He’d tell me of a feeling he’d get from time to time.
When-wariness would drowsily lower her shield, drunk on lethargy,
when things would grab hold a little too tightly
and the beats would become synonymous with scarcity of breath.
He’d describe it as a sorrow
and a guilt
and a regret.
and an anxiety
and the deepest passion.
It’s all of these things, he’d say, and it leaves me goddamn empty.
There was quite the quarrel in the house when my little brother Joey broke the silver rimmed mirror facing my window. As soon as my mother heard the fine crack, followed by the soft tinkling of glass shards raining down onto the dark, dusty floor, she marched off to Joey’s room to yell at him. As the screams wafted into my room, I lay in bed giggling – mid-coughs – at the thought of Joey getting into trouble. Despite my mother’s disappointment in the broken glass, it was only after she came back from work, finished the house chores, and watered the garden that she began to clean the broken shards of glass off the faded parquet floor. I wasn’t angry with her; I even told her to not bother. It wasn’t like I was getting up anytime soon, anyway.
A big, gaping hole replaced where my mirror used to stand. With my mirror’s aid, I had managed to keep myself entertained in my bed by staring at the reflection of the seashore in the window behind me.
Through my gateway to the outside world, I would at times see a stray seagull fly over the water, challenging the strong winds, hunting for a fish in the deadly waves. On lucky days, I’d see families or couples walking back and forth on the beach, holding hands.
It never looked warm on the beach, though. The ever-present clouds rejected any of the sun’s many attempts to brighten the dull landscape.
But now, my only doorway out of the house had fractured and vanished. I sat by myself without a beach to look at or people to watch. I was completely and utterly alone.
I stared at the ceiling, already bored, finding interest in even the cracks on the wall. Two in particular seemed to extend into opposite ends of the ceiling; one ran to the far side of the room, going off into a dark corner, while the other crack seemed to carry its way to the doorway – being illuminated by a shaft of light coming from outside. I joked to myself about how that crack wanted to leave this room as much as I did.
My eyes trailed back to where my mirror once stood. I felt my heart sink as I realized I now had to adapt to this new way of life. I had to tell myself that this wasn’t just a small discomfort for a day or a weekly arrangement that was bound to end; this was going to be forever. The emptiness was painful. A tear slid down my pale cheek as I tried to remember the beach – to capture the people on the shore, the single seagull trying to catch a fish, the cold, grey sand.
The images were far too faded. I was already forgetting just how the trees swayed with the wind, and exactly how the waves crashed onto the wet shore. I struggled to chase after the last of these images but the harder I concentrated on trying to remember anything, the more reluctant the memories were to stay with me.
There wasn’t much else for me to do in my room. I had a cabinet stacked with books about everything, but there was no point in re-reading them – I knew each one inside out. The pictures were dull and their information was no longer interesting. A stool was placed beside my bed; this was where my mom would sit whenever she would talk to me. I never wanted to bother her though, no matter how lonely I felt. Her two jobs as well as us and the house were enough to take care of. A small writing desk was tucked away in the corner. I had been told I used it when I was small so my mother had decided to keep it, even after the accident.
Still, I missed the view of the sea more than anything. I hadn’t tried to remember the sea in fear that it would try to slip away from me again, but I was desperate for the beach and I could not hold back any longer.
So I remembered it again – the long beach with the cold sand, the couples strolling, hardly talking. I remembered the sun, trying to peek out from beneath the clouds, but all in vain. It had never occurred to me, but presently I yearned for the sun. Why did those clouds not let the warm rays through? I tried to tell them to go somewhere else, and to my surprise, they seemed to obey, and began to part in the sky.
My beach instantly changed. As the clouds began to dissipate, the sun sprayed the water with nuggets of silver, twinkling in the waves with each rolling breath. I froze at the feeling of stepping on something gritty and wet. I looked down, and was shocked – there were my feet, taking steps in the warm, golden sand with a blue summer dress flowing gently around them.
Looking up, I was pleased to see that the seagulls were no longer restrained by the winds and were playing in the air. I laughed – for the first time without having to cough – as one did a barrel roll and plummeted to the ground, only to be swept back up again by a gentle breeze.
Warmth caressed my skin as I took another deep breath of the salty air blowing from the waves. It was much crisper and wilder than I had smelled from my bed. The rhythmic crash of the waves, combined with the lull of the birds brought on an almost hypnotic bliss.
This wasn’t real and I knew it, but I didn’t mind. I had never imagined the beach so beautiful (or imagined it at all, for that matter). As joy began to bubble up inside me, I noticed I was still alone. Where was the crowd of people I had seen walking in the mirror? Surely my beach couldn’t be complete without the strolling couples and families.
And then there they were, wandering along the coast, their legs splashing in the water, actual smiles on their faces, deep in conversation. Back home, I had always wanted to meet the people who were walking along the cold beach. I began to run to the couple– clumsily at first, but with more confidence as I continued. It felt odd to finally use my legs. As I drew nearer, I began to see them more clearly, and I realized with joy that they had been running towards me, too. I squinted, and stopped immediately. I saw myself and my little brother Joey, smiling and waving back to me. When they walked a little closer however, I realized with relief that it wasn’t me, but my mother.
I hadn’t recognized her at first. Her expression wasn’t drained and defeated from her jobs and kids. This version of my mother hadn’t suffered, hadn’t had to see her daughter grow up in a bed. Joey was different, too. The usual dirt on his face was absent and his eyes were warm and caring. I felt myself smile back and ran into their open arms.
I never made it that first time. I was pulled out of my daydream when I heard a knock on my door. I was going to get up to open it, but my body didn’t move. I realized with great disappointment that I was back in bed. I was keenly aware of how heavy my motionless body felt. The door swung open and my aged mother shuffled through. She was carrying a new golden rimmed mirror, gasping under its weight, her hair stuck together in places, and her whole body smelling of an amalgamation of cooking, sweat, and machine oil. She placed the mirror down where the old one used to be and turned to smile at me.
“Hope you weren’t too lonely, dear. I had to ask Uncle to get us a new one. Be happy now.”
I felt myself look away from the dark crack in the shadow and try to concentrate on the one leading to the door. I felt my heartbeat race, as if my body was commanding me to escape. I managed to mumble a thank you as the door closed behind her.
I glanced into my new mirror, this time reluctantly. The bland beach and colourless sky made me wish I was back on my beach, the one I had imagined, the one that seemed so real.
I unfocused my eyes so as to not get distracted by the reflection of the real world in the golden mirror, and made my choice.
Like two waves crashing into each other, my two realities became one.
As the door to the hallway slowly opened, I pushed against the bed and sat up. Quickly slipping out of bed, I ran out and closed the door behind me with a firm click. I heard the golden rimmed mirror fall and shatter onto the floor. I wasn’t coming back.
There was quite the quarrel in the house when Joey was found beside the broken golden rimmed mirror facing the window. His mother marched him off to his room to yell at him. When she came back to the small dusty bedroom to clean up the bits of glass, however, the bed was empty.
They searched for me all over town, but of course it was just a formality – no one really thought a young paralyzed girl could have run away. The police suggested a kidnapping, I imagine. But it didn’t matter to me. I was in a better place. I was in my mother’s arms, ruffling Joey’s hair, and watching the seagulls play as the warm air embraced us all.