MIRELLA

Porcelain skin, auburn hair, glittering emerald eyes…without a doubt, Mirella was the most beautiful girl in the town of Velada—assuming that the accounts that I’ve heard about her aren’t wildly exaggerated—but she was also an absolute mystery. No one knew where she came from; one day she simply appeared in the main square.

After her arrival, Mirella walked silently among the merchant’s stalls, looking at the trinkets and goods for sale. Her movements were somehow disjointed, as though she wasn’t entirely comfortable in her own skin. She wore an expression of vague interest, though she didn’t stay at any one stall for more than a few moments before wandering to another. Curious, but wary, the townspeople drew nearer to the mysterious new girl in their midst. They tried to speak to her, to understand who she was and where she came from, but they quickly learned that she didn’t speak a word of their language.

Everyone was baffled. The girl spoke—she wasn’t mute—but no one was able to understand her words. While the townspeople tried to decide what to do with the girl, an old doll-maker approached and listened to the dilemma. The doll-maker—called Mister Alberi, though no one was entirely certain it was his real name—laughed when he understood the cause of his neighbors’ confusion.

He offered the girl a gentle smile and asked her a question, using the same strange words. The townspeople had no idea what he said, but the girl’s eyes lit up and she happily replied. The old man had emigrated to Velada many years ago, but he was nearly as much a mystery as the girl. No one was surprised to learn he spoke her language.

Turning back to the others, Mister Alberi shrugged. “She doesn’t speak English,” he explained, “but she says her name is Mirella.”

“But why is she here?” asked a woman, her forehead wrinkled in confusion. It was a good question; Velada was an isolated town. Visitors were a rarity.

Mister Alberi spoke to the girl again before answering the woman with another shrug. “No idea. The poor thing can’t remember how or why she came here.”

Since the doll-maker was the only person who could communicate with the girl, the townspeople agreed that it was best for Mirella to live with him, in his tiny house. There were some who had their doubts about the situation, because the old man himself was so strange; he was practically a hermit. But what other choice did they have? No one else could communicate with the girl. And so she went to live with Mister Alberi.

***

A young man in the town had shown an interest in the girl from the moment she arrived, and his interest persisted as she got settled into her life in Velada. His name was Boe, and he constantly tried to capture Mirella’s attention. Each time he saw her in the square, he called a greeting to her. Each time, she ignored him. Truthfully, the girl ignored everyone, save for Mister Alberi. Boe’s friends insisted that she only kept silent because she didn’t speak English, but the rest of the town had a different opinion: they claimed she was arrogant, a witch, a spy…the gossips of the town had a new story about the girl almost every day. But in Boe’s mind, Mirella was just a lost, lonely girl, with no one but the old doll-maker for company. And so he continued trying to speak to her.

Eventually, Boe got a response from the mysterious girl, but he couldn’t understand it. After hearing Boe call out his usual greeting, Mirella called back, “Laisse-moi tranquille, s’il te plait.” Her words were clipped, and her voice held an irritated edge, but a small smile played at the corners of her mouth.

Focusing on that small smile and indifferent to the girl’s annoyed tone, Boe grinned. He bounded up to her and said, “I’m so sorry, miss, but I don’t understand…my name is Boe.” He tapped his chest. “Boe. And you—” He pointed to her. “You are called Mirella, isn’t that right? Mirella?”

“Mirella,” she echoed, eyeing him warily. “Oui…je m’appelle Mirella,” she said, laying a tentative hand on her own chest.

Thrilled, Boe clapped his hands together. “Perfect! You see? We can talk, if we work at it.” He paused, carefully choosing his next words. “Mirella…would you like to take a walk with me?” He offered his arm to the girl, hoping that she would understand the gesture, if not the words. She looked at his arm curiously and chewed the corner of her lip.

Before she could make a decision, Mister Alberi strode into the square. The old man ignored Boe and spoke directly to the girl. “Ah, Mirella; there you are. J’ai besoin d’aide à la maison, s’il te plaît?”

Mirella let out a soft laugh and smirked at the old man. “Pourquoi? Il n’y a rien à faire à la maison. Où…êtes-vous jaloux du garçon? Est-ce là le problème?” she asked, nodding toward Boe. The young man didn’t have the slightest clue what she said, but he could hear the trace of mockery in her tone.

The only answer that the old man offered to her questions was a threatening scowl. The girl sighed and turned to Boe, a too-tight smile on her lips. “Eh…I’m sorry,” she started, stumbling over the foreign words. “P-perhaps another time?” She stared at Boe as though she were looking for some sign that she had chosen the right words. A moment later, Mister Alberi cleared his throat emphatically. Mirella shrugged stiffly and cast Boe another smile before following the old man away.

Hopeful despite the fact that the girl had gone away with the doll-maker, Boe nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, of course!” he called. “Another time, Mirella!”

That was what they had said, and they both meant it at the time, but they never got the chance to take that walk together. From that day forward, the only times that Boe saw Mirella, she was at Mister Alberi’s side. She never spoke another word to Boe and she ignored him every time she saw him. The only thing Boe could do was watch Mirella from afar. And he did, almost obsessively. He was enamored with Mirella, with her beauty and her sweetness and her slightly disjointed movements.

The young man spent days, weeks, and months watching Mirella. Every morning, like clockwork, the old doll-maker and his young ward took a walk through the square. The routine was so predicable that Boe felt a twinge of alarm when they failed to appear in the square one day. Perhaps out of concern for the pair’s wellbeing, or perhaps out of his desperation to see Mirella again, Boe ran to the doll-maker’s home.

When he neared the tiny house, everything was utterly silent. Usually, if the old man was home, he was working on his dolls and one could hear all manner of noise from inside the house. That day, there was nothing.

Boe entered the house cautiously. “Mister Alberi? Mirella? Is anyone in?” No one responded to his calls. The house was enveloped in a heavy silence that sent a chill racing up his spine. He made his way through the house, searching for its inhabitants.

More than once, he was startled by a doll—or sometimes, merely a piece of a doll—protruding from piles of garbage and supplies. Boe found it hard to believe that a precious creature such as Mirella could possibly live in such a place. In his effort to move through the debris, he stumbled and fell, cutting his palm open on a shard of broken glass. Grimacing in pain, he clenched his fist to control the bleeding and continued his search.

He picked his way through the filth and pushed open a door, revealing a room that must have been Mister Alberi’s bedroom. A terrified scream nearly clawed its way out of his throat when he realized what he saw in the room. The old man was stretched out on the bed, unmoving. A grayish pallor tinted his skin and his sunken eyes stared up at the ceiling. The old man was dead. And his wasn’t the only body in the room. Boe’s gaze dropped to the floor and he finally found Mirella. She was in a heap beside the bed as though she had fainted.

The young man fell to his knees beside her, anxiously murmuring her name. Mirella didn’t answer. Her auburn hair covered her face, and when Boe brushed it aside, he saw that her luminous green eyes were wide open, just like Mister Alberi’s. Horrified, Boe scrambled backwards. Mister Alberi was very old; his death wasn’t a terrible shock. But Mirella? She was young, lively…he couldn’t believe she was dead.

As he gazed at her, he finally noted something strange about the girl: her eyes were beautiful, but too bright, too glassy. Unreal. Her face seemed somehow artificial, too; her lips still formed the shadow of a blithe smile. It wasn’t the face of a dead girl. Slowly, the young man approached Mirella again. Trembling, and forgetting that he was injured, he lightly brushed his hand across the girl’s cheek. Her skin was rigid and cold, like marble.

Or porcelain.

Suddenly, Boe realized precisely what he was touching. It was a doll—the largest doll he had ever seen—made in Mirella’s image. A perfect replica, though Boe had marred that flawless skin with a few drops of blood from his hand. He let out a laugh and a few tears of joy streaked down his face and landed on the doll’s cold cheeks. Mirella wasn’t dead at all.

With the realization that Mirella was still alive fresh in his mind, Boe leapt to his feet and finished his search of the house. There was no sign of Mirella anywhere. Wondering if perhaps she had stumbled upon her guardian’s body and fled the house in fear, Boe ran through the streets of the town, calling her name. The other townspeople followed him, demanding to know what had happened.

Finally, he explained to them what he had found in the doll-maker’s house, and off they all went, back to Mister Alberi’s. As they made their way inside, Boe rambled about Mirella and the strange doll. Curiously, when they reached the bedroom, there was no doll on the floor. The townspeople looked to Boe, baffled. Some were angry that he would babble such nonsense when the old doll-maker lay dead before them, but others felt only pity for the poor boy, obsessed as he was with Mirella. To make matters worse, the town’s doctor found signs of poisoning when he examined Mister Alberi’s body. Someone had murdered the old man, and suspicion fell squarely on the missing girl. Everyone searched for Mirella, seeking to bring her to justice, but she had vanished entirely. No one could explain where she had gone, but weeks and months passed and Mirella never returned to Velada. Eventually, the townspeople gave up their search and forgot about the girl.

But Boe never forgot. For the rest of his life—eighty-eight long years—Boe pined for the mysterious Mirella. As a little girl, the only story that my great-great uncle Boe ever told me was the story of Mirella. He claimed she was his first love—his only love—but no one can prove she ever even existed. The town of Velada doesn’t even exist anymore; they’ve bulldozed it and turned it into a shopping center and a parking garage.

I don’t know if Uncle Boe was crazy or not, but the first time I visited his grave, I could have sworn that I saw a young woman beside his tombstone. She had auburn hair and porcelain skin, and her stilted, disjointed movements reminded me of a marionette whose strings had been cut.

 

*Note: this story was originally written in Spanish, though it has only been published in its translated form.

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