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The Mirror, the Target

When I was a boy, I spent hours and hours in front of the mirror pulling faces. Not that I thought my face so handsome as never to tire of looking at it; on the contrary, I couldn't bear it, that face of mine, and pulling faces gave me the chance to try out different ones, faces that appeared and were immediately replaced by other faces, so that I could believe I was a different person, many people of every kind, a host of individuals who one after the other became myself, that is I became them, that is each of them became another of them, while as for me, it was as if I didn't exist at all.

Sometimes after trying three or four different faces, or ten perhaps, or twelve, I would decide that just one of these was the one I preferred, and I would try to make it come back, to arrange my features so as once again to set them in that face that had looked so good. No chance. Once a face had gone, there was no way of getting it back, of having it merge with my face again. In the attempt I would assume constantly changing faces, unknown, alien, hostile faces, which seemed to take me further and further from that lost face. Frightened, I would stop pulling faces and my old everyday face would surface again, and I thought it duller than ever.

But these exercises of mine never lasted too long. There was always a voice to bring me back to reality.

Fulgenzio! Fulgenzio! Where's Fulgenzio sneaked off to? Typical! I know how that idiot spends his days well enough! Fulgenzio! Caught you in front of the mirror pulling faces! Again!

Frenetically I would improvise guilty, caught-red-handed faces, soldiers' standing-at-attention faces, obedient, good-boy faces, moron-from-birth faces, gangster faces, angel faces, monster faces, one after the other.

Fulgenzio, how many times do we have to tell you not to get so wrapped up in yourself! Look outside the windows! See how nature burgeons sprouts rustles whirrs blossoms! See how the busy town seethes pulsates throbs churns produces! Every member of my family would raise an arm to point me to something out there in the landscape, something that as they saw it would have the power to attract me excite me give me the energy that -- as they saw it of course -- I lacked. I would look and look, my eyes would follow their pointing fingers, I would try to get interested in what father mother aunts uncles grandmothers grandfathers older brothers older sisters younger brothers and sisters once twice third removed cousins teachers supervisors supply teachers school-friends and holiday friends were suggesting to me. But I couldn't find absolutely anything extraordinary in things as they were.

But perhaps there were other things hidden behind these things, and those, yes, those might interest me, indeed I was extremely curious about them. Sometimes I would see something, or someone, or some woman appear and disappear, I wasn't quick enough to identify what or whom, and at once I would race off after them. It was the hidden side of everything that intrigued me, the hidden side of houses, the hidden side of gardens, the hidden side of streets, the hidden side of towns, the hidden side of televisions, the hidden side of dishwashers, the hidden side of the sea, the hidden side of the moon. But when I managed to get to that hidden side, I realized that what I was looking for was the hidden side of the hidden side, or rather, the hidden side of the hidden side of the hidden side, no; the hidden side of the hidden side of the hidden side of the hidden side . . .

Fulgenzio, what are you doing? Fulgenzio, what are you looking for? Are you looking for somebody, Fulgenzio? I didn't know what to answer.

Sometimes, at the back of the mirror, behind my reflection, I thought I saw a presence I wasn't quick enough to identify and which immediately hid. I tried to study not myself in the mirror but the world behind me: nothing caught my attention. I was about to turn away when, there, I would see it peep out from the opposite side of the mirror. I would always catch it with the corner of my eye in the place where I least expected it, but as soon as I tried to get a good look it had gone. Despite the speed of its movements this creature was flowing and soft, as if swimming underwater.

I left the mirror and started to look for the spot where I'd seen the presence disappear. 'Ottilia! Ottilia!' I called it, because I liked that name and thought a girl I liked could have no other. 'Ottilia! Where are you hiding?' I always had the impression she was near, there in front, no: there behind, no; there round the corner, but I always arrived a second after she'd gone. 'Ottilia! Ottilia!' But if they had asked me: who is Ottilia? I wouldn't have known what to say.

Fulgenzio, a person has to know what he wants! Fulgenzio, you can't always be so vague about your plans! Fulgenzio, you must set yourself an end to achieve -- an objective -- an aim -- a target -- you must press on to your goal -- you must learn your lesson, you must win the competition, you must earn a lot and save a lot!

I aimed at where I planned to get to, I concentrated my strength, I tensed my will, but my point of arrival was departing, my energies were centrifugal, my will tended only to distend. I gave it all I'd got, I worked hard to study Japanese, to get my astronaut's diploma, to win the weight-lifting championship, to collect a billion in hundred-lire pieces.

You keep right on on the path you've chosen, Fulgenzio! And I stumbled. Fulgenzio, don't wander from the line you've set yourself! And I muddled myself up in zigzags and ups and downs. Leap over the obstacles, my son! And the obstacles fell on me.

In the end I was so disheartened that not even the faces in the mirror were any help. The mirror wouldn't reflect my face any more and not even a shadow of Ottilia, just an expanse of scattered stones as though on the surface of the moon.

To strengthen my character I took up archery. My thoughts and actions must become like arrows that dart through the air along the invisible line that ends in an exact point, the centre of all centres. But my aim was no good. My arrows never hit the bull's eye.

The target seemed as far away as another world, a world that was all precise lines, sharp colours, regular, geometric, harmonious. The inhabitants of that world must make only precise and sudden movements, with nothing vague about them; for them there could be only straight lines, compass-drawn circles, set square corners . . .

The first time I saw Corinna, I realized that that perfect world was made for her, while I was still excluded.

Corinna would shoot her bow and wham! wham! wham! one after another the arrows thudded into the centre.

'Are you a champion?'

'Of the world.'

'You know how to bend your bow in so many different ways and every time the arrow's trajectory takes it right to the target. How do you do it?'

'You think that I'm here and the target there. No: I'm both here and there, I'm the archer and I'm the target that draws the archer's arrow to it, and I'm the arrow that flies and the bow that releases the arrow.'

'I don't understand.'

'If you become like me, you will understand.'

'Can I learn too?'

'I can teach you.'

In the first lesson Corinna said to me: To give your eye the steadiness you lack you must look at the target a long time, intensely. Just look at it, stare, until you lose yourself in it, until you convince yourself there's nothing else in the world than that target, and that you are in the centre of the centre.'

I gazed at the target. The sight of it had always communicated a feeling of certainty; but now, the more I looked, the more this certainty was overcome by doubts. There were moments when the red areas seemed to rise in relief against the green, others when the green areas seemed to be higher while the red sank back. Gaps opened up between the lines, precipices, chasms, the centre was in the bottom of a gorge or on the tip of a steeple, the circles opened up dizzying perspectives. I felt that a hand would come out from between the lines of the pattern, an arm, a person . . . Ottilia! I immediately thought. But I was quick to banish the idea. It was Corinna I had to follow, not Ottilia, her image was enough to make the target dissolve like a soap bubble.

In the second lesson Corinna said: 'It's when it relaxes that the bow releases the arrow, but to do that it must first be properly tensed. If you want to become precise as a bow you have to learn two things: to concentrate yourself within yourself and to leave every tension outside.'

I tensed and relaxed myself like a bowstring. I went wham! but then I also went whim! and whum!, I vibrated like a harp, the vibrations spread through the air, they opened parentheses of emptiness whence the winds sprung. Between the whim! and the whum! a hammock was swinging. I climbed spirally screwing myself through space and it was Ottilia I saw rocking herself in the hammock amongst arpeggios. But the vibrations faded. I fell.

In the third lesson Corinna said to me: 'Imagine you are an arrow and run towards the target.'

I ran, I cut through the air, I persuaded myself I was like an arrow. But the arrows I was like were arrows that wandered off in every direction but the right one. I ran to gather the fallen arrows. I pressed on into desolate, stony wastes. Was it my own reflection in a mirror? Was it the moon?

Amid the stones I found my blunted arrows, stuck in the sand, twisted, featherless. And there in the midst of them all was Ottilia. She was walking about calmly as though in a garden, gathering flowers and snatching at butterflies.

Me -- Why are you here, Ottilia? Where are we? On the moon?

Ottilia -- We are on the hidden side of the target.

Me -- Is this where all the bad shots go?

Ottilia -- Bad? No shot is ever bad.

Me -- But the arrows don't have anything to hit here.

Ottilia -- Here the arrows put down roots and become forests.

Me -- All I can see is junk, fragments, rubble.

Ottilia -- Lots of rubble piled up makes a skyscraper. Lots of skyscrapers piled up make rubble.

Corinna -- Fulgenzio! Where have you got to? The target!

Me -- I've got to go, Ottilia. I can't stay here with you. I've got to aim for the other side of the target.

Ottilia -- Why?

Me -- Everything's out of shape here, opaque, formless . . .

Ottilia -- Look carefully. From very very very close. What can you see?

Me -- A granulous, pitted, bumpy surface.

Ottilia -- Go between bump and bump, grain and grain, crack and crack. You'll find the gate to a garden, with green flowerbeds and clear pools. I'm there at the bottom.

Me -- Everything I touch is rough, arid, cold.

Ottilia -- Pass your hand slowly over the surface. It's a cloud soft as whipped cream . . .

Me -- Everything's uniform, muted, compact.

Ottilia -- Open your eyes and ears. Hear the bustle of the city, see the glitter of windows and bright shop displays, and bugling and bell-ringing, and people white and yellow and black and red, dressed in green and blue and orange and saffron.

Corinna -- Fulgenzio! Where are you!

But this time I couldn't tear myself away from Ottilia's world, from the city that was cloud and garden too. Here, instead of going straight, the arrows turned and twirled along invisible lines that tangled and untangled and coiled themselves up and unwound, but in the end always hit the target, though perhaps a different target from the one you expected.

The strange thing about it was this: the more I realized the world was complicated interlocking inextricable the more it seemed to me that the things I really needed to understand were few and simple, and if I understood them, everything would be clear as the lines in a pattern. I would have liked to say this to Corinna, or to Ottilia, but it was a while now since I'd seen them, either of them, and, here's another strange thing, thinking about them I often confused the one with the other.

I hadn't looked at myself in the mirror for a long time now. One day when I happened to walk by a mirror I saw the target, with all its fine colours. I tried to put myself in profile, three quarter profile: I was still seeing the target. 'Corinna!' I cried. 'Here, Corinna! Look: I'm just the way you wanted me!' But then I thought that what I was seeing in the mirror wasn't just myself, but the world too, so I would have to look for Corinna there, amongst those coloured lines. And Ottilia? Perhaps Ottilia was there too appearing and disappearing. And when I gazed at the target-mirror long enough, was it Corinna or Ottilia I saw peeping out from between concentric circles?

Sometimes I get the impression I've run into her, one or the other of them, in the city streets, and that she wants to say something to me, but it happens when two subway trains pass in opposite directions, and Ottilia's image -- or Corinna's? -- comes towards me and flits away, followed by a series of extremely rapid faces framed in the windows, like the faces I once pulled in the mirror.