behind, “I have something for you…”
The woman held an object, egg-shaped on one end , straight on the other; cased in black satin, tied at the hilt with a golden tassel.
“This,” said she, “is very special, a magical object. Your father said you wanted the best of all the mirrors, best in the whole wide world, is that right?”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Alissa.
“Well,” she said, “look at this!”
The velvet sheet fell to the floor as a glittering object, mostly silver, slid from it into one hand, then to both. The glass was more liquid than solid, unusual and restless; the mirror moved—the mirror moved! Changing shapes and changing colors always shifting restless, so it seemed. The woman said, “This is a very special mirror. This mirror tells only truth, while other mirrors only show what’s real. This will show your true face no matter what, whether you wish to see it or not. It is a camaleonte, alive… Do you know that is?”
“It is a lizard,” said the princess. “A chameleon.”
“Yes,” the lady said. “This is the Chameleon Mirror.”
3
The young girl nodded.
“But,” she said, “Pardon, ma’am. Could I see it work before I try it?”
“How clever!” said the lady. She had a toothy smile. “Do you still have your dolly?”
Alissa looked around. She hadn’t thought of toys, not since she woke at least. She didn’t know how to find them, not with her eyes. She lay back as if to sleep, pretending for a moment, and replayed her usual routine. She sat up with her eyes closed then felt her way around, out of the bed across the carpet, onto the wooden floor, then to the corner. Her old toy-chest, made of soft-wood, had a cold, metallic switch and buckle. She groped about until she found a wooden doll, a dairy-made she’d never seen. She opened her eyes to finally see. The shirt was white and bilious, the dress was red and wrinkled; her shoes were black, her stockings white. Alissa walked across the room and sat down again. The lady smiled. She took the doll and said: “My daughter had one of these!”
She placed the doll in front of the mirror and – the mirror moved! The mirror moves, Alissa thought. it changed from an amorphous shade of neutral grey and blank and bit by bit became defined; sketchy at first then color sprang into life coloring the face. It looked different immediately, but Alissa didn’t know exactly why or how. There was a discomfort in the face, an emotion, a pained expression somehow. Alissa looked at the doll in the mirror, then to the real doll; at first glance they seemed the same, but the mirror gave it personality; it told the truth by some strange voodoo that the real doll for some reason could not manage. The reflection in the mirror was more true than the milk-maid’s face.
“Well?” the lady interrupted. “Would you like to see it work on you?”
Alissa thought for a moment, wondering truly, wondering what question she wanted answered; none, she thought, had troubled her before she woke to find the speaking candlelight.
“I want you to look!”
The lady’s smile faltered a bit but did not fail. She said, “Of course.”
She turned the mirror to her face. It sprung to life again, shifted from a settled palette, undefined, and bursting colors sprung from beneath the liquid surface and hurried into place, each more definitive, putting the face together bit by bit as she looked on. A lively woman appeared, not unkind nor kind, came together dot by dot, color by color until the surface settled into a stern, more wistful countenance. The face was younger, much younger, but the eyes were older, weary and tired but sharp, acute and penetrating. She became beautiful through that same magic. And Alissa took the handle but the lady grabbed her hand.
“Are you sure you want to see?” she asked. “If you look, you can’t take it back.”
And without thinking she said yes, compelled and egged on by that magic. Alissa took the handle into her hands and held it up to her face and focused. Colors rushed from the lining silver toward the center, dark colors first, the outline in dark colors then new colors softer, beige and lesser brown, each softer, more subtle shades all marching towards a growing image. And the face with currents shifting settling, colors barging into one another, merging, and finally settled. She looked into the eyes on the mirror’s face, her face. It was … was it? Was it?
“Take it away!” she screamed. “Take it away!”
4
Alissa pushed the mirror away and covered her face, holding her eyes shut tightly. Her father sat beside her. The lady – she could tell through each small sound, still at strange heights – began to redress the magic mirror. She couldn’t shake the image bu she tried, for hours hoping, praying, begging, wishing that when she slept she’d lose the image, the whole thing would go away, like a memory from childhood of a small moment, a moment no one notices or remembers; filling a bird-feed, changing the hay for the horses, something routine, something ordinary.
Her father stayed with her until the sun went down. She felt her father’s heartbeat against her shoulder, tender and supportive. She felt silly and opened her eyes. His eyes were closed, but he seemed calm. Calm enough, at least. And he put his head on her shoulder, looking, she knew, for some sort of support from her.
And she said, “I’m sorry.”
He laughed and asked:
“What did you see?”
“The painting,” the princess said. “It just didn’t seem like me.”
“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s okay.”
She’d find out later to her shame the kind of fee her father paid for a mirror, for such magic. The price for her to get to see had cost her father’s sight. She thought back to that night with him, leading him outside into the courtyard and then on the hill under the black velvet blank full of stars. He got comfortable on his back. She wanted to show him she remembered, the stars from the night before. She put her finger on his stomach first, “I remember,” she said. She pressed into his stomach, “Here is Ariete,” she moved onward, sideways, “And Leone right here,” she kept on drawing. “Pesci of course and your sign Acquario, that’s yours and mama’s sign is here, Gemelli…”
“Wait!” she cried. “Where is mom?
“She’s in the country,” he said. She didn’t ask again. The night went on, moon rising slowly. She continued mapping out the stars there with her father, bringing them to earth for him, for a mirror she gifted the stars. She thought he was asleep and, forgetful and tired, she could not remember her own sign.
“You forgot yourself,” he said. He guided her hand onto his chest, above his heart. “Here,” he said. He mumbered in his sleep;
“Toro.”
“I remember,” she pressed into his stomach, “here is Ariete,” she moved to the side, “and Leone here,” she continued drawing the constellation, “Pesci, your sign, Acquario that’s yours, and mother’s there, Gemelli…”
“Wait!” she said. “Where is mother?”
“She’s in the country,” he said. He repeated a few more times and stopped, realizing she finally understood, and she did. So the night went on and laying there, she continued drawing constellations on his stomach, on his chest, thinking she had them all and, giving up, roused her father from his light nap.
She understood and never asked again. She continued with the constellations on his stomach, on his chest. And when she stopped, he said: “You forgot yourself.”
He pulled her hand onto his chest, above his heart, “Here,” he said. He murmured in his sleep;
“Toro.” above his heart and said, “Right here.”
She felt his heartbeat, “There,” it slowed; muscles calming now, his expression mos serHis heart beat slowed, his muscles calmed. He murmured in his sleep:
“Toro.”
An Italian princess, noble born, some years before Napoleon, born blind but beautiful; cheerful and sweet and loved. She could not see but wasn’t bothered: as sound and touch were good enough. She had a happy childhood ideal; full of love. One day she woke to find a candle, with a rather large flame on her bedstand, too close; and she watched the dancing fire – a strange dance, almost alive: orange and red and blue and white. Her father was talking but it seemed as though the flame was speaking to her:
“She’s in the country…”
She finally realized she could see and panicked. She screamed. Her father turned round and looked, “Hey!”
She looked at her father’s face. For the first time and, somehow, she knew his voice by heart and habit. And yet each time he spoke, how strange! she could only think about the flame.
She leapt from her bed and fled the room. She didn’t know where she was going but kept on running. Each new corridor rose out of mist, a blackness she didn’t understand. Guards both young and old looked on confused, servants, butlers, cooks; they all moved in and in and out of long hallways through different paths. The story of her flight reached the groundskeepers and the horses were brought round. Her father and the yardworkers and gardeners set out to find her before dark. It got cold in the hills at night.
Everything was frightening to her new eyes, the sun more so than all; so terrific and overwhelming, a spirit made of force and fire, the largest, most beautiful of candlelights.
“She’s in the country…”
Nothing shook the feeling that the world was somehow wrong, the colors off; she tried to squint to take it in, subdue the light, to conquer it, to shut it off, hoping she could tame the sun, make it relent. And she came upon a mirror. It was her, she knew by instinct, as she had known her father’s face, despite never having seen it. But everything was wrong in the reflection: the eyes and hair and her complexion, chestnut colored eyes, a lovely brown, dark hair still curled – as her maid had no chance to have pressed it. She began to think – how strange! her eyes could lie, how strange a thought.
“She’s in the country…”
She heard the distant murmurs of approaching horses, her father calling out:
“Alissa!” he called. And others with him: “Signorina Alissa! Signorina!”
The retinue of men, in strange dress and manner, approached her, slowing down. The horses, what a sight! for new eyes beyond belief, such strange machines, covered in hair, larger than she’d have thought. Her father dismounted and ran up to her, pulled her into his arms and turned to walk away. He saw the mirror and turned around. He said: “So what did you think? Aren’t you the prettiest little girl in the world?”
No, she thought – she didn’t say it – she’d never thought of such a thing, a mirror that is – why would she, how? How could she have been told, and why tell the blind that such a device existed, knowing they’d never see themselves? He told her what it was, a mirror. She was intrigued and asked. “Papa,” she said, “Are there other mirrors? Better mirrors? I don’t believe it worked, the one I saw.”
“Of course,” he said. He dismissed the other men, helped her onto the horse. He made sure she was secured and hopped in front of her. .
“Hold on!” he said. She wrapped her arms around him as the horse broke into a gallop. The sky she’d often heard was full of clouds and birds was empty then and barren, an ocean she had thought, an ocean without end. And the moon hung like a thumbnail above distant treetop. They rode toward the castle and must have taken a more scenic route. She saw such things beyond belief: birds in flight, rolling hills and vineyards, bright and strange. Back in the castle she felt lost; She’d made her way around for many years without help. She held her fathers hand and he led her to a washroom. Another mirror, oblong with a gold frame above the wash-basin. Something was off; It was wrong as well. She looked away. In her father’s bed chamber she found another, a smaller vanity mirror, wrong again and so on: mirror after lying mirror; she didn’t trust the glass. They stopped for a moment in a gallery, a well-appointed, spacious room, comfortable chairs and divans.
Each picture, each painting, she thought was an honest mirror, mirrors she could loved. He introduced her to the family; his father then his uncle, distant relatives, the rest, and then her among so many, how few with that same hair and eyes, no other was a true brunette. The painting had it right, she thought, and each mirror had been wrong, imperfect glass that lied or changed to spite her. She said as much, asking her father, “Could you show me a better mirror?”
“A better mirror?” he asked.
“Yes,” Alissa said. “The best! Only the best. One that is as accurate as this.” She indicated the painting and smiled.
“I will in the morning, sweetheart.”
“You promise?” she asked. She took his hand and swung it back and forth. “Do you promise? Do you? Do you?”
“Yes dear,” he said. He smiled. “There is someone I can see. I promise.”
He never lied to her, and a promise she could count on, unlike her mother.
“She’s in the country…”
They were quiet at the dinner table. It was too long, she thought. The table, feeling lonely, a new feeling for the dinner table, a feeling she had not felt before. Two men in uniform stood on opposite sides of the dining table with white kerchiefs draped over their wrists, on call. She finished her meal, they took it away, and her father finished, and the table was cleared.
“Are you ready for bed?” he asked.
“Not yet,” she said. “I want to see the prettiest thing you have.”
He took walked toward her, took her hand, and said, “It’s not in the castle. But I’ll show you. You’ll love it.”
2
The night had crept up on them quietly, bathing the now dim dining hall, its candles blown out and left smoking. That candle light, those flames still seemed so personal, like living things. And she liked to watch them as her father spoke, to relive that moment when she first awoke again.
He led her from the dining hall through winding corridors with torches hanging on the walls. The shadows thrown, such strange patterns, with light and darkness split by lanterns.The castle doors came slowly slowly down and moaned. Everything seemed to make some sound or sounds, as if they spoke, not as a consequence of movement, not for her, but from personality; the doors were old and groaned but did their duty still; they had purpose, as all things did, all personable and alive. Soon they were in the courtyard, and under the canopy of distant lights, the stars! There they were, scattered in that endless ocean, stretching on and on forever, without end. A black ocean full of fire, anglerfish with entranced planets, hypnotized and trapped by its spell.
So much to take in, so very much! So much she knew she’d never know, never could know, never hear of all of them nor their names, and silent all of them, so far away like all of space and quiet, She fell asleep underneath the constellations as her father spoke, imagining those distant fires as candlelights themselves, with the same voice.
“And that is Ariene, and Toros, and Pesci there, and my sign Acquario, your mothers there, Gemelli, and yours..,”
Alissa was fast asleep. Dreaming in color, too; she was a fire like the rest; and spoke to kids as that same flame that managed to light her life, bring her the stars; among them now and uncontained by mirrors or frames unbound by math just change; never stopping endless never still. Breathing and stretching in such freedom with such relish, a longing she had never known and it went on. Sparks struck into flame and swelled orange at first then red, then white and finally blue and bright bright beyond compare it flashed and ebbed away. One after another flaring into flame and life just to subside as had all others growing faint, growing dim each light, each point she had just slept under in such peace. Each point followed in its fashion, some larger and some brighter yet none of them were lasting; finally they were far away, as far as they had been when she had listened to her father. She heard him speaking, voice of the last stars each fading, ever darker, ever gray. She woke in the comfort of her bed. She could hear father talking to someone, a woman; the voice was familiar.
Alissa heard her father say, “Whatever you ask,” he said. “It’s yours.”
The woman walked into the room. Alissa’s father followed close behind, “I have something for you…”
The woman held an object, egg-shaped on one end , straight on the other; cased in black satin, tied at the hilt with a golden tassel.
“This,” said she, “is very special, a magical object. Your father said you wanted the best of all the mirrors, best in the whole wide world, is that right?”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Alissa.
“Well,” she said, “look at this!”
The velvet sheet fell to the floor as a glittering object, mostly silver, slid from it into one hand, then to both. The glass was more liquid than solid, unusual and restless; the mirror moved—the mirror moved! Changing shapes and changing colors always shifting restless, so it seemed. The woman said, “This is a very special mirror. This mirror tells only truth, while other mirrors only show what’s real. This will show your true face no matter what, whether you wish to see it or not. It is a camaleonte, alive… Do you know that is?”
“It is a lizard,” said the princess. “A chameleon.”
“Yes,” the lady said. “This is the Chameleon Mirror.”
3
The young girl nodded.
“But,” she said, “Pardon, ma’am. Could I see it work before I try it?”
“How clever!” said the lady. She had a toothy smile. “Do you still have your dolly?”
Alissa looked around. She hadn’t thought of toys, not since she woke at least. She didn’t know how to find them, not with her eyes. She lay back as if to sleep, pretending for a moment, and replayed her usual routine. She sat up with her eyes closed then felt her way around, out of the bed across the carpet, onto the wooden floor, then to the corner. Her old toy-chest, made of soft-wood, had a cold, metallic switch and buckle. She groped about until she found a wooden doll, a dairy-made she’d never seen. She opened her eyes to finally see. The shirt was white and bilious, the dress was red and wrinkled; her shoes were black, her stockings white. Alissa walked across the room and sat down again. The lady smiled. She took the doll and said: “My daughter had one of these!”
She placed the doll in front of the mirror and – the mirror moved! The mirror moves, Alissa thought. it changed from an amorphous shade of neutral grey and blank and bit by bit became defined; sketchy at first then color sprang into life coloring the face. It looked different immediately, but Alissa didn’t know exactly why or how. There was a discomfort in the face, an emotion, a pained expression somehow. Alissa looked at the doll in the mirror, then to the real doll; at first glance they seemed the same, but the mirror gave it personality; it told the truth by some strange voodoo that the real doll for some reason could not manage. The reflection in the mirror was more true than the milk-maid’s face.
“Well?” the lady interrupted. “Would you like to see it work on you?”
Alissa thought for a moment, wondering truly, wondering what question she wanted answered; none, she thought, had troubled her before she woke to find the speaking candlelight.
“I want you to look!”
The lady’s smile faltered a bit but did not fail. She said, “Of course.”
She turned the mirror to her face. It sprung to life again, shifted from a settled palette, undefined, and bursting colors sprung from beneath the liquid surface and hurried into place, each more definitive, putting the face together bit by bit as she looked on. A lively woman appeared, not unkind nor kind, came together dot by dot, color by color until the surface settled into a stern, more wistful countenance. The face was younger, much younger, but the eyes were older, weary and tired but sharp, acute and penetrating. She became beautiful through that same magic. And Alissa took the handle but the lady grabbed her hand.
“Are you sure you want to see?” she asked. “If you look, you can’t take it back.”
And without thinking she said yes, compelled and egged on by that magic. Alissa took the handle into her hands and held it up to her face and focused. Colors rushed from the lining silver toward the center, dark colors first, the outline in dark colors then new colors softer, beige and lesser brown, each softer, more subtle shades all marching towards a growing image. And the face with currents shifting settling, colors barging into one another, merging, and finally settled. She looked into the eyes on the mirror’s face, her face. It was … was it? Was it?
“Take it away!” she screamed. “Take it away!”
4
Alissa pushed the mirror away and covered her face, holding her eyes shut tightly. Her father sat beside her. The lady – she could tell through each small sound, still at strange heights – began to redress the magic mirror. She couldn’t shake the image bu she tried, for hours hoping, praying, begging, wishing that when she slept she’d lose the image, the whole thing would go away, like a memory from childhood of a small moment, a moment no one notices or remembers; filling a bird-feed, changing the hay for the horses, something routine, something ordinary.
Her father stayed with her until the sun went down. She felt her father’s heartbeat against her shoulder, tender and supportive. She felt silly and opened her eyes. His eyes were closed, but he seemed calm. Calm enough, at least. And he put his head on her shoulder, looking, she knew, for some sort of support from her.
And she said, “I’m sorry.”
He laughed and asked:
“What did you see?”
“The painting,” the princess said. “It just didn’t seem like me.”
“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s okay.”
She’d find out later to her shame the kind of fee her father paid for a mirror, for such magic. The price for her to get to see had cost her father’s sight. She thought back to that night with him, leading him outside into the courtyard and then on the hill under the black velvet blank full of stars. He got comfortable on his back. She wanted to show him she remembered, the stars from the night before. She put her finger on his stomach first, “I remember,” she said. She pressed into his stomach, “Here is Ariete,” she moved onward, sideways, “And Leone right here,” she kept on drawing. “Pesci of course and your sign Acquario, that’s yours and mama’s sign is here, Gemelli…”
“Wait!” she cried. “Where is my mother?”
“She’s in the country…” he said. She would not ask again.
So the night went on as all nights do, a slow moon rising. She continued mapping out the stars there with her father, bringing them to earth for him, for a mirror and the glance, she gifted him the stars, bringing Sirius and Betelgeuse into his lap. She thought he was asleep and forgetful, tired, quit before she finished.
“You forgot yourself,” he said. He guided her hand onto his chest, above his heart. “Here,” he said. He mumbered in his sleep;
“Toro.”
And nothing else…  (Click to continue reading…” Continue reading

Brandon K Nobles, Legend of the Chameleon Mirror, (3rd draft, 30 May 2015)

1

An Italian princess, noble born, some years before Napoleon, born blind but beautiful; cheerful and sweet and loved. She could not see but wasn’t bothered: as sound and touch were good enough. She had a happy childhood ideal; full of love. One day she woke to find a candle, with a rather large flame on her bedside table, too close; and she watched the dancing fire – a strange dance, almost alive: orange and red and blue and white. Her father was talking but it seemed as though the flame was speaking to her:

“She’s in the country…”

She finally realized she could see and panicked. She screamed. Her father turned round and looked, “Hey!”

She looked at her father’s face. For the first time and, somehow, she knew his voice by heart and habit. And yet each time he spoke, how strange! she could only think about the flame.
She leapt from her bed and fled the room. She didn’t know where she was going but kept on running. Each new corridor rose out of mist, a blackness she didn’t understand. Guards both young and old looked on confused, servants, butlers, cooks; they all moved in and out of long hallways through different paths. The story of her flight reached the groundskeepers and the horses were brought round. Her father and the yardworkers and gardeners set out to find her before dark. It got cold in the hills at night.

Everything was frightening to her new eyes, the sun more so than all; so terrific and overwhelming, a spirit made of force and fire, the largest, most beautiful of candlelights.

“She’s in the country…”

Nothing shook the feeling that the world was somehow wrong, the colors off; she tried to squint to take it in, subdue the light, to conquer it, to shut it off, hoping she could tame the sun, make it relent. And she came upon a mirror. It was her, she knew by instinct, as she had known her father’s face, despite never having seen it. But everything was wrong in the reflection: the eyes and hair and her complexion, chestnut colored eyes, a lovely brown, dark hair still curled – as her maid had no chance to have pressed it. She began to think – how strange! her eyes could lie, how strange a thought.

“She’s in the country…”

She heard the distant murmurs of approaching horses, her father calling out:

“Alissa!” he called. And others with him: “Signorina Alissa! Signorina!”

The retinue of men, in strange dress and manner, approached her, slowing down. The horses, what a sight! for new eyes beyond belief, such strange machines, covered in hair, larger than she’d have thought. Her father dismounted and ran up to her, pulled her into his arms and turned to walk away. He saw the mirror and turned around. He said: “So what did you think? Aren’t you the prettiest little girl in the world?”

No, she thought – she didn’t say it – she’d never thought of such a thing, a mirror that is – why would she, how? How could she have been told, and why tell the blind that such a device existed, knowing they’d never see themselves? He told her what it was, a mirror. She was intrigued and asked. “Papa,” she said, “Are there other mirrors? Better mirrors? I don’t believe it worked, the one I saw.”

“Of course,” he said. He dismissed the other men, helped her onto the horse. He made sure she was secured and mounted the horse in front of her.

“Hold on!” he said.

She wrapped her arms around him as the horse broke into a gallop. The sky she’d often heard was full of clouds and birds was empty then and barren, an ocean she had thought, an ocean without end. And the moon hung like a thumbnail above the treetops in the distance. They rode toward the castle and must have taken a more scenic route. She saw such things beyond belief: birds in flight, rolling hills and vineyards, bright and strange. Back in the castle she felt lost; She’d made her way around for many years without help. She held her fathers hand and he led her to a washroom. Another mirror, oblong with a gold frame above the wash-basin. Something was off; It was wrong as well. She looked away. In her father’s bed chamber she found another, a smaller vanity mirror, wrong again and so on: mirror after lying mirror; she didn’t trust the glass. They stopped for a moment in a gallery, a well-appointed, spacious room, comfortable chairs and divans.

Each picture, each painting, she thought was an honest mirror, mirrors she could love. He introduced her to the family; his father then his uncle, distant relatives, the rest, and then her among so many, how few with that same hair and eyes, no other was a true brunette. The painting had it right, she thought, and each mirror had been wrong, imperfect glass that lied or changed to spite her. She said as much, asking her father, “Could you show me a better mirror?”

“A better mirror?” he asked.

“Yes,” Alissa said. “The best! Only the best. One that is as accurate as this.” She indicated the painting and smiled.

“I will in the morning, sweetheart.”

“You promise?” she asked. She took his hand and swung it back and forth. “Do you promise? Do you? Do you?”

“Yes dear,” he said. He smiled. “There is someone I can see. I promise.”

He never lied to her, and a promise she could count on, unlike her mother.

“She’s in the country…”

They were quiet at the dinner table. It was too long, she thought. The table, feeling lonely, a new feeling for the dinner table, a feeling she had not felt before. Two men in uniform stood on opposite sides of the dining table with white kerchiefs draped over their wrists, on call. She finished her meal, they took it away, and her father finished, and the table was cleared.

“Are you ready for bed?” he asked.

“Not yet,” she said. “I want to see the prettiest thing you have.”

He took walked toward her, took her hand, and said, “It’s not in the castle. But I’ll show you. You’ll love it.”

2

The night had crept up on them quietly, bathing the now dim dining hall, its candles blown out and left smoking. That candle light, those flames still seemed so personal, like living things. And she liked to watch them as her father spoke, to relive that moment when she first awoke again.

He led her from the dining hall through winding corridors with torches hanging on the walls. The shadows thrown, such strange patterns, with light and darkness split by lanterns.The castle doors came slowly slowly down and moaned. Everything seemed to make some sound or sounds, as if they spoke, not as a consequence of movement, not for her, but from personality; the doors were old and groaned but did their duty still; they had purpose, as all things did, all personable and alive. Soon they were in the courtyard, and under the canopy of distant lights, the stars! There they were, scattered in that endless ocean, stretching on and on forever, without end. A black ocean full of fire, anglerfish with entranced planets, hypnotized and trapped by its spell.

So much to take in, so very much! So much she knew she’d never know, never could know, never hear of all of them nor their names, and silent all of them, so far away like all of space and quiet, She fell asleep underneath the constellations as her father spoke, imagining those distant fires as candlelights themselves, with the same voice.

“And that is Ariene, and Toros, and Pesci there, and my sign Acquario, your mothers there, Gemelli, and yours..,”

Alissa was fast asleep. Dreaming in color, too; she was a fire like the rest; and spoke to kids as that same flame that managed to light her life, bring her the stars; among them now and uncontained by mirrors or frames unbound by math just change; never stopping endless never still. Breathing and stretching in such freedom with such relish, a longing she had never known and it went on. Sparks struck into flame and swelled orange at first then red, then white and finally blue and bright bright beyond compare it flashed and ebbed away. One after another flaring into flame and life just to subside as had all others growing faint, growing dim each light, each point she had just slept under in such peace. Each point followed in its fashion, some larger and some brighter yet none of them were lasting; finally they were far away, as far as they had been when she had listened to her father. She heard him speaking, voice of the last stars each fading, ever darker, ever gray. She woke in the comfort of her bed. She could hear father talking to someone, a woman; the voice was familiar.

Alissa heard her father say, “Whatever you ask,” he said. “It’s yours.”

The woman walked into the room. Alissa’s father followed close behind, “I have something for you…”

The woman held an object, egg-shaped on one end , straight on the other; cased in black satin, tied at the hilt with a golden tassel.

“This,” said she, “is very special, a magical object. Your father said you wanted the best of all the mirrors, best in the whole wide world, is that right?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Alissa.

“Well,” she said, “look at this!”

The velvet sheet fell to the floor as a glittering object, mostly silver, slid from it into one hand, then to both. The glass was more liquid than solid, unusual and restless; the mirror moved—the mirror moved! Changing shapes and changing colors always shifting restless, so it seemed. The woman said, “This is a very special mirror. This mirror tells only truth, while other mirrors only show what’s real. This will show your true face no matter what, whether you wish to see it or not. It is a camaleonte, alive… Do you know that is?”

“It is a lizard,” said the princess. “A chameleon.”

“Yes,” the lady said. “This is the Chameleon Mirror.”

3

The young girl nodded.

“But,” she said, “Pardon, ma’am. Could I see it work before I try it?”

“How clever!” said the lady. She had a toothy smile. “Do you still have your dolly?”

Alissa looked around. She hadn’t thought of toys, not since she woke at least. She didn’t know how to find them, not with her eyes. She lay back as if to sleep, pretending for a moment, and replayed her usual routine. She sat up with her eyes closed then felt her way around, out of the bed across the carpet, onto the wooden floor, then to the corner. Her old toy-chest, made of soft-wood, had a cold, metallic switch and buckle. She groped about until she found a wooden doll, a dairy-made she’d never seen. She opened her eyes to finally see. The shirt was white and bilious, the dress was red and wrinkled; her shoes were black, her stockings white. Alissa walked across the room and sat down again. The lady smiled. She took the doll and said: “My daughter had one of these!”

She placed the doll in front of the mirror and – the mirror moved! The mirror moves, Alissa thought. it changed from an amorphous shade of neutral grey and blank and bit by bit became defined; sketchy at first then color sprang into life coloring the face. It looked different immediately, but Alissa didn’t know exactly why or how. There was a discomfort in the face, an emotion, a pained expression somehow. Alissa looked at the doll in the mirror, then to the real doll; at first glance they seemed the same, but the mirror gave it personality; it told the truth by some strange voodoo that the real doll for some reason could not manage. The reflection in the mirror was more true than the milk-maid’s face.

“Well?” the lady interrupted. “Would you like to see it work on you?”

Alissa thought for a moment, wondering truly, wondering what question she wanted answered; none, she thought, had troubled her before she woke to find the speaking candlelight.

“I want you to look!”

The lady’s smile faltered a bit but did not fail. She said, “Of course.”

She turned the mirror to her face. It sprung to life again, shifted from a settled palette, undefined, and bursting colors sprung from beneath the liquid surface and hurried into place, each more definitive, putting the face together bit by bit as she looked on. A lively woman appeared, not unkind nor kind, came together dot by dot, color by color until the surface settled into a stern, more wistful countenance. The face was younger, much younger, but the eyes were older, weary and tired but sharp, acute and penetrating. She became beautiful through that same magic. And Alissa took the handle but the lady grabbed her hand.

“Are you sure you want to see?” she asked. “If you look, you can’t take it back.”

And without thinking she said yes, compelled and egged on by that magic. Alissa took the handle into her hands and held it up to her face and focused. Colors rushed from the lining silver toward the center, dark colors first, the outline in dark colors then new colors softer, beige and lesser brown, each softer, more subtle shades all  marching towards a growing image. And the face with currents shifting settling, colors barging into one another, merging, and finally settled. She looked into the eyes on the mirror’s face, her face. It was … was it? Was it?

“Take it away!” she screamed. “Take it away!”

4

Alissa pushed the mirror away and covered her face, holding her eyes shut tightly. Her father sat beside her. The lady – she could tell through each small sound, still at strange heights – began to redress the magic mirror. She couldn’t shake the image bu she tried, for hours hoping, praying, begging, wishing that when she slept she’d lose the image, the whole thing would go away, like a memory from childhood of a small moment, a moment no one notices or remembers; filling a bird-feed, changing the hay for the horses, something routine, something ordinary.

Her father stayed with her until the sun went down. She felt her father’s heartbeat against her shoulder, tender and supportive. She felt silly and opened her eyes. His eyes were closed, but he seemed calm. Calm enough, at least. And he put his head on her shoulder, looking, she knew, for some sort of support from her.

And she said, “I’m sorry.”

He laughed and asked:

“What did you see?”

“The painting,” the princess said. “It just didn’t seem like me.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s okay.”

She’d find out later to her shame the kind of fee her father paid for a mirror, for such magic.  The price for her to get to see had cost her father’s sight. She thought back to that night with him, leading him outside into the courtyard and then on the hill under the black velvet blank full of stars. He got comfortable on his back. She wanted to show him she remembered, the stars from the night before.  She put her finger on his stomach first, “I remember,” she said. She pressed into his stomach, “Here is Ariete,” she moved onward, sideways, “And Leone right here,” she kept on drawing. “Pesci of course and your sign Acquario, that’s yours and mama’s sign is here, Gemelli…”

“Wait!” she cried. “Where is mom?

“She’s in the country,” he said. She didn’t ask again. The night went on, moon rising slowly. She continued mapping out the stars there with her father, bringing them to earth for him, for a mirror she gifted the stars. She thought he was asleep and, forgetful and tired, she could not remember her own sign.

“You forgot yourself,” he said. He guided her hand onto his chest, above his heart. “Here,” he said. He mumbered in his sleep;

“Toro.”

“I remember,” she pressed into his stomach, “here is Ariete,” she moved to the side, “and Leone here,” she continued drawing the constellation, “Pesci, your sign, Acquario that’s yours, and mother’s there, Gemelli…”

“Wait!” she said. “Where is mother?”

“She’s in the country,” he said. He repeated a few more times and stopped, realizing she finally understood, and she did. So the night went on and laying there, she continued drawing constellations on his stomach, on his chest, thinking she had them all and, giving up, roused her father from his light nap.

She understood and never asked again. She continued with the constellations on his stomach, on his chest. And when she stopped, he said: “You forgot yourself.”

He pulled her hand onto his chest, above his heart, “Here,” he said. He murmured in his sleep;
“Toro.” above his heart and said, “Right here.”

She felt his heartbeat, “There,” it slowed; muscles calming now, his expression mos serHis heart beat slowed, his muscles calmed. He murmured in his sleep:

“Toro.”

An Italian princess, noble born, some years before Napoleon, born blind but beautiful; cheerful and sweet and loved. She could not see but wasn’t bothered: as sound and touch were good enough. She had a happy childhood ideal; full of love. One day she woke to find a candle, with a rather large flame on her bedstand, too close; and she watched the dancing fire – a strange dance, almost alive: orange and red and blue and white. Her father was talking but it seemed as though the flame was speaking to her:

“She’s in the country…”

She finally realized she could see and panicked. She screamed. Her father turned round and looked, “Hey!”

She looked at her father’s face. For the first time and, somehow, she knew his voice by heart and habit. And yet each time he spoke, how strange! she could only think about the flame.
She leapt from her bed and fled the room. She didn’t know where she was going but kept on running. Each new corridor rose out of mist, a blackness she didn’t understand. Guards both young and old looked on confused, servants, butlers, cooks; they all moved in and in and out of long hallways through different paths. The story of her flight reached the groundskeepers and the horses were brought round. Her father and the yardworkers and gardeners set out to find her before dark. It got cold in the hills at night.

Everything was frightening to her new eyes, the sun more so than all; so terrific and overwhelming, a spirit made of force and fire, the largest, most beautiful of candlelights.

“She’s in the country…”

Nothing shook the feeling that the world was somehow wrong, the colors off; she tried to squint to take it in, subdue the light, to conquer it, to shut it off, hoping she could tame the sun, make it relent. And she came upon a mirror. It was her, she knew by instinct, as she had known her father’s face, despite never having seen it. But everything was wrong in the reflection: the eyes and hair and her complexion, chestnut colored eyes, a lovely brown, dark hair still curled – as her maid had no chance to have pressed it. She began to think – how strange! her eyes could lie, how strange a thought.

“She’s in the country…”

She heard the distant murmurs of approaching horses, her father calling out:

“Alissa!” he called. And others with him: “Signorina Alissa! Signorina!”

The retinue of men, in strange dress and manner, approached her, slowing down. The horses, what a sight! for new eyes beyond belief, such strange machines, covered in hair, larger than she’d have thought. Her father dismounted and ran up to her, pulled her into his arms and turned to walk away. He saw the mirror and turned around. He said: “So what did you think? Aren’t you the prettiest little girl in the world?”

No, she thought – she didn’t say it – she’d never thought of such a thing, a mirror that is – why would she, how? How could she have been told, and why tell the blind that such a device existed, knowing they’d never see themselves? He told her what it was, a mirror. She was intrigued and asked. “Papa,” she said, “Are there other mirrors? Better mirrors? I don’t believe it worked, the one I saw.”
“Of course,” he said. He dismissed the other men, helped her onto the horse. He made sure she was secured and hopped in front of her. .

“Hold on!” he said. She wrapped her arms around him as the horse broke into a gallop. The sky she’d often heard was full of clouds and birds was empty then and barren, an ocean she had thought, an ocean without end. And the moon hung like a thumbnail above distant treetop. They rode toward the castle and must have taken a more scenic route. She saw such things beyond belief: birds in flight, rolling hills and vineyards, bright and strange. Back in the castle she felt lost; She’d made her way around for many years without help. She held her fathers hand and he led her to a washroom. Another mirror, oblong with a gold frame above the wash-basin. Something was off; It was wrong as well. She looked away. In her father’s bed chamber she found another, a smaller vanity mirror, wrong again and so on: mirror after lying mirror; she didn’t trust the glass. They stopped for a moment in a gallery, a well-appointed, spacious room, comfortable chairs and divans.

Each picture, each painting, she thought was an honest mirror, mirrors she could loved. He introduced her to the family; his father then his uncle, distant relatives, the rest, and then her among so many, how few with that same hair and eyes, no other was a true brunette. The painting had it right, she thought, and each mirror had been wrong, imperfect glass that lied or changed to spite her. She said as much, asking her father, “Could you show me a better mirror?”

“A better mirror?” he asked.

“Yes,” Alissa said. “The best! Only the best. One that is as accurate as this.” She indicated the painting and smiled.

“I will in the morning, sweetheart.”

“You promise?” she asked. She took his hand and swung it back and forth. “Do you promise? Do you? Do you?”

“Yes dear,” he said. He smiled. “There is someone I can see. I promise.”

He never lied to her, and a promise she could count on, unlike her mother.

“She’s in the country…”

They were quiet at the dinner table. It was too long, she thought. The table, feeling lonely, a new feeling for the dinner table, a feeling she had not felt before. Two men in uniform stood on opposite sides of the dining table with white kerchiefs draped over their wrists, on call. She finished her meal, they took it away, and her father finished, and the table was cleared.

“Are you ready for bed?” he asked.

“Not yet,” she said. “I want to see the prettiest thing you have.”

He took walked toward her, took her hand, and said, “It’s not in the castle. But I’ll show you. You’ll love it.”

2

The night had crept up on them quietly, bathing the now dim dining hall, its candles blown out and left smoking. That candle light, those flames still seemed so personal, like living things. And she liked to watch them as her father spoke, to relive that moment when she first awoke again.

He led her from the dining hall through winding corridors with torches hanging on the walls. The shadows thrown, such strange patterns, with light and darkness split by lanterns.The castle doors came slowly slowly down and moaned. Everything seemed to make some sound or sounds, as if they spoke, not as a consequence of movement, not for her, but from personality; the doors were old and groaned but did their duty still; they had purpose, as all things did, all personable and alive. Soon they were in the courtyard, and under the canopy of distant lights, the stars! There they were, scattered in that endless ocean, stretching on and on forever, without end. A black ocean full of fire, anglerfish with entranced planets, hypnotized and trapped by its spell.

So much to take in, so very much! So much she knew she’d never know, never could know, never hear of all of them nor their names, and silent all of them, so far away like all of space and quiet, She fell asleep underneath the constellations as her father spoke, imagining those distant fires as candlelights themselves, with the same voice.

“And that is Ariene, and Toros, and Pesci there, and my sign Acquario, your mothers there, Gemelli, and yours..,”

Alissa was fast asleep. Dreaming in color, too; she was a fire like the rest; and spoke to kids as that same flame that managed to light her life, bring her the stars; among them now and uncontained by mirrors or frames unbound by math just change; never stopping endless never still. Breathing and stretching in such freedom with such relish, a longing she had never known and it went on. Sparks struck into flame and swelled orange at first then red, then white and finally blue and bright bright beyond compare it flashed and ebbed away. One after another flaring into flame and life just to subside as had all others growing faint, growing dim each light, each point she had just slept under in such peace. Each point followed in its fashion, some larger and some brighter yet none of them were lasting; finally they were far away, as far as they had been when she had listened to her father. She heard him speaking, voice of the last stars each fading, ever darker, ever gray. She woke in the comfort of her bed. She could hear father talking to someone, a woman; the voice was familiar.

Alissa heard her father say, “Whatever you ask,” he said. “It’s yours.”

The woman walked into the room. Alissa’s father followed close behind, “I have something for you…”

The woman held an object, egg-shaped on one end , straight on the other; cased in black satin, tied at the hilt with a golden tassel.

“This,” said she, “is very special, a magical object. Your father said you wanted the best of all the mirrors, best in the whole wide world, is that right?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Alissa.

“Well,” she said, “look at this!”

The velvet sheet fell to the floor as a glittering object, mostly silver, slid from it into one hand, then to both. The glass was more liquid than solid, unusual and restless; the mirror moved—the mirror moved! Changing shapes and changing colors always shifting restless, so it seemed. The woman said, “This is a very special mirror. This mirror tells only truth, while other mirrors only show what’s real. This will show your true face no matter what, whether you wish to see it or not. It is a camaleonte, alive… Do you know that is?”

“It is a lizard,” said the princess. “A chameleon.”

“Yes,” the lady said. “This is the Chameleon Mirror.”

3

The young girl nodded.

“But,” she said, “Pardon, ma’am. Could I see it work before I try it?”

“How clever!” said the lady. She had a toothy smile. “Do you still have your dolly?”

Alissa looked around. She hadn’t thought of toys, not since she woke at least. She didn’t know how to find them, not with her eyes. She lay back as if to sleep, pretending for a moment, and replayed her usual routine. She sat up with her eyes closed then felt her way around, out of the bed across the carpet, onto the wooden floor, then to the corner. Her old toy-chest, made of soft-wood, had a cold, metallic switch and buckle. She groped about until she found a wooden doll, a dairy-made she’d never seen. She opened her eyes to finally see. The shirt was white and bilious, the dress was red and wrinkled; her shoes were black, her stockings white. Alissa walked across the room and sat down again. The lady smiled. She took the doll and said: “My daughter had one of these!”

She placed the doll in front of the mirror and – the mirror moved! The mirror moves, Alissa thought. it changed from an amorphous shade of neutral grey and blank and bit by bit became defined; sketchy at first then color sprang into life coloring the face. It looked different immediately, but Alissa didn’t know exactly why or how. There was a discomfort in the face, an emotion, a pained expression somehow. Alissa looked at the doll in the mirror, then to the real doll; at first glance they seemed the same, but the mirror gave it personality; it told the truth by some strange voodoo that the real doll for some reason could not manage. The reflection in the mirror was more true than the milk-maid’s face.

“Well?” the lady interrupted. “Would you like to see it work on you?”

Alissa thought for a moment, wondering truly, wondering what question she wanted answered; none, she thought, had troubled her before she woke to find the speaking candlelight.

“I want you to look!”

The lady’s smile faltered a bit but did not fail. She said, “Of course.”

She turned the mirror to her face. It sprung to life again, shifted from a settled palette, undefined, and bursting colors sprung from beneath the liquid surface and hurried into place, each more definitive, putting the face together bit by bit as she looked on. A lively woman appeared, not unkind nor kind, came together dot by dot, color by color until the surface settled into a stern, more wistful countenance. The face was younger, much younger, but the eyes were older, weary and tired but sharp, acute and penetrating. She became beautiful through that same magic. And Alissa took the handle but the lady grabbed her hand.

“Are you sure you want to see?” she asked. “If you look, you can’t take it back.”

And without thinking she said yes, compelled and egged on by that magic. Alissa took the handle into her hands and held it up to her face and focused. Colors rushed from the lining silver toward the center, dark colors first, the outline in dark colors then new colors softer, beige and lesser brown, each softer, more subtle shades all  marching towards a growing image. And the face with currents shifting settling, colors barging into one another, merging, and finally settled. She looked into the eyes on the mirror’s face, her face. It was … was it? Was it?

“Take it away!” she screamed. “Take it away!”

4

Alissa pushed the mirror away and covered her face, holding her eyes shut tightly. Her father sat beside her. The lady – she could tell through each small sound, still at strange heights – began to redress the magic mirror. She couldn’t shake the image bu she tried, for hours hoping, praying, begging, wishing that when she slept she’d lose the image, the whole thing would go away, like a memory from childhood of a small moment, a moment no one notices or remembers; filling a bird-feed, changing the hay for the horses, something routine, something ordinary.

Her father stayed with her until the sun went down. She felt her father’s heartbeat against her shoulder, tender and supportive. She felt silly and opened her eyes. His eyes were closed, but he seemed calm. Calm enough, at least. And he put his head on her shoulder, looking, she knew, for some sort of support from her.

And she said, “I’m sorry.”

He laughed and asked:

“What did you see?”

“The painting,” the princess said. “It just didn’t seem like me.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s okay.”

She’d find out later to her shame the kind of fee her father paid for a mirror, for such magic.  The price for her to get to see had cost her father’s sight. She thought back to that night with him, leading him outside into the courtyard and then on the hill under the black velvet blank full of stars. He got comfortable on his back. She wanted to show him she remembered, the stars from the night before.  She put her finger on his stomach first, “I remember,” she said. She pressed into his stomach, “Here is Ariete,” she moved onward, sideways, “And Leone right here,” she kept on drawing. “Pesci of course and your sign Acquario, that’s yours and mama’s sign is here, Gemelli…”

“Wait!” she cried. “Where is my mother?”

“She’s in the country…” he said. She would not ask again.

So the night went on as all nights do, a slow moon rising. She continued mapping out the stars there with her father, bringing them to earth for him, for a mirror and the glance, she gifted him the stars, bringing Sirius and Betelgeuse into his lap. She thought he was asleep and forgetful, tired, quit before she finished.

“You forgot yourself,” he said. He guided her hand onto his chest, above his heart. “Here,” he said. He mumbered in his sleep;

“Toro.”

Nothing else.

Legend of the Chameleon Mirror (2015 – 2nd draft)

1

An Italian princess, noble born, some years before Napoleon, born blind but beautiful; cheerful and sweet and loved. She could not see but wasn’t bothered: as sound and touch were good enough. She had a happy childhood ideal; full of love. One day she woke to find a candle, with a rather large flame on her bedstand, too close; and she watched the dancing fire – a strange dance, almost alive: orange and red and blue and white. Her father was talking but it seemed as though the flame was speaking to her:

“She’s in the country…”

She finally realized she could see and panicked. She screamed. Her father turned round and looked, “Hey!”

She looked at her father’s face. For the first time and, somehow, she knew his voice by heart and habit. And yet each time he spoke, how strange! she could only think about the flame.
She leapt from her bed and fled the room. She didn’t know where she was going but kept on running. Each new corridor rose out of mist, a blackness she didn’t understand. Guards both young and old looked on confused, servants, butlers, cooks; they all moved in and in and out of long hallways through different paths. The story of her flight reached the groundskeepers and the horses were brought round. Her father and the yardworkers and gardeners set out to find her before dark. It got cold in the hills at night.

Everything was frightening to her new eyes, the sun more so than all; so terrific and overwhelming, a spirit made of force and fire, the largest, most beautiful of candlelights.

“She’s in the country…”

Nothing shook the feeling that the world was somehow wrong, the colors off; she tried to squint to take it in, subdue the light, to conquer it, to shut it off, hoping she could tame the sun, make it relent. And she came upon a mirror. It was her, she knew by instinct, as she had known her father’s face, despite never having seen it. But everything was wrong in the reflection: the eyes and hair and her complexion, chestnut colored eyes, a lovely brown, dark hair still curled – as her maid had no chance to have pressed it. She began to think – how strange! her eyes could lie, how strange a thought.

“She’s in the country…”

She heard the distant murmurs of approaching horses, her father calling out:

“Alissa!” he called. And others with him: “Signorina Alissa! Signorina!”

The retinue of men, in strange dress and manner, approached her, slowing down. The horses, what a sight! for new eyes beyond belief, such strange machines, covered in hair, larger than she’d have thought. Her father dismounted and ran up to her, pulled her into his arms and turned to walk away. He saw the mirror and turned around. He said: “So what did you think? Aren’t you the prettiest little girl in the world?”

No, she thought – she didn’t say it – she’d never thought of such a thing, a mirror that is – why would she, how? How could she have been told, and why tell the blind that such a device existed, knowing they’d never see themselves? He told her what it was, a mirror. She was intrigued and asked. “Papa,” she said, “Are there other mirrors? Better mirrors? I don’t believe it worked, the one I saw.”
Such a good man Robert was. “Of course,” he said. He ran his fingers through her hair, dismissed the other men, and he helped her back onto the horse. Settled firmly he hopped on in front of her.

“Hold on!” he said. She wrapped her arms around him as the horse hit its stride. The sky she’d often heard was full of clouds and birds, but it was empty then and barren, an ocean she had thought, an ocean without end. And the moon she knew somehow, hung like a thumbnail above some trees. They rode toward the castle and must have taken a more scenic route: she saw such things beyond belief: birds in flight, rolling hills and vineyards. It was magical though maddening, disorienting not unpleasant. Bright and strange, more than anything. Back in the castle she seemed lost, although she’d made her way around for many years without help. She held her fathers hand and he led her to a washroom and a wash basin, another mirror hung above it. It was wrong as well, and moving along to her father’s bed-chamber for another, a vanity mirror it was wrong and so on, mirror after mirror lying to the princess. They stopped for a moment in their tour to look through a well-appointed gallery in a spacious room, full of comfortable chairs and divans.

Each picture she thought was a mirror, mirrors that she loved. He introduced her to the family; his father then his uncle, distant relatives, the rest, and then her. Among so many, how few with that same hair and eyes, no other was a true brunetta. The painting, Alissa thought, was right, the mirror wrong; the glass imperfect, or it lied, or moved to spite her. She said as much, asking her father, “Could you show me a better mirror?”

“A better mirror?” he asked.

“Yes,” Alissa said. “The best! Only the best. One that is as accurate as this.” She indicated the painting, and she smiled, though something was off, she thought. Something, she couldn’t name it, no words for it. “You promise?” she entreated, walked toward him, took his hand. “Promise?” she smiled, truly friendly, truly loving.

“Yes dear,” he said. “There is someone I can see. I’ll get the best mirror, the best looking-glass in all creation. I promise.”

Roberto’s promises were golden, a promise you could count on, unlike her mother’s which meant little if a thing.

“She’s in the country…” spoke the flame.

They were quiet at the dinner table as they ate. IT was too long, she thought. Too lonely feeling, a new feeling that to feel at dinner, a feeling not felt before. Two men stood on opposite sides of the dining table with white kerchiefs draped over their wrists, on call. She finished her meal, they took it away, and her father finished, and the table was cleared.

“Are you ready for bed?” he asked.

“Not yet,” she said. “Show me the prettiest thing there is to see!”

He smiled and walked toward her, extended his hand. “This,” he said. “You’ll love it.”

2

The night had crept up on them, bathing the now dim dining hall, its candles blown out and left smoking. That candle light, those flames still seemed so personal, like living things. And she liked to watch them as Roberto spoke, to relive that moment when she first awoke again, again, and again.

They walked hand-in-hand and smiled, happiness in every step. The winding corridors, the torch-lit halls, shadows in strange patterns in a strange dance with those lanterns on the walls. Endlessly rotating, the light and shadow’s danced, a perfect dance. The castle doors came slowly slowly down and moaned. The way such things sounded, or rather, as such things spoke, was no consequence of movement, not for her: the groaning doors had personality, and old they did their duty; they had purpose, all things did, all personable. Soon they were in the courtyard, and she was under the canopy of distant lights, an inkblack ocean full of fire, anglerfish with planets entranced, hypnotized and trapped by this spell.

So much, so, so, so very much! That ocean, endless, and she knew she’d never know, she never could know, never hear of all of them, and silent all of them, so far away like all of space was quiet, in its birth and death as all living things. She fell asleep underneath the constellations as her father spoke, imagining those distant fires as candle lights themselves, with the same voice:

“And that is Ariene, and Leone, and Pesci there, and my sign Acquario, your mothers there, Gemelli, and yours…”

Alissa was fast asleep and dreamed, in color, too; she was a fire, like the rest; uncontained by any dishonest mirror or reflection otherwise, changing, evolving, never static-staying still. Breathing and stretching in such freedom with so relish and a longing he had never known as it went on. Sparks struck into flame and swelled orange at first then red, then white and finally blue and bright bright beyond compare it flashed and ebbed away. One after another flaring into flame and life just to subside as had the others, each subsiding, every light, each point she had just slept under in such peace. Each point followed in its fashion, some larger and some brighter yet none of them were lasting; finally they were far away, as far as they had been when she had listened to her father. She heard him speaking, voice of the last stars each fading, ever darker, ever gray. She woke in the comfort of her bed. She could hear father talking to someone, a familiar voice … she couldn’t place it.

“Whatever you ask,” he said. “I’m sure.”

“Very well,” said the woman’s voice.

“But only if it works!”

The woman walked into the room, familiar looking too. Roberto followed her, a forced but genuine excitement, an anxiousness she’d never seen. “I have something for you…”

The woman hushed Roberto. Alissa laughed, reminded of the sort of arguments she had heard so many times. Her face was older and older still as she came closer and closer. She noticed that in the woman’s hands was held an object, egg-shaped on one end, straight at the other; covered in black satin, tied loosely at the hilt with a golden string.

She knelt by the bed and the princess sat up straight and promptly, as expected. The woman unwound the golden string and slid the object from the satin cloth.

“This,” said she, “is a very special mirror. Your father said you wanted the best of mirrors, best in all the world. Is that right?”

“Yes, ma’am,” the princess said, entranced completely.

“Well,” she said, “look at this!”

The velvet sheet fell to the floor as a glittering object, mostly silver, slid from it into one hand, then to both. The glass unusual and changed; the mirror moved—the mirror moved! Changing shapes and changing colors always shifting restless, so it seemed. She said, “This is a very special mirror. This mirror tells only the truth; other mirrors only show what’s real. This will show you what your true face is, no matter what, whether you wish to see it or not. It is a camaleonte, alive… Do you know that is?”

“It is a lizard,” said the princess. “A chameleon.”

“Yes,” the lady said. “This is the Chameleon Mirror.”

3

The young girl nodded.

“But,” she said, “Pardon, ma’am. Could I see it work before I try it?”

“How clever!” said the lady. She had a toothy smile. “Do you still have your dolly?”

The little lady looked around. She hadn’t thought of toys, not since she woke at least. She didn’t know how to find them, not with her eyes. She lay back, shutting her eyes, and pretended to sleep for a moment. She sat up with her eyes closed then felt her way around and out of bed, across the carpet and then wood to the corner where the old chest was, a soft wood with a cold switch. She pulled out a doll, a dairy-made she’d never seen. The shirt was white, the dress was red, and her shoes were black, high socks. She walked across the room and sat down again. The lady smiled again. She took the doll, and said: “My daughter had one of these!”

She placed the doll in front of the mirror and – the mirror moved! The mirror moves … it changed from an amorphous shade of grey and blank and bit by bit became defined; sketchy at first and then color sprang into the face, but it was different. There was more emotion in the face, in its composure sadder now, somehow but it was there. Was it? It was unreal, like a dream almost. She looked at the doll in the mirror, then to the real doll; at a glance they seemed the same, but the mirror gave it personality; it told the truth by some strange voodoo that the real doll for some reason could not manage, would not manage.

“Well?” the lady interrupted. “Would you like to see it work on you?”

The princess thought a moment, wondering truly, wondering what question she wanted answered; none, she thought, had troubled her before she woke up to the fire speaking to her. It had been much simpler then.

“I want you to look!”

The lady’s smile faltered but did not fail. She said, “Of course.”

The mirror shifted from a settled palette, undefined, bursting colors sprung from the surface and hurried into place, each more definitive, putting the face together bit by bit from scratch as she looked. And a lively woman, not as kind but not unkind, so much, began to come together color by color until the surface settled into the stern and wistful countenance. The face was younger, much younger; the eyes were much older, weary, sharp and acute but tired. She was beautiful through that same magic. And the princess took the handle, and the lady stopped her.

“Are you sure you want to see?” she asked. “If you look, you can’t take it back.”

And without thinking she said yes, compelled, egged on by that magic, by that transformative magic. She took the mirror into her hands and held it up to her face. Colors rushed from the lining silver toward the center, dark colors first, the outline forced and new colors, softer browns and beige and more subtle shades all marching towards a growing image. And the face with currents shifting settling, colors barging into one another and merging, settled and she looked into the eyes on the mirror’s face. It was … was it? Was it?

“Take it away!”

The princess pushed the mirror the side and covered her face, holding her eyes shut tightly. Her father sat beside her, the lady – she could tell through each small sound, still at strange heights – began to redress the delicate mirror. She couldn’t shake the image but tried in vain, for hours hoping that when she slept she’d lose the image, the whole thing would go away, like a memory from childhood of something of no importance, small moments no one notices, filling bird-seed, changing the hay for the horses, something routine, something ordinary.

Her father stayed with her until the sun went down sometime later and she calmed down. She felt her father’s heartbeat against her shoulder, tender and supportive. She felt silly and opened her eyes. His eyes were closed, but he seemed calm. Calm enough, at least. And he put his head on her shoulder, looking, she knew, for some sort of support from her.

And she said, “I’m sorry.”

He laughed and asked:

“What did you see?”

“The painting,” the princess said. “Everything was wrong. The eyes were wrong, like a dolls. Like dead eyes.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s okay.”

She’d find out later much to her shame that the cost for such a mirror, even if it granted just one look, had a shameful price, a price she wouldn’t have agreed to, and, perhaps, that was why she wasn’t told until much later, by someone else, as the moment with the mirror was swept away into other currents in an otherwise routine childhood. And when she found that the price for her to see was her father’s sight, she remembered that night with him, leading him outside, under the black blanket of the night full of stars. He got comfortable on his back and she took his hand into hers. She didn’t know what she could say, what she could do; maybe there was nothing. She put her finger on his chest and begin to trace shapes to mimic the constellations he’d described to her.

“I remember,” she pressed into his stomach, “here is Ariete,” she moved to the side, “and Leone here,” she continued drawing the constellation, “Pesci, your sign, Acquario that’s yours, and mother’s there, Gemelli…”

“Wait!” she said. “Where is mother?”

“She’s in the country,” he said. He repeated a few more times and was quiet. She understood and never asked again. She continued with the constellations on his stomach, on his chest. And when she stopped, he said: “You forgot yourself.”

He pulled her hand above his heart and said, “Right here.”

She felt his heartbeat, “There,” he said. His heart beat slowed, his muscles calmed. He murmured in his sleep:

“Toro.”