Writing Noir Mysteries Part 2

Walking a darkened city street, peeling back today step by step, hearing rainfall as the sky darkens once the sun drops below the uneven skyline. It’s not heavy rain, but a light shower lifting odors of passing life off the sidewalk, the strip of grass between sidewalk and street with small maple trees planted in it every hundred feet. Their leaves are beginning to turn September dark greens into October golden.

The sounds of traffic lessen as evening progresses and your steps lead you away from the vibrant heart of entertainment. You seek solace where most would not look for it turning a corner when the white and colored neon, lights from a neighborhood tavern a block away grabs your attention.

Rain on the sidewalk fills cracks and holes, softening the sound of your leather-soled footsteps. The road is out of the way enough that traffic becomes infrequent, and when a car rolls by the tires hiss the water accumulating on the pavement as twists of smoke rumbles from the exhaust pipe beneath the rear metal chrome bumper.

Nearing the tavern, you hear the muffled sounds of voices, light laughter, in the background someone playing an upright piano, you discover as you press, your hand to the worn brass plate set chest high on left side of the door slowly opening it and entering.

The air feels warm, even inviting, which is when you realize that outside the temperature dropped with nightfall. You smell the smoke from cigarettes and cigars, beer and perfume and the people all around the room. Several of those sitting along the wood-topped bar, glance back to see who entered.

You reach up and touch the brim of your fedora, a greeting, everyone understands. Several of them nod, or smile a welcome.

You cross the room, noticing the scuffed oak flooring as you move to get closer to the musician. Several women stand to one side of the piano watching and listening as his fingers caress the ivories.

A black dial pay telephone hangs to the right of the piano where a small hallway leads back to the restrooms.

On the top of the piano sits a tumbler with a few silver coins, old dollar bills stuffed inside.

You glance around; spot an empty table and wave over the waitress after you hang your overcoat and hat on the brass hook mounted on the wall beside the table. You sit and realize how good it feels to be off your feet, with a crowd of people you don’t know but who make you feel at home.

The waitress looks like a girl you once knew, but now a dozen years older. Strands of her straw colored hair, held back in a ponytail slipped free, and she blows it away when it dangles before her light blue eyes. Her red lipstick needs refreshing red nail polish looks chipped. She wears a light green, bibbed dress that hangs below her knees with a lightly soiled yellow apron tied around her narrow waist.

She pulls her hips to the left when a guy at the bar reaches out to pat her butt. But her face lights with a grin as she shakes her head and says, “Watch where you try to put that hand of yours buster.”

“Can’t blame a guy for trying, Pam,” he answers, grinning too and you find yourself feeling more comfortable than you suspected you might when you first entered.

“What can I get you?” the waitress asks, still smiling, when she stops alongside your table.

“I’ll have a Reingold on tap and some peanuts if you’ve got them,” you tell her and hand her a dollar.

“Be right back,” she says and you again wonder if she’s that girl you knew back in the old neighborhood before the war took you away.

Across the room, you see a new jukebox lights marching up over and down the neon panel-like mantel. A stack of small 78s, wait for a nickel to be inserted lifting and lowering the chosen disk beneath the metal arm with a needle to draw out the wailing voices and back up instrumentals.

Alongside the jukebox, you spot two older men. Neither seem, particularly interested in anything but each other. Because of the way, they lean forward; their creased foreheads and the silent but obviously angry words they pass back and forth you unbutton your suit jacket, and let your fingers caress the gnarled grip of the .38 sitting in a worn leather holster under your left arm. You know both men, hoped you might avoid them by coming to that particular neighborhood, and now wait with uncomfortable anticipation for them to see you and recognize you.

To be continued

Copyright 2018 Gabriel FW Koch All Rights Reserved

Writing Noir Mysteries

For me the dark nature of noir fiction fills some primordial need. Perhaps it is the simple idea that the information age, filled with digital platforms that take you wherever you desire nearly instantaneously allows too much fake and social media “light” into life. It seems to erase much of the mystery, the challenge until we are left with thrill seeking as a means of escaping the one-way street aspect of it.

Six decades ago, life was closer to true black and white in more ways than just photography. Nothing stood out more than the contrast between the rampant crimes that plagued large cities, and the simple lives of the new middle class struggling to forget, move beyond a brutal four-year war that claimed millions of lives in Europe and the Pacific.

As I’ve written in the past, some returning GIs never really came home. They lived their lives with the memories of battles raging in the background of their thoughts, the brutal deaths and injuries to GIs in combat. Some experienced unexpectedly walking up to Nazi death camps and seeing incomprehensible suffering, and civilian casualties everywhere. They managed to put on a good face, almost, no probably, faking a normal co-existence within society. Some had families. Some never tried.

Inside they still wanted, or needed to prove a point that good always overcomes evil. Yet, there was little they could do to make their case over the clatter of ordinary people living around them with that “live and let live attitude” we often seem to seek when we tire of wading through media sewerage.

Even law enforcement sixty years ago, on some levels, was rancid and corrupt. How could the average Joe make sense of it all?

Mickey Spillane slammed a book down on the counter titled “I, The Jury” and the answer became crystal-clear. Noir fiction, although not a creation during post-war times, was then reborn and gave that lonely misplaced GI in so many veterans a place to retreat and feel that yes, there was one guy out there who got the job done. Not to mention the dames who rolled off their seamed stockings to whet Mike Hammer’s appetite for more than a smoking gun barrel.

Cops loved and hated Hammer. When he walked into a bar, or a room filled with people, everyone reacted and few did so mildly.

Yet, here we are sixty years later and still the need for dark fiction lives and breathes the mystery of dead-end alleys, blood splattered rooms, and a body locked in the trunk of a car dumped in the harbor by local mobsters out to make a point.

There is no end to what writers create, vampires once feared, are now walking dead lovers without a beating heart.

For me, however, peeling back the decades exposing smoke-filled rooms, narrow corner taverns, and a killer who walked, the street without fearing local cops needed revisiting. For us today, it was a simpler time six decades ago, but for those living then, it was anything but simple.

When I began writing Marlowe Black mysteries, he ripped apart the Velcro hiding emotional ashes of the day’s events. His attitude, actions conveyed my angst. Sounds dramatic, yet so does spending yet another day in rush hour traffic sitting in a cubicle waiting for lunch knowing digital reality would never release its stranglehold on me. Soon face recognition ads will flash in every storefront as we walk down the street to board the subway, grab a bus.

Good god, I thought, rip back the freaking Velcro, please and step into a time when privacy meant respect and respect was honor and truth.

More to follow.

Copyright 2018 Gabriel FW Koch All Rights Reserved

A Pile of Pebbles

An innocuous pile of pebbles on the corner of the wood slab kitchen table appeared placed randomly as if her son collected them and left them where he believed they would be safe.

Either that, she thought, or he just forgot he brought them inside.

No two looked alike, whether feldspar, quartz, sandstone, rounded or sharp edged fragments left behind by some cataclysmic event eons ago, she realized as she sat to examine them without touching any.

The temptation to sweep them up and toss them outside, or just arrange them differently so their being on her clean table might be less offensive had been the first powerful reaction she had when she entered the room moments earlier.

She knew she did not understand her son’s passion for collecting something so mundane. Perhaps once, she thought, when I was his age, I might have, or maybe I would’ve scorned the effort as something boys did that we girls wound not consider. After all, what purpose might they serve other than to bring dirt into a freshly cleaned house and on kitchen table too.

Yet, a strong feeling she could not define stayed her hand as she reached for the pebbles. Instead, she folded her arms across her breasts, frowned at her indecision, and then turned to look out the kitchen window where she had left a pair of freshly baked apple pies on the sill to cool while the aroma that wafted off them might be enjoyed by anyone nearby.

She stood and walked closer to the window.

Her son Peter, shirtless in blue shorts, and bare feet, knelt alongside the ancient maple tree about fifty feet from the kitchen door, with his back to her. The play of muscles across his narrow upper back and equally thin shoulders told her he was seriously engaged with whatever adventure his young mind concocted.

He won’t miss them, she finally decided with a warm smile of affection. Besides, it’s time for me to set the table for dinner.

When she turned to the table, she discovered the small pile of pebbles missing. Struggling to keep the scream she felt building deep in her throat from escaping, and causing panic, hers at least, she let her hand drop to her side like the wet wing of a bird caught in a tropical storm.

“Peter,” she called, but not loud enough for him to hear. She knew he’d remain outside until she called three or more times, so went to the door, opened it and found that her son’s actions displayed he had not heard as he continued digging in the dirt.

For a second, he reminded her of an angry little dog she had as a child. Snapper had a habit of trying to bit anyone he did not know. The dog finally tunneled under their fence and ran off. She never knew what happened to him, but had often suspected that her parents knew and did not want to tell her.

Now it’s my imagination running away, she scolded and went to the white enamel kitchen sink without glancing at the table. She collected a wet sponge that smelled faintly like lemons. She squeezed out the excess water and with serious determination strode the five steps to the table.

The pebbles remained missing, the surface clear like the rest of the tabletop until she began rubbing to clean it.

The place where she’d seen the pile of pebbles earlier, began to disappear the way a smudge on glass does, slowly at first, resisting the effort to remove it until finally it dissolves and the glass is transparent again.

However, the tabletop was not transparent where the pile of pebbles sat. It looked more like a movie in a small round LCD that was more oval than round where the pile of pebbles had sat.

She leaned closer to examine what appeared to exist on the inside of her tabletop. She witnessed a parade of animals unlike any she could have conceived might live anywhere in her world.

Without encouragement, her forefinger, wet and soapy from the sponge, moved to prod the apparent opening.

She gasped, jerked her hand back before the action completed and felt her heart pounding against her ribs smelled fresh sweat as it beaded her upper lip. Her hands trembled as she clutched the edge of her flowered apron and walked to the back door stepping outside.

“Peter.” She called again but still not loud enough for him to hear. As she stepped off the bottom concrete step determined to go to him insist he listen she froze. Her breath hissed between her clenched teeth with the realization she suddenly did not want to look at his face or see exactly what his busy little arms and hands dug into.

His movements now reminded her of a frantic small dog racing to find a lost bone.

She thought of the tabletop the tableau playing beneath or inside it and shuddered hard enough her shoulders shook and felt the way she had the previous winter when caught outside in a mid-February ice storm. Then her body was too cold or too shocked to shiver.

Her heels tapped the flagstone sidewalk when she took several desperate steps backwards and then thudded against the first concrete step.

Yet instead of turning fleeing into the safety of her kitchen an act that felt like surrendering to a fear she could not define but that busily gnawed her resolve like timber worms drilling into the keel of an ancient wooden ship she stopped stood and stared.

She sat on the stoop to calm, herself and studied her fingers, as they worried the apron. The sunflower pattern had delighted her when she spied it in K-Mart but now seemed lifeless and pale when compared to what she witnessed inside the translucent patch in her table.

Copyright 2018 Gabriel FW Koch al rights reserved

(I enjoyed writing this partial but it ran out. So I submit it as is. It does always make me smile.)

And the Arsonist Burned

I wanted to tell him how I, Marlowe Black, felt, but he was dead. Standing outside his small wood frame house, watching smoke and flames eating its structure, felt insufficient. Rage demands an outlet. The sonofabitch was an arsonist. He burned one hundred twenty-seven buildings, killed thirty-three innocents, and then lit himself doused with gasoline sitting on the fuel soaked sofa in his own home.

I listened to the sirens approaching, knowing their efforts would prove futile, their arrival too late. Their spiraling sounds echoed along the street bouncing off the walls of the buildings still standing. The noise reminded me of some day in the past, or maybe just a moment. Right then I was too damn mad to give a good Goddamn about the past.

Chasing him through the Bronx felt right even though I wondered why in hell I was dealing with a criminal in the one part of the city I least cared for. For the last year and a half, it seemed I spent more time there than in Brooklyn where I lived.

As he drove recklessly across the bridge tires squealing, he cut off three drivers. One of them spun out and nearly careened with the front bumper of my 49 Olds.

After slamming on the brakes, spinning a one eighty, I stopped and got out. The other driver was gone by then and I knew it was a setup. I’d lost more than five minutes and that was all the time the bastard needed to beat me to his death.

Stuffing the Colt 45 in its holster, I turned and watched New York Firemen arrive followed by two or three prowl cars. New York’s finest was a step ahead or two behind me on most days. This time, I was a mile ahead of the cops.

No one paid me any attention as I lit a Camel off my Zippo and strolled back to my car parked around the block.

Onlookers had gathered, now pushed back by the cops. I wanted to tell them to allow the spectacle to be observed, but maybe the dead bastard didn’t even deserve that much.

A glance over my shoulder told me the house was a total. Already, I could see the skeleton framework silhouetted by orange flames that licked across beams and studding. The stench of it wavered over the street, tainted with the smell of charred flesh

“Bastard,” I muttered, crushed the cigarette under my heel and left the scene with my hands in my pockets.

Once around the block, the cold November air ran down my back. I lifted up my collar, buttoned the overcoat, felt warm but not, thought about Stella and Stacey Morgan huddled together before a fireplace in a beach front cottage about seventy miles east of the city. I needed to feel the touch of gentle hands, the caress of a loving person, and faced another cold reality. I was alone and I had failed.

Yet the boy lived.

Copyright 2018 Gabriel FW Koch all rights reserved

Death is the Ultimate Test of Faith

The fire still blazed, but standing directly before the hearth was insufficient to warm me. Again, I rubbed my hands on the seams of my blue jeans, but that wasn’t enough to get the feel of her off my flesh. After washing up, I changed into clean clothes.

Stella waited by the fireplace, came over when I approached, and stood behind me, put her arms around my chest, and held me as if I was more important to her than any other man alive could be.

I wanted to suggest that she make a more appropriate selection, that I just might be the man who would live to bury her. However, I drew a deep breath, held in the air, exhaled slowly, put my hands on hers and closed my eyes. I felt and knew that I’d experienced more than one lifetime’s horror.

Death is the ultimate test of faith, I thought and wondered why I remembered my CO at that moment. Captain James Todd Wright led with his presence. When the war began, he was an enlisted man from Savannah, Georgia. With time, diligence and due to extreme bravery, he quickly earned the rank of staff sergeant. After a string of catastrophic battles along the paths through Europe to Germany, he became a field-commissioned lieutenant. By mid ’44, he was our company commander.

By then, I’d already fought with him for over a year and remained a friend despite the fact that I refused to climb into an officer’s uniform. I gained the rank of platoon sergeant, felt grateful I’d lived long enough to gain that honor, and never desired higher accolade. I would have been fine dying with three stripes and a rocker sewn to my sleeves.

As the Battle of the Bulge ground our company into memories and remains we would never identify, Wright must have sensed the cloaked black demon that caressed each man’s neck as it accepted him.

We had hunkered down in a bomb crater running low on ammunition and hope. He turned to me during a lull and after we both lit cigarettes, said, “You know, Marlowe, my minister back home once stated in a Palm Sunday sermon that death is the ultimate test of faith. I think by now I’m ready for that test, how about you my friend? Together we’ve watched a lot of good men die.”

“My faith ran dry a few months ago, sir,” I said without revealing the surprise I felt, and cupped the ember of my cigarette to pull in a long drag of smoke without illuminating our location.

He laughed lightly. “That’s what I appreciate most about you, Marlowe. You never bullshit anyone for any reason. Hope you never change. I’m getting the ammo I see laying over there. We’re both getting low.” He pointed at a fallen GI and moved five feet to the right. His head crested the edge of the crater, and a German sharpshooter drilled a neat hole through the center of his forehead.

The fire snapped and a log rolled to the edge of the hearth. I moved Stella’s hands and used the brass tongs to place it back in the center of the flames allowing the movement to help me shake off that memory at least for a while.

Copyright 2018 Gabriel FW Koch all rights reserved

And if You Could Alter a Moment in the Past?

“And who wouldn’t want to go back to a specific moment in their past? Relive something so special it’s never left your mind since it was experienced and then lost.”

“And if you could?”

“If I could what? Go back?”

He nodded.

“To any moment in my entire life?”

He nodded again.

“If I did would I be able to change anything? Alter the future I’m now living?”

He nodded yet again.

I studied his face. His luminescent blue eyes remained steady, held what I thought to be a glimmer of humor, or perhaps pleasure…a response to the hint of excitement he heard in my voice.

I suddenly grew apprehensive. “Hell, I don’t know. Could someone die? Me for example?”

He nodded, but his face held his steady amusement.

“Would there by a way for me to know that what I altered would change something? Would I know what the outcome might be…who might die?”

He finally spoke. “You’ve become rather inquisitive. Even sounds like you’re beginning to think my supposition might be feasible.”

I relaxed, grinned, and said, “Guess so, but imagine being able to stop the event that changed everything else in your life after that single event occurred. Stop the pain and suffering that single incident caused.” I began sweating, wiped my brow, and examined the palm of my hand.

“Just out of curiosity, what would you alter?” he asked.

“That’s easy. An act of cowardice.”

“Cowardice?” He frowned. “I’m not sure I follow you. Your record demonstrated that you were a man of courage.”

“My records? Military?”

He went back into his nodding mode.

“Perhaps, but under fire is not the only time when a man might prove to himself, if not others, that he’s not as brave as he’d like to believe.”

“I don’t follow you.”

I looked for a chair. Found an old upholstered one and went to it, dropped onto the cushion. “Relationships are a wonderful place to discover self-doubt, effacing mistakes that make a man wish he’d not been born.”

“Yes,” he said. “I was thinking along those same lines when we started talking about all of this.”

I nodded, but didn’t speak. The memory of her was too vivid, the pain of loss still awful more then a decade later. How it happened? I’d run through a thousand ways a thousand different times. Why? Now that was another story. I’d floundered through the theory that everything happened with good reason, not the least of which is the future. But that’s assuming everything is predestined, that each of us stride boldly through life thinking we know where we’re heading, making the correct decisions to get us there, but in reality none of that kind of thinking is true.

“I don’t know,” I finally said. “I’m honestly not certain I want the present to change in any way.”

He smiled, pressed his hands together in front of his chest as if he was about to pray. His fingertips touched, and he said, “Well, if you change your mind…I’ll be in town a few days. Before I leave, you might want to discuss the topic again.”

I watched him go, wondered just what he’d meant by my wanting to discuss the topic again. I felt I did not want to, need to.

Does he know something I don’t? I asked myself, and then laughed when I heard the fatalistic tone of my question as if I also wondered if speaking with him might’ve been predestined.

Copyright 2018 Gabriel FW Koch all rights reserved

At the Shoreline

I stood at the shoreline, the sun bright and hot. Waves washed sand rolling it over the gray shadow alongside me. The distant curve of horizon undulating waves, the dome of cloudless azure sky overhead pulled gently but firmly against time.

Moving a step back, dragged the gray shadow too, but the incoming tide reached farther ashore a gentle reminder. As we live our lives, time seems fluid. Almost as if it will bend for us, slow when we need it too, stopping occasionally so we might look around and snapshot the moment.

Purpose alters flowing days until events unavoidable blur into years. We pull memories out to examine and compare thinking of smiles and sadness too. And as each life around us folds into the past new memories stop too.

There are different forms of Introverts

There are different forms of introvert. Some of us prefer being always alone. Some can act the role of extrovert when in public, and revert to the comfort of introversion when we get home.

I fall into the second category as needed.

I’m not certain there was an actual moment or event that drove me to find solace as an introvert. I’ve always enjoyed my thoughts when I’m not dealing with the intrusions or interruptions dumped on me by other people.

So perhaps the longer I needed to extrovert with strangers, the more introverted I became in response to them. And I know I feel exhausted by their “I have to use your time and take up as much space in your mind as possible” behaviors.

I did run a business, had a brick and mortar store, and now I’m feeling tired thinking about what that experience has been like. Maybe I really accepted that I was happier as an introvert just before the store was closed and we moved the business online. Yes. That realization just gave a mental and physical smile.

We were book sellers. There seemed to be a local need for a used bookstore. An introverts love of books played into the idea. I mean how could we go wrong when we’d be dealing with other book lovers? I seriously believed that.

We sold paperback books for $2.00 each. Nice quality, of course. Turns out that we had an older couple who worked as a team. One distracted me while the other went through our books, slipping the ones she thought they could resell into a large purse.

They seemed quite friendly and genuine. They visited a couple times per week. Occasionally purchased a single book. In the end, we had more books stolen than we sold.

Um, yeah, people such as them fed the introvert in me until we were forced to close store.

That’s not to say we didn’t deal with the same sleazy peeps online. We did, but at least I did not find it necessary to put on the extrovert act every day in an attempt to please them.

Everyone has their own agenda. Mine is peace of mind and a quiet evening with a good book.

A Hand on the Mirror

Once, I saw a photo of a painting of the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington DC. A small boy stood with his hand pressed against a name etched into the black stone. From behind the wall, a phantom-like soldier in Jungle fatigues, M-16 in one hand, pressed his other hand against the wall so his palm met, from behind, the boy’s palm. A father and son reached through a wall of tears to briefly, contact what both lost.

The poignant painting depicted life from both ends, allowing it to meet in the middle as if in defiance of time and space.

I always believed that Christmas transcended time and space too. That regardless of whom we lost the previous year, or who we gained through marriage or birth, the fluidity of the season scooped all together in its embrace.

Wistful naivety or pensive innocence, yet somehow, I then learned I was wrong, but acceptance of error came long after awareness.

The too cold night air filtered around the old red painted wooden front door despite my best efforts at weather stripping. The kit I bought, made in China of course, did not provide enough glue so I made do with some I had left over from a summer project.

Outside on the door, we hung an artificial wreath as if hanging one crafted out of real pine boughs might prove us cruel and inhuman. It bore a large shiny, plastic red ribbon and a string of brass bells too thin to ring or chime with any amount of authority. Shaking them was, to me cruel and inhuman when I listened to their pathetic tinkle.

Along with the chill that breezed into the living room, a light frost coated the edges of the windows, and a fog the ornate antique mirror hung in the narrow foyer. The mirror, passed down through the family for a half-dozen generations, had a gilded frame with an early nineteenth century style eagle perched on top. The eagle’s pose made me envision, the first time I saw it, the massive bird leaping into the air, talons extended to tear into its unsuspecting prey.

Of course, he would need to first drop the arrows and olive branches, but I always believed that eagles were as close to mythical creatures as any I might ever see, like eight tiny reindeer’s hooves clattering the slate roof tiles overhead.

The mirror glass was convex, bulging out like the roof of a dome, distorting images as if the designer knew something about human vanity I did not or could not conceive of.

By that night, Christmas Eve, I had walked past the mirror dozens, or hundreds of times and never used it as a mirror, mostly ignoring its presence. Perhaps, that elucidates my self-importance too well.

Of course, the old glass surface sparkled where the rear silvering remained intact. There were several frayed patches blackened by time’s abuse, as the years steadily ate off the silver like a troll collecting coins from those who dared cross his bridge. I never saw any silver flakes sparking light from the floor beneath the mirror and so could never imagine where it went.

The mirror hung high at eye level, which for me was about five foot six. If you stood much taller, you would need to stoop to have your reflection badly twisted into a fisheye distortion of vanity. No one used any mirror to see how bad they, looked, so seldom did anyone stop to use this one after the first glance.

The condensation gathering around the edge of the gilded frame worried me. The wood was, after all, more than two hundred years old. How much moisture would be required to damage it, and perhaps loosen the old animal hide glue used by the carpenter when he assembled the pieces in his post-colonial workshop long ago?

There were some scrawled numbers and the letter S written in black paint or ink by him on the rear of the mirror but nothing that made sense beyond the assumption that they represented an inventory style or design number. The man remained anonymous in my mind. I might picture his hand-sewn clothing, tools, workshop, stained, and work hardened hands, broken fingernails, a splinter, or two, even his features to some degree. He may have smoked an old style ceramic pipe with a bowl shaped like a head wearing a billed cap, as those now found in archaeological digs. Yet, I would never know more, not his name, or where he lived, and worked.

I remembered that once, when no one was around to see, I smelled the mirror, front, and back. It reminded me of nothing but dried wood and old paint, which felt like a disappointment.

While the mirror was so vividly in my mental focus, I went into the kitchen, retrieved some paper towels, and returned to the foyer planning to clean the moisture off the mirror before company arrived.

As I stood directly before its dome-like surface, I received a shocking visual jolt. My nose appeared twice its already large size. A Morris nose, I once heard from my mother’s cousin, herself a Morris but without the nose bestowed on male descendants only no doubt.

I moved slightly to the left and raised the paper towel to clean the surface, stopped before reaching my goal and stared at the small feminine handprint that covered from the bottom left center to just over the center of the mirror’s curved glass.

Each fingerprint loop and swirl stood out clearly, as if I examined the hand not its image. I noticed the slight bend to the center knuckles of two fingers twisted by age and arthritis. The palm bore the fruits of accidents from years past that resided there in the form of spider web thin scars.

The feel of her flesh against my hand became as vivid as any memory I retained from the time I spent with her. It was not an intimate contact, but at first casual and later as family, welcomed and encouraged. The memories cascaded then, nearly overwhelming me as I found I could not pull away from the mirror that until then was nothing more than an ornamental test of one’s narcissism.

It wasn’t until I heard her voice speaking to me as if she’d just entered the foyer from outside as she kicked the snow from her boots and carefully peeled the soft cotton-lined leather gloves from her hands after removing her snow dampened wool hat that I looked away from the mirror. Everything she wore always matched, color and style.

I turned to face her and from the corner of my eye, saw movement in the convex surface of the mirror. It had to have been me, but I swore then it was not. The light brown eyes seemed to twinkle, the corners of lips rose in a warm smile, and then, when I glanced directly at the mirror, my breath clouded its surface, erasing any image I may have seen.

Someone raised and dropped the large bronze knocker alerting me that the first of my guests arrived. Before responding, I lifted the mirror off its hook and placed it carefully against the back wall of a seldom-used closet.

I’m having it restored, I practiced in my head as I walked by the now blank wall with an oval fade at eye level. Having it restored. It’s so good to see you! How have you been? Have you eaten yet?

Then I opened the door and watched a small parade of relatives walk up the shoveled sidewalk as I forced a smile knowing that would be what she wanted done, and reached out to greet them one by one.

Copyright property of Larry Schliessmann, 2010 all rights reserved.