The Mirror Thief by Martin Seay Read Online (FREE)
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“Did you ever happen to see a city resembling this one?” Kublai asked Marco Polo, extending his beringed hand from beneath the silken canopy of the imperial barge, to point to the bridges arching over the canals, the princely palaces whose marble doorsteps were immersed in the water, the bustle of light craft zigzagging, driven by long oars, the boats unloading baskets of vegetables at the market squares, the balconies, platforms, domes, campaniles, island gardens glowing green in the lagoon’s grayness.
• • •
“No, sire,” Marco answered, “I should never have imagined a city like this could exist.”
—ITALO CALVINO, Invisible Cities
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.