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51. Treading

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

He had been told about the path many years before. It happened in a London pub, a snug place with windows like portholes; it was one of those strange pubs, found only in London, that was archaic and backward while being surrounded by tower blocks and concrete. He sat there and considered his pint. Alcohol made him feel sad. He had never been a big drinker, but he had started to notice, around the age of thirty-four, that after he drank he felt sad. Before, perhaps, it had been disguised by the enthusiasm of youth; now, he noticed the sadness.

Even after one drink, he would wake up and in the early hours of the morning and, despite his modest consumption, feel a terrible sadness, as if the world had been taken away from him and he was a single figure deprived of every feeling of warmth a man could know. He even suffered a miniature hangover from one pint, feeling delicate in the morning. He had, accordingly, become circumspect over beer. That day, however, he had consumed three pints. It was easy to do in company, somehow, and, at that moment, the beer warmed him and made him feel happy. It was only later that the dip would come.

His companion was an older woman, someone’s divorced aunt, who had never had children. She had a career and many men instead, and, though it was never mentioned, there was an emptiness about her. Despite this, she remained cheerful and indulgent to those around her. As her physical attractiveness receded, she became more generous with money and affection. It did not do to think too much about the past. He noticed, however, that she managed to work her way through a bottle of wine in an evening.

They came to know each other because they had fallen into conversation at an occult bookshop in central London. It was one of the oldest, tucked behind a theatre and close to where Mozart had once lived. The two had both reached for the last copy of a book about Ishtar and, after talking about the topic for a while, had agreed to go for a drink. The tradition continued for a month, though without any romantic suggestion. There was always, as there always is between men and women, a flirtation between the two, but, for the most part, they talked about London and politics and the cultural scene that both shared.

That evening, she told him about the path. The path had been handed down her in her family for decades, but, as she was the last of the line and had no children it would fade out. The path was for men alone to walk and that was why she was keen to set him on it. She provided him with a few instructions that night and, after a few more meetings, they saw no more of each other.

Now, years later, he was ready for the path. He sat before a mirror and began to breathe as the instructions demanded. A candle, reflected in the gloom, provided the only illumination for the exercise. He chanted the words he had been given in order to walk the path. After a few minutes, the mirror began to change. He fancied that he could see the woman, though younger than when he known her. The candle blew out, though his window was closed and the air was still in the bedroom. The images continued to rotate through the mirror. His stomach rolled under him, and he began to feel that he was falling into the mirror. He tried to hold his body back, but he went onward; further and further he fell into the clear mirror. He could feel its coolness on his cheeks.

The mirror shattered when he pulled his head back, and his cheek was cut by little shards. He fancied a piece had gone into his right eye as well, and blinked to set it free.


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