The Mirror

November 30, 2006 at 6:09 pm (Borjes Society)

By Edgar Rice


In the last few years I have started to collect mirrors. I buy them in antique stores and auctions. I discover them in second-hand furniture shops and rummage sales. Sometimes I find them in junk yards; sometimes friends give them to me. A few I’ve even discovered by accident walking over the three-hundred acres of my hilly, mostly wooded farm. My whole house is filled with mirrors. They are in every room. There are mirrors in the attic and mirrors in the basement and they hang in every hallway. I’ve even begun storing them in the barn, along with the old tools and farm machinery that once was part of my life.

At first I wasn’t sure why I collected mirrors. It just seemed to be something that happened as I grew older. Gradually though I began to realize that my fascination for mirrors comes out of loneliness. Every mirror holds within it the imperceptible images of all the faces it has ever reflected. I can’t see them, but I feel they are there. And somehow they frame my loneliness, keep it from spilling out uncontrolled into the empty expanses of space.

The image I am surrounded by most often is that of my wife. It has been twelve years since she died, yet her presence still hovers in the house and it seems any moment I will feel her touch or hear her voice again. I know that if any image could break loose from the silent depths of the mirrors and float to the surface, it would be hers. I have even tried to call it into view. I took the oldest, most turbulent mirrors with me into the attic, alone, on winter nights when even the slightest sounds were ominously amplified, when it felt as if imminently spirits would rise out of the floor and roof-beams and whisk me away, but I accomplished nothing. In every mirror I saw only my own reflection.

Gradually I came to realize I was approaching the matter in the wrong way. Instead of invoking the dead, l decided to find a mirror that could blur the line between the two worlds enough so that I might pass through and search for her. I found many mirrors that seemed promising, mirrors that did not give an altogether accurate reflection, that distorted the ordinary world in ways which suggested a blurring, and uneasy dissonance, mirrors in which the forms of this world almost broke and washed away, but I could not find one that would erase the line completely.

Then I began to understand that it was my relationship to the mirror which needed to change. I would have to somehow rearrange myself in order to journey from one side of the mirror to the other. I went through the usual ways of altering consciousness but each of these attempts failed too. The one obstacle that stood in the way of his journey always remained. I could not erase my own reflection.

But then one day, I saw, in a clear moment of inspiration, exactly how I should proceed. It was as if having been lost in a forest, I had suddenly uncovered a hidden path. My work became easier and I felt at times as if I were being gently directed by an invisible force inside of me, a force which knew my situation precisely and foresaw the outcome. Still the work went slow and required of me an alertness and concentration I had never before expressed. I could proceed only at night, and not all nights were suitable. There had to be enough moonlight for me to see my own reflection in each of the mirrors I brought one by one up the attic. I knew that only one mirror would give a true reflection; all the others would in one way or another lie. Some would flatter, others mock, some would cast to strong an image, others would be too weak. All of these false mirrors had to be destroyed. And I knew that each false mirror destroyed would bring me closer to attaining my desire.

So I proceeded, slowly and patiently, with my task. Days and months passed until, quite by accident, I discovered the right mirror. It was at twilight on a warm spring evening. I was carrying one of the mirrors from the barn into his house. It was a large, round mirror set in a walnut frame. I remembered it had hung in the bedroom of my house long ago when my wife and I were first married. Seeing the mirror again sparked a chain of memories which slowly wafted into the fragrant spring wind.

Suddenly, I heard a loud screeching in the woods several hundred yards to my left. A few moments later a giant snow owl flew up from the top of the trees and began moving towards me. In his surprise, I dropped the mirror on the grass. The owl swooped around in a circle and then disappeared again into the forest. I gazed after it a few moments then turned to pick up the mirror. A slight tremor shook through me as I found myself staring at an old, wrinkled, slightly quizzical face. It was mine and yet not mine. I knew instantly that I had found the right mirror.

I took the mirror upstairs to the attic. All the other mirrors were forgotten now – there was only this one. I set it down in a corner of the bare, dark room and waited. Gradually the moon rose and I could see my reflection faintly in the glass. I stared at it silently as if in meditation. The hours of the night slowly went by and my gaze grew more and more concentrated. Light and dark began to alternate in the room, but I did not notice. Both the mirror image and my own had somehow separated themselves from the rest of the world and existed in a continual twilight. Other images began to arise in the mirror and mix with ours. I realized that certain moments of my life were being played back as if I were watching a movie. The order was haphazard though. Scenes from my childhood mixed with scenes from when I was older. I felt my wife was somewhere in the flow of images, but I couldn’t distinguish her. It always seemed that I was talking to her as if she were off in another room. Image after image came to life, dances slowly across the silvered glass and dissolved. After awhile I could no longer tell if the images were in the mirror or in my mind. It had all merged together into one stream- bright, glittering, evanescent.

Then gradually I realized that the mirror had become blank. I knew that it must have been blank for some time before I realized it, but I couldn’t remember just when it had changed. Suddenly I understood that the mirror was blank because I was looking at it from the other side- I realized I had crossed over. I stood up and looked around. The attic with its one small window and its dusty beamed roof appeared exactly the same to me. I looked back at the mirror. It was gone. A slight tremor went through me and I hesitated a few moments staring silently into space. Then I went over to the stairs and walked down. It was still twilight. The house was the same house- the hallways, the rooms, the furniture, the cracks in the plaster, the chipped china teapot in the kitchen- all was exactly as I had left it.

I walked outside. A faint crescent moon glowed softly through a thin haze of clouds. Everything was still. Then I noticed a thin, blurred figure standing by the forest a few hundred yards from me. The figure shifted into focus for a moment and I realized that it was my wife. She appeared as she was when I first loved her- she stood tall and straight in a flowing white dress with lace sleeves. Her thick black hair blew in a wind that l could not feel.

I began to run towards her, thinking I would rescue her from the dead as Orpheus. I had almost reached her when suddenly I was stopped by an invisible wall of glass. I began to pound on it but it wouldn’t break. Then I realized my mistake – she wasn’t on this side at all, she had always been on the side I was. Then slowly everything began to blur- the forest was a blur, the night was a blur, my wife was a blur. I imagined that the glass had started dissolving, but actually I was dissolving, dispersing into nothingness, into the blurred, imperceptible recesses of the mirror that was my own death. I called out her name and then everything went blank.

I woke up on the wet grass. It was morning now. I stood up and looked around. Sunlight was pouring over the hill into the house. I walked indoors. Everything was once again as I had left it. I didn’t know which side of the mirror I was on, and now weeks later, I still don’t know. I have gotten rid of all the mirrors though. They wouldn’t be of any more use anyway – whenever I walk by them, I never see an image at all.

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