The Draped Mirrors :: J. L. Borges

Islam asserts that on the unappealable day of judgment every perpetrator of the image of a living creature will be raised from the dead with his works, and he will be commanded to bring them to life, and he will fail, and be cast out with them into the fires of punishment. As a child, I felt before large mirrors that same horror of a spectral duplication or multiplication of reality. Their infallible and continuous functioning, their pursuit of my actions, their cosmic pantomime, were uncanny then, whenever it began to grow dark. One of my persistent prayers to God and my guardian angel was that I not dream about mirrors. I know I watched them with misgivings. Sometimes I feared they might begin to deviate from reality; other times I was afraid of seeing there my own face, disfigured by strange calamities. I have learned that this fear is again monstrously abroad in the world. The story is simple indeed, and disagreeable.

Around 1927 I met a sombre girl, first by telephone (for Julia began as a nameless, faceless voice), and, later, on a corner toward evening. She had alarmingly large eyes, straight blue-black hair, and an unbending body. Her grandfather and great-grandfather were federales, as mine were unitarios, and that ancient discord in our blood was for us a bond, a fuller possession of the fatherland. She lived with her family in a big old run-down house with very high ceilings, in the vapidity and grudges of genteel poverty. Afternoons — some few times in the evening — we went strolling in her neighborhood, Balvanera. We followed the thick wall by the railroad; once we walked along Sarmiento as far as the clearing for the Parque Centenario. There was no love between us, or even the pretense of love: I sensed in her an intensity that was altogether foreign to the erotic, and I feared it. It is not uncommon to relate to women, in an urge for intimacy, true or apocryphal circumstances of one’s boyish past. I must have told her once about the mirrors and thus in 1928 I prompted a hallucination that was to flower in 1931. Now, I have just heard that she has lost her mind and that the mirrors in her room are draped because she sees in them my reflection, usurping her own, and she trembles and falls silent and says I am persecuting her by magic.

What bitter slavishness, that of my face, that of one of my former faces. This odious fate reserved for my features must perforce make me odious too, but I no longer care.

[From Dreamtigers, by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Mildred Boyer]

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