BlazeVOX, Spring 2011
It was there, high up in the smog-swept, Los Angeles skyscraper -- under the
intense oval light of her instrument, in a silent world of particles and glass -- that the
Microscopist was “destined to breathe her last” (line 5, page 9 of her husband’s diary).
Down below in the parking lot, a swarm of the idly curious watched as cops and medics
leaped into action, speedily spreading out a billowing safety net in front of the building,
eyes anxiously looking to the roof, where an anonymous suicide caller had threatened to
leap. None of this hubbub moved the husband. He had a singular plan. His diary
described his wife, the Microscopist, as a tiny, shriveled Ancient who had spent years
occupied with a mysterious obsession he had grown to loathe. He was determined to
storm it, storm the Microscopist’s glassy hermitage and fire upon, shatter, and thoroughly
trash whatever he laid eyes on.
On the Microscopist’s slide, meanwhile, swirled a fantastical landscape that was
invisible to the naked eye, less in size than a grain of salt.
(As the Microscopist has explained in her monograph titled “Hidden Beauty,” a
small needle or ivory toothpick or pig bristle was used to strip off each individual
An invisible art blazing to life under her microscope! The Microscopist whistled
through her teeth as she peered down at the new slide that had come in the mail that
morning: a volcano spewing ash and boulders and a brilliantly hued angel with a fiery
cape billowing like a crimson cloud. All this, painstakingly mounted on the glass slide,
How were these microscopic gems preserved for so long? No one knows. Despite
decades of research, art historians and amateur aficionados and even a wizened expert
like the Microscopist all concurred in hopeless ignorance. How were they preserved? --
from Victorian drawing rooms to dark vaults kept at evenly cooled temperatures, through
the wars, the burglaries, the passing through less-than-appreciative-hands? The mounters
remained mysteriously anonymous, though highly paid. One or two slipped his or her
initial into the design – but what does an initial like ED tell us about the maker?
Deep in contemplation of the slide, the Microscopist failed to notice that the
silverish whirl-loops of her instrument’s lens had swallowed up her face.
“Are you asleep?”
The Microscopist glanced up to see the concerned face of her assistant. This
assistant agreed with the husband that those teeny pictures on slides were as thrilling as,
say, the first Hollywood talkies. The assistant’s concerned face betrayed a cloying irony.
The Microscopist let out a groan of protest. She was not, she wanted to say, she
was not an old fuddy-dud to be laughed at.
But it was no use. How to explain the raptures of a minuscule life of
heartbreaking beauty? On a dare, the Microscopist invented something she thought might
amuse the girl:
“I dreamed I was skiing in the Louvre,” the Microscopist told her. “Through room
after room. And guess what?”
“I give up,” her assistant drawled.
“There wasn’t any snow!”
Her assistant nodded to this, unsmiling. The Microscopist gave an impatient grunt
and waved her away. They sat at glass desks separated by a glass partition with
glass bookshelves lined with photographs of the Microscopist’s husband and their
children and grandchildren in glass frames. Prim and lifeless, as though they were
dressed by a mortician. Their smiles had an eerie incongruity.
“What a fragile transparency I live in!” the Microscopist murmured to her
wondering self, imposed upon this world of glass. Her voice, sounding hollow and
distant in her ears, disappeared inside the octagon crater of her glass ashtray – in her
mind she heard “shhhtray” – and she laughed aloud: “Shhhtray!”
A detached hand violently extinguished the cigarette into the crater: a landscape
brushed with ash, the color of her husband’s face in the photographs. “You know
you shouldn’t smoke in here,” her assistant testily emptied the ashtray into a clear plastic
“Oh no, no indeed,” murmured the Miscroscopist. “I don’t know where the
cigarette came from.”
Some evil had put it in her hand, she wanted to add. Everything a premonition of
disaster this morning, she remarked to herself.
“Did you say something?” her assistant was bent over her, her face betraying that
cloying solicitude that reminded the Microscopist of her husband.
With a shudder, she recalled finding her husband looking through the lens at one
of her slides yesterday...
Microscopist: “What are you looking for?”
Husband: “If anything of mine is there.”
“Anything of mine!” It had struck her as a peculiarly beautiful answer!
But moments later, she had heard him in the bathroom, brushing his teeth. Listening to
the sound, she had cried to herself in despair: “What is he trying to wash out of his
mouth?” This morning she had a sudden vision of Death stealthily climbing the steel
height of the skyscraper. Death looked a lot like her husband, but very small, about the
size of a grain of salt.
Higher and higher, her husband was indeed stealthily climbing. He watched as
each consecutive number lit up. He noted with approval the number thirteen had been
dropped. He turned and grinned directly into the eye of the camera that panned him
overhead. His right hand was hidden under his left armpit, where his shoulder holster and
gun were hidden. (Line 12, page 11 in his diary: “My eyes and smile don’t blend. My
eyes are cold and I appear to be looking somewhere else even when I’m generating a
warm smile in your direction.”) The elevator opened to a carpeted hall that hushed the
sound of stalking feet.
The Microscopist switched off her microscope and returned the slides to their
velvet cases. As usual, whenever she put away her slides, she had the awful premonition
that an enormously high-powered fan was about to press her against the ceiling as
casually as if she were a particle of dust. Dust, in her line of work, was absolutely
catastrophic. As catastrophic as her husband, who entered behind her, pulled out his gun,
and took a wild shot aimed approximately at the full-length glass partition.
Glass burst from the center where the bullet was wedged and split in rippled rays,
but barely put a dent in a photograph of the Microscopist’s dear, invincible husband.
Hearing the crash, the Microscopist’s heart took a leap: she experienced the
perverse sense of relief that her premonitions were not imaginary.
But did the shot in the glass mean the saturation point was reached (at eternity’s
end, all parallel lines finally meeting, and the illustrious mounter ED is discovered, at
eternity’s end, to be none other than Edgar Degas!)?
Staggering forward, she gripped her husband’s arms and the two of them scuffed
along to the window, the husband all spit-and-polish as usual, the Microscopist all
shadow and lace. Particles swam before her eyes, infinitesimal particles of subparticles;
matter that was hardly material at all. Her husband closed his eyes, his weightless body
swaying in the wind, taking wing, and neither husband nor wife wanted to land.
But together they plunged into the soft folds of the safety net in the sweaty hands of the
startled medics. He heard her mumbling: “Crowd scenes: packed energy globules,” and
he wondered, Did this explain anything?
It was a day of lethal smog, remember. Hearts labored, heads were dizzy and
nerves frayed – the kind of day when disaster and farce could easily become confused.
The Microscopist heard among the crowd of stunned onlookers a voice
somewhere between a whistle and a sigh:
“Which one is mine?”
“My guardian angel! ” the Microscopist cried aloud. She recognized the angel
from her slide. I get it, I understand everything, her husband whispered to her in a broken
voice, half-sobbing as he clutched her hand, pulling her out of the safety net, as if he
were pulling out a shadow of himself, yes, he understood, and he felt terrible for ever
mocking the Microscopist’s invisible life as he buoyed her body against his: …” in
reality, we weigh less than a butterfly scale, an eyelash, or a single tear,” she heard him
whisper. He felt her pat him on the arm, indicating all was fine, nothing was broken, he
can let her go now. But he gripped her tiny waist and held tight, reliving the sheer
euphoria of their free-fall, and he didn’t want to let her go, not now, not ever.