by Lee Killough
father's death, my siblings and I have looked out for
one another with fierce protectiveness, but the bonds
are more than blood and our common love of glass.
There is also shared terror. The public remembers
Joshua Benet as a name synonymous with fine glass,
like Tiffany, Gallé, and Lalique, but it is his death
I cannot forget, ten years of descent into raving
madness, lurching and twitching and screaming paranoid
accusations until nothing remained of the father
Claudia, Garrett, and I had worshiped. Nothing but
the legacy of his genius in our hands, and cold‑sweat
dread of the time bomb in our genes.
So it was no
surprise to have Claudia calling me during the day at
John Hopkins where I blew glass apparatus for research
projects. "Dane, someone has to talk to Garrett.
He's taken up another of those religious cults, a
pagan one this time, I think."
Hardly a reason
for so much concern that I could see. Garrett had
been religion‑hopping since he left home for college.
"He's a grown man, Claudia."
I could see her
at the other end of the line, calling from her studio
filled with stained glass and leading, and the largest
privately‑owned inventory of vitamins and health foods
in the hemisphere. We each had our defense against
Fate. I could not see that Garrett's was any more
ridiculous than Claudia's.
"Why not let
him live the way he wants?"
hissed over the wire. "In the first place, this time
the high priestess or whatever has actually moved in
with him‑‑‑Aletheia, she calls herself, no last name,
just Aletheia‑‑‑and. . .she's not content with just
taking his money. Obviously you haven't been to his
new exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art."
"I haven't even
talked to him for a month."
article in Newsweek. You'd better read it."
I remembered a
copy of the magazine in the lounge. Running down the
hall after it, I pawed through to the Arts page.
Bosch," the headline read. I have no idea what
the writer thought about the exhibit; I never saw the
text. Color photographs of three pieces in the
exhibit illustrated the article and for me, nothing
else existed on the page. Garrett had made his
reputation on glass portraits and sculptures which
seemed to defy gravity, crystal thread spun into
dreams of moonbeams and starfire. Nothing like the
pieces in these pictures. A chunk of lead crystal
like a fragment of glacier trapped some creature
frozen in a moment of desperate struggle. A fairy
palace light and frothy as cloud cast a twisted,
demonic shadow. The third photo showed two views of
the same vase. Seen from the front it seemed no
different than his usual work, but the fresh young
girl's face within the glass became that of a
toothless hag when the light shone through it.
I stared at the
photographs. Could a cult really have influenced
Garrett to start producing pieces like these? Perhaps
he had just gone commercial. The Beautiful People
lost in the ennui of sunning and gambling in their
villas in St. Tropez and Monte Carlo would love
these. The novelty, the duality of ugliness in
beauty, would bring them flocking from the galleries
of now commonplace sonic and tropic sculptures, from
the holosymphony performances and boutiques of
chamelemode clothing and silicivitae jewelry.
But I could not
help remembering something else, something Claudia had
either overlooked or chosen to ignore, that Father,
too, had changed his style as deterioration swallowed
hours later I stepped off the plane in Gateside and
caught the cabletrain for Aventine.
the mountain retreat. The rich and famous have
discovered its isolated peace and filled the shores of
the Lunamere and Heliomere with their villas, but the
center still belongs to the artists. Shops and
studios with balconied living quarters above them
lined Terpsichore Road and the other muse‑named
streets I walked on the way to Garrett's studio. Sonic
sculpture sang at me in passing. A kinetropic piece
recognized movement near it and rattled a greeting
with wooden rings. Garrett's studio had no sign, no
streetside sample, only a window etched into a
delicate floral fantasy surrounding large letters: BENET,
and under them, smaller and simply: Glass. I
pushed open the front door.
inside were those of my life. . .acid and hot glass
and the warm‑metal scent of an annealing oven. Past
three straight wooden chairs and a single glass
showcase holding a half dozen or so finished pieces,
the studio spread beneath fluorescent lamps: tables
scattered with pieces of cut glass and
works‑in‑progress; bins of glass rods and irregular
chunks; an asbestos and stone‑topped workbench with
holders, spreaders, gas jets, blowpipe; another
workbench under a strong light, backed by a rack of
enamel and acid bottles...and at the back of the room,
the glory hole, glowing brilliant orange. As always,
the light called to me, begging me to dip into the
molten glass inside, thick as honey, waiting for the
touch of creation.
But I made
myself focus on the gangly form sitting at the
workbench with his back to the door.
"I'll be with
you in a minute," Garrett said.
across the studio to his shoulder. "Is that any way
to greet your kid brother?"
For the first
time in my life, he did not grin and hurl himself at
me. Instead, Garrett's fingers whitened on his
paintbrush. "Did Claudia send you?"
"I saw the
Newsweek article on your exhibit and thought as
long as I was on vacation, I'd drop in." It was half
the truth at least. "An interesting change in style."
"Is that what
His voice shut
me out, remote as the peaks above Aventine.
Remembering my father's black moods, my gut knotted.
"Garrett‑‑‑" I began hoarsely.
ceiling creaked. Garrett looked up for a moment, then
turned toward me. "It's begun, Dane."
tightened. "Have you been to a doctor?"
irritably. "I don't need a doctor. We all know the
signs. . .depression, inexplicable and uncontrollable
anger, incoordination, twitches. There've been times
when my hands shook so much I couldn't work, and I'm
thirty‑six, the same age when Father‑‑‑"
I cut him off.
"An anxiety reaction. You're giving yourself the
signs just by worrying‑‑‑"
it!" His arm raised and for a moment I thought he
might smash his work to the floor, an antique‑looking,
footed bowl of streakie opalescent amber glass, what
the Victorians called a coupe, but he stopped and
after a moment, resumed work on it. . .painting the
silhouette of an antique car, I saw now. "You think
that by refusing to admit something exists, it can't.
That's no answer, any more than Claudia's vitamins and
creaked again. This time I recognized the cause,
someone walking. The soft footsteps crossed overhead
toward the staircase at the end of the room. A pair
of bare feet appeared on the stairs.
"But there is
an answer," Garrett said. "Dane, may I present
The woman came
down the stairs, all long, smooth limbs, brief
neo‑Grecian playsuit, and ebony hair pulled up into a
casual topknot, but the thought that crossed my mind was
"Pygmalion", not "priestess." For under the studio
lights her hair had a shifting purple sheen, as though
it were not black at all but deep iridescent violet,
and her skin glowed with the pearly inner light of
glass reaching the melting point. In a moment of
caught breath, reaching out for a slender hand that
felt hot, too, I wondered if Garrett's genius could
have created her of opalescent glass, giving her the
classic face of a Greek statue and setting her eyes
with amethysts, then used the knowledge from his
arcane religions to breath life into her.
"In a manner of
speaking, perhaps he did." Her amethyst eyes smiled
into mine, then while I was still realizing that I had
not spoken my thought aloud, shifted past me to an
askance focus on Otherness that sent a chill up my
spine. Madness, the eyes said. "I'll check
the oven, Garrett. The bowl for the Kimbrough wedding
should be ready."
The voice was
like crystal, clear and smooth but somehow. . .
transparent. When it stopped, I could remember the
words but never the sound of the voice.
gracefully across the room. The light overhead made a
purple nimbus of her hair but her skin glowed on its
own, a white heat shimmering hypnotically against the
darkness of the paneling beyond her.
It took an
effort to look away from her to Garrett. "I didn't
know you were living with anyone," I lied. "How long
have you been together? Where did you meet her?"
"It isn't what
you think. She walked into the Gallery Café a couple
of week ago, looking for a job and a place to stay. I
have more room than I need and I had been wanting
someone for housekeeping and odd jobs in the studio,
so. . ." He shrugged. But he avoided my eyes. "She
has a real gift with glass. I've begun to let her do
all the annealing."
toward her. Aletheia lifted the lid of the annealing
oven. Reaching in, she lifted out a thick crystal
bowl which had been put in for the slow cooling that
would relieve the stresses of its fabrication. So
Aletheia could not be responsible for the pieces in
the exhibit, I reflected, and maybe there was no new
cult after all. Still. . .
sideways at my brother. Garrett watched her with an
intensity, a fervor, that raised the hair on my
neck. I lowered my voice so Aletheia could not hear.
"Come on, Garrett, no woman that beautiful has to keep
house and pick up around an artist's studio for a
living. What's she really doing here?"
then: "Her name means `the healer'."
wrenched. Oh, God. "Don't tell me you were fooling
around with something and because she showed up you
think you summoned her?"
away. "She says she can cure me."
"With what, magical incantations?"
cure me, Dane." Faith burned in his eyes. "When she
touches me, the moods end. My hands quit shaking."
toward Aletheia. She appeared to have heard nothing.
Setting the bowl on a work table and kneeling down to
turn it in slow examination totally engrossed her.
it occurred to me that if Garrett's symptoms were
merely the result of anxiety and she reassured him out
of them, what was the harm in her for now? I could
stay on a while to make sure she demanded nothing
extravagant for her "services".
the lead crystal, Aletheia sighed.
touched a reflex bred into both us. We ran for the
crack?" Apprehension edged Garrett's voice.
amethyst eyes looked up at him, past us both, focused
on Otherness. "There will be no wedding."
My relief over
the bowl changed to amusement. "No wedding." I tried
to smile, but something in that mad, askance gaze and
flat pronouncement paralyzed the muscles. "What makes
you think so?"
She caressed the rim of the bowl absently. "The
images don't join."
I squatted down
beside Garrett at the work table. The bowl was
laminate work, layer upon layer etched with delicate
floral designs and two portraits, presumably of the
bride and groom. As usual with Garrett, the detail
was exquisite. The two beautiful young heads in their
gossamer bower looked three dimensional. Seeing the
portraits through the glass, at some point in rotating
the piece the images should have superimposed over
each other. They did not. No matter how we turned
the bowl, the two images never crossed. They lay on
one side of each other until they almost touched, then
abruptly jumped to the other side.
I tried again
and again to superimpose the images. "It's some trick
of diffraction, isn't it, Garrett? How did you do
know." He caught his lip between his teeth.
Aletheia said. "It is what is." She padded away up
leaving Garrett staring into the bowl in fascination.
have headed straight for the balcony. I found her
there leaning against the rail, looking up at the
snow‑capped peaks. Afternoon light played purple and
blue over her hair and soaked into her skin,
intensifying the glow until she looked almost
incandescent. Around us curled a cool breeze filled
with the scent of mountain pine, the laughing voices
of the tourists window‑shopping along the street
below, and the mixed chorus of a dozen sonic
sculptures in the studio opposite.
"I do nothing
to the glass," Aletheia said without looking at me.
"You only prophesy and read minds."
She stroked the
railing. "I don't prophesy. What is, is."
"That's how you
plan to heal Garrett?"
Now she looked
around, though she barely glanced at me before her
focus slipped. "I never said I could heal him. Help
him, though, yes."
"He thinks you
have a cure. He says your name means `the healer'."
It came out
more accusingly than I intended. Her gaze focused,
and the intensity made her eyes glitter more
jewel‑like than ever. Light shimmered gold and pink
around her skin. "He believes what he wishes to
believe. He doesn't think clearly." She sighed. "He
doesn't ask the right questions."
The light from
her was beginning to give me a headache. I frowned
irritably. "What questions? What do questions have
to do with helping him?"
seek. I must be sought. I am Aletheia."
I am Aletheia.
She said it like a title. Names. Something jogged in
my head, but of course when I tried to identify it, it
slipped out of reach.
I stared into
the amethyst eyes for a minute, groping in vain for
the elusive thought, then left the balcony and went
back downstairs. Garrett had returned to painting the
"Part of my
luggage is still at the cabletrain station," I told
him. "I'm going after it."
without looking up.
But I went to
the library, not the station.
supper ready by the time I returned to the studio. It
was a brief, quiet affair. Garrett bolted his food so
he could go back to work and Aletheia stared
at/through him into whatever other dimension she saw.
I ate in silence, too, wondering what to do with the
information I had learned. Saying anything could
destroy the relief Garrett thought Aletheia brought.
Silence, on the other hand, would only sharpen his
despair when the "cure" failed.
And on the
other third hand, I could not stay forever, and what
might happen to him when I finally left him with this
followed Garrett downstairs and sat watching while he
fused another layer of glass on the coupe.
He looked up
from the coupe and gas torch, eyes purple behind the
didymium lenses of his goggles. "The winner's cup for
the Diana Mountain Road Race next week. It's their
seventy‑fifth year and they wanted something nostalgic
and appropriately commemorative."
"A coupe is
certainly appropriate for a road race."
humor was feeble, but I expected him to at least
smile. He did not.
I bit my lip,
then taking a deep breath, asked, "Who told you
Aletheia's name means ‘the healer’?"
Garrett did not
answer immediately. The flame of his torch flared
from blue to blinding orange against the glass.
Through the goggles, though, I knew it would look only
pink. After a minute, he said, "It's something I
remember from when Mother was pregnant with you, a
discussion about names and what they mean. Why?"
looked it up. Althea means ‘the healer’."
blaze washed across the bowl of the coupe. "So? Her
name is a variation."
I was tempted
to leave the matter at that. The truth might well do
him more harm than good. Then I thought again of the
strange woman upstairs with her opalescent skin and
eyes focused on Otherness. "No. Aletheia
means ‘the truth’." I took a breath. "Garrett, you
haven't called up some healing spirit. Whoever
Aletheia is and wherever she comes from, she's mad. I
think she believes that she is her name, that she is
the personification of Truth. However she did that
trick with the wedding bowl, she did it to support her
looked up then. Lifted from the bowl, the torch flame
dimmed to blue again. "I forgot to tell you. After
you left for the station I called the Kimbrough's to
tell them the bowl was ready. The wedding's off. The
bride eloped this afternoon with another man."
He had gone
back to the coupe and the goosebumps subsided on my
spine before it occurred to me I could have pointed
out that prophesies did not make a healer. By that
time it was too late, though; Garrett had soundproofed
himself with concentration.
I might have
brought up the subject again later as the three of us
sat out on the balcony sometime after midnight,
watching the blaze of stars overhead and listening to
the chorus of sonic sculptures across the way fade
into silence. The opalescent paleness of Aletheia's
skin shone misty in the darkness, turning her to a
phantom curled cross‑legged in a basket chair.
back her head and breathed deeply. "It's good here.
Artists ask deep questions, and honestly desire
answers. In too much of the world I have been twisted
and raped by people who consider Truth something to be
tailored to order."
I wanted to
poke Garrett. See? Listen to the voice of
unreason. But I did not. That wedding had been
canceled, and Aletheia understood Garrett. He
believed what he wanted to. As long as he thought
this strange woman gave him a weapon to fight fate, I
could tell him nothing.
Up the street,
a whoop of group laughter broke the quiet. A sonic
sculpture whined in response, setting off others, a
ripple of sleepy sharps and flats spreading down the
street ahead of the merrymakers like a bow‑wave. As
they neared us, I recognized several as Garrett's
neighbors I had met on previous visits, including
Caroline Edmund‑Leigh, the holosymphony composer, and
poet Tony Jubal.
below us and Tony called up, "Did you know you're a
Miller's new play, The Man In the Concrete Glider,
opened tonight at the Blue Orion Theatre in Gateside
with Kelsi Ferris in the leading role."
"A role the
gossip columns say Maya Chaplain moved heaven and
earth to land," Caroline added in the tone of one
savoring something delicious. "Didn't I see Maya in
your studio a couple of weeks ago buying a crystal
drawled, "after the opening we attended the cast
party, and Kelsi told us that ‘someone’ sent her a
crystal egg just before the show opened with an
unsigned card in it reading: A wish for you and all
the cast. Only a strange thing happened. Kelsi
picked up the egg and was holding it, and she swears
it looked perfect, not a crack anywhere in it, when it
suddenly fell into a dozen pieces in her hands."
"And the play
didn't lay an egg," another of the women said. "The
word from inside sources is that the critics started
raving as they left the theater."
My breath stuck
in my chest.
laughed, a ringing sound as clear as tapped crystal.
"Glass is wonderful, so responsive. They should have
thought of it at Delphi and Dodona."
Tony said. "I like the sound of that. I think I'll
use it in my next poem."
trooped on. Garrett stared after them until they
turned the corner out of sight, then turned to
Aletheia. "You knew. When Miss Chaplain picked up
the egg, you said, ‘It won't do her any good.’" He
smiled thinly. "Do you still think she's mad, Dane?"
Not mad, no,
but. . . "I don't know what she is."
Aletheia's eyes to obsidian, but they still glittered,
reflecting the light from below. "I am Aletheia."
vanished, uncertainty suddenly in his eyes as he
watched Aletheia. Was he remembering what I told him
her name meant? My gut knotted in sympathy and
self‑recrimination. Why had I said anything? At
least he had hope before.
This is better
for him, though.
sounded so clearly in my head that I thought Aletheia
spoke aloud, but when I glanced toward her, her lips
never moved. I stared, then frowned angrily.
Better! How could this be better?
smiled. In my head her voice said: Watch.
Over the next few days I watched Garrett throwing
himself into his work with grim haste. I watched
Aletheia. And I watched the glass, examining each
piece before and after annealing. Sometimes they
changed. When Aletheia put them in the oven, pieces
came out with designs that had not been present
Like the vase a
woman commissioned as a gift for her very wealthy
fiancé. Garrett etched her portrait into the crystal
and from the front her stunning beauty showed to
perfection. At any other angle, however, the face
twisted, revealing vanity, selfishness, and avarice.
And like the
Road Race coupe.
intake of breath brought both Garrett and me running
to bend anxiously over the coupe.
At first I
wondered what she had seen. The original design
appeared intact. The shapes of antique race cars
drifted all through the streaked glass, some visible
on the outside surface, some from inside the bowl,
others as phantoms below the surface, like memories
half‑forgotten, or competitors obscured by dust.
Turning the coupe produced neither new shapes in the
glass nor altered the ones already there. Then I
noticed the light. Coming through the bowl it looked
not golden but pulsing, flickering scarlet, and where
it danced around the cars, the silhouettes sank into
twisted frames stained a bloody red.
knotted. Another addition to the Delphi collection?
"What kind of
disaster are you wishing on us this time?" Garrett
regarded him solemnly. "I don't make the future.
What is, is."
the rim of the coupe, following the bead with his
finger. . .around and around and around.
The day of the
race, we watched it on television, but not like most
viewers, I am sure. We sat in silence, Garrett's and
my eyes fixed intently on the screen. Apprehension
chased through my gut. Aletheia‑‑‑I wish I knew what
Aletheia felt or saw. She curled cross‑legged in a
dark arm chair that intensified her glowing pallor,
face expressionless, hands relaxed in her lap, jewel
eyes focused past the television on. . .whatever.
three‑quarters of its distance, the race went well. A
car spun out here and there. A French car scraped the
barrier at the edge of the drop-off on the outside of
a sharp switchback. One American's tire blew out. A
billowing cloud of white smoke announced the demise of
an Italian engine. None of it serious, except perhaps
in the viewpoint of the Italian, who stormed around
his car with waving arms, shouting a diatribe as
histrionic and rhythmic as an operatic aria.
Then the lead
cars reached Scorpion Turn.
The front tires
on Werner Dietrich's Porsche dissolved simultaneously
in flying shreds of rubber. Seconds later the car was
spinning across the road, into the inner wall,
rebounding from it in a leaping roll that brought it
down on two following cars. An orange fireball
enveloped the three. A passing car trying to avoid
the pileup skidded sideways, through the guard rail
and into emptiness.
behind the fire vanished from the TV camera’s sight,
but in the end, the statistics came to four drivers
dead, three others hospitalized.
his fist down on the arm of the couch. "I should have
said something. I should have warned them!"
change the future, either," Aletheia said distantly.
He came to his
feet, whirling on her. "Then what are you doing
here! Who and what are you?"
"If you refuse to know, how can I ever help you?"
exploded, as suddenly and lividly as the racing cars.
Grabbing her by the shoulders, he jerked Aletheia out
of the chair and to her feet. "What the hell can
Truth do for me!" he shouted. "Will you prophesy my
end, tell me the measure of my productive days? Is
that supposed to help me!"
She looked up
at him with compassion. "The right questions will
Face contorted in rage and despair, Garrett shook
her. "Damn your questions!"
snapped back and forth. Galvanized by the memory of
our father's murderous rages, I leaped at Garrett.
"Stop it! Let her go before you kill her!"
We went down on
the floor in a tangle. Somehow, though, Aletheia
peeled clear. From the corner of my eye I saw her
retreating across the room to watch us with glittering
eyes. Garrett thrashed under me, kicking and
swinging, but he managed only one good connection that
left my head ringing before I pinned both his arms.
He might be the older, the smarter, the more gifted,
but I was always faster and stronger.
He struggled a
minute more, then went limp. "Dane. Oh, God, Dane."
The cry of
anguish stabbed through my gut. I hugged him
fiercely, searching for something comforting and
reassuring to say. . .something that would reassure
me, too. "It's all right. You've got Claudia and
me. No matter what comes, however unthinkable, we'll
face it together."
stopped. "Face?" Suddenly he sat up and pulled away
to where he could look at me. "Face. That's it." He
twisted to look at Aletheia. "The question?"
He rolled to
his feet and headed for the stairs.
I started to
follow, but a fever‑hot hand caught my arm. "Please
don't. Let him work."
I looked around
into the amethyst eyes. They focused on me and
remained there, intense, earnest. . .fiercely happy.
I stared at her. "What question?"
her eyes only a little. "A private one."
I fought a
desire to shake her, too. "Is it the right one? Do
you promise this will really help him?"
The heat of her
hand seared my arm. "I promise."
I gave him his
privacy. That did not stop me from speculating on
what he could be making, though. My best guess was a
self portrait in glass, to see exactly what he faced
and how soon.
the rest of the day and through the night. The
several times I woke, I heard voices and movement
below. But in the morning I found him in the kitchen
clear‑eyed and singing while he made toast and coffee.
and relief washed through me. I wanted to hug
Aletheia. She had been right. "You must have liked
the answer. What was the question?"
He only smiled
and left the toaster long enough to put a shoe box on
the top shelf of a cupboard.
Then it dawned
on me that he was cooking. "Where's Aletheia?"
turned to smile at me again. "And you should be
going, too. You have your work. So do I."
Could he really
be the anguished brother of yesterday? "What did you
see in the glass?"
only a moment. "Freedom. Come on, finish up. I'll
help you pack and walk you to the cabletrain station."
walked, joking and laughing with an ease we had not
enjoyed for years. It was a beautiful morning, I
remember, cool and golden. I left him on the platform
luminous with contentment.
A month later
Claudia called again to tell me Garrett had died of a
self‑administered barbiturate overdose.
He willed me
the studio: ". . .in the hope you'll stop squandering
your talent on the sterility of laboratory glass and
produce something more worthy of your blood."
I turned in my
resignation and took possession of the studio.
And even before
unpacking the suitcases, I headed for the kitchen.
The shoebox no longer sat on the shelf where I had
seen Garrett put it, however. I swore. Now I would
have to search the entire house and studio.
necessary," a voice said behind me. "I took it to
keep the police from finding it."
I had not heard
her come in, but it did not surprise me to find
Aletheia there. I turned to look into amethyst eyes.
"You must not have gone far."
"I am never very
far away." She handed over the shoebox.
My hands shook a
bit as I laid it on the counter and opened it. Tissue
wrapped the object inside. I stripped it off. . .and
caught my breath.
Garrett had spent
that night making a goblet, blown in the same streakie
opalescent amber glass as the Road Race coupe, and he
had put a face on it, but not his. The empty eye
sockets and lipless mouth of a sculpted death's head
leered at me from the glass.
I looked up from
it to Aletheia. She smiled past me, radiating light,
eyes askance as ever. . .but somehow no longer looking
Slowly, I looked
down at the goblet again and turned it to the position
the shape of the rim would force a drinker to use. That
put the death's head on the opposite side where the
skull cast a shadow through the glass. Tilting the
goblet, though, the skull softened into a face, sexless
but. . .attractive, friendly. . .compassionate. What
did you see in the glass? I whispered in memory.
Freedom, Garrett's voice replied. Perhaps he
should have said victory. Tipping the goblet
farther, the face vanished, replaced by an almost
A hand took the
goblet away. "You don't need that truth yet," Aletheia
I drew in a
breath. "Will I?"
She looked up at
me, into me, smiling faintly. "You don't really want to
know." Her hand touched mine as she handed back the
goblet. "For the time you may, however."
I rewrapped it
and put the box up in the cupboard. When I turned back
around to thank her, Aletheia had vanished.