Missing Child in the Mirror
Stop and linger a while, dear visitor: this is me lying here before you, in clay. Yes, here, behind this curtain. Feel free to lift it up a little higher and run your hands over my body. But suppress your urge to see me. There is really no point, after all; it is pitch black inside this casket. The darkness in here is many times more profound than in the shadowy room where you are standing. I know: in a museum like this you expect objects in glass cases and statues made of wax or marble cordoned off by ropes – beyond reach, at a safe distance, but all the more exposed to your hungry gazes. Well, that illusion of distance between us doesn't exist in here. Why don't you come a bit closer? Believe what your fingertips are telling you, even if only this once!
Don't imagine that the woman who made me despises you for the possessiveness of your eyes. She has felt the same desire to look often enough, burning behind her inactive retinas. And it really wasn't just during those first few months, when her reflection slowly started to dissolve.
She must have been about eight years old, nine at most. The girl who always pulled silly faces at her in the bathroom every morning or stuck out a long, pointy tongue had enveloped herself in a fog that gradually got thicker and thicker. It wasn't the condensation doing it; she'd checked that several times. If she stood on tiptoes to wipe the mirror surface clean with her pyjama sleeve, the image was still just as misty as before. At first she thought the goofy girl in the mirror was playing another trick on her. And it did strike her as pretty funny, as if the only cold place in the boiling hot bathroom was behind the mirror and the girl opposite her was breathing out little clouds of vapor that swirled upwards.
It was only when she started seeing wreathes of fog in the clear spring light outdoors as well, in shop windows and between the branches of trees, that she felt herself starting to panic. But she didn't dare tell anyone about it yet, and just laughed a bit sheepishly when the other children in the neighborhood made fun of her for stumbling over a step or kerbstone for the umpteenth time. By now the scornful faces around her were vague blotches like the face of the girl above the bathroom sink.
As your hands run over my body, do you recognize the shapes? A torso straight in front of you, and a head to the right? Both are more or less life-size, you say? Not bad, not bad at all! You're right: I'm lying on my back with my left side facing youÐ and below, above and to the right of me are the wooden walls of a tilted casket.
A slender neck? Yes, that is probably my most fragile part. But please don't go too fast. Touch demands a careful exploration, returning to what you thought you had worked out a long time ago. What is that wavy pattern around the neck that covers my shoulders as well? You tell me! The folds of a dress, perhaps? A cascade of hair? Who knows... or might the marks be the impression left by the fingers that shaped me? Feel them again, carefully.
One morning the mirror had disappeared along with the girl inside it. The bathroom was nothing more than a collection of wobbly outlines. The same went for every object in the house and for her anxious parents, who held her firmly by the hand everywhere they went. They dragged her along to an endless succession of doctors, who all mumbled the same kind of thing and – she assumed – gave the same discouraged shrug. After a while she got really fed up of the sterile smell of hospitals and chilly waiting rooms.
Because unlike her parents, she soon realized there was nothing to be afraid of. If she stopped clinging desperately to the fraying silhouettes around her, the world was still there. Fair enough, it wasn't the way it used to be, but it was still as familiar as ever. She really didn't need to count the number of steps across the landing from her room to the top of the stairs, as her mother begged her to do at first. She could hear perfectly well where the stairwell was, and so her foot found the first step without hesitation and she went running downstairs as fast as ever. Once she stopped depending on the last bit of vision she had, she stopped bumping into things so often as well. She wasn't ashamed to walk across the playground arm in arm with her best friend; laughing and chatting, she followed her friend's movements without even thinking about it to avoid rubbish bins and bicycle racks. But even when she crossed the street on her own, she had a stick that warned her of any steps up or down. And then there was that curious feeling against her forehead – like a gentle pressure on her skin – that alerted her to a large obstacle like a billboard or parked car nearby.
That's where your fingers are now, aren't they, on my forehead? Can you make out my features, determine my ancestry? But usually you're so good at that, aren't you? At categorizing people by their skin color, the shape of their nose and their cheekbones? Right, it's a lot more difficult to do by touch! Suddenly all those certainties and categories have melted away.
Please read the full text of the short story at: https://pietdevos.be/en/themes/detail/missing-child-in-the-mirror
Missing Child in the Mirror
Piet Devos • Belgium https://pietdevos.be/en
MISSING CHILD IN THE MIRROR: In an art museum, a visitor is invited to explore a
mysteriously multisensory yet non-visual installation.
Piet Devos is a blind writer and literary theorist, fascinated by sensory perception who also works as a translator of French and Spanish literature.
• Dancing beyond sight: how blindness shakes up the senses of dance, Disability Studies Quarterly, 2018
• Reimagining perception from a disabled perspective, TEDX talk, Stadsschouwburg (Groningen, The Netherlands), 2014
Huidobro Vicente, Hogevalk, translated from Spanish by Piet Devos, Poëziecentrum (Ghent, Belgium), 2012