The Mirror Thief - Martin Seay


Listen. This is what you see:

A tall casement window. Floorlength drapes of green brocade, parted along the curtainrod. Gray halflight seeping through. Tasseled valance, sheer lace beneath. The wind shakes the glass, and the curtains sway into the room.

Chairs. Desk. Chest of drawers. Wardrobe—they never have closets, these old places. Whitewashed walls. Polished parquet floor, too slick for socks. Nightstands, frilly lamps. White telephone. Tacky glass chandelier: aqua petals, frosted forty-watt bulbs. Hotel shit. The type of shit they always put in hotels. Doesn’t matter where.

The bed, of course. Queensize. Canopied. Fancy pillows stacked in the corner, like somebody’s weddingcake. Linen sheets. Every blanket the innkeeper can spare. Coperte, per favore! Più coperte! Still, it never gets warm.

Coperta. Add it up. Two hundred ninety-nine: to overthrow. Or twenty: to breathe, to hide, to sweep away dirt. An illness. A sickness at heart. In Hebrew, מעטה: that’s a hundred and twenty-four, which can mean a torch, or a lamp. A forsaking. A passing-by. A delay, maybe. How long?

Clothes laid out on the dresser: gray slacks, black socks, blue oxford shirt. Hat. Wallet. Bunch of weird coins. On the floor, your new white sneakers and your suitcase. Propped in the corner, your ironheaded cane.

Another minute and you’ll sit up. Stand. Go to the window. Steady yourself for the long look across the rooftops: the sliver of the Calle dei Botteri on one side, the Calle dei Morti on the other, emptying the quiet campo. You’ll stand there and you’ll watch. Like you always do.

In this city, nobody’s supposed to know you. Though you’ve walked its streets in your head a million times, you’re a stranger here, a tourist. That’s a big part of why you came. But somebody down there knows you, and he’s headed your way: a bug crawling up your pantleg, making it tough to concentrate. Before he shows up at your door you want to spot him, to sieve his shape from the sparse Lenten crowds. Buzzcut head. Cadenced step. Muscled frame. Easy enough to notice. Just go to the window and wait.

But not right now. Maybe in a while. Not feeling too good now. No pain, just a funny heavy feeling. The layered blankets rise and fall.

On the wall above the headboard—upsidedown at this angle, can’t quite see—there’s a framed print. Muddy watercolor. Rickety boats. Smeared sky. San Giorgio Maggiore in the background. A view from the Riva degli Schiavoni, probably. J.M.W. TURNER: black letters in the white margin. Some guy who didn’t know when to quit. Looks like he tried to erase it with a wet toothbrush.

Turner. That’s five hundred and five. Drinking vessels. To declare perverse.

Another gust: the sashes rattle. Three days of cold, late in the season. At low tide the canals are bled out, the gondola-keels stuck in the mud. The whole city kashered. Yesterday at noon you could just about walk to Murano from the Fondamenta Nuove. Imagine it: wading through the muck under the white stones of San Michele. God, what a smell. Slick worms and snailshells. Black ooze between your toes.

Through the angled glass, the fat brick belltower of San Cassiano, dark against damp gray clouds. Crumbling apartments under it: painted stucco flaking from red bricks. Pigeons coo under the eaves; pale shit glues downy puffs to the sill. Seagulls glide by like kites, their little heads moving. So white they seem cut from a different sky.

What did this place use to be? Everyplace here used to be something.

On the wall opposite the window is the mirror. Big, in a heavy wood frame. Nothing special about it. More than adequate to your