The Nature of Glass – Sandi Leibowitz

The Nature of Glass – Sandi Leibowitz

Metaphorosis December 2016
December 2016

Whispers from the Jewish quarter about the raising of a golem. A clock where every hour Death pursued sins and set them quaking. Astronomy, botany, art. Bohemia in the days of Rudolf II was famed for many things. Among them was the making of glass.

Zoja was a master glassblower who lived in the outskirts of Prague. In her youth she had married Jozef, learned his trade and worked alongside him. What greater happiness than to find pleasure in your work, shared with the one you love? Perhaps that was why their glass had been so beautiful. Sometimes, Jozef would send the apprentices home early. Locking the door after them, he would steal behind Zoja and, breathing warmly upon her neck, place his hands upon hers as she dipped the blowpipe into the sand. Together they rolled it back and forth upon the metal plate. They took turns blowing their breath into the blowpipe, as if it shared their kisses. Together they would shape the glass, the furnace glowing as hot as their desire. They would retreat to their little house beside the studio and consummate what they’d begun. Even now, years after Jozef’s death, Zoja trembled to remember the fervor of their lovemaking.

Their life had been complete except for one thing—they could not conceive a child. When years passed and it grew clear no child would come to them, Zoja and Jozef threw themselves even more ardently into their work. They eschewed the new-fashioned method of cutting into the glass to embellish, instead creating inventive shapes that made their work well prized. Their fluted pine-green glasses rose in supple forms, opening like rare blossoms. Liqueur flasks in the shape of cavorting lions or savage griffons delighted anyone who saw them. Cabbage leaves with finches perched on the rim were barely recognizable as bowls. The longer Zoja remained without a child, the more imaginative her work became, for if she could not create new life from her womb, she would do so with her hands. Emperor Rudolf himself had once sent an emissary to inspect their work and purchased their most spectacular piece, a glass Triton blowing a glass conch-shell from which the emperor might drink his wine.

Before Zoja attained middle age, Jozef died, leaving her desolate. To still her grief, she labored longer hours in her studio. Years passed. The glassblower never took another husband, although from time to time she sought comfort in the arms of Jarmil the innkeeper, who would have wed her, or shared a sweet night in the bed of Milos the cooper, whose invalid wife left him almost a widower.

The pain of Jozef’s death eventually became a bearable ache, but Zoja’s desire for a child intensified. And now, gray hairs streaking her temples and lines etching the edges of a mouth that once laughed in love, her longing was a persistent torment. It greeted her faithfully as a dog each morning, and stalked her dreams like a starving wolf each night. Her life felt as cold and dead as the ashes of the great furnace days after firing. It was the loving she desired, not merely the idea of seeing her own image repeated in another; she had a silvered mirror for that. If only she could discover a foundling! But no miller’s wife with too many brats came calling. No king’s child draped in brocade and dire prophecies floated down the Vltava to her door.

One day, Zoja’s longing became unbearable. Glass may take the form of anything one wishes. A vessel may hold water, wine or ale—why not dreams? She shooed the young men from the workshop, as she and Jozef had so often done long ago in happier times, and set to work to make a child of glass. Madness had not seized her; she knew it could never be a real child.

The furnace roared beside her, its flames less hot than her own passions. Sweat pouring from her, her lips set in a scowl as she focused all attention to her task, she spun the glowing mass of molten glass into the likeness of a baby. A bit of cobalt added to a mixture of sand created blue glass for the eyes. The purest gold, such as had gone into the Triton fountain for the emperor, was used to make the precious ruby-glass, called aventurine. Molded separately into the familiar valentine-shape, a crimson heart of glass was plunged into the transparent breast while the infant-form had not yet hardened. What little of the aventurine was left formed lips that parted in a charming moue.

Zoja set the glass child into a cooling oven and waited. She did not mind; had she not waited all these years? When making anything—a figure of glass, or a story, or a child—one must have patience.

Hours later the glassblower removed her creation from the oven. Zoja examined the tiny fingers and toes, like any other mother, relieved to find no flaws.

She hugged the glass babe to her breast. “Ah,” she crooned. Her arms felt complete with this weight in them.

Tears, clear as crystal, slid down her face. “You are not a real child, just a lonely woman’s doll. If only you could become real, my beautiful glass daughter.” Zoja covered the figure in her apron and took it home. She hid it in the old chest at the foot of her bed, wrapped safely in winter blankets.

Every night, when the day’s work was done, she held the glass child close and imagined the cold, hard form was warm, soft flesh. Her face gathered lines, cut deep as patterns on a pair of wedding goblets, new grief engraved upon old.

One morning, while Zoja swept the dust from the workshop floor, an old woman visited. Radka served as housekeeper in the house of Count Vitkovc, and frequently came to order fine glassware and exchange gossip. It was rumored that Radka dabbled in alchemy, and had even had dealings with the emperor in this capacity.

Radka scrutinized Zoja’s face. “I do not know what sorrow eats you,” she whispered, her leathery hand grasping Zoja’s, “but perhaps you may find some ease in this news. Edward Kelley, the Emperor’s English astrologer, has told me that on the night of the next new moon, a star will fall from the sky, glowing red as one of your globules of molten glass—a comet he calls it. When that star falls into the Vltava, those who witness may ask a wish and the gods will grant it. Or so he says.”

On the night of the new moon, Zoja wrapped the glass child in a blanket, and wended her way through the dark, cobbled streets of Prague. She stopped at the Stone Bridge. Here and there stood hunched figures, still as statues in the shadows.

At last the comet appeared in the sky, flaming like long-thwarted desire. Zoja uncovered the blanket from the glass babe’s face. In the comet’s red light, she lifted the child to the heavens.

“Quicken my glass girl,” Zoja husked. “Give her breath.”

The comet fell into the river. The embers made the Vltava shiver and glow. When the last was extinguished, the figure of the child stirred. The glass chest rose and fell. The heart of ruby glass beat. Eyes of cobalt glass blinked and, seeing Zoja, the glass lips parted in a smile.

How Zoja’s heart swelled with joy! She wanted to skip her way home, but instead she walked slowly, carefully, with her precious bundle. “I name you Bozena, my daughter,” she whispered, “for you are my divine gift.”

Motherhood granted Zoja greater happiness than she had even imagined it would. For more than a year the glassmaker guarded her secret well. She left most of her work to the apprentices and assistants. Bozena needed no food, but, like any other infant, she cried from time to time, quieting when rocked and sung to. And she laughed, and oh, when the mother saw that glass nose crinkle and the red lips smile, a comet blazed in her chest.

One question consumed Zoja: What is the nature of glass? She feared that the answer was: to break. The child grew, and became ever more curious about her world. The little one needed to walk, and every toddler is prey to tumbles. But Bozena could not afford to fall—she could well lose a limb or even her very life, for who knew how the comet’s power worked? Perhaps a single crack could end the spell. So Zoja cleared the little one’s path of all obstacles, hovering a breath behind so she’d be certain to catch her if she should stumble.

Eventually the mother had to concede that if her daughter were to lead a full life, she must meet other people and take part in the wide world. She feared how others might react to Bozena’s strangeness, and set aside a few essential belongings in case the worst happened, and they needed to flee and begin a new life elsewhere. One day she held Bozena’s hand and led her through the streets of the village to do her errands. At first those who saw the girl drew back in horror. What sorcery is this? they murmured. But like any happy child, she smiled and gurgled so adorably that they could not help but smile back, though her cooing had a fey, hollow sound, like wind blowing through a crystal flute.

For several days, other children remained wary of Bozena. How could they trust one who was not allowed to play like everyone else? But they were lured to her side by the combination of her gentle friendliness and her unearthly beauty. Zoja begged them to refrain from roughhousing near her. They learned to stand still in her proximity, making up songs and quiet hand games to please her. Soon she was the village favorite.

When Bozena grew older, Zoja allowed her to travel on her own like any other girl, as long as she promised to stay within the village limits and avoid dangers, especially horses and carts and rambunctious dogs. Bozena moved with a measured gait, always scanning ahead. Strangers to the village would pause to stare at the child to admire her gracefulness before they noticed her peculiar transparency. She was precious in every beholder’s eyes. Prague was a proud city, and Bohemia did not mind, even celebrated, its reputation for outlandishness.

Now that Zoja could relax her guard somewhat, she renewed her attention to her work. Happiness sparked a new phase of creativity in her. Even her assistants grew astonished at the colors she could coax from mere sand and mineral, and at the intricacies of her invented forms. To delight her daughter, Zoja conjured from molten glass all kinds of animals and hybrid creatures—mice with hummingbird wings, foxes that pranced on stallions’ legs, tiger-headed whales. That playfulness spilled over into all her work, so that the studio took on the look of an enchanted forest made of glass.

Years passed. The glass girl became a woman. What kind of future could she expect? Would she find someone to love her? Would a husband care for her the way her mother did? Men were such careless creatures. She is still young, Zoja counseled herself; there is time to worry about that. But she worried any way. The nature of glass is to break, she kept remembering. Many of the village boys courted Bozena but these were only innocent flirtations.

Eventually, however, Bozena fell in love with a boy who loved her in return. Every evening she ran to meet him in a meadow just outside the village, where they could be alone together. Should Zoja counsel Frederick on how to care for the girl? Should she intervene at all?

One summer evening, Bozena failed to return home for dinner. Zoja grew frantic. She searched throughout the village but no one had seen the girl. She rushed to Frederick’s home. Wild-eyed, she flung open the door.

“Where is she? Where’s my daughter?”

“I haven’t any idea,” he said. He wouldn’t meet her gaze.

“Frederick has been home for an hour,” his mother said. “It’s not his fault if you can’t keep track of your girl.”

Zoja continued to press him.

“I didn’t mean it!” he cried at last, his face flushed red. “I’ve grown tired of having to clear the path for Bozena to walk. When I put my lips to hers, how cold they are, as if kissing ice that refuses to melt. I have to close my eyes when I embrace her. It’s too disturbing otherwise! On cloudy days, her greyness makes me sad. On stormy days she’s dark and churning like the ocean. On blue and cloudless days, she bores me. When we’re indoors, I find it so confusing, I don’t know where to look. My gaze drifts through her from the chair to the kettle to the door…

“So I turned to another girl. Danika is plump and vivacious. She blushes when she sees me—Bozena’s body never changes. Danika’s hair blows in the wind, while Bozena’s always stays in place. Danika’s flesh warms when I touch her. Today, I foolishly told her to meet me in the meadow where I go with Bozena. I thought we’d be done by the time Bozena got there. But I lost myself in her arms, forgetful of the time, of everything else, when I heard an odd noise—Crkk!

“I never meant to hurt her!”

Zoja’s heart almost ceased to beat. “Show me.”

Frederick led Zoja to a field where blue cornflowers and red poppies bloomed amidst the grass, and sparsely spaced elms offered shady bowers. Behind one such elm, inanimate as a statue, stood the maid of glass. Her hands were raised to her mouth, which was opened wide. Zoja thought she could hear her daughter’s gasp of surprise and pain, though it must have been only the wind whistling past the glass lips. She caressed the girl’s hands and arms. She pulled down the edge of Bozena’s chemise to find what she had suspected. The ruby heart had cracked in two, shattering the magic that had brought the girl to life.

Zoja sank to her knees in grief. She didn’t know how long she wept there. When she raised her head at last, Frederick still waited with her. The sun was setting.

“Bring her to my house. She will serve as her own monument.”

Frederick did her bidding. Days later, Zoja learned that he ran away that night, never to return to Bohemia.

Visitors came to see the grieving mother every day, bringing her meals she refused to eat. They spoke in glowing terms of the glass maiden, many weeping at her loss. The village maidens wove a chain of white flowers and draped it around the glass figure.

Zoja sent away her workers; the furnace was as cold as her heart. A month or more passed. One day she opened the door to her studio. Old habits die hard; she found the broom and got to work. Her eyes swept over the rack of finished glassworks, waiting to be sold. Her wares had never before been rimed with dust. She passed a finger over a sea-green pitcher with mermaid handles.

What is the nature of glass? The familiar question came to her mind unbidden. It is alchemy, the harnessing of three elements—earth, air, fire—to become a transcendent fourth. If the glassblower is alchemist, can she perform other magicks?

Zoja stoked the furnace. She struggled to carry the statue to the studio, careful not to damage it any further. She prepared a batch of aventurine and thrust the molten glass into the glass girl’s chest. How it hurt to do that! As if she stabbed her own daughter in the heart. But Bozena didn’t cry out or move; she remained a statue. Slowly Zoja worked, fitting the two pieces of the ruby heart back together. She could not help but cry. She did not notice the single tear that fell and entered the ruby-glass heart. She closed up the chest. A tiny seam, barely detectable, was the only testament to the repair.

Zoja sat beside the cooling oven, waiting, much as she had done eighteen years before. This time there was so much more at stake. Then, she had only sought to create a glass statue. Now, she meant to bring a daughter back to life. Would it require the magic of another comet? Exhaustion forced her eyes closed and she slept.

Zoja looked up. Bozena was rising from the table.

“My precious child!” She ran to her and clasped her.

“Mama, you’re holding me too tightly,” the girl complained, laughing. “You’ll break me.” She pushed her mother away.

Zoja held Bozena’s hand and examined the ruby-glass heart. It beat steadily. The only flaw that she could see was a tiny bubble. It was her tear, which had been captured in the glass. It sparkled like a diamond in the rich crimson of the heart.

Joyfully, she brought her daughter home. If Bozena smiled less, found fault in little things, and seemed less affectionate than she had been before, perhaps that was to be expected, as one who undergoes a deadly illness becomes irritable for a while, angry at all they’ve undergone. Or, the mother thought, she still rankles at Frederick’s infidelity and mourns her first love. She will recover from both maladies in time.

How the village rejoiced at the glass maiden’s return! A feast was prepared. Since the honoree herself could not partake of it, the women brought her gifts of new gowns and aprons, as if she were a bride. The men brought her ribbons and other trinkets. The girls wove garlands for her hair and waist, this time red lilies to symbolize her renewed life.

After the initial jubilation, life returned to normal. The assistants and apprentices were summoned back to the studio. Although Zoja resumed her work, she spent more time with her daughter, keeping a careful eye on her, almost as protective as she had been in Bozena’s infancy. The girl chafed at the restraint.

“You must take care, my child. You’re not like others.”

“Mama, I’m a grown woman, I can walk by myself!”

Bozena sulked. She disappeared for hours at a time, disobeying her mother’s injunctions and growing negligent of her chores. Zoja hated to scold the girl—she was so grateful to have her back. Instead she pleaded. But Bozena did as she wished. Even Zoja’s most fanciful gifts of glass figures failed to please her.

Boys became attentive to the glass maiden once again, more so than they had been before her calamity. The air of tragedy about her excited their curiosity. The cruelest and vainest of them secretly hoped to find out if he had the power to render her inanimate again.

“Please be careful,” her mother begged. “Don’t let another boy break your heart.”

“No danger of that,” Bozena scoffed. The sound of her laugh was sharp as shards of broken glass.

And indeed, it seemed the girl was in no danger of breaking her own heart; she was too busy breaking others’. She did not care to see one young man very often, but preferred a constant stream of suitors. If any wooer became too passionate, she spurned him at once.

Zoja and her daughter argued constantly. A new bone of contention became Bozena’s demand to help in the studio.

“I want to learn how to make glass,” the girl insisted. “I need a trade. I don’t want to merely sweep and wash and cook.”

“How many times must I tell you? It’s too dangerous for you in there. The studio is a bustling place, full of workers intent on their tasks. You’re too fragile! One shove against a rack of glassware, one slip, and that could end your life! Besides, there are savings enough for you to live on after I die. The house and the business are yours. You need never marry.”

But Bozena grew more and more discontented, more and more neglectful, more and more angry. Zoja seldom knew where she was at any given time. The girl remained obstinate and unreachable, no matter how lovingly her mother treated her.

One day a knock came at the studio door. Zoja opened it to find a velvet-clad gentleman outside. Three other men stood behind him, before a well-appointed carriage led by a pair of matched chestnuts.

The gentleman bowed. “I am the Curator of the Emperor’s Wunderkammer. Word has come to Emperor Rudolf that you have created a maiden of glass that lives and breathes and walks like any person born of a woman and a man. These are the royal glassmakers who shall examine her.”

Zoja could do nothing but step back as they made their way inside. She had heard of this Chamber of Wonders, where the emperor collected beautiful and strange objects for his sole delight. He had amassed rare stones, model ships carved from coral and jasper, the jaw of a mermaid, clocks that sang, golden serpents with real sharks’ teeth, skulls of amber and no fewer than three unicorn horns.

“I’m afraid I do not know where she is,” the mother stammered. “She is a bit—willful. But until she returns, I would be glad to show you my studio and my other work.”

The men murmured unhappily together, but they followed her through the studio, shaking hands with the workers, observing them create new pieces, examining completed objects. The Curator yawned throughout the tour but the glassmakers frequently expressed their admiration.

Soon dusk fell. The visitors retired to Zoja’s home, where she served them tea and medovnik. Bozena had baked it that morning, and the cottage was still warmed by the aromas of honey and cinnamon.

At last Bozena arrived. The gentlemen rose the instant she walked through the door.

“These men,” Zoja explained, “have come from the Emperor to see you. You must do as they ask.”

The girl frowned, but made a perfunctory curtsey.

“A wonder!” one of the glassmakers exclaimed.

“Come here, girl,” the Curator commanded. Bozena walked toward him with her usual careful tread.

“Can she run?” He addressed Zoja, as if the maiden of glass could not answer for herself.

“Of course I can!”

“Bozena! Be polite!” Zoja remonstrated.

“Let us see,” the Curator said.

“She is capable of running,” the mother explained, “but then she might break and shatter. That would be the end of her. So she must not run.”

The curator tsked.

“Can she perform only tasks that you set her?” the first glass-blower asked.

“Oh, no,” Zoja said. “She’s not an automaton, but a real person like you or I. It is only her—material—and the way in which she came into being that make her different from us.”
“Priceless!” the Curator gushed.
The second glassmaker went up to the girl and looked her up and down in such a way that would have made a maiden of flesh blush. He touched her arm, fingered the mass of her hair, poked at her nose. “Such workmanship,” he assessed.

The third glassmaker stood utterly silent throughout this process, hands folded, gazing at Bozena intently.

“Do you have a favorite color?” he finally asked her.

The glass maiden stared at him in surprise. “That blue that comes at dusk just before the darkness falls, that has both night and day in it.”

Zoja had thought her daughter loved red best; that was the color of her favorite dress, and she loved poppies. Why didn’t she know this?

The visitor smiled wide. “That’s my favorite color, too. And my favorite time of day. It feels so full of magic and possibility. And what is it that you like to do best of all?”

Ruby-glass lips responded with a shy smile of their own. “Although my mother worries I’ll get hurt, I prefer to be outdoors, walking in the woods—in spite of the treacherous tree roots—or in a meadow full of wildflowers. If I were like any other young woman, I would love to run across a field, faster than the wind. Or climb a mountain. Maybe even swim in the sea.” Bozena frowned. “I can never do any of those things.”

Swim in the sea? Zoja bit her lip at the thought.

The other glassmakers continued to prod the glass maiden, and demand that she do this task or that. The third glassmaker, however, asked nothing more of Bozena. At last the examination was done. The men conferred with each other. The third glassmaker argued quietly with the others.

“It is decided,” spoke the Curator. “We would like to purchase your glass maiden.”

Zoja gasped. “Purchase? She is my daughter!”

“We will give you four hundred tolars.”

“She is not for sale!”

“Six hundred tolars! A thousand!”

“Never! Bozena is my child, not an object. There is no price you could name that would make me change my mind. Not even if the Emperor himself begged for her. Or demanded her.”

Hands clenched into fists, Zoja stood with her legs spread wide, her eyes flashing like those of a tigress defending her cub. The Curator opened his mouth to argue but shut it at once. Zoja opened her door. The gentlemen entered the carriage. All but the third glassmaker, who remained in the courtyard, plumed hat in his hand, while the carriage clattered back to Prague.

“My name is Matthias,” he told Zoja. “Forgive the rudeness of my colleagues. They sometimes forget their manners in their singlemindedness of purpose. May I have your permission to speak with your daughter? I will not insult you or her by suggesting that you sell her; I would not cheapen the miracle of her existence. I should like to be considered—an admirer.”
Zoja softened toward him. But she remembered what had happened with Frederick. Could she allow Bozena to entertain the possibility of love again? If another man broke her heart, she might not be able to bring her back to life. Before she could state her objections, Bozena answered for herself.

“I would be delighted to speak with you. One of the benefits of walking so slowly is that you get to notice little things that others pass by. The lady’s-smocks are blooming in a quiet place I know. Come, let me show you.”

Before Zoja could protest, the couple went off.

Shortly after dusk, they returned, hand in hand. The young man placed Bozena’s hand in her mother’s, as if he were returning her to her care. He bowed solemnly and walked off in the direction of Prague.

“Please don’t see him again, Bozena!” the mother begged. “Surely so important a gentleman—and a master glassmaker at that, one who is only interested in how you were made—has no good intentions toward you.” Zoja liked Matthias, and sensed no ruthlessness in him, but she had her girl to think of.

Bozena gave her a wicked smile and went off to her room, shutting the door. The mother stood helplessly behind it. No doubt my daughter will outgrow this cruel stage, she thought. But she worried.

Matthias called on Bozena the following Sunday. And every Sunday after that. And soon more often. In the interest of peace, and the hope for a good outcome, Zoja held her tongue.

One day, when Matthias returned the glass maiden to the cottage, he held Bozena’s hands for a long time and sighed. He bowed deeply before her when he made his adieus and walked out to the courtyard whistling. Bozena watched him disappear down the road.

“Matthias has asked me to marry him,” she announced, “and I have accepted.”

“No!” Zoja cried. “You cannot! He will hurt you! Break you! You must refuse him! Men cannot be trusted—remember what happened with Frederick! Stay a maiden. Let me care for you.”

“And who will keep me company when you die?” Bozena swept her hand across her face, just under her eyes, as if to wipe away a tear, although the maiden of glass could shed no tears. “I wish to love and be loved, and not just by you, Mother. How can I live a full life if I do not love?”

Zoja begged and pleaded but the girl covered her ears with her transparent hands and closed her eyes. Bozena fled to her room. Under other circumstances, Zoja would have cautioned her to move more carefully.

There is time, the mother thought. Surely, I will be able to convince my daughter that it is not so terrible to live alone. She will always have friends to love her. Many have to find that sufficient. Perhaps I can win Matthias to my cause. If he truly loves her now as he claims, he might see things reasonably, agree to nip their passion in the bud.
In the morning, Bozena was silent and resentful. Her charming red mouth formed a scowl her mother had never fashioned there. Zoja thought she would have gone off on her own early that day, but instead the glass maiden turned resolutely to domestic chores. She scrubbed the hearth with an almost brutal energy. Perhaps she seeks to make amends, the mother thought, but is too proud yet to admit I’m right.

The suitor returned that evening, flushed with the elation of the recently betrothed. As always, he was friendly and polite to his beloved’s mother, and veered between tongue-tied and gushing with his intended. Zoja attempted to speak with Matthias alone, but at every turn Bozena intervened. Before her lover departed, the glass maiden whispered something in his ear. He blushed. She threw her arms around him and kissed him. When he bid Zoja goodnight, he would not meet her eyes.

Zoja lay awake for hours that night. Is it wrong for me to deny my daughter love? For the first time in many years, she thought of Jozef. The yearning for him had ceased to plague her years ago, all the years in which she had been filled to the brim, like a great glass bowl, with her love for Bozena. She realized that it had been a long, long time since she had felt the touch of flesh—not merely during love-making, but any kind of ordinary human contact. She had grown used to the feel of cold glass against her skin; her daughter’s was the only hand she ever held, the only cheek she ever kissed. Have I become so diminished a person, she wondered, a vessel empty of everything but a mother’s devotion?

The lasts stars had faded away before she fell asleep. No doubt that is why she did not rouse at the sound of glass breaking. It was the smell of smoke that wakened her.

“Bozena!” she shrieked, no matter that an ordinary fire could never harm the glass maiden; it was a mother’s instinct to worry for her child first. It did not yet occur to her that Bozena should be seeking to save her mother as well.

She ran through the cottage. No sign of fire or smoke. Or of Bozena. She banged open the door to the street. The studio had been set ablaze.

“Fire! Fire! Help!” she called.

Neighbors rushed to her aid. The villagers formed a line snaking from the well to the studio, buckets rushed forward from hand to hand.

Hours later, the fire was extinguished. It had destroyed one section of the studio, the racks that held the glasswares, part of the floor, some of the beams. Much would need to be rebuilt, but the building still stood. The villagers had prevented the flames from spreading to the cottage or any of the surrounding houses. Blackened with soot, Zoja sat wearily on the stoop to her house. Numbly she accepted the hugs and shoulder-pats of each rescuer as they murmured kind words and offered to help in any way they could, before they trudged their way home. Bozena was nowhere to be seen. But her work was everywhere.

Some willful hand had smashed each piece of glass to splinters. The furnace had been put out by the apprentices, and the mistress of the studio checked it again, as she did every night, before she went to bed. Besides, it was the coldest thing there. The flame had been carried in from elsewhere. Zoja had no enemies. Bozena’s absence suggested her guilt. But why? Why?

“Come, you will eat with us tonight,” Lenka said. “And sleep in Kamila’s old room. This is no time to be alone.”

Zoja shook her head. She had no appetite. “No. Thank you. No.”

Lenka returned home, leaving the glassmaker staring blankly at the burned studio door.

Someone sat down beside her. A man, she could see from the boots. She didn’t feel like looking up at the face.

“We were going to run away,” he said quietly. “Elope to avoid your disapproval. I told her I would take care of her forever, just as you had done.”

Zoja raised her head. Matthias had lost his plumed hat. His jerkin was black with soot, the once brilliant white ruff ruined. Ash dusted his handsome brown curls, turning him prematurely gray. But it was his expression that had undergone the greatest change. He is a vessel filled with loss, she thought. She wondered if her own eyes looked like that.

“I rose early this morning,” Matthias said. “We were to meet at the stables at the foot of the Castle. I wanted to make sure all was ready, furs and rugs to cushion Bozena’s ride so she would suffer no injuries. I carried the damask gown and the cask of jewels I had bought to adorn my bride. But my carriage and horses were gone. Bozena had come in the dead of night, the ostler said, telling him I’d sent for her. She whipped the team into a gallop and set off laughing.”

Zoja stifled a whimper. She crushed Matthias’ hands in hers, attempting to comfort the abandoned groom. They had little more to say to each other.

“Let me know if you hear from her,” Zoja said before the young man departed. He swore he would do so, and she promised she would send him word if Bozena returned. Both knew she wouldn’t.

Zoja entered the ruined studio. Since she could not sleep, she would sweep. So much shattered glass.

Stories circulated, a few years later, about a female pirate who, masked and gloved, terrorized the seas. Some claimed they’d caught glimpses of a wolf’s snout or a scaled hand or even a barbed tail. It was the story of the transparent face, which some claimed belonged to a ghost but one man swore was made of glass, that caught Zoja’s attention. The glassmaker suspected that the truth lay in that last rumor. She didn’t know whether to mourn or rejoice at what had become of her daughter.

All the times I worried over the problem, she mused, I never considered that the nature of glass is also to cut. That was the wrong question in the first place. I should have asked, what is the nature of a human being? In many respects, she had treated Bozena as merely a vessel for her love. If she had a second chance—but there would be no second chance. She could only wonder how her daughter would fare out in the wide, dangerous world where breaking and cutting both come so easily.

One comment

  1. I really enjoyed reading this. I was dreading tragedy (though I would have savoured it too) and the story took an interesting turn I did not expect. Thanks for sharing this!

    Sam Brent

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