Tucked away in some little-known corner of time, there once was a glassblower who lived by the sea. In the daring years of his youth, the glassblower would pull all kinds of strange and wonderful shapes from out of colored glass. He blew neon spires that sparkled in the sun, crosses that glinted blood red, fish and dolphins of brightest topaz-blue. Sometimes he would even make glass likenesses of the people in his village: little glass schoolchildren trailing a tall, sharp nun, glass men casting glass nets from glass boats, a fat oblong of golden glass on two stumpy legs for the mayor. The people for their part were much charmed by these facsimiles, and they applauded the glassblower’s ability to copy the forms that filled up their days and their dreams.
As the glassblower aged, however, he grew shy of color and resorted to simpler and simpler shapes. It was much to the disappointment of the villagers; they would gather in the taverna and fondly reminisce of the fantastic constructs that once came piping hot out of the glassblower’s imagination when they were young. Now he only blew grey spheres and grey triangles, grey hexagons and grey octagons, perhaps a trapezoid if he was feeling adventuresome.
One day after many years, when the glassblower walked with a hunch and his head had gone all the way white, he invited the people of the village to his workshop to see his masterpiece: a rectangle.
“But not just any rectangle!” the glassblower said. “It is a form free of all color, free of all distortion: a perfect reflection!”
The people smiled and went along because the glassblower was now a very old man, and everyone knows that it’s important to respect your elders. When he’d gathered them all outside his workshop the glassblower pulled the tarp off his creation, and every breath in the village stuck. They saw a wide, colorless glass rectangle — as the glassblower had promised — but in it they saw something more. In it, they saw the whole world. They saw the fields and seas and skies which hemmed them in, they saw every crooked shingle on every house in the village, and they saw themselves. They saw their own ghostly faces staring back at them, every pockmark, every wrinkle, every tooth missing from their hanging jaws, every grey hair that sprouted from their bent heads. The glassblower really had created a perfect reflection.
First there was silence; then there were screams. Every man, woman, and child began to convulse and moan, and the glassblower cowered back at the ferocity of the village’s woe. They fell to their knees, they rent their clothes, they threw dust over their heads, and all the while forced to watch as their reflection in the glass did the same. They watched their reflection fall to its knees, they watched their reflection rend its clothes, they watched their reflection throw dust over its many heads, and finally they watched as their reflection caught up and killed the glassblower. That was the last they had to watch, however. When they were done with the man, the frenzied villagers shattered his rectangle, and they all swore never to speak of either the glassblower or his glass ever again.
Life returned to normal in the village. The fat mayor gave his speeches, the fishermen cast their nets, and the children trailed their mistress to school. Church bells rang in the morning, bad jokes were told at the taverna in the evening, and it was as if the glassblower had never lived amongst them. Over the coming weeks, however, every single one of the villagers would find time to sneak over to the old workshop and steal a shard of the shattered glass. Then they’d take their shard back home with them and hide it beneath their bed, behind their wardrobe, under the floorboards. They all kept their promise never to speak of the thing again, but sometimes in the last light of sunset after the day’s speaking’s done and all that’s left to be heard are the waves on the shore and the heart in your chest, one might go to sneak out the purloined shard. They looked and looked upon their fractured selves, and the glass cut their hands.
A.J. Rocca is a writer and filmmaker from Chicago. He writes short stories and critical essays, and he creates video essays for his YouTube channel, BlueMorningStar. His work has been published at Popmatters and Oddville Press.