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The Mirror Fixer by Gilad Fogel

© Gilad Fogel

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(Short story)

The Mirror Fixer

Damn that mirror fixer! To be honest with you, I’ve tried to forget all about him, but I can’t. I’m writing it down now just to get it out of my system. But even though I don’t come out of this looking too good, I want you to know that I’m not a bad person; not really. It’s that damn mirror fixer who brought out the worst in me. I don’t know why. Maybe you can work it out when you read all this. Maybe someday, you can explain it to me.

Anyway, it was one of those miserable English winter mornings when it all started. Basically, it was cold, wet and terminally grey. Sound familiar? So, on this miserable day, I’m standing behind the counter at the Fixer’s shop in my usual pre-lunch daze when the little bell that hangs above the door starts to tinkle mindlessly. In comes the first customer of the day: a tall, sombre gentleman dripping fresh rain all over the carpet and lugging a massive wooden frame that he sets against the wall. The frame must have held something once but this one’s empty. The shop always had a musty stench like old furniture. I reckon it came from the Fixer’s mangy old clothes. Thing is, when this gent opens the door, a chilly gust of wind blows my way and shakes me out of my daydream. But no sooner has he come in, he’s out the door again. Doesn’t say hello or anything. Doesn’t even give me a nod. He comes back with a sizeable cardboard box and I can hear the sad sound of broken glass rattling around inside.

I reckon it must have been this sound that coaxed the old fixer out from his workshop at the back. I could feel he was there because I heard the door creaking behind me. I even turned around for a moment and saw his beady little eye peering through the narrow slit he’d made between the door and the doorframe. I saw him bobbing his head about to get a clearer view. It made his gold-rimmed spectacles glint for a second. I turned back to look at the gent because thinking about the Fixer just gave me the creeps. Gives me a chill just thinking about it now. Anyway, I suppose he’d seen enough to come out and greet his new customer. The Fixer lurched forward tentatively with his arm extended towards the newcomer. Strange thing is, Fixer gave his own leathery old hand a really good look before sticking it out – as if checking to see if it was clean.

“Good morning, Sir”, he chirped with his warbling old voice. Now, much as I’d like to set the scene properly for you, I can’t tell you what accent the Fixer had because, frankly, I haven’t got a clue. I reckon he was from Prague, Marrakech, Shanghai or something; but for all I know, maybe he was English after all. Anyway, after his ‘good morning’, the gent sort of ignores him at first. And then…

“It was my son,” says he flatly and still cradling the cardboard box he’d come in with. “He does get rather excitable sometimes.” And he just stares at the Fixer. “Do you think you can fix it?” he urges.

“Yes indeed! Yes indeed!” chirped back the Fixer pausing to eye the box curiously and give his thin dry lips a little lick. “Fix what?” he added as an afterthought.

“The mirror, of course!” retorted this surly gent.

“Ah yes, the mirror. You want I should fix the mirror?”

“I thought I just said that,” stated the gent impatiently and clearly used to better customer service.

“Yes indeed! Yes indeed!” replied the Fixer, “Please come again tomorrow morning.” And with that, he turned his back to him and started to lurch slowly back towards his workshop.

“Tomorrow?” pleaded the gent. “Why?”

“I will need much, much information,” said the Fixer as he shuffled back, “it is most delicate business, you know, fixing mirrors. We will need the straight facts. Come 11 a.m. please, Sir. Give the boy your name.” The gent looked at me as if I could give him some sort of an interpretation and then he sighed in defeat. He ambled over my way and gave me his name: Toby Addis. I put him down for 11 a.m. in the otherwise totally empty diary. The Fixer, who’d all but disappeared through the back door suddenly put his hand to his temple and froze mid-step. “Oh yes,” he quacked, “bring your son.” Addis looked at me blankly, incredulously if that’s the word to describe it but I just stuck my open palms to each side because, like I said before, I didn’t have a clue.

If all that’s not weird enough, the next day Addis and son do actually turn up right on time. Who would have thought? And who was the barmier? Anyway, the boy must have been about twelve. He had blonde hair and rosy cheeks that made the dark patches under his eyes look all the more poignant. He kept his head well down and didn’t make a sound except maybe the odd sniffle here and there. All in all, I reckoned it was quite a sad little picture; the whole father and son thing, I mean. You hear about it sometimes, don’t you? I mean, all the beatings and that. In any case, the Fixer took father, son and that shattered old mirror into the workshop and locked the door. Obviously, I wasn’t welcome and to be honest, that’s when I really started resenting it. I don’t like being shut out. Makes me feel cold.

At this point, there’s something you should understand about that mirror – just so as you get the picture. That gent must have been from high society and, if you want my opinion, the mirror must have been a family heirloom; must have had what they call sentimental value. I say this because I’d been working in antique shops and that for a while and I knew this mirror was really old. You could tell by the holes in the wood: woodworm, you see. And in those days, the machinery they used to make sheets of glass with wasn’t as precise as today so the glass was all wavy. Your face looked a bit like something out of a house of mirrors but that’s the best they had. Point is, that mirror was irreplaceable. That’s why I couldn’t understand how (after quite a few hours of muffled chatting, sawing and hammering) the threesome emerged from the workshop with the mirror apparently intact. Addis seemed to be particularly grateful and he shook the Fixer fervently by the hand. Meanwhile, the boy just beamed about the place and looked at everything with a keen new vision. Just before leaving, Addis held up the mirror to scrutinise the workmanship. He peered at it for ages moving his eye closely up and down the surface of the glass. “Remarkable!” he muttered through his smile, “quite remarkable!” Out they went and I’ve never seen them since.

Right! I can hear you arguing that I was young and impressionable; vulnerable to trickery and illusion. Whatever! At that time, I believed that weird pug-nosed old man, with his incurable stoop, put every piece of broken glass back where it belonged. More to the point, I was determined to make that selfish old fixer show me how. So I hope you understand why what happened happened and why I did what I did.

A few weeks later, four little girls brought something into the shop for repair. The Fixer was behind the counter with me – probably keen to make sure I didn’t lose him any customers. Frankly, I can’t see how he made any money at all; business was slow and I can’t say that he charged a lot. Anyway, these little girls came in all filthy: their dresses were muddy and torn, their faces scuffed. I don’t know where they had been or if they just lived on the streets or something. Either way, they were all crying in perfect unison with their clear tears cleaning the dirt off from their cheeks as they sobbed. Well, if I were not quite ready to shoo them back out again, I was sure the mirror fixer would have done as soon as he saw the contents of the box they placed on the counter before us. Inside, was a frail and tiny kitten all curled up and nursing what I reckon must have been a broken paw. As if in sympathy with the girls, its black and white coat was dusty with neglect. It looked around nervously with its pretty emerald eyes. “Kind old Fixer!” they wailed in frenzied unison, “please make her better!” But the Fixer didn’t shoo them out at all.

“Children, children,” he begged, “please settle down!” He looked at them with a pained gaze. “So sad,” said he looking at me, “I think I must help our lost little sheeps.”

I confess I thought he was joking but, to my amazement, he just takes those girls and that cat into that workshop – me wondering whatever for – and out he comes again best part of a day later. What a transformation! The girls were all scrubbed up and I think he must have brushed their hair all nice and shiny. He’d mended their dresses and gave them a straw cage to put the cat in. I can handle all that, no problem, but next thing is, the girls aren’t crying or anything. They’re covering his face with kisses and thanking him oh so much for saving Kitty. His shiny cheeks are all smiley and happy and my jaw is just about scraping the floor with surprise. I try to get up on my tiptoes to look at the cage. It’s in a shadow but I can see the kitten peering curiously through the grill at the front and, apparently, the little beast is back to health now.

You judge for yourself: can I be blamed for getting a little bit upset, a little bit afraid and maybe a little bit envious? Especially since over the next few weeks I start to realise that this sort of thing was usual trade for these premises. In the space of a few months I was awed to further witness and hear stories of how the mirror fixer makes healthy the lame, handsome the grotesque, kind the selfish, happy the sad and forlorn. But what about me?! I ask. I also wanted to learn! But no matter how many times I begged him to explain, all I got was, “you’re not ready yet, boy”. That’s what brought the worst out of me. I suppose you could say I was obsessed. And yet, if there were any hope for me to come out of this obsession, it was truly dashed when the man who’d recently lost his daughter came into the shop asking for the Fixer’s special talents. For this one, the Fixer made a special home visit while I looked after the shop. I don’t know what he did, I can’t tell you hand on heart that he brought that girl back to life or anything. But to see that same father not long after laughing his lungs out with his friends as they stood huddled together outside the shop left me literally crazy with the need to know how. Damn that secretive old mirror fixer! Enraged and frustrated, I locked the shop door from inside and stormed into his workshop without invitation.

There he was! He sat hunched over the edge of his workbench. He must have heard me but didn’t turn around. He only gestured with his hand pointing at a chair. Silently, I sat myself down. I could see he was looking at something through a large microscope. He was concentrating with obvious effort, his spectacles resting on the top of his head.

I took in a few deep breaths to calm myself down and sank further into the chair. I inspected my surroundings. Most obvious, was the mess: a mass of dust and cobwebs, dozens of strange contraptions and machinery on the floor – full of levers, pulleys, strings and flaps. There were shelves on every wall of the room. On them, countless jars and flasks brim with tiny stones, minerals, fluids and other unfamiliar substances. In one corner, I saw skulls and all sorts of other bones. There was a bookcase with hundreds of mysterious leather-bound volumes with no titles on their spines. And umpteen works of art, paintings and sculptures from faraway places, drawings and portraits of strange faces belonging to races I’d never seen before. I saw a few display cabinets with scrolls covered in scripts I could not decipher.

As I worked my way back round to the workbench, I noticed a series of tools scattered on top. They were saws, scissors, scalpels and other implements probably used for surgery. Were those crimson stains I saw on the worn wooden surface of the bench? My fear took hold of me again. I stood up and slapped my hand hard on the bench.

The Fixer moved his head away from the microscope and looked at me quizzically. “I just want to know,” I said with an involuntary gulp. The Fixer leaned slowly back into his chair.

“Know what?”

“You know,” I replied shakily, “everything! I want to know the secret of your magic.”

“Magic?” he exclaimed with his big bushy eyebrows raised.

“Yes,” said I grabbing one of the knives from the table and approaching him deliberately, “magic!” I could see I’d got his attention now. He eyed the knife and kept rubbing his chin pensively.

“I’m afraid I can’t help you, boy” he said at length.

“Tell me how you fixed that mirror!” I sputtered, bringing the knifepoint close to his face.

“My boy,” said the mirror fixer with a wry smile, “I’m a simple craftsman, nothing more. I couldn’t fix a mirror to save my life!” My hand shook as I held the knife to his scrawny old throat. But he didn’t flinch. He just fixed me with that wry smile as though I was supposed to understand what was so bloody funny.

Then his smile turned into a little laugh. He carried on laughing more and more until he struggled to find a free breath between peals of laughter. Suddenly, he fell silent and held his two hands right up in front of me. They were covered in thick dripping blood. “You see, my boy” he breathed, his wrinkly face now so close to mine I could smell his musty old breath, “some things are too broken. All *I* can fix is the eyes. Only the eyes.”

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