I had seen a lot of strange things recently, but nothing quite matched the moment when I first realized that the girl I had been looking for only existed in the reflection of the mirror. And yet I felt her standing right next to me. I wasn’t terrified. Thinking about that I still wonder about my comparative cool. My heart was beating like crazy and my stomach was churning. I was speed thinking, but in circles. I didn’t think “it’s impossible”, not once since I had ventured out to find Penelope Hofmann had I entertained that thought. But I was coming close to it this moment. All other inconsistencies with reality that I had noticed before had still born small elements of ambivalence that left open the possibility of an explanation to reestablish everyday logic. But there were only two explanations for the incredible appearance in the window: either there were more phenomena possible than had been scientifically accounted for so far – I wasn’t ready to think into the direction of supernatural beings – or I was raving mad. Whatever it was, it didn’t seem directly threatening. I was still sitting here, the girl was still standing right next to me in the reflection of my world in the window, and there was nothing I could do at this moment to change that. Maybe with the exception of an immediate termination of my belief that this was possible. Somehow. I realized at that moment that I would prefer to be raving mad to inhabiting of a world without surprises. I managed a weak smile in direction of the girl. She responded with a grin.
I sat down on my chair and opened my notebook. A yellow, folded over sheet of legal paper slid out and in one smooth gliding motion fell onto the floor. The old lady. I had completely forgotten about her note. I picked it up and unfolded it. The creases were precise like origami folds and still remembered the birdlike fingers folding them with sharp determination. The lettering elegant and even, very pretty, did not at all resemble the kind of handwriting to jot down a passing thought on a small piece of legal paper. I could read it and couldn’t at the same time. I got the rhythm and it seemed strangely familiar. It wasn’t all that difficult to decipher and yet it took a moment to realize how the writing had been transformed without becoming a stranger to itself. Most everyone who is capable of reading will eventually grasp the concept of script as reflected in a mirror. The old lady had been writing in mirror script. Once I recognized that she had used mirror writing I could read it as you would, too. My mother had once told me that Leonoardo da Vinci had used mirror writing in his journals. He only ever used his right hand writing from the left to the right side of the page when he was addressing someone else through his writing. For all other purposes he chose to write right to left side of the page, reversing his letters as he spelled each word. Historians have discussed ever since what could have motivated him to do so. Some have said that he wanted to make it harder for others to steal his ideas. I don’t think that could have been the reason. Anyone can read mirror script fluently just with the tiniest bit of practice. A genius like Leonardo could have done much better encoding, thereby disguising his secrets. I think he just chose to write from left to right because he was – as is known – left handed. A man who loved to draw in the most precise, specific way, would he not have hated to smear his own writing? But anyhow, reading reverse script is not all that difficult. But I wanted to make sure I got it right. So I lifted it up against the window. There it was, the writing clear and beautiful. I had recognized it even in mirror image, even before I had recognized it as such, I had listened to the words so often and had read them many times, they were like a familiar face. “The Road goes ever on and on. Down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can.” She had painted the letters JRT underneath. And I must follow if I can. As if I didn’t know. I stared at the lettering in the mirror of the window glass against the darkening sky. I stared at myself holding the sheet against the pane. I stared at myself n the window glass. Who was I? Where was I? The other me looked back, a pale, shimmering reflection.
The floor in the library greeted me with the reliable intricate tessellation I had marveled at since I had moved to Summerville. Knowing that it would have seemed strange if I had stood still and just stared at the carpet tiles I walked slowly towards the lockers trying to mirror the rhythm of the tiles with my feet. I stuffed my backpack into a cubby hole and tried to work out – not for the first time – the plan for quasi-periodic tiling of the plane with only 2 figures each with a five fold symmetry. It had a peculiar energy to it. Also not for the first time I asked myself who in the world had come up with this specific mathematical tessellation for a library floor carpet. Following the outlines of the tiles with my gaze I felt my heartbeat slow down and my fear subside.
Stepping to the side still following the edges of the tiles I had a sudden feeling that I would run into someone. For a split-second I felt an intense anticipation of a physical obstacle, a person I would run into whose body I already felt like you feel a chair in a dark room the moment before you hurt your shin. I had an apology on my lips as, looking up, I still waited for the run-in. But nothing happened. There was no one near me, in fact, the lobby was empty, even the front desk was temporarily unoccupied as a metal sign indicated. I felt confused. Have you ever mistaken a shadow on the pavement for a shallow hole in a road and stepped down too hard or, being preoccupied while walking up the stairs, have misjudged the number of steps and taken one more step than necessary to climb the staircase? I had exactly that kind of empty anticipation, a strange stomach upsetting emptiness as if I had taken one step too far, out into nowhere.
For a moment I waited. The hum of voices on the first floor of the library reassured me. I had missed a heartbeat just now, but after a moment of reconnecting with reality I finally crossed the lobby and walked up the stairs. And yet I felt like every step I took was echoed by a second, like I was walking with a friend at my side. I checked twice whether someone walked up the winding staircase right behind me, in my blind spot, so to speak, but there was no one.
Tuesday afternoon at the library. I like vacation as much as the next person, but there is something special about a school afternoon at the library. I like the idea that the library is a space solely dedicated to the transfer of knowledge from the pages of a book into a brain. I like the hushed atmosphere, people writing excerpts from gaping volumes, an old lady in woolen stockings inexplicably spending her days copying Anna Karenina in a beautiful script on fine stationary with the initials LNT, kids hanging out mostly with some kind of school assignment, procrastinating and talking in low voices with occasional shrieks.
Towards the back shelves of the first floor there was a little niche with a chair I favored. It was right at the window behind a safe wall of three aisles of age old art books. Art was clearly not a favorite topic in Summerville and the volumes were mainly collecting dust, emitting this strange smell only library books acquire over time (and that makes you want not to read whatever it is that is hiding inside because the smell indicates that the contents of the book have expired since, are deceased and encased in their last dwelling, like a body in a sarcophagus.)
On my way to the library, still focusing on holding things in place, the trees drew script against the sky that was already starting to darken as if someone was pouring ink onto a glass pane. Everywhere now reality started to flatten as if I was crossing pages in a book, not even a stage. I felt frightened. Frightened because I had started the day with great determination and had forced myself to observe and hold all the details in focus but my perception of the environment seemed to be strangely overregulated as if I had exercised too much control, had added too much contrast, too much definition and too much saturation. It almost seemed that my wish to control the situation had actually contributed to the situation spinning ever so slowly out of control.
Auszug aus der Stellungnahme des Bundesjustizministeriums zum Beschluss des Bundesrates:
“Viel eher als durch naturgemäß abstrakt formulierte Grundrechte kann die konkrete Lebenssituation von Kindern – sofern geboten und haushälterisch möglich – durch gezielte technische Hilfen verbessert werden, die die immer wieder geschehenen tragischen Todesfälle von Kindern wegen Vernachlässigung und Misshandlung verhindern helfen.”
“sofern haushälterisch möglich” – vorerst wegen vorübergehender Sprachlosigkeit kein Kommentar.