The Face in the Mirror

By Gillian Shimwell

When they go, I shall disobey their stern instruction. They mean well, but I know better. Mrs Durham is bustling about, glad of the activity. The house seems to have held its breath, and everyone been on tip-toe for the past few weeks.

I accompanied them, and gazed into each glass before the sheet fell. Something happened in the hall which almost made me laugh. Hetty was fumbling with the pile of sheets, and Mrs Durham, balanced on a footstool from the parlour, was grappling with the heavy frame of the hall mirror. As she stepped down, she looked past her own reflection to where I stood on the bottom step. Her face froze.

She had seen.

She glanced at me nervously. I smiled sweetly. All was well. Still, she was sharper than usual with Hetty, and I swear she avoided looking into any other mirrors as she worked.

Now she is back in her domain, and soon I shall be alone. Aunt Geraldine is reading to me. She fancies herself a great reader. Occasionally, her voice rattles wetly, but surges unabated. I consider offering her my tea, with my medication slipped into it secretly. Suddenly,with apologies, she goes, forgetting to oversee my evening medication. I wait. No-one comes. Under the pillow I stroke the white kid frame of my treasure ; the tiny mirror they have forgotten.

I could be alone in the world.

Aunt Geraldine herself might be a figment of my imagination, and vanish once the door is closed. Dr Franklin has diagnosed a fevered and disordered brain, and everyone has accepted this, but, if he is right who knows which of my companions is real?

Perhaps we are the reflections, and the real world is muffled beneath dust sheets and behind the glass.

When I was a child, I sat at my mother’s bonheur du jour, and looked at all my faces in the mirror, and then at the window, and beyond. The tiny green landscapes I saw reflected were more enticing than the broad, familiar pastures beyond our garden, like living miniatures beckoning, promising that, beyond the fretted frame, lay intriguing delights quite different from our dull orchard.

Suddenly my face, already multiplied, was myriad, as my sister bobbed her head onto my shoulder. We played a game of “who’s who “, jostling and grimacing-my sister could pull the most gruesome of faces-until mother hushed us, begging us to be more ladylike.

 “Stare in that mirror long enough you’ll see the devil,” said Parker, fat red Parker, whose dealings with the occult were as comfortable and casual as her way with a cabbage. She had reason to avoid mirrors. Our mother often warned Parker that her tales might burden impressionable minds, but Parker was bovine, insouciant. She enjoyed a good story, but was herself a solid block, impervious to terror, incapable of sensitivity.  If we strayed onto her territory, let us find her, and all the staff, as they were to be found.  They wouldn’t change their chatter for our ears.

 There was a plain and iron-spotted mirror in the kitchen corridor, where the staff checked their caps and admired themselves. My sister Lucie and I found gazing into its distorting surface, in the dim light, particularly transforming.

 I recall, when Lucie and I were just fifteen, we practised putting up our hair by looking, not into the mirror, but at each other shadowing each gesture; it was a ritual dance, with each pin and comb slowly raised,each coil of hair wound ceremoniously around the finger,to facilitate exact, exact symmetry of movement. Behind the glass, glimpsed peripherally, were two others, another twin Lucie, another twin Maude.

 Friends asked my mother,  “How do you tell them apart?”

 Fools.

 A person is not a face.

 Lucie was light. Lucie was cool as glass. As we grew older, I saw that Lucie was ill, not in her health or even her mind, but their were flaws, ripples which others couldn’t detect. She seemed a transparent soul, with a spark of glee in the eye, a piquancy which enhanced her pragmatic, easy-going character.

 “ Lucie is fun,” people said, “She’s a good sort.”

 I was less fun. Though our features and hair, even some tricks of vocal intonation, were exactly similar, and our gifts and interests reflected, we were not the same. There was more to me than the surface. Through out our adolescence we were, I thought, still as one,but others constantly intervened. I was not disliked, nor yet excluded, but Lucie was adored. I recall the light dying in a young man’s eyes when he recognised the wrong twin, then courteously danced with me anyway. My face reflected in his brown eyes was my sister’s face. Who dared choose between us?

 Moreover, my sister’s essential sickness, her distortion if you like, was growing.  I could no longer fully read her, and on occasion she appeared puzzled by me, dismissive, even impatient sometimes. She would reproach me with faults we did not possess.

 “ I’m like you,” I would say, “I’m not like Cicely.”

 When the young man proposed, I made her swear that no-one would come between us. Her reply, couched in such sweet, reasonable tones, drove a shard through my heart.

There was a wonderful party to celebrate. I stood by the lake – no more than a large man-made pond, but my father enjoyed his touches of grandeur – and looked at the house.  All the downstairs windows were lit, and the gramaphone had been put on a table outside. A group of Lucie’s friends were gathered around it, until one broke away, Another went inside, a light went on upstairs.

 I spread my shawl on the grass to kneel. I looked into the water, and saw my own face looking back. My own face. I gazed, my face impassive, but a breeze, rippling the surface, made my reflection grimace.

 Across the lawn there was some activity.   Eventually some of them came loping  “Here she is!”

 “Lucie, you giddy goat, what are you up to?”

 I stood, wet patches on the knees of my dress, and pointed down into the lake.

 “ It’s Maude.” I said.

 “It’s Maude.”

Read more about Gillian

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