I was several weeks at Mirna’s house before the mime arrived. Our house, she would correct. That’s the way Mirna was. She opened her home to anyone who knocked at the front door.
“You don’t know these people,” I would complain, and she’d laugh.
“You don’t give people a chance to delight you,” she’d reply.
“Yes, well, in my experience half the people out there either aren’t people at all, or want to eat you for supper, or both.”
Mirna met all of my skepticism with her light laughter, and continued to allow every vagrant who came by entrance into her home. I did have to admit after the first few visitors that though they arrived smelling of and looking as if they were personally responsible for the filth of the world, every one of them had interesting stories to tell of their adventures and left Mirna’s care clean and refreshed, with some artful token of appreciation left behind to tell Mirna stories. Mirna’s home was enchanted, after all. I had to admit at last that the same aspect that drew artists to her home also protected her from the dangers of the world.
And the stories were wonderful. Mirna and I explored each piece of artwork left behind like children seeking treasure. The most wonderful enchantment of this house was that each work of art held the thoughts that had been in the mind of the artist during its creation. Tracing along the surfaces of the piece, your mind would fill with images, stories, hopes and fears. We saw great, beautiful places and glimpsed the stories that make peoples’ lives extraordinary. Mirna, whose eyesight had failed in her childhood, was able to see the world from her home, and I was coming to appreciate her eager trust in new people, even if I didn’t share it.
The mime, however…
Mirna struggled with his presence, though she tried to hide it. We couldn’t get a name out of him, seeing how he didn’t speak, so we simply called him Mime. But his form of art was completely lost on Mirna. I watched her lighthearted civility erode in the days that followed his arrival, as he told more and more elaborate tales with his body. He was talented, and though I tried to describe every one of them to Mirna, he’d often catch me off guard with a small gesture and I’d laugh.
“What is he doing now?” Mirna scowled when Mime had just tripped over a piece of furniture that didn’t exist.
“Sorry,” I sighed, knowing that my retelling of these little moments always fell short for Mirna. Tripping over furniture wasn’t something she considered particularly funny. “He’s acting like there’s a chair in the middle of the room.”
“There isn’t,” she said.
“That’s what made me laugh.”
“What’s he doing now?” She could still hear him shifting around.
“He’s sitting in it. It’s really incredible, the way he can control his body to make it seem like there’s a chair there. He’s rubbing his hands on the arms, like they’re made of soft fabric. Velvet, maybe. And he’s just crossed his legs and leaned back like he’s going to take a nap.”
“It’s rude, you know,” Mirna said, addressing Mime, “to taunt your host with an art form she can’t experience.” She swept from the room and I heard her footfalls on the stairs as she rushed to her bedroom.
“Couldn’t you stick to the kinds of stories I can translate for her?” I asked.
Mime peeled one eye open, yawned, shifted, and went back to his pretend sleep in his pretend chair.
In the days that followed, Mime’s behavior only worsened. He was obsessed with creating the illusion of that chair. He stumbled against it, napped upon it and walked around it over and over tracing every contour until I could practically draw a picture of it. Mirna’s patience with Mime, and even the room housing his unseen chair, grew thinner by the minute. Her warmth toward Mime waned into the barest cordiality as his welcome diminished.
And one day he was gone. Neither of us had heard him leave, and Mirna had me check the studio in the garden to be certain he wasn’t hiding somewhere on the property. He truly was gone. I noticed that Mirna continued to avoid that room after his departure, and she was distant and brooding despite my best efforts to draw her back.
One morning, I was awakened by something undefined. It had been a small sound, or perhaps I’d dreamt it. I replayed it in my mind as my body groaned against my efforts to rise. Had it been a gasp?
“Mirna?” I called.
“Come quickly!” she replied, her voice far away.
She wasn’t in her room or any of the guest rooms upstairs, and as I raced through the house, dodging artwork and furniture with none of Mirna’s deftness in the dim dawn light, I realized I knew where I’d find her.
The sight was unsettling when I entered Mime’s chair room. Mirna sat exactly where Mime had spent so many hours taunting her. Her impression of him was uncanny as she rubbed the soft arms of the chair and leaned back at just the same angle.
“He left it as a gift,” she smiled, closing her eyes. “Just for me. He poured all of his stories into it. Oh, you wouldn’t guess the places he’s been. You could have hinted, you know,” she admonished.
“Hinted at what?”
“That he was building this chair you described.”
“Um, Mirna…” I hesitated. “There’s nothing there.”
“You can stop playing,” she laughed. “It really was a good gift, and I grant you an award for keeping up the charade.”
I stepped closer and reached out. Soft velvet greeted my fingertips, just where Mime’s hands had described. Scrolled wood lifted above the velvet at the high back in elegant waves. It felt as real as any of the other furniture in the house. Images of great circus acts and beautiful parks flitted before my eyes. Waterfalls and forests from traveling between towns sped by, and glimpses of those rare magical moments one can catch in nature if they’re still enough, and quiet enough. A gift for Mirna indeed. This invisible chair promised to bruise me plenty before I memorized its location. And any visitor in our home. But for Mirna, it was already part of her landscape.
“I think,” she said quietly, “I think this one is my favorite.”