Outside the window a cloud moved in front of the morning sun, and Junipa's mirror eyes also darkened. "Let it be, Merle. Forget the hand. Best forget the mirror altogether." With these words she turned, opened the door, and walked out into the hall.
Merle sat transfixed on the bed, incapable of thinking clearly. She heard the door slam, and then she felt herself very alone.
That same day, Arcimboldo sent his two girl students on the hunt for mirror phantoms.
"I want to show you something quite unusual today," he said in the afternoon. Out of the corner of her eye Merle saw Dario and the other two boys exchange looks and grin.
The master mirror maker pointed to the door that led to the storeroom behind the workshop. "You haven't been in there yet," he said. "And for good reason."
Merle had assumed he was afraid for his finished magic mirrors, which were stored there.
"The handling of the mirrors as I produce them is not entirely without danger." Arcimboldo leaned with both hands on the workbench behind him. "Now and again one must clear them of certain" -- he hesitated -- "of certain elements."
Again the three boys grinned, and Merle slowly became angry. She hated it when Dario knew more than she did.
"Dario and the others stay here in the workshop," said Arcimboldo. "Junipa and Merle, you come with me."
Then he turned and went to the door of the storeroom. Merle and Junipa exchanged looks, then followed him.
"Good luck," said Boro. It sounded sincere.
"Good luck," mimicked Dario and murmured something after it that Merle didn't catch.
Arcimboldo let the girls in and then closed the door after them. "Welcome into the heart of my house," he said.
The sight he presented to them warranted the ceremony of his words.
It was hard to say how big the room was. Its walls were covered over and over with mirrors, and rows of mirrors also stretched down its center, placed behind one another like dominoes just before they are knocked down. Sunlight shone in through a glass ceiling -- the workshop was in an addition that wasn't nearly so high as the rest of the house.
The mirrors were secured with braces and chains that anchored them to the walls. Nothing would topple here, if Venice were to be struck by an earthquake or if Hell itself were to open under the city -- as it was said to have done under Marrakesh, a city in North Africa. But that had been more than thirty years before, right after the outbreak of the war. Today no one talked about Marrakesh. It had vanished from the maps and the language of men.
"How many mirrors are there?" asked Junipa.
It was impossible to estimate their number, to say nothing of counting them. They reflected each other again and again in their glassy surfaces, mutually adding and multiplying themselves. Merle had a thought: Was a mirror that existed only in a mirror not just as real as its original? It fulfilled its role just as well as its counterpart -- it reflected.
Merle couldn't think of anything else that was able to do this: to do something without itself being. For the first time, she asked herself whether all mirrors were not always magic mirrors. Mirrors can see, Arcimboldo had said. Now she believed him.
"You are now going to make the acquaintance of a very singular kind of nuisance," he explained. "My special friends -- the mirror phantoms."
"Mirror phantoms? What are they?" Junipa spoke softly, almost fearfully, as though the images of what she had seen behind Merle's water mirror still danced before her eyes and made her afraid.
Arcimboldo stepped in front of the first mirror in the center row. It reached almost to his chin. Its frame was of plain wood, like the frames of all the mirrors from Arcimboldo's workshop. They not only served as ornament but also prevented cut fingers during transport.
Copyright 2001 by Kai Meyer. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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