Friday, July 6, 2012

To Break the Smiling Mirror

"We discovered (such a discovery is inevitable in the late hours of the night) that mirrors have something monstrous about them."
-Jorge Luis Borges, "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius"


It wasn't her choice to have the mirror in her bedroom, but there it was at the foot of her bed - rectangular, shiny, and cowardly. How else can you describe something that does nothing but reflect back what it sees - and that imperfectly?

She started noticing after the first week.

At the time, she was looking into the mirror, scrutinizing her clothing. She couldn't remember ever wanting to impress people with how she dressed - before, it was enough to please herself. But, she thought, frowning, there was something not quite right with today's ensemble -

She looked up and saw a girl with a wide, pretty, vapid, weak grin. It was her face.

But that's not right, she thought, taking a step back. I'm not smiling. What the hell is going on?

As she watched, the smile changed, metamorphosed into a look of confusion - cute, coy, and disgusting. It was a simpering face, a pouting face, it was -

She backed out of the room, hoping it was only her imagination that made the smiling figure in the mirror toss back her hair and laugh a silent laugh that, she was sure, could sound like the crunch of sugar crystals if only her ears could hear it.

After that she tried not to look in the mirror. She dressed in the dark and always asked if her hair looked all right before going out.

It was useless. She began to see that face everywhere she went - in the windows, in computer screens, even in the dark gleaming wood of the piano. Everywhere she turned the simpering smile, or childish pout, greeted her.

She became, she thought, more polite, as if by good behavior she could lift the curse. Her voice rose half an octave, she hid her laughter behind a hand, she apologized for troubling everyone, she dwelt endlessly whenever she erred.

Often, she wondered what it would be like to disappear into the walls.

Tears, she found, came easier. She had only to think - I've disappointed - and a mist arose in her eyes. I've failed, I'm a failure, no one loves me as I am. She wondered if she could make everyone else happy, if that would make her happy.

How selfish! she thought - thinking of her own happiness! She had more than she needed; she saw she was spoiled and soft and she spoke of her purchases as though they were a badge of shame. She could not take pleasure in anything. How silly it all seemed!

She found that if she didn't want anything too badly, if she apologized for her success, that the guilt eased. Guilt - of what? Of having more than she deserved. Of daring to daydream. Of not having anything she could have died for.

When she looked into the mirror she saw a girl with a pretty a smile, a smile she now knew was strained, was infected by the fear that others might not like her, that she could only ever be accepted if she was a sweet, earnest girl. Why, if she was pleasant, then wouldn't all her other faults fall away? It wouldn't matter how much she had or didn't have, or how much she did or did not endure.

No one could blame such a dear, dear girl.

Of course they couldn't. She excused herself: "Oh, I'm really no good at this, I've no talent for this kind of thing." She was sure everyone was saying What an admirable young lady, admitting her weaknesses so honestly!

She acquired the sweet dolefulness of a self-selected martyr. When she came across a mirror she looked into it hungrily, so she could admire the gentle, limpid countenance that faced her.

If she was only sweet enough, darling enough, nice enough, then surely everything would end up all right for her. It was the only way she'd get anything, anyway: or hadn't she seen, hear, read the disappointment in all their faces>

Maybe not. After all, it was so embarrassing, she didn't have any powers of observation, oh no, not her, not her -

Excuses and excuse-mes slipped out of her mouth like diamonds and roses. Her delicate shoulders couldn't bear any strain of responsibility: not for her actions, and not for any discomfort she might cause others.

"Hey." Someone picked up a diamond of hers, that had tumbled out from those meekly smiling lips, and examined it. "This isn't diamond. It's glass."

And eyes turned on her, eyes that seemed to see into her trembling heart. Her mouth flickered between a smile and a pout - "Love me" and "Please oh please don't hate me."

"You can do better than that."

Her lips parted, ready to let forth another excuse. But then she closed her mouth and for once, it was a line straight across.

She went home.

She climbed the stairs and opened the door to her bedroom and she stood in front of the smiling mirror - she with her mouth tightly closed so no more glass diamonds or wilted roses could fall out. If she was not smiling, and the mirror was...

"You are not me," she told it. "You are a lie."

Her reflection looked back at her, so confused, a lost little lamb, oh, what beast of stone heart could look upon such a pitiable soft-eyed creature with such a scowl-?

She slammed her fist into the glassy, lying surface. And then she did it again, and again, and again, so the cracks spread and met and rippled across the whole goddamn monstrosity. She laid into the mirror until there was nothing left distorting who she was.

Just her, standing there with glass dust all over her bleeding knuckles.

Her breath was coming fast and heavy. Her eyes focused on her destruction.

She laughed then. Not hiding behind a hand but fully, a laughter as rich as a thick stew. She laughed herself crying, and then she smiled. Not very prettily, and not very sweetly, but with the determination that she was no one else but herself, that there was no need to apologize for existing. Everything would be all right, but only if she made it so.

Because - and she had forgotten - she had that kind of power.


"Our weaknesses are always evident, both to ourselves and others. But our strengths are hidden until we choose to reveal them - and that is when we are truly tested. When all that we have within is exposed, and we may no longer blame our inadequacies for our failure, but must instead depend upon our strengths to succeed...that is when the measure of a man is taken."
-James Owen, Here There Be Dragons


Written the first day of this year. It's an ongoing process.

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