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  • I was called in for routine maintenance to a home where I had worked for many years.

    It was summer and the heat of late July was oppressive.
    I let myself in with the key, given to me at the front desk, and felt relief in the dark and cool interior.

    Stepping into that home was always a journey back in time.
    They had researched the period details meticulously.
    The woodwork had been stripped of two centuries of lead paint and refinished to a lustrous sheen.
    Carved paneling lined the areas of the library that were not filled with books.
    Marble slabs of unusual color and pattern were used for bathroom and kitchen counters. The kitchen floor was covered with cut tiles in a Victorian take on Moroccan pattern.
    The walls were covered in multiple colored and patterned papers and the ceilings had elaborate plaster detail painted in several colors.

    Heavy velvet curtains reduced light and noise from the world outside.
    They collected a style of highly animated and masterfully crafted furniture.
    Table legs terminated in animal hoofs, claws, fur and scales.
    Each room had a mantle clock. A watch repair specialist came to wind the clocks every third Tuesday.

    What I loved most about being in this residence was the portrait gallery.

    A long hallway ran through the center of the home, dividing the living quarters from the rest of the house.
    Here, with large carved and gilded frames were dozens of portraits.

    I did not mind working there alone even if I often felt their eyes were following me as I walked down the corridor.

    One of the paintings depicted, I read the plaque, the second Earl of Bushwick who was sainted after being killed in a battle in France.
    The artist rendered, in intricate detail, a gaping wound in his chest, from which a European swift flew out, carrying a small book in its talons.
    With brushwork worthy of Van Eyck I could just make out the title, “Invisible Cities”, by Italo Calvino.
    I moved down the line of paintings admiring the skill of the artists and the characters of the sitters.
    One woman, dressed in a flowing orange robe, stood holding a white tiger.

    I knew I needed to get to my work list so I began to move quickly down the rows.

    As I came to the end of the line one of the figures suddenly moved, I felt panicked until I realized that I was looking in a mirror.
    Then I did what most people do in front of a mirror.
    I criticized myself.
    I went through the checklist of my reflection, too short, too wide, hair a mess, a smudge of pigment from another project, too much denim.

    I laughed at my negative voice and countered it with a regal pose.
    I imitated the excellent posture of one of the portraits and held out my arm with a paintbrush in a gesture of creative poise.
    I laughed at my reflection and thought I had better get on with my day.

    It was then that I noticed the deafening silence in the house.
    An annoying ringing of my ears that had flared up over the years had suddenly lifted.
    I could hear pure silence.
    Then I heard the ticking of the clocks, a metronome for the measure of moments.

    I went to move away from the mirro and discovered that I was no longer looking at my reflection, but at the portrait across the hall from myself.
    My legs would not obey my command, and my hand was frozen in mid air, holding the brush.
    I looked down and saw the edge of the frame I was now inside of.
    My legs somewhere below, seemed to be made of paint.

    I looked down the hall, at the long row of portraits; I had joined their ranks and took my place in the march of time.
    Now only my eyes will move as I too watch the visitors who walk by.

    The clocks down the hall will keep time for centuries

    And the only sound I will hear is their ticking.
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