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Vienna 1900


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The Empty Mirror


She hurried along the darkened, cobbled streets, angry and full of self-recrimination. If she hadn't missed the last tram; if Girardi had invited her to his pied-à-terre instead of pleading early rehearsals; if she had only taken her friend Mitzi's advice to drop that pompous little jellyfish of an actor and sleep with Klimt instead. So many ifs.

A man tipped his hat to her at the corner of Kärntnerstrasse and Graben. "How much?" he asked.

Couldn't blame him really; not many respectable girls out alone this late and half the whores in Vienna plied their trade at that intersection. But it unnerved her, being mistaken for a prostitute, and she turned into a jumble of unfamiliar, darkened lanes behind Stephansdom before she had intended to, eager to get to her lodgings in the Third District.

Now there was nobody about; as quiet in Vienna at ten thirty as it was in her little village in the Voralberg. She felt a sudden shiver of fear. The newspapers were full of reports about a mad killer on the loose in Vienna, about bodies dumped in the Prater amusement park. Another shiver rattled her body.

She picked up her pace and took her mind off such thoughts by remembering what she had achieved so far in her young life. The muddy streets of her village in Voralberg seemed like another world. It had taken her three years to steal enough pfennigs from her father's wage packets to finally buy a third-class ticket to the capital, escaping said father and his black moods. She never looked back, seizing her opportunity like a life raft, and she had made it. Lover to the most famous actor in Vienna, model to the most famous painter. But if her papa ever saw one of her portraits.... Not much danger of that, though; never took his nose out of his beer.

She thought of Klimt as she hurried along. He had eyes that penetrated. That bloke could look at you so he made you feel naked, even when you already were. Like he saw inside of you. Cold his studio was. Made her all goose bumpy. But when she complained, he told her that was the way he wanted her; made her nipples perk right up did the cold, just like he needed for his paintings. Clever old dog that Klimt. Call me Gustl, he said. And no funny business, though she knew he wanted her.

Suddenly she realized she'd become lost. Wasn't sure which way was which in the narrow and dark lanes. She saw a pulsing glow of light to her left and took that street. The light came from a canvass tent over a manhole cover; men working. That seemed safe. She followed the glowing light, but as she passed the manhole she found there was nobody about. Must be working below. She shuddered at the thought. A terrible life working in the sewers.


She spun around at the sound of the man's voice. Then, seeing who it was, she smiled in relief.

"Oh. Hello."

They were her last words.