A cloaked woman dining alfresco, is shrouded in a cloud of her own smoke, a smoke which then prowls, slowly, to the pedestrians a few feet away. The outside décor of trees and plants are lucky to be plastic in this superficial world, otherwise they’d have more than likely choked on the encompassing smog.
A clove cigarette she lit, not a second ago, is the source and she draws it in, then calmly releases it a to be a thick grey veil enveloping her whole being, as if to conceal her identity. She’s doing well to obscure your vision, I mean, of course she’s achieving this, you are standing by the cashier of the café. Through squinted eyes, you peer beyond the glass to the alfresco dining, and through the foggy mass, to see a long, thin fountain pen, writing on a notepad on the table; ‘Ah!’ you think, ‘she’s in tune with quality stationary.’
Go on, get closer. How can you expect to pin her down, to squeeze as much information out of her as you need, without even being within talking distance? Come on! Reader, you have the power.
You draw up a chair behind her and choose to have your back facing hers, honestly, you decide, this cloud of smoke is too unsettling. Like Prufrock’s yellow fog, you are unsure of when it’ll pounce, or settle.
Before speaking through the fog you reach for your pen and hold it to your mouth. Beep. Whisper. “Interview commenced, 1600 hours.” For future reference, of course. Note everything, Reader.
“No, I won’t help you if that’s why you’re here. She’s my sister and you’ll do well to leave her alone.”
“But, I’ve fallen in love with her. Lotaria, I’ve not done anything to you, yet, you’ve lead me on a wild goose chase all over the world, the least you can do is grant me some peace.”
“Ludmilla, is the prized beauty, the jewel among the rocks.” Lotaria turns, and through the haze, you see no eyes. They lie concealed behind large designer glasses. “Do you not think I know this? I’ve been the other, the second sister. I’ve been in her shadow for years.”
“…yeah, and I-”
“And I’ve see men fall for her, they’ve come and go, but they’re not up to her standards. She is unattainable, she is everything you will strive to be.”
‘Thank you, Lotaria’ you think to yourself, ‘kind words of inspiration, to salve the soul.’ This stance of Lotaria’s, however, comes as a surprise. This rebellion was not forseen, I mean, she’d always stuck by her word.
“I wanted to help. I was in for the long haul, to see her find meaning to her life, but I figured, hey, she’s ideal and definitely too good for you. You want her? I’m done. You pin her down yourself.”
Lotaria pulls out of the conversation with the grey cloud simpering behind her.
“Interview suspended 1608 hours.” The pen slides back into your pocket, waiting for another day. Looking over to her table, you see the paper Lotaria was writing on; a Japanese puzzle- Sudoku.
Personally, I can’t solve Sudoku. It’s just not my forte and I find, it tiresome. Just when I think I’m answering the puzzle, there’s another loop hole where I’ve lost my track and you must start again from square one.
Actually, there’s an uncanny connection between my failures in Sudoku and your recent complications with Lotaria. You notice the pen beside the puzzle and have a closer look. Well, obviously, Lotaria has focused on the completion of this riddle and has shaped the pen’s actions, she’s controlled the pen to write her preferred numbers. She shapes the pen’s meaning and yet, the pen has shaped her outcome. Frustrated ink blots and scribbles tell you that Lotaria, evidently found that she was not in control of this Japanese conundrum. It defeated her and shaped the course of her pen. Upon completion, Lotaria gave up. It is now, sitting with you, the reader’s hands, incomplete.
You had Lotaria sit opposite you, in the café last week and she told you to find your own way around. Reader, where to now? Well, you thought it was her. She did have a logical and realistically plausible conversation with you, but remember I emphasized the smog. You never did actually see her face. Alas, you found her Sudoku puzzle. I mean, I could’ve had her writing a perfect simulacrum of a Victorian novel, but no, I gave her a Japanese riddle to complete and the poor girl failed, entrusting it to you. I gave it to her to complete, because I sure can’t. You haven’t tried to, in the past week, either? Have you? You think you’ve deciphered de code, and yet you’re lost to infinity as well.
You were told to find this woman, Lotaria. To have her, means to find her sister- the ideal woman.
Ludmilla. She’s the ocean breeze on a blistering summer’s day by the beach. She’s the floating islands of marshmallow in a molten lake of chocolate on a winter’s day. She’s perfect.
Stop thinking about her. The more you think, the more Ludmilla eludes you. I’m sure your visit with Lotaria last week told you that. But I think you should be more preoccupied with the identity of Lotaria for now. She is the link between you two. In my opinion, you should’ve asked straight out- who are you? Can you even be sure of who Lotaria is? Every time you felt you inched closer to the truth of her being, you were opened up to an abyss of more questions and the bloodhound lost its trail scent again.
Alas, Reader, all is not lost. You feel like throwing in the towel and screeching to the heavens, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!”
But you do give a damn. You’d give anything to ride past miles of a beavered-dam, lake lapping against the road as the motorcycle zips through an autumn-leafed tunnel on the scenic route, Ludmilla on the back.
And you’ve managed to grasp a trace of her and successfully follow it to find the illusion has eluded you.
Your pocket is getting heavy. I think you should stop carrying Lotaria’s notepad that you picked up from the table and only take that Sudoku sheet. At least you had the sense to take the puzzle, though. Actually, in my opinion, I think you should flip the Sudoku page. But don’t mind me, I’m just the author, following your path, wherever that leads you.
You pause in your tracks and flip the page.
…on a winter’s night, I like to sit by the fire of a travelling circus…breathe for a minute, see where I’m going, what path I’m taking. I often sit in self-reflection for a while…
That’s Ludmilla’s handwriting, on Lotaria’s notepad. This plot has picked up pace.
I think, I’ll go have a macchiato while you figure what to do with this information.
8th March The Search- The Circus.
Well, I see you’ve decided to think over Ludmilla’s musings. Can you even trust that it’s her contemplations? You walk over to the fire and feel the warmth embrace your icy skin as you hear the crackle of the fire’s licking the log in the grate. The smoky night air reminds you of the smog that stalked behind Lotaria that day, however, this smoke is natural, fresh and wood fire-like.
But Ludmilla’s not here. You pull out the Sudoku and realize the scrawl at the top wasn’t a date, 8th of the month, rather a symbol-
I advise you go, look for where she can sit in self-reflection, if that’s the path you wish to take. Where one may see themselves more as reality than fiction.
Turning your back on the fire, you walk against the crowd that trickles out as the night circus draws to an end. The fairground becomes quieter and quieter…and you , you, don’t know where-
Stop it. You’re stumbling. I think you should ask that man over there, by the ticket stand, the one wearing the same trench coat as you. As you draw nearer and notice he has the same pen, in his front pocket… and he is wearing the hat you chose not to wear this morning. You shake your head uttering, ‘nothing is original these days’ then, ask him directions.
“Good man, can you tell me where the sideshow alley is?” you inquire. The man looks around. Reader, clear your throat. “The magic mirrors, in the Fun House?” He points over your left shoulder and you turn to a contrasting yellow and red tent that protrudes from the gloom with a fanfare of bright lights.
As you saunter beyond the arch of flashing lights at the entrance, you reach the eerie glow from a kaleidoscope of reflective surfaces. A stream of moonlight from a single slit in the black curtains above you provides enough light for you to see just in front of you. Light bounces off anything reflective and as you walk, you find yourself to your left and your right, beside you and behind you. Don’t doubt yourself, Reader. You are within yourself as well. This uncanny darkness is perhaps a little disconcerting and I could very well just hand you a flashlight for your convenience, but that would, indeed defeat the purpose of this suspenseful moment.
You’ve found that place, where your image presents a perfect image of you. It’s no wonder Ludmilla chose to stay here. This space you stand in surrounds you in eight mirrors. It’s an image of an image, and yet they are all you. But where is she? She’s obviously not here, because if she was, you’d have already seen a flicker of her eight selves. This labyrinth of people, are all but one; the lonely minotaur within- you.
You turn, continuously, in circles, wondering how you got there. Then, out of the corner of your eye, you see a flicker of movement. You look, into each mirror, analyzing your reflection for the briefest of moments then shifting to the next, walking up to it, pressing your warm hand against the cold of the glass and watching the foggy outline of your hand disappear as you take your hand away. They are all you, they all depict you. You are in control. You have the power. Reader, I have given you the power. Place your hand on the next mirror.
It’s not so cold, this one. Compared to the others, it’s tepid and you look deep within your reflection, to find that the glass not only reveals a mirror image of you, but beyond this is an image of someone else.
Lotaria moves through the mirrors, from this mirror, to the one beside it, her image becomes stronger as she shifts between each of the eight mirrors, then spins away, to leave you, alone, in the gloom once more. You saw her, last, by that mirror, to your left. Follow her, Reader, before she gets away. You walk over to that mirror and find it has a space of darkness between the glass and the next mirror. You ease yourself through. Careful! Don’t catch your hem on the corner.
Blackness. Nothingness. You could be on a spacecraft, hurtling through space and you wouldn’t know the difference. Except, of course that you’d have pin pricks of light from glow worms and ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ in the background, to be sure.
Alas, you are in the original room, the room you entered in. it has but one mirror, a warped mirror, one to make you look-
-like you should. Your reality. How you are. It shows what you really are. Doesn’t it? Reader, are you sure, you should dismiss this image? Look closer. That’s better. From this angle, it’s you, distorted to perfection. But from this angle, it’s Lotaria. Wait- what? Lotaria? And, hang on, from this angle, its, Ludmilla! They are one.
But, you move an inch to the left, and her image is gone, beyond reach. She has, eluded you again.
I could’ve told you that.