PART 1: THE MIRROR
My mother died when I was born. My father was wracked with guilt for years afterward, although there was nothing he could have done about it. In my bedroom, there hung a huge circular mirror, much larger than I was at that time. My father used to say, “Your mirror is a window onto the world, and the world will watch over you while you sleep.” He also once said, “It was your mother’s mirror, and I can’t bear to see her face in it. So she can stay with you, and watch your world.” He only said that second thing the once, though, and I was halfway drifted to sleep as he stroked my hair, so I was never absolutely certain. He certainly never said it again.
I believed him, about the world inside the mirror. In half-shadowed daylight, I would touch the mirror’s surface, and imagine I could step inside, that it was my own magical portal to unknown places, and untold stories. And I knew my mother would always be there, too, so it was a safe place to play. I was still very young, then. I was a little older, when my stepmother became a part of the family. Due to circumstances which arose (and will become apparent later), my father decided that I needed a mother more human than a mirror.
It was difficult for her, my stepmother. She was not evil, as you might suppose, nor was she a bad person in any other way that I knew of. She loved children, and most children loved her. But I was a recalcitrant child – not sullen, but distant. I was at first raised without a mother, just a shadow in a mirror, but suddenly there she was, trying to fill a gap that I was not even aware of.
Although she tried hard, the only time we bonded was at bedtime. She would sit by my pillow in the dark, stroking the wayward strands of wispy fringe from my face, and stories would pour out. She was a natural storyteller. I don’t think she was really talking to me – perhaps to the child she wished I was, perhaps just to herself – but I swallowed every word. When I fell asleep I would be dreaming her story, the words a neverending ribbon of water streaming out of her and soaking into me. Those words, in the dark, at night, those words tied her to me. In the morning they had dissolved and I would glide past her good intentions, locked inside a story of my own.
It started with a scream and a scattering, shattering shower of glass. I had only reached out to touch the mirror, as I did every day, but this one day, it fell, it smashed, and I screamed. I was on my knees on the floor, scraping at the shards of glass with my fingers, tears dripping in huge blobs from my eyes, when my stepmother ran into the room to uncover the cause of the commotion. She swept me up in her arms, and rocked me, rocked me, and as my hysteric sobs died down, she put me to bed, told me not to fret about the mirror, it would all be cleaned up when I woke in the morning. She embarked on a new story-journey, and I let her words carry me away, cleansing and soothing. I drifted and drifted, not quite to sleep. And I felt her gently stand, and tend to the broken glass before softly shutting the bedroom door. And I didn’t mention that evening, or the next, or the next, the tiny tiny splinter of glass embedded in my fingertip, throbbing in a curiously comforting way. I never mentioned the splinter to anyone.
TO BE CONTINUED
Splinter is an ongoing piecework: look out for part 2 & beyond in future issues of