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Oft With Maria, Oft With the Looking Glass

Oft With Maria, Oft With the Looking Glass
by James C. Hall

Oft With Maria

The world is a leech. Just sucking life away. Sucking.

I don’t think Maria fully understood what she was saying.

Yet she said it again.

The world is a leech. You know?

“Like a vampire?” I asked.

“No. Not like a vampire. A vampire understands what it’s doing. The world just does it. Sucking, sucking for no reason. I would guess that it’s part of the divine mind’s preconscious.”

I had no clue what she was talking about. The divine mind? So I just listened.

She went on.

It was the first time I’d met Maria. Yet somehow, maybe instinctively, I knew it wouldn’t be the last.

* * *

Matt and I were walking down the road. It was night. The wind, I noticed that first, and then the moon. It was shining down, the roadside trees at once absorbing it and regurgitating it onto the road in a transcended pool of black that mirrored its own image.

Harald Finehair was a Viking king. Norway. Vikings were always nicknamed according to their attributes, good or bad. Harald had blond hair. His son was named Bloodaxe … The tree and its shadow somehow reminded me of that.

I turned to Matt, still silent.

“What’s wrong with you?” he asked. He let out a hint of a laugh, his usual way of showing that he was concerned. Genuinely. Matt never really displayed his emotions; they were there, though. I think he genuinely cared about people. I once saw him cry to the point of hysterics.

“Could I tell you something that has to stay between us? Just between us.” I knew the answer. I wouldn’t have brought it up if I hadn’t.

Matt shook his head.

“I told you about Maria, didn’t I? The girl I’ve been seeing lately.”

Again he shook his head.

“Look, I don’t know how to explain this very well. So I’m just going to ask you questions.”

“Okay,” Matt agreed, the heavy moonlight illuminating the smile on his face.

“What do you think eternity is?” Plato talked about eternity. I also heard somewhere that truth was the greatest beauty. Keats said “a thing of beauty lasts forever.” I saved my ideas; I wanted to hear what Matt would say.

“Well,” he began, obviously thinking about the question, “I would say that something is eternal when it lasts forever. I mean it has no boundaries. It just is and always is.”

“Eternity is infinite. Is that all though?”

“That does make it seem empty, doesn’t it? I don’t know. Why are you asking anyway?”

“Alright. Forget the questions. I’m just going to throw this out here and you tell me what you think.”


“Anytime that I’m with Maria—yet not the entire time I’m with her, that’s important—I get a fleeting, and I mean ungraspable, sense of something that I can’t explain. It’s, well, the only way I can describe it is by saying it’s eternity. A glimpse of eternity. Does that make any sense?”

“No, it doesn’t,” Matt said soberly.

“I know it doesn’t. You see that’s the problem—it’s like a blind man trying to describe the color of your shirt. I don’t have anything to compare it to.”

“Why do you say that the fleeting part is important?”

The world is a leech. It was one of the first things that Maria said to me. And I felt it, I was understanding it.

“Because it only happens at certain times…well, it only happens, say, once every time I see her. Yet it never happens at the same time. I mean one day it could happen in the first minute we’re together, the next day it could happen as we say goodnight. I can never tell, never predict it. But it always happens.”

“Maybe you’re just falling in love.”

“I’ve been in love before, or at least I thought…”

“See! You thought that you were in love. That’s a possibility.” Matt peered at the ground, as a leaf, pushed softly by the wind, jumped his foot.

“But damn Matt, I was engaged. I knew I loved her.”

“But how can a blind man describe color?”

I laughed. Matt laughed. He had a point as far as reason was concerned.

The world is a leech.

* * *

Maria looked in the mirror. We both sat upon the floor, legs crossed, and in single file. Yes, I was a little out of line. I couldn’t see behind Maria, so I moved over. The mirror was full body, the oval type with intricate and gratuitous design.

You have to stop fidgeting. Everybody’s always fidgeting. Stop it. Still. Quiet.




“The looking glass,” Maria finally went on, “is an opportunity.”

The world is a leech.

The looking glass is an opportunity.

“Look at it,” she said, “look at it deeply. Let it absorb you. The image is not an image at all, is it? Look,” she said, stressing the K as if it was vehemently fighting not to leave her tongue. “It’s always honest. Look. Absorb.”



Ecstasy. I knew it. I knew it. I knew it.

* * *

Matt and I looked into the mirror and I tried to explain it the way Maria had. I even repeated her words verbatim, unsuccessfully trying to provide the same intonation. “Look,” I said, and went on. Matt was sitting behind me.


“I’m getting nothing,” Matt finally said after a long interval.

Neither was I.

“It’s her,” I said, looking at Matt through the mirror. “It’s her.”

* * *

The world is a leech.

The looking glass is an opportunity.

I was at work and Sarah in her usual flirty way was sitting on the corner of my desk, fidgeting with a stack of blue post-it notes.

“What does that mean?” she asked, sliding the post-its across the desk.


“You wrote the world is a leech. And then, god your handwriting is terrible …”

“The looking glass is an opportunity,” I said.

“Yeah,” she agreed, going across the scrawled letters with her finger, “what does it mean?”

“Honestly I don’t know,” I laughed, “profound, aren’t I?”

Sarah again looked at the paper. She leaned over intentionally, the top of her blouse opening in a yawn that begged attention. I was used to it. I didn’t bother. “What do you think it means?” I asked.

Sarah raised her carefully plucked eyebrows in contemplation. “I never claimed to be profound,” she said. Smiling.

“Yeah,” I laughed, “this girl said it to me. I’ll be damned if I know what she means by it.” The clock on the far wall struck two. One. Two. I counted, I didn’t have to look.

“Maybe you should lose the ego-thing and ask her.”

“It’s not an ego thing. I just … I just don’t think she’d tell me. It’s something I have to figure out on my own.”

I looked at a solitary, uncapped pen that sat upon my desk. One of those cheap Bic pens you can buy for a quarter a pound. I wanted to see Maria, it had been two days. She hadn’t called. Nothing. I was getting impatient. I looked at the clock on my computer screen. I looked at Sarah, mouthing words I could no longer hear. Talking. Talking.

The looking glass is an opportunity.


The world is a leech.

* * *

I pulled into the apartment parking lot. It was ten till four, so a few of the spots up front were still open. It was a small victory. Nevertheless, I had had so few lately that I was sure to count it. I opened the door, pulling my briefcase across the passenger’s seat as I got out. The wind felt cool, the way it mockingly nipped at my nose.

The same people were sitting in the front lobby when the sliding doors opened, allowing my entrance. I looked from side to side; they were all staring at me as though it was the first time they’d ever seen me. I’d been living here for two years and yet it was the same thing everyday. Mouths agape, eyes unflinching, just staring.


The world is a leech. All these people were leeches as well. Just sucking life through their empty gaze. Through hollow eyes. I wondered if they knew what I knew—what Maria knew.

Finally I turned away, walking to the elevator. A familiar voice came from around the corner.

“What were you staring at?” she said. It was Maria.

“How’d you get in here?” I asked.

“You don’t have to have a card until after 6. The doors are open to everybody till then. You live here don’t you?” She smiled.

“They don’t think so.” I moved my head, motioning towards the old lobby-dwellers.

“That’s funny, I don’t think they even noticed me. Oh well, are you going upstairs?”

“Yes, I am,” I said deliberately. “Would you like to join me?”

Maria shook her head.

Another small victory.

* * *

The elevator rang and the door opened with a subtle hint of stale air. The third floor. We were alone. The hallway was empty.

I motioned Maria forward.

“How was work?” she asked, looking at the briefcase in my hand.

I tapped it against the side of my left knee as I walked, a usual tick. “Same old stuff,” I sighed. “I was thinking though …”

“Yes,” she said impatiently, “about what?”

“Well, honestly … you.”

She smiled, though not in a humble way. There was no blush. Maria’s face shone with confidence. “Were you?” she finally replied.

The overhead, phosphorescent lights flickered once. Twice.

We stopped just before my door, which was at the end of the hall, beside the stairwell. The room across from mine was blaring some program on their television set. A woman screamed. And Indian let out a stereotype war hoop. Gene Autry was coming to save the day. An old western, I thought.

I fiddled with my keys for a moment as Maria watched intently. “Well?” she asked again, frustrated with my silence.

“I’m just tired.” The door opened, releasing the familiar aroma of my small, confined piece of home. “Sorry.” The full-length mirror was still in the corner. Some clothes were on the floor. I wished that I’d taken the time to clean up the place. It was a mess. I felt a little embarrassed.

Maria nudged past me and took a seat upon the couch.

Before she could open her mouth, I spoke. “I was just thinking about some of the things that you’ve said to me.”

“Were you?”

“Maria, you intrigue me far more than anyone I have ever met. I know that sounds cliché, even corny. But I mean it. There is something secret about you. Mysterious, I guess. The least of which—hell, maybe the most—are your words. I can’t get them out of my head. The things you say … I found myself writing them on a post-it note today.” I laughed nervously, searching her eyes for a reaction.

Maria sat silent. It was as if she was taking every word that I said, measuring it for what it was worth. The moments passed in leaps of eternity.

I walked from my place at the door and sat with Maria. She moved closer, bridging the gap I’d left between us. She put her arm around me, her soft hand grazing my neck. My body loosened under her grasp, I’d never felt stronger lust for anyone in my life. I swallowed, preventing the urge—yet at the same time not wanting to prevent the urge. I wanted to break free. Abandonment.

Maria looked into my eyes so deeply that I truly believed she was seeing something beyond them. I imagined a stark raven gazing the depths of an impenetrable sea of black. In that moment it felt as though she gazed directly into my soul, caressed it with her smile, and set it free on the wind. I was breathing heavily. I didn’t know why. I … I … and the ecstasy was upon me. The solitary moment in which I both lived and died. My entire life in a fleeting second upon me and before me, all around me.

I sank deep into the seat, deeper into the arms of Maria as it passed. “Some words,” she said to me, whispering in my ear, “some words dissipate in the air. Yet some reverberate forever. Do you understand that?” she asked, playfully tugging my earlobe with her teeth. I could feel her breath, warm against my face. “Certain words stay in the air forever, they’ll never leave you. Even when the person is gone, the deed remains. It, my love, is opportunity. Opportunity. Those words are mirrors, and in them you can see all that has passed. In them you can find respite from the leech. Imagine a deep recess of reflection, then lose yourself in it. Disappear. Then, and only then, will the Other be satisfied.”

“What is the Other?” I asked.

“The Other is your self,” she said, pulling away.

I wanted to reach out and grab her, to pull her close. To ask her more. But she had spoken with finality in her voice. As she backed away I could feel it even more.

The sound of knocking at the door roused me, as if I was in a deep sleep. I looked at Maria; she was still sitting at my side. “I’m sorry,” I said. She didn’t reply and sat motionless, expressionless as I rose from the couch. Her face, which had once held the world, was receding. Not in a physical sense. But the picturesque girl at my side, my eternity, was fading.

I ran to the door. Constantly I checked back to see if she was still there. The lock clicked as I turned it. Matt was standing alone. He had a worried look on his face. “Hold on,” I said, turning from Matt. Yet he followed me in, looking over my shoulder at the couch. Nothing was there. The room was empty—more empty than it had ever been before. It was an abyss, an abyss that mockingly called to me from within. I looked back at Matt and then to the empty couch. For a reason I could not fully grasp, Maria was gone. Was she ever really there? Or was she my own personal phantom, an answer to the unanswerable questions? The phantasm of a fleeting dream. A glimpse of eternity. Maria.

It made all sense and no sense at all.

“The world is a leech,” I said to Matt.

He wore a puzzled look. “Where’s Maria?” he asked at length. “I heard you talking to someone.”

“She’s in the words. The eternal words. The looking glass,” I said.

Matt began to speak but stopped himself.

The world is a leech.


The Other is satisfied.

* * *

James C. Hall lives and writes in Kentucky. A 22 year old student, he is pursuing a Ph.D. in History. This is his second publication.

Where do you get the ideas for your stories?

My story ideas come from within and without. It’s up to a writer to be keen, to see them. A world of stories can stem from simple observance. Poetry is written on the wind.