The Glassmaker by Courtney Watson

Photo by Belle DiMonte. All rights reserved.

The order came in the usual way. A messenger with a whiskery face arrived at the shop by gondola just as the glassmaker was cooling the fires. The request was written in a calligraphy of blue flame, the color of gaslight, on a worn bit of vellum. The glassmaker read the missive once, twice, before the words vaporized to ash and fell to the floor. The messenger blew the glittering residue from the vellum and rolled it up carefully. He rasped “Tonight,” to the glassmaker and slipped one of his unusually small, pink hands into an unseen pocket deep within his fancy vest. In a movement that was too quick for the old glassmaker’s eyes to follow, the messenger produced a small, silk pouch.

The glassmaker had met the messenger’s mistress once, many years earlier, when she came to the shop, demanding the impossible from his grandfather, who had thrown up his hands and stormed into the back to relight the fires. The woman’s words were clear in the glassmaker’s memory, but he could never recall her face, or the sound of her voice. He remembered that she smelled like the hot lavender the glassmaker’s mother steamed over the fire and pressed into their bedsheets.

“Why do you ask so much of him?” the young glassmaker had asked. The woman was quiet for so long that he thought she wouldn’t answer, but then she did. 

“For one night, I can make the world right for one person. I really shouldn’t interfere, I know that. But I can, and so I do.”

The memory was a rush of hot lavender in the glassmaker’s mind. He stayed with his grandfather that night, and learned what he was supposed to do when the silk pouch landed in his own hands. The glassmaker ushered the messenger back to his awaiting gondola and then got started. He relit the fire and set about gathering his materials. He unwrapped a cane of glass from his finest stock, the best he had ever made. A bit of it had already gone to make his wife a chandelier for their home, the Palazzo Millefiori, the palace of many-colored glass. There was magic in that glass, he was sure of it, but not the kind that arrived by messenger. Those canes were the glassmaker’s own kind of alchemy: the silica, nitrates and arsenic melding into something airless and solid, the glassmaker’s deepest wishes blown through the canna da soffio to form something perfect and seamless.

The few times the glassmaker had been entrusted with the fairy’s magic, he had been sorely tempted to save a bit for himself for later use. He resisted though, telling himself that only a lesser glassmaker would have a need for the periwinkle-colored dust, which was just the exact same shade as the twilit sky over the Piazza San Marco.

When the fire had gotten so hot that the glassmaker was soaked from his shirtsleeves to his shoes, he threw the powder into the flame. The fire jumped and sparked and the flames were red and blue and green and another color, one that he had only seen on occasions such as this. The glassmaker donned his leather apron and the thick gloves that had been handed down from his grandfather and picked up his tagianti, clippers, and leaned in as close as he dared. He always uttered a tiny prayer at this point, and tonight was no different. He clipped a section of molten glass that was roughly the size of a loaf of bread, divided it, and hurried the halves to his workbench. As he caught the first half of the molten glass to the pontello, an iron rod that kept it from slipping, his focus sharpened.

The glassmaker held the borselle firmly in his gloved hands and began to stretch and mold the glass. The arches would be the tricky part; they were to be no longer than his palm, with narrow soles. The glassmaker clipped and wrought the perfect unbubbled glass until he found a form that suited him, and then he repeated the process.

As the slippers cooled, faintly blue, the glassmaker wondered about the young woman who would wear them, and silently wished her well. He fitted a fine piece of midnight-colored velvet into a wooden box and carefully placed the slippers inside. As the clock chimed and a light knock sounded at the door, the glassmaker threw the last of the blue dust onto the dying embers of the fire and let the heat consume his power to interfere and make the world right, if only for one evening.

~

Courtney Watson is a writer and English professor currently residing in Roanoke, VA, and her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in Black Lantern, The Inquisitive Eater, The Key West Citizen, and more.

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