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Mirror, Mirror

Novembre 2013
A short story.

di K. J. Ramsbottom

File audio:

Speaker: Rachel Roberts (Standard British accent)

I love second-hand shops. I can’t pass one without stopping to look at the dusty piles of old books, handbags, cracked glass ornaments and all the other ephemera people accumulate in their lives. I love rummaging around in boxes where everything is 50 pence and I rarely leave empty-handed. Once I found a green necklace which turned out to be jade. A bargain for a  pound!

One day I was shopping in the High Street when I noticed a shop I’d never seen before. In the window stood a shop-dummy draped in a pretty shawl. It was an attractive sight and I decided to pop in and have a look round. The doorbell tinkled as I pushed open the door and entered. Inside the first thing I noticed was a green vase in the shape of a fish, holding red tulips. It stood on top of some old art and photography books.  
Other multi-coloured glass vases were arranged on enamel trays, and old leather suitcases containing plates and glasses were propped open on the floor.
“This place is too expensive for me,” I thought as I picked up one of the vases to check the price. I was right, and put the vase down quickly. An old man appeared from a doorway at the back of the shop. He smiled. I told  him I didn’t need any help and was just looking. Then I saw it. On the wall behind his head was exactly the kind of mirror I had been looking for, to fill the space above my bathroom sink. It was round, probably Victorian, with a carved oak frame. I reluctantly asked the price, knowing in my heart that I couldn’t afford it.

Imagine my surprise when the old man told me how much the mirror cost. It was really cheap!  And it was far more beautiful than any mirror I had seen before. Of course, I had to buy it! The man seemed strangely reluctant to sell it to me and even as he was wrapping it in brown paper he asked me with an odd, sad look in his eye whether I was sure it would be right for my home. I reassured him it would be perfect, and left before he had time to change his mind.

I was delighted with my purchase and hung it in the bathroom straightaway. I went to bed that night happy that my new house was beginning to become a home. The following morning I looked at my reflection in the new mirror and saw a  sad, anxious face staring back at me. I didn’t usually look so white and drawn. Perhaps it was the prospect of the meeting with my boss later that day. I hadn’t been worried about it, but now I felt a sort of nameless dread. In fact everything that day went wrong, from my missing the train and arriving late for the meeting to not having the vital facts and figures my boss needed. Needless to say, I did not make a good impression and when the  firm decided it needed to let some people go later that month I was the first on the list.

Every day I stared at my reflection. I noticed I was looking paler and sadder. Gradually I lost confidence in everything. A worried friend dropped in to visit and remarked on how chilly my bathroom was. It was then I realised. That mirror had changed my life, and not for the better.

I decided to take it back to the shop. The old man did not look surprised to see me. He had been  expecting me. I was the third customer to return the mirror. He had acquired it from an auction room, where there was a sale of goods from a house fire. The owners had been killed, but the mirror was unmarked. Everyone had a story to tell about how the mirror had brought them bad luck. He refunded my money but refused to take the mirror back, telling me he didn’t want it. I certainly wasn’t going to have it in my house again. I left it behind the shop where the old man kept furniture, leaning it against the rubbish bins and next to a pile of newspapers left for recycling. It was a hot day and I wiped my sweaty brow as I walked away, feeling relieved.

My neighbour told me the shocking news  the next day. The shop had burned down and the old man had suffered smoke inhalation, and was in hospital. The fire had started by the rubbish bins; maybe some kids had set fire to the newspapers that were waiting for collection. It was pure chance that a passerby had raised the alarm. None of the stock had been saved, apart from what had been left in the courtyard. Perhaps with that the old chap would be able to start again…

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