As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.”
In a one hour extemporaneous essay contest I wrote upon the topic of mirrors. After leaving the contest I couldn’t focus on anything until I rewrote the story I had created. My story borders on the shallow and insubstantial, but I feel that it contains something vaguely satisfying. You can make your own judgment.
“The mirror cracked from side to side. “The curse has come upon me! Cried the Lady of Shallot.”
-Alfred Lord Tennyson
Jessica stared at the mirror. Five seconds passed. Ten seconds passed. She stood motionless, silent, trying to confuse it and trying to win. The mirror was the only thing she had loved and hated more than herself. “Vous etez mes yeux.” A tear slipped down her lips. But the mirror did not reply; it only smiled back at her with sad, distant eyes.
“What are you reading, dear?”
Jessica met her mother’s eyes in the rearview mirror of their Mazda. Mrs. Spects broke eye contact to fix her hair with subtly manicured fingers. Jessica construed from the quietly lifted eyebrows and pursed lips that Mrs. Spects had spoken and was awaiting a response. Jessica cleared her throat.
“Pardon me. Did you ask something, Mother?”
“Yes, dear. What are you reading?”
“The Picture of Dorian Gray.”
“How nice. Is it for school?”
“Tommy, don’t put your feet on the coffee holder. Jessica, no recreational reading until you’ve finished the cosmetic books I bought you. Goodness knows you need them.”
“We watched Snow White in class yesterday,” Tommy said, swinging his legs rhythmically and hitting the passenger windows with impertinent hands, “and Austin screamed at the part where the Wicked Witch appeared in the mirror.”
“Don’t be silly, Tommy. Don’t slouch.”
Jessica looked out the car window. She could see the outline of her nose and lips in the glass.
“Narcissus was a Greek god.“ Miss Stansil moved awkwardly and tersely, as if she were designed to live in a library and would always be uncomfortable in front of apathetic adolescent eyes. “Narcissus rejected Echo, a nymph, and Diana was so displeased with him that she cursed him to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Narcissus died while staring at himself, and above his grave grew a flower that bore his name.”
Jessica turned a page in The Picture of Dorian Gray.
“Milton pulled from Narcissus when he wrote Paradise Lost. Eve falls in love with her own reflection in a pond, and is slightly disappointed when she sees Adam, feeling that he is ‘Not quite so fair’ as she.
The bell rang, and Jessica did not join the dissimulation that surrounded her. She was always the last to leave the classroom.
As Jessica rose and grabbed her books, there was a strange majesty in her movement; something larger than life. When she walked casually out the door; there was something monumental in her shoulders, in her carriage, in her step. She had the essence of a Deborah, or Jael; a Joan or a Cressida. She was epic.
Jessica turned abruptly; unused to hearing her own name. Miss Viewton, the choir director and music teacher, was approaching her with quick, nervous steps. When Jessica met her gaze Miss Viewton colored and dropped her eyes.
“Jessica, I’m so sorry to bring this subject up, but I’ve just been concerned for you for so long.”
Jessica could see her reflection in Miss Viewton’s glasses.
“I know how hard the accident was on you. But Jessica, I honestly never felt that beauty pageants were good for you. I think you should pour your effort into your music…your art…”
Upon hearing the word “accident” Jessica’s entire body stiffened. Her face changed to an intense and misunderstood expression, and she subtly twisted away from Miss Viewton’s touch. At that moment the school clock struck the melody for one o’clock. Jessica cleared her throat.
“The clock is out of tune. You should report that.”
As Jessica walked down the hall, those who observed her were confused, trying to piece together an impression they did not fully understand. They thought distantly that she walked like a supermodel, yet somehow better.
Jessica looked at the mirror again, and the room was dusky and dim, and nothing had changed since Jessica had battled the mirror that morning. Had she won? The Phantom of the Opera sat open upon the dresser drawer, and Jessica read some underlined lines.
“’This haunted face holds no horror for me now.’ Christine said, ‘It’s in your soul that the true distortion lies.’”
Jessica touched her face; touched the lines, the bumps, the scars and the red patches. She touched the jagged edges, the swollen skin, the damp unevenness.
“Optimus dies…prima fugit.”