Sunday, April 06, 2008

1000 Pieces

An intact mirror can only reflect one truth. A broken mirror can reflect a thousand different truths.

"The frame," the tinker said, "I sold the frame. Brought me some money. But the mirror?" He spat. "The old queen broke it, you know. Broke it into a thousand pieces."

"So doesn't it talk any more?" I asked.

He groaned. "Oh, it talks. Every piece talks. And every piece has a different opinion. Ask one question, get a thousand answers."

"Is that so?" I peeked into the wooden box. "Hey, you in there! What color is the sky?"

"Why, blue, of course," said the piece on top. But immediately the other pieces began to talk, rattling around and pushing at each other. "--At night, it's black. --Partly cloudy with showers to follow. --O the vermillion bed of the dying, dying sun! --In the forest you can't see the sky for leaves. --There's no such thing as sky, it's an optical illusion caused by a dense atmosphere. --It's full of stars! It's full of stars! --What sky? All I can see is the inside of this box."

The tinker slammed the cover back on. "You see? Worthless."

I paid him what the box was worth, more or less. He was curious. "What are you going to do with it?"

"Sell fortunes, of course. A dollar for one answer. Nine dollars for ten answers. Nine hundred dollars, you get to talk to the whole box. A thousand fortunes! Imagine that."

"Yes, but they're all different," he pointed out. "How's a person to know which one is true?"

"Truth has many faces," I said, and snickered. "Don't you worry. I'll get the rubes to buy it."

At least, that was my plan. My mistake? I should never have tried talking to them. Never fall for your own pitch; that's the first thing I learned from my uncle when he took me into the business.

But it's lonely and boring when it's a long way between towns. I got into the habit of chatting with the top piece, the one that seemed the most sensible of the lot. "So, how many of you actually tell the truth?" I asked it once.

"Oh, we all do."

"That's impossible. You all say different things. How many birds are in that flock?" I asked, pointing to the bridge ahead of us. Swallows were flying in and out under the arch.

"Forty-seven. --Are you counting both the barn swallows and the cliff swallows? --Uncountable, the dance of molecules in a sealed flask. --Two more just arrived. --And one left. --Technically swallows don't flock. They come here to feed, but they don't stay together. --Birds, birds, blackbirds for sale!"

"Enough!" I shouted.

The spokespiece said smugly, "It's all true, you know. Truth does have many faces. At least a thousand."

"Then how come you didn't always talk like this?"

The glass voice slowed, sounding almost dreamy. "We were made... I was made... single of purpose. Bound to the will of our owner. Bound to tell the truth she chose to hear."


"Of course. Beauty's in the eye of the beholder, you know. Someone thought that slip of a girl was prettier than the queen-- not me, I assure you, vapid little thing in my opinion-- so it was truth. A truth. And the queen wanted an excuse to get rid of the girl so that her children would inherit the throne. So that's what she heard."

And that should have been a warning to me. Because look how the old queen ended up.

"But she was angry. She broke you for telling her that. Into a thousand pieces."

"Some people can't stand hearing the truth, even when it's the truth they want to hear," said the mirror fragment airily.

I've wondered since if the mirror goaded the queen into breaking it, so it would be free to reflect all these different facets of truth. Out of its frame, as it were. Or if they had a deal; if the queen broke the mirror in return for... something. They say she destroyed it in a rage, but that doesn't sound like her, does it? I mean, from what you hear. It's not as if I ever even saw the queen.

And I can't ask the pieces. I don't have them any more.

There were lots of soldiers on the town walls and extra guards at the gate. Plenty of traffic on the road, though, so it didn't look like war or plague. Besides, it was a long way to anywhere and I was tired of walking. "Should we stop in this town?" I asked the mirror pieces. "Is it safe?"

"I don't see why not. --This town will stand for a thousand years. --We have to stop somewhere. --Don't take your love to town. --It's a good town for glass. --It's a fairytale town. --There's a party in the old town tonight. --There's no safety to be had in towns; danger is in the hand of your fellow man. --Everyone in this town is doomed to die someday. --The king is old. The prince is in love."

It sounded promising. Royal balls, weddings, people in a festive mood. People drinking wine and spending money. Good times for hucksters like me. I set up in an alley off the market and started fleecing the marks. It was all good until the next morning, when the prince showed up at the inn where I was eating breakfast, with a whole pack of soldiers in tow. He says, "I hear you have a magic mirror that can answer any question."

I was on my knees with three or four heavy armed men-- No, I don't mean heavily armed men-- standing around me. I figured it wasn't the time for a pitch. "Your Highness, I have a mirror but it's in a thousand pieces. It doesn't give useful answers." And I explained the whole thing. I'll give him this, he heard me out.

And would you believe it, he pulls a glass slipper out of his coat and shows it to the mirror pieces. Seems some girl left it at his party. "I know who she is," he says. "I know where to find her. All I want to know is, is she really my true love?"

"There's no such thing as true love. --She loves you as truly as any citizen of this town. --Love, love, love is all you need. --You should be asking if you're really her true love. --Was it love, or was it the idea of being in love? --Love, couldst thou and I conspire--"

"Silence! Impertinent bits of junk, I could have you ground to sand."

"Truth has a thousand faces already. Do you want it to have a million? --Stars in my pocket like grains of sand! --Every grain holds a different truth. --Which is more use, a castle of glass or a castle of sand?"

The prince slammed the box shut and turned to me. "I can't decide whether to buy these from you, or have you flogged for bringing a dangerous nuisance into town."

"Um, consider them a gift to Your Highness." I figured I was getting off cheap.

Well, he took them off to the palace and sat up with them all night. Lost all interest in the girl. Within a couple of days, he'd abdicated the throne and was going off to join some holy order of madmen contemplating Truth out in the forest.

The king was not pleased and you know who took the rap. I thought I'd never get out of that dungeon. Lost everything I owned, including most of my health. I'm a wreck these days, and it's all the fault of those thousand damned pieces of glass.

What became of them? I couldn't say for sure. But the other day I was down at the river, thinking about cadging a ride on a passing barge. I swear I heard the sand whispering. "Truth has a million faces," it said. "Truth has a million million faces."

I'm never going near the beach again.

Collection available! Knocking from Inside


Jamie said...

And all of life is a variation on a theme.

the teach said...

Beautifully written! :)

Mo said...

That was so beautiful.
I am touched.

Sandee (Comedy +) said...

Awesome. Very true too. Excellent post. Have a great Manic Monday. :)

Nancy Lindquist-Liedel said...

If fifty men are blindfolded and touch a different part of an elephant...

dailypanic said...

I love your story.

Everyone thinks truth will set you free, but sometimes it is the truth that keeps us bound.

Empress Bee (of the High Sea) said...

i loved reading this! congratulations on winning this week!

smiles, bee

Sarge Charlie said...

This is an excellent post, very well done, congratulations on winning the week, this week was lots of fun for me.

SQT said...

Wow. That was really well done. And very creative.

Travis said...

I came here via Mo. That was a most excellent story.

Janna said...

I meant to say earlier that I really, really love this story.

Travis said...

Just as marvelous the second time around.