Voltaire's Calligrapher

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Authors: Pablo De Santis
then turned it in the lock.
    “The bishop was gravely ill,” the abbot explained. “When we thought he was about to die, he had a revelation: he would be saved if he took a vow of silence. The Church was forced to renounce his voice, just when it needed it most. Since then, he has only ever communicated in writing.”
    “And how long is this silence to last?”
    “Until the final silence.”
    Mazy opened the door onto a room made of white marble. I stood in the doorway, not daring to approach the man at the desk.He was leaning over a piece of paper, holding a pen with difficulty, as if it were intolerably heavy. I couldn’t see his face. The marble everywhere was like a prelude to the tomb. It was so cold and so white, even in the semi-darkness, that it resembled a grotto carved out of ice.
    The abbot pulled back the gray drapes. Light cut a swath through the clouds and stained-glass windows, illuminating the paper. The bishop dipped his pen in the inkwell and wrote a few letters stripped of any adornment. He wrote slowly, as if all action consisted of a series of inactions.
    Everything was completely still, except for the bishop’s unhurried hand.
    The abbot asked me whether the bishop was alive. It was then I understood this was a test and that Mazy needed others to see what he saw. The bishop looked like a living corpse, but it was true he did move, and even more true that a reply in the negative would not please Mazy.
    Without knowing if it was the truth or a lie, I replied:
    “The bishop lives.”
    Hunched over, the bishop’s face was still obscured. Watching people write is always a bit mysterious, as they speak of things we can’t see. The abbot gestured for me to leave and pulled the drapes closed, like a curtain coming down on the final act. Seemingly indifferent to the dark and to the performance that had ended, the bishop continued to write.

Kolm’s Walking Stick
    A fter Arnim Palace, I went to the courts to ask for Kolm, but no information was provided about executioners for fear of revenge. When I insisted, they let me leave a message in a basket. The note, proposing we meet the next day, fell in among others that looked as if they had been there for years, waiting for someone who never came. A rope was lowered down, and the basket was hung on a hook. The messages soon rose up until they disappeared into one of the upper windows.
    I waited for the executioner in front of the courthouse the following day. Suddenly, I felt hands around my neck, and my feet left the ground once again. As I fought for air and recovered from his little joke, Kolm told me that someone from the hanged man’s troupe in Toulouse had insisted on accusing him. The law had more to worry about than an actor who had taken his role too far, but he had nevertheless decided to leave as a precaution.
    The walking stick with the metal fist still hung off his belt. I asked whether it continued to malfunction.
    “It destroys everything it touches.”
    “I know someone who can fix it.”
    “I’m used to it now.”
    I insisted; I didn’t want to look for Von Knepper on my own.
    We walked around behind a church and into a deserted cul-de-sac until we reached a green door. The owner’s name—Laghi—was engraved on the lintel. A carriage clock was visible through the window; on top of the wooden base, a Vulcan was about to let his hammer fall on an anvil. I pulled the bell, but no one came. Kolm pounded impatiently on the door.
    A maid opened, said it was late and we should come back the next day. The executioner showed her the silver hand, as if it symbolized some higher authority. Mechanical artifacts held extraordinary power in that house, and the servant let us in, as if we had shown her an order signed by the king himself. We were led into a cold room that had only one chair. Kolm sat down despondently and left me on my feet to nervously pace. After we had been waiting for a while, I wandered into the next room.
    Up against the

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