Chameleon Mirror – The Lie of Morning

I woke in the early morning, my phone glowing with the numbers: 2:55 – it was morning, I’d been awake for a moment only, missing by ten minutes the cliché of Witching Hour. I was assured in the knowledge that only a hundred kilometers east, a train of demons was seating and on its way from limbo into the past I was apathetic to have woken in. My clock I thought must be wrong, as the colors between my blinds were the distinct blue of a coming dawn, the first hint on those long days and nights alone. I noticed that it was just a trick, dawn still many hours away: the false dawn was a set-up, deliberate or otherwise, by Lain.

He was sitting by my bed across the room, laptop on his lap and writing away. I was at my desk, laptop on hand and writing away. He asked if I could close the blinds, being annoyed by the beam of light cast across his face. I said I couldn’t, as the blinds were raised so allow the air conditioner to be used. He put his laptop down, took off his shirt, a ratty, green away that one would assume to have a checkered past, and pushed it between the blinds to blot out the shaft of light the impolite sun was casting. He returned to his seat and sat down again, finding the light not properly curtailed, and rose again. He went through my bureau until he found a black, long-sleeved shirt. He squeezed it between the curtain rods and stuffed the rest behind the other shirt and smiled as he watched the beam of light bow out and fall away from where he sat.

And now with the only light in my bedroom a digital candle, a unique present to say the least, the black and green in the low light somehow mixed to impersonate the dim but dark blue of a coming dawn. I like it, the way such opposites mixed enough to make me fall for the idea of a rising sun. I kept it, often waking with the same feeling, falling happily for the same trick, to think of dawn being sooner, to think of Lain.

The Leaving Song

5qt

The time-traveler’s wife was one of my favorites, one of the first productions I ever staged. Less a wife and more a friend, but it didn’t matter. Love doesn’t change based on what name it’s given.
The room is dark, some buzzing sounds, some lights. The Professor is humming a song, preparing the machine, ‘We’re going to see Prometheus,’ he says. ‘Unless you had something else in mind?’
Let’s stay here.
He shrugs. He busies himself about glowing panels meaning nothing. Humming his song,
La la laaaaaa, la la laaaaaaaaaaa.
Who do you love, hm? Who do you love?
You know, I say, the boring bits are the best. That’s what you don’t get to see. Each day a new place, new people shining lights, but here. Here. It’s quiet and there’s music and just you and me. We can stay here, light candles, and you can tell me what professors tell.
‘Like what?’
‘What was it like when you were young?’
That song. La la la la la.
‘The leaving song,’ he says. ‘My mother hummed it.’
I see the problem.
My mother hummed it,’ he says. ‘When she woke me up. I woke up that song. Getting ready for school, La la la la la. She dressed me, half asleep. I woke up to that. My clothes would already be on. She’d be feeding me cereal while I tried to stay asleep.
Tell me a normal day.
A normal day?
A boring day. Where nothing happens. Something boring. That’s what I think is most exciting.
A normal day.
I wake up. Look for my glasses. Check my messages.
Who leaves you messages?
My mother sometimes. She did. I saved some she left, the ones I didn’t want to listen to and now. It’s silly. I listen to old recordings, you know. I was too busy to listen to those long messages then, when she was here. But now that she’s gone, when she says, I’m just calling to see if you’re okay. I’m coming to see you soon. I know she won’t, she can’t come see me. You know. A normal day, I’d get up, go to school.
What’s a boring day that you remember? A memorable regular day.
An interesting boring day?
Sure.
Well, hm. I had a cat. A stupid thing.
Alright, that’s boring. Go on.
I liked the cat. I got him from a flea market, in one of those little chicken pens. Two other kittens were in there, I could only afford him. I’d move into a house with a girlfriend, she was nice, but her mother never wanted me there. Not unless I married her. So I asked her to marry me, couldn’t say it. I never said it. I wrote a questionairre and handed it to her along with the expensive box. If you’ll be my wife, look at the writer and smile and open the box. She smiled and nodded, and we got engaged. It didn’t last long. I worked too much. I worked too long. She wasn’t happy, and I wasn’t happy she wasn’t happy. So I got our cat, Walter. Walter was a long-haired cat. She loved him. She loved me for a while.
I moved out, she stayed. I took the cat, the cats. Walter and Elton. But I moved to a new area, an area they didn’t know, so I had to keep them in a pen, to protect them, to make sure they had food. But they had a cage. And it reminded me of that chicken pen they had them in at the flea market. I talked to a friend and he agreed to take them in. I remember walking in the sun. It was hot, carrying that pet-carrier with my cat in it. I took him to the guy’s door. And a little girl ran out and said hello and started looking at the kitten. What’s his name? Walter. I like it. And the other one? The other one was loose, an experiment for freedom. I figured if Elton could survive outside, Walter might be able to. So I left Walter with them. He seemed fine and I said goodbye.
You said goodbye to a cat.
Yeah?
No, what did you actually say? Saying goodbye doesn’t say what you said. What were the words?
Well, it was years ago. I said, You’re going to be safe and healthy. They’re going to take care of you. I patted his head and kissed his head. And I said goodbye. Goodbye Walter. I talked to the father. I told him what he ate how he acted, everything he needed to know. Gave him advice. I hoped I’d never hear from him again. I did though. About a week went by. Elton stuck around the house and I thought he was safe. He’d come in and sit on my lap. And he’d go out during the day. He seemed safe. A week later, I got a call. Walter had escaped, afraid of the rain. He was always afraid of the rain. So he ran out into it. I drove over. It was night-time. I looked for trailers. He’d hide under my couch, so I thought he might hide under a trailer. And he wasn’t far away, wet and under a trailer. I got a towel. Took him home, dried him. And let him stay inside with me. He shit all over the place. The house smelled terrible. So I let him out during the day at first, brought him in at night. But he wanted to go out. To do what he wanted to do. So I let him out… He came and went and he was safe for a while. He disappeared a year or so later. I don’t know what happened. Whether he found a new family, whether he met another cat and found a new house, somewhere to eat.
If only he had left you messages. You could listen to them.
The professor laughed. Well, he says. I don’t have messages. I have a recording of me trying to prod him into talking to a cat of a friend of mine, over the internet. And he meows and meows, the rolling r sound like the Russian roll. Brrow! And I do listen to it. Stupid.
How long ago was that? The professor … I didn’t know how old he was. He could have been an extremely old-looking middle-aged man, or a younger-looking old man. In his forties, for sure. How long ago? 19 years. And I thought, the best case scenario is he died.
What did you do, then, the last time you did see him? How ridiculous. Do you remember the last time you talked to him?
He laughed. That’s 20 years ago, he said. As though he were embarrassed, to speak with warmth instead of hurried humming, a lullaby that deadens the present by deflating the past. The story he told me was different than he told it.
His version:
I got a cup full of food to get him in at night, at least to come in at night and be safe from the night. From other cats. He got in fights. So I fed him and he went to the bathroom, I emptied his box and got ready for bed. I sat down at my desk to listen to my messages. He jumped onto my lap and settled, purring while I went through my answering machine.
Your mother called?
He didn’t remember. I pressed him.
Think! I say. Nobody just knows shit automatically. Thinking leads to knowing. Sometimes that can lead to understanding. Think. What did she say?
She didn’t say anything. It was a long tape, she didn’t know it was being recorded. So I just listened to hear breathe, and sip her tea, changing channels. I heard her laughing, I don’t remember what she was watching. Then my dad came in or my older brother, I don’t know. They found her asleep and turned off the phone and hung it up.
Have you listened to it again?
The silence? I knew he had. He had. He lay in his bed, I could see it. The last night laying there listening to the actions in the background. His mother would laugh, some stupid show would play on TV. She’d change the channels, settle in on an old favorite. And by the time she started snoring so was he as it played in the background, he imagined his cat there because of that recording, a reflection really, and he could hear his mother in his sleep still humming the leaving song and he trails away, dreaming of waking up ready for school.
Good-night, professor.
Good-night, Renette.

Prologue: Legend of the Chameleon Mirror (The Princess’ Painting)

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 an ideal childhood. One day she woke to find a candle, something she’d never seen, a candle with a rather large flame on the stand beside her bed, too close. 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, grabbing her trembling hands,, pulled her into his arms and with her turned to walk away. He saw the mirror – out of the corner of his eye- 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, that day was empty and barren, an ocean she thought, a blue ocean without end.. And the moon hung like a thumbnail above distant treetops. 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.”

Continue to Chapter 2 –> The Face in the Fire

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

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.”