Story: Mirror, Mirror

7:45 am shadow monsters

I wrote this story when I was in college, and have edited it to polish it up a little bit a couple of times. It’s one of my attempts to see whether I could write a fairy tale from a different viewpoint. Please comment, and let me know what you think. (The story is behind the cut.)

Mirror, Mirror

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?” The words echo, sullen and dusty. The mirror stands alone in a forgotten corner. It is an unpleasant memory, and were it not for superstition, it would have been destroyed long ago. But mirrors must never be destroyed, for they hold something of ourselves.

Even now, I can remember being a child. With scuffed knees and dusty elbows, running aimlessly through my days. And I can remember those first, painful days of growing older, my body stretching and changing, with me tugging, tugging, tugging to be my own self, apart from my mother.

It is mostly my mother that I remember. The stern, separate shadow at the edges of my childhood; the ropes that bound me ever closer to her as I fought to separate myself. In the beginning, we fought much as other mothers and daughters. She would push me back towards childhood, I would strain to grow, ever faster. Later, though, we changed. She grew more insistent in her pushing, and I found a safety in assuming the aspect she wished to see. The more I gave in, the more she pushed me to become what she wanted.

I watched myself fading; watched as I became less and less of a person. But giving in was safe. My mother raged; fought and raged against anything she could not control. I couldn’t fight her. She was too strong, she had too much of me. And so I let her force me to… and so I made myself over in her image.

She grew older, as mothers do. She would ask me, sometimes, or tell me, that we looked just like sisters. What could I say? We didn’t, although she was a beautiful woman. But I was young. She was more beautiful, but I was younger.

One day, she rushed into our cottage, cheeks glowing with an excitement I had never seen on her face before. “Look at me! Am I not the most beautiful woman you have ever seen?”
I looked up from the ashes in the corner. She was, indeed, beautiful. And I had seen few women, living in our small village at the very edge of the world. “Yes, Mother,” I answered. What was I to answer? It was easier than fighting.

“I have found a way to keep this beauty, and more,” she rejoiced. I looked at her, silent, skeptical, but an open vessel for her words. “In the forest,” she continued, “I met a man who told me that for a few small… favors, he would teach me all I ever need know, and more.”
I nodded, but said nothing. “He will come tonight. You will let him in, but do not speak to him.” That, we both knew, would never have occurred to me. I am a private person, easily ignored. “After you have let him in, go out to the woods, and do not return until the morning. If anyone should ask you, in the morning, where you went, explain that you wandered too far, and passed the night in a woodsman’s cottage.”

My soul shuddered at the thought of a night alone in the woods; I shrank from what others would think of me for “passing the night” in a woodsman’s cottage. But, “Yes, Mother.” And that was all.

A man rose near our cottage door with the setting sun. I looked up to see him, startled at his sudden appearance. I beckoned him inside. He shrank in my mind as he entered the house, until he appeared no different from other men. I offered him food and drink, and walked to the well to inform my mother that her guest had arrived.

“Go to the woods, daughter,” she said. And for the benefit of the women standing with her at the well, “I would have some fresh berries.” The women looked askance at me, for no maiden would dare enter the forest after sunset, and no maid’s mother would suggest that she do so. I ducked my head. “Yes, Mother.”

I lifted the basket from my mother’s side, and walked slowly into the forest. Perhaps I hoped she would call me back, or that the other women would shout for me to return. But no one said a word, and my feet took me inevitably to the woods.

I returned in the morning, and she looked exactly as she always had. But she seemed more confident of her beauty, and perhaps she was more beautiful after all. A hectic flush rose in her cheeks. “Daughter, come, help me pack our belongings. My guest last night told me that the king is looking for a new wife. She needn’t be noble, he said–he looks for beauty to distract him from his old wife’s death, and a mother for his daughter. Perhaps….”

How could she have thought of this? But it was easier to follow along with her, and, after all, there might be some man in the city who truly did not care for nobility, and needed a wife only slightly past her prime. The women in the village would never take me in. I, who spent a night in the woods alone.

We loaded what we could in our small cart, and hitched our donkey to the front. What king would take a peasant to wed? I wondered, but said nothing. Mother rode, driving the cart, and I trudged along behind, carrying what little was my own on my back. Somehow, Mother found a kindly, old couple to give us shelter each night of our journey.

At least she was wise enough to realize that no one would believe she traveled to marry the king. So she told a story of her brother in the city, who had lost his wife, and wished for a housekeeper. She told this story so often that even I came to believe her.

We journeyed several weeks to the city. Near the end, the flush rose ever stronger in her cheeks, until it did seem to increase her beauty. It was dangerous, it was poisonous, but it was beauty.

When we finally arrived, Mother seemed to know exactly where to go. She told the gatekeeper the same story about her brother, and even produced an address. I kept silent; Mother has never allowed me to contradict her, or to expose her in untruth.

We found the address she had given, and the stranger greeted us warmly. He smiled indulgently at me, and sent me to our rooms with Mother’s bags and boxes. Then he and Mother swept through one of the side doors, and shut it firmly behind them.

I carried my bag into the rooms, and then all of Mother’s possessions. Then, for want of better entertainment, I unpacked the bags, and began to make a home of these rooms. I finished quickly, for there was little to unpack. I stared out the window and wandered the short hallway, waiting for Mother and the stranger to emerge. There were no servants, and no other people in the house, although it was so large that our country cottage would have fit into it several times over. The house was echoing and dangerous.

Mother praised me lavishly for arranging her things when she emerged, and the stranger gave me several coins and sent me to explore the town. I was unsure of finding my way in such a large place, but I did not protest as they shooed me out the door.

In my wanderings, I heard many women, both young and old, whispering of the balls held each night, at which the king sought to distract himself, at which the king sought a new wife. I bought apples and cabbages, and went home to tell my mother of the balls. Perhaps we would attend, and she would see that her aims would not succeed.

“Of course, daughter, for that is why we came,” she answered briskly. “And isn’t it wonderful that your uncle could give us a home?”

“Yes, Mother.” I left my questions about this uncle unsaid.

Mother came into the kitchen, as I chopped cabbage and apples. “Daughter.” I looked up, and saw that she was wearing a gown I had never seen before. “Does this gown not flatter me? Am I not fortunate to have such a generous brother?”

“Yes, Mother.”

“Well, come, give me a kiss, for luck. I will be attending the ball tonight.”

“Yes, Mother.”

She did not return until early the next morning. I woke to find her standing over my bed, the flush deeper than ever. “He danced with me. He sat and ate with me. But he says that his daughter is lonely, that she wants a companion. You will come with me tonight.”

I was given more coins, and sent out again. I bought ribbons and lace, and listened to the gossip about the stranger, the woman who had captured the king’s attention. The gossip even mentioned her beauty and sparkling wit.

When I returned home, Mother hurried me to our rooms, so that I could dress, and so I could assist her. My gown was simple, of the sort that the governess of a wealthy family should wear.
Mother’s dress was beautiful on its own, but became mesmerizing when animated with her living flesh; or perhaps it was Mother who was beautiful after all.

“Am I not beautiful, daughter? The most beautiful woman you have ever seen?”

“Yes, Mother.” For once, I did not feel doubtful.

The stranger provided a carriage and footmen, and we arrived at the ball only late enough for fashion. Mother glided in, and every eye turned to meet her. She took me gently by the elbow, and led me across the room. A man came, and bowed over her hand. She bowed demurely, and turned. “This is my daughter,” she said softly. The man, the king, beckoned, and a small girl approached. She was put in my charge, and my mother made me understand that I was to keep her happy and quiet, and out of their way for the remainder of the evening.

Mother found me and the girl asleep on a bench in the flower garden, shortly after dawn. She found an expression of motherly concern I had never seen, and gently lifted the girl to carry her inside. I followed, not knowing what to do with my own arms, watching my mother place the girl carefully in her small bed.

“Such a sweet child,” Mother whispered, “I could come to love her as my own, couldn’t I?”

So many words welled up in my throat, but my tone was respectful when I whispered, “Yes, Mother.”

It was as though a glamour shimmered around Mother on the third night. She shone so bright I could barely look at her. She offered me a new dress, one appropriate for the modest daughter of a wealthy family. We arrived early enough to watch as the other ladies entered the ballroom.

“Am I not the fairest among these, Daughter?”

“Yes, Mother.” She turned away from me as though I had never spoken, and I saw that the king had arrived.

I took the princess, and we waited for our parents the whole night, wandering in the gardens, feeding the swans in the pond with the bread from our dinner. By the time we fell asleep, the girl held my hand with something very like affection.

Of course, the king did marry Mother. He accepted me as a daughter, and placed me with his own child. I saw Mother only when a queen from another realm would visit, and only to reassure her that the glamour remained, that she was the most beautiful woman in the realm.

Years went by, and I was well past the age for marriage, when the king remembered that he had a daughter, and that daughters need to marry. He sent word to other kingdoms, and young men began to visit. But they, like the king, saw only my mother. The princess, my sister, was bewildered. She had been raised to become a queen; she knew nothing of growing up except being a queen. She could not understand the rejection, could not comprehend the possibility that she would not marry a prince.

And what reason was there for her to be rejected? She was young, beautiful. My mother had no need of the princes’ attention.

Yet the queen called me to her each evening. “Am I not the fairest woman you have ever seen?”

Each evening my answer was the same. “Yes, Mother.”

And each night I held my sister, the princess, as she sobbed out her fears. She did not know what her life would be, she needed a prince to rescue her from the uncertainty.

Then came a night when the prince seemed more noble, when the princess seemed more in need of rescue, and I could think of nothing but my sister when the queen asked her question.

“Am I not the most beautiful woman in this realm?”

I should not have answered as I did. Having made myself a mirror all my life, I should have remembered that mirrors reflect only what the viewer wishes to see. Forgotten in a dusty corner, reflecting only cobwebs, I wonder about other choices. Was I made a mirror, or did I become one of my own free will?

3 Responses
  1. Anonymous :

    Date: April 24, 2007 @ 12:43 pm

    Very nice…I look forward to reading more stories! –EGWolf :)

  2. Lo :

    Date: April 24, 2007 @ 5:13 pm

    I was definitely drawn into this story. I found the end a bit frustrating though….I mean, I know it’s meant to be subtle, but I wanted a little more of a hint about what happened to the girl. Just my two cents tho’.

  3. Jigsaw Analogy :

    Date: April 24, 2007 @ 6:27 pm

    Thanks for the comments. Much appreciated.

    Lo–which girl? The narrator? Perhaps I should clarify that I wrote this while exploring alternate angles on fairy tales. She became a mirror.

    I actually don’t know what happened to the princess, whether she was Snow White, or whether she pre-dated Snow White. I was just figuring out how one would get a talking mirror.

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