Laying in bed, Auri finds she cannot sleep. Doing a mental inventory, she decides it’s neither the cold, her bitten hand, or loneliness keeping her awake. It’s her treatment of the blanket, stuffed angrily into the wine rack.
No. She knows it’s because of her anger with and ill treatment of the blanket. Despite it no longer being fit for her bed, it’s still worth folding it properly.
She smoothed it gently out across the table, murmuring an apology. And she was sorry. She knew better. Cruelty never helped the turning of the world.
Here something implicit in the text is made obvious. The difference between compassion and cruelty actually affects the world around her; perhaps around us. The former actually assists the turning of the world.
She places the blanket on the bookshelf in Port. She moves some of the other objects nearer to it, to keep it company. She finds the tears that eluded her earlier. Is it another day because she attempted sleep? Does that bend the structural rules that left her bereft, unable to cry on the previous “day?”
She mentally inventories both Port and Mantle. Everything’s in order and it reads like the early pages of the novella. The order is the same, with the additions, like the brazen gear and the amber ring, that she’s added to her collection.
Despite all of this, she felt unsettled. Here, in her most perfect place.
She’s not clear about exactly what’s wrong, though we, as readers, have clues. She’s still focused inwards, on her space, her sense of self. Her vanity.
She weeps for an hour and we get a sense of Mantle’s size. I’d imagined it as a relatively small, intimate place, but it’s quite large. Having done so, she remains uncomfortable, She checks Port again. She unloads some of her pockets and sits down.
As she sat on the edge of her bed, Auri realized what was out of place . She was herself in disarray. She’d seen something in Tumbrel and not tended to it.
Of course it’s the three mirrored vanity she’d noticed in the flickering light of her spirit lamp. I’ve commented on it before, but I really like the juxtaposition of her own navel gazing with the fortunately named furniture. And it’s marked with three, with mirrors, just in case the word wasn’t enough of a clue.
Still, she doesn’t want to go fix it. She’s worn out. Apparently that doesn’t matter, though. She goes through a bit of self denial and recrimination and resolves to get the job, the mending, done.
So she stood and made her slow way back to Tumbrel. Down Crumbledon. Through Wains. Through circle-perfect Annulet and up the unnamed stair.
Annulet. She made the sitting room right earlier, but its name was never given. Now we get it in passing. Literally, it means “little ring.” Circle perfect. Passing through it quietly, since there’s no eureka moment when we discover its name, might also suggest “annul.” Auri’s self is given over to the task, obliterated as she passes through this time.
She takes her time examining the vanity in the sifting light. She considers it from both sides. From above and below.
She tried not to look in the mirrors, knowing how she must appear. An unwashed, red-eyed, tangled mess. Too thin. Too pale.
A nod to her self consciousness and her deliberate rejection thereof. As she owns both the text acknowledges some of the the flaws of her existence. Life in the Underthing may be something of an adventure, but it’s hardly romanticized.
This is another image from La Musique du Silence. Marc Simonetti’s vision of the Underthing is somewhat more detailed than Nate Taylor’s and Pat had less involvement with those illustrations. I like this image because it grounds the object in place and context.
Because the vanity looms large in the text, it can seem like a construct floating in space waiting for Auri’s intervention. In the French text it’s simply part of a bedroom set in a ruined room, surprisingly intact and yet still disordered. A bit like Auri herself.
She sits before it and determines that the disarray works. The metaphoric connection continues to operate. It only needs a few adjustments. She swaps two drawers and puts away a hairbrush. Then she hides a brooch.
It’s almost right. The only thing remaining out of place is “a delicate blue bottle with a twisted silver stopper.” She tries righting it. She tries polishing it. She tries to find a place for it in a drawer. Nothing seems right.
Turning it over in her hands, she saw tiny letters etched across the bottom of the glass. They read: For My Intoxicating Esther.
Amused, Auri pulls the stopper an inhales. It’s perfume and Auri is delighted by the pun. Rather than some sort of Biblical reference, though who knows I guess, it’s a chemical one. Esters are the volatile compounds that make alcohols and fragrances intoxicating.
Of course she pockets it. The vanity is set right and Auri actually laughs all the way home. She places the bottle on the shelf next to what was formerly her, but now just the, blanket and finally heads to bed.
It’s cold. It’s lonely. But she’s done things the proper way. And that’s something.