The Mirror of Displacement

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sf_w2Perhaps centuries from now, medicine will be able to restore what was lost from injuries such as his. But now, I must turn to practices arcane.

Clara sighed as she watched the ink dry. She sat in the dim basement of the home she shared with her husband, who was working in his office upstairs. It was a chilly autumn day. Yet the basement was temperate. She dipped her quill into the well and continued.

I have built it according to the instruction I found. I have built it with my own hands, against warnings, it is true. But I am a desperate woman. I am a desperate wife.

I am afraid. I am afraid that it will not work. I am afraid that it will. For if it does, what will I tell him? How will I ask him to pass through the mirror? Will he think me deceitful for having kept it from him? Will he think me monstrous for having built it?

Clara frowned. She hardened herself against her own fears and doubts. She set down the quill and let the wasteful words sink into the paper. She was meant to be recording the facts and her speculations on progress and setbacks. This was no familial letter or private diary that she should be expressing such thoughts about herself and her husband.

***

Henry was a jolly and unstoppable man when she first married him. When it became clear that he would never walk again, his spirit did dim and darken for a while. Clara tried to cheer him, swallowing her own despair, grief, and guilt. In time, perhaps because it was his nature, his spirit healed as his legs never would. Henry became jolly and unstoppable once again.

Clara thought that she too would follow suit. But some sick feeling gnawed at her spirit and would not relent. It was her fault, what happened to her dear husband. She had taken something from him. She longed to restore it. But she had not the means.

She was still lost in the miasma of despair when she came upon the knowledge that led her to building the mirror. They traveled for the first time after Henry recovered. They traveled to the country. One day, Clara took a walk. She walked for many miles and came upon an old couple tending the garden of their tiny cottage. She fell to chatting with them and the next thing she knew, she was sitting at their table, with a cup of tea and a plate of buttered biscuits before her. She told them everything she could not tell her own mother and father, or even her sister with whom she had shared almost every secret since they were little, or even her own husband, whom she loved and adored.

The old couple urged her to consult a friend of theirs if she was ever in a position to travel to the city where he lived. Clara remembered nodding politely and taking the slip of paper that she was handed. So many people had given her advice and similar slips of paper with the names of doctors, soothsayers, and remedies that could never work. They meant well. She had even tried to follow some of the advice, but to no avail.

Henry and Clara were both refreshed by the holiday. But when they returned home, that gnawing in Clara’s heart returned as well. She found that slip of paper and found a way to follow where it led and beyond.

She found knowledge, and she learned. She found people who had even more knowledge, and she learned. She found many a path that might lead to the end she desired, but all of them required that Henry travel the path with her. He was key. It was only sensible that he would be. He was the one she sought to heal, not herself. She sought to heal him, as doctors healed, from outside. But the ways she found required that the injured heal himself, with some guidance.

At last, she came upon the solution she sought. But she had not the skill or knowledge to undertake the task. When she asked the help and guidance of those who would have the skill and knowledge, they all refused. They all warned her that some knowledge was not meant to be practiced, but only to be learned and passed on. Knowledge that was incomplete or unripe could not be used without the danger of harm, or at best, failure. All agreed that the knowledge concerning the practice of displacement was far from complete, and might never be.

***

Clara did not ignore the warnings, but neither did she let them stop her from her attempt. She tried to gather as much knowledge as she could. She did not tell anyone she was building the mirror, but she assumed that somehow, someone would find out, and would stop her if what she was doing was truly dangerous.

Year after year, she studied, and as she studied, she slowly gathered the materials to build the tangible structure, forging each brick herself. She brewed the needed tinctures. She collected the clay and the earth. She gathered the needed energies and focused them. She even gathered the tools she needed to dismantle the mirror, should any danger become apparent.

Then one day, she judged that the mirror was ready.

The mirror’s frame, a double-layer of tannish coppery brick, stood in the middle of the room. Its glassy surface was not made of glass but of a substance called plasmic crystal. It stood approximately six feet tall and three feet wide. The mirror was identical front to back, in appearance but not in nature. Though it was anchored to the ground and Clara knew its direction, she had carved a tiny glyph upon one brick to note the direction.

Clara had painstakingly cleaned the basement, to assure there were no insects, mice, or extraneous objects that might mistakenly fall into the mirror.

She began to test it. As she expected, there were failures.

***

Objects vanished into the mirror, never to return. Then objects passed through and did reemerge from the other side, the back of the mirror, but not as they should. In one trial, Clara sent through a broken gold watch that once belonged to her father. It came through in globs of melting and dripping metal.
She made adjustments to the mirror. Soon, she was sending objects through and they were returning intact and unchanged. So she began to send through damaged objects. Again, they returned, but unrestored. A cracked glass would fall on the pillow she had laid into a crate on the other side of the mirror, and that glass would still be cracked. A broken clock would still be broken.

At each failure, Clara stopped and recorded her progress. She consulted her books and notes. She searched for new knowledge. She always found something that she might be doing wrong, some adjustment she needed to make. The biggest one was the brick that she had marred with the direction glyph.

However, she found that she could only send objects through in one direction. She did not need the glyph, so she replaced the brick. Then she sent through a cracked glass, and she picked up the glass from the pillow after it reemerged. The glass had no cracks. Clara examined it closely, turning it around and around, narrowing her eyes to search for the tiniest of cracks, or any sign of where the original crack had been. But the glass was good as new.

***

That evening at dinner, Henry remarked how especially delicious the pork loin tasted, and how Clara must have put an extra dash of loving care in cooking it. Indeed, Clara had taken joy in the rest of her work that day because of the success of that morning.

“All that practice in your laboratory must be paying off,” Henry remarked.

Clara nearly choked upon a piece of potato. “How do you mean, dear?”

Henry only smirked playfully and raised his glass to her. He knew, of course, that Clara was tinkering with something in the basement. She realized that he thought she must be practicing chemistries in the basement and translating her skill to the kitchen. When they first married, they both agreed to allow each other some secrecy, so long as each person’s secrets were not criminal.

Her husband’s guesses were typically easy to deny. It was usually something morbid. He had joked once about her keeping the corpses of murdered lovers down there, or practicing taxidermy. Some of the tinctures had specific odors that Clara did not know about until they reached a certain state of maturity. They had no doubt contributed to such guesses.

***

Clara sent through more broken objects and all came through restored, better than restored. Soon it was time to send through living things. She began with potted flowers, then a sapling. All returned intact and were still alive months after she’d sent them through. Then she tried insects. She sent through crickets that all came hopping back out and a bird that flew out the other side. The sight made her laugh in triumph and joy. There appeared to be no change in the living things she sent through if those living things were uninjured. There was no change in color, size, scent, nothing she could think to measure.

At last, Clara decided it was time to send through living things that were injured or had once suffered injury. She started with the sapling. She scored its bark, held her breath, and sent it through. The sapling returned restored.

She let out her breath. She hesitated, feeling a moment of tenderness for the sapling she had tended for months, then she broke off a growing branch. She sent the sapling through.

It emerged restored. The branch she had broken off had returned.

Clara wanted to keep going. But she calmed herself, made her measurements, and kept her records. She had only noted one difference between the sapling she had sent through and the one that returned. The sapling that returned was slightly bigger.

***

The sapling survived and it grew. Clara would have killed for her husband, so she thought. But when it came time to test the mirror on injured animals, she went looking for ones that were already injured, so she would not have to do the deed herself. So she could instead do some forsaken creatures some good. She waited, watching the sapling, measuring it.

Then one day an opportunity presented itself when she came across a cricket in the kitchen that had its legs mangled, likely by a bird or cat. It had somehow managed to drag itself into the house. Clara peered at it and thought first of ending the poor creature’s misery, for it could not survive on its own with its legs mangled so. But then she gathered up the creature, took it to the basement, and tossed it into the mirror, feeling a lurch in the pit of her stomach. For this was a true test. She walked around to the back of the mirror and watched as the cricket landed on the pillow. She leaned over to see and the cricket sprung toward her, startling her. It landed on the ground and sprung away again, its legs restored, powerful again.

Clara chased after the cricket. She had done no measurements on the creature before sending it through, but she had to capture it and observe it nonetheless. She caught the cricket. Had it not been so small and fidgety, she would have kissed it. With trembling hands, she placed the cricket in a glass jar. Once it was safely contained, she dropped to her knees and wept.

***

Over the next month, Clara scoured some nearby ponds, gathering frogs with malformed or missing appendages. She sent them through the mirror and observed them. All emerged with their appendages restored to their expected state. She watched them hop about and observed no ill effect from their passage through the mirror.

There was only one difference. The crickets and frogs all came through slightly bigger than they had been before. Clara was not certain if this was because their bodies needed to be bigger for the sake of supporting the restored limbs, or if the mirror needed some adjustment.

She measured daily, and the animals kept getting slightly bigger, as if they lived in a more favorable climate perhaps. She might not have noticed at first, if she had not been measuring. But after a month, some of the frogs were looking rather fat, and she had to move them into larger cases. Most of the crickets were as long as her longest finger.

She consulted a rare text that she had managed to find in the city’s ever-growing library, written by a mystic in the East, who claimed to have knowledge of displacement in all its many forms. But there were no answers to be found. Clara knew by then that the slightest adjustment to the mirror, if done carelessly, might lead to dire consequences. The mirror may cease to work, or worse, it might begin to harm.

Henry might become larger then. She wondered how large. There were men in the world who towered over others. But such men grew up being bigger than their fellows. What would be said of a man who suddenly regained the use of his legs and started growing bigger? Would Clara be jailed for witchcraft, for casting spells upon her husband?

She made no changes to the mirror. She waited and she watched to see how large the crickets and frogs became. She measured the creatures every day for three months, expecting the crickets to begin dying off, but they did not. So she kept measuring them.

The animals’ growth seemed to slow then stop altogether. She held on to the hope that the same would hold true for Henry.

***

Clara thought about finding another person to try the mirror on. A vagabond perhaps who had a missing limb. A child who was at death’s door and had no hope of surviving. Even though she was certain that the mirror would work, that it would restore life and limb, she finally decided against it. It was not because another would have knowledge of the mirror. If she succeeded, she had every intention of sharing the mirror with all. So many could be saved and healed by it. But the mirror was still untested on human beings. Her husband would not want her risking the lives of others for his sake. The rig for lowering his wheelchair into the basement was ready. She had no further reason to wait.

The day has come. I must tell Henry what I have been doing in the basement. The mirror is far beyond what is known in common human knowledge today. But ages ago many of the machines and tools we now wield without a second thought would have seemed as magic to our ancestors. They might have bowed in reverence, or cowered in fear. I would that Henry feels hope and not horror when he sees what I have made.

***

“It’s called a mirror of displacement.”

Henry rolled his chair toward the mirror. “How long have you been working on this, Clara?”

Clara sighed. She did not want to admit how long.

Henry gave a nervous laugh. “There was a time or two when I did fear you had lovers down here.”

Clara frowned, but Henry quickly turned the conversation back to her true secret.

“How does it work?”

She stepped toward the mirror’s threshold. “When someone, something, or some creature passes through, the mirror ‘displaces’ every bit of that person, thing, or creature. It breaks apart and reassembles, and it is in this reassembling that damage is repaired and injury is healed.”

“This sounds like serious business, Clara.”

Henry only used her given name when he was feeling grim and disapproving. She assured him that she understood quite well how serious the business was. She understood that it was dangerous and that she had tapped into powers and forces that she did not fully comprehend.

She showed him her notebook, filled not only with her observations, but with her fears of his reaction to what she had built. She showed him the crickets and the frogs she had still kept in captivity to study them for a while. She would find another injured animal and demonstrate the mirror’s workings to him. But Henry told her not to bother. He rolled his chair around the mirror, studying it.

She did not know if he believed her or thought her mad. Perhaps he believed her and thought her mad. She readied herself to entreat him, for she thought that he was going to refuse to try the mirror, that he would ask her to dismantle it and find some other hobby.

When he looked at her at last, she saw the turmoil in his eyes. He sighed and nodded.

“Send me through.”

***

Clara had done trials where she sent objects through simultaneously, or some combination of object and living creature, and every object and creature was restored correctly. Still, she wanted to take no chances. After he agreed to letting her send him through the mirror, she gave Henry a sleeping draught and stripped him of every bit of clothing.

Clara had seen the hesitation that lingered in his eyes. She had almost decided to wait for him to wake, to ask him again. But part of her feared that he would change his mind, that she had done all she had done for nothing, that he would not so easily grasp on to hope after having let it go so many years ago. That fearful part of her won out.

She rolled his wheelchair to the brink of the mirror. She slung his arm over her shoulder and lifted him up. She could not support his whole weight for long, only long enough to sling his body into the mirror.

Clara had placed the crate at the back of the mirror with a pile of cushions and pillows. Henry fell onto the soft pile. He was quite awake and with quite the tossing about of pillows, he righted himself and rose.

He rose on his legs and his feet.

Clara, eyes wide and disbelieving despite all her successes thus far, gaped at her husband.

Henry glanced around and spotted her. He looked down at his naked form and glanced up again at his wife.

“My darling, what have we been up to?”

***

Clara leapt toward him. He barely caught her before she could knock him over. She wrapped her arms around his neck and showered his face and hair with kisses. Henry laughed and asked her where in the dickens they were.

Recovering herself, Clara fetched him a robe and asked him if he felt all right. She had planned to make her measurements and observations, but all of that was forgotten as she pulled him up the basement stairs. The chair that she had so awkwardly lowered into the basement was likewise forgotten.

It was morning, and neither had eaten breakfast, thinking it best that Henry remain fasting before traveling through the mirror.

He seemed appropriately disoriented by the house. She expected he might be dizzy, confused, perhaps even a bit amnesiac. But he had given her great hope when he recognized her and began jesting right away. He didn’t seem at all surprised by his ability to walk. He kept asking whose house they were in.

Clara assured him that she would explain once she made them a proper breakfast. He claimed to be full, having just eaten.

Clara laughed and asked him what he had eaten. He described a dinner meal, but not the dinner they had eaten the night before.

“And who fed you such a feast?” she asked.

“You know full well who. I must have had too much to drink if I can’t remember. I swear it wasn’t too late when we left. How could it be morning and I still be full?”

As Clara listened, Henry asked what time it was and he swore they were meant to have breakfast with his mother and father that morning. He began to speak of things and ask Clara questions about events that were past, long past. Five years past.

Clara stopped what she was doing and sat at the kitchen table to observe her husband. His face looked different, just a tad smoother and slimmer than she remembered. His frame was slimmer too. She expected him to be bigger, imperceptibly so to her eyes, but not to her rulers and tape measures. His hair was darker too and softer. But most of all, his eyes were bright and clear. Through it shone a spirit that had not yet known great pain. A spirit that had not yet been broken and reforged.

She began to ask him questions about the past five years, to which he should have known the answers, but he was puzzled by her questions. She asked him how she looked to him and he hesitated before saying she looked somewhat tired. She knew he was being kind. She felt worn. She was still young, but the burden of guilt and grief that she had carried all those years had taken its toll on her. She was thinner, her hair paler, and she likely looked much older than she was.

She asked Henry if he remembered going through the mirror. He humored her in all her inquiries, though he kept reminding her of the breakfast they must not be late for.

Clara gathered her scattered thoughts. She realized what must have happened, and what must have been happening all along, though she never knew it because plants and animals cannot speak. The mirror was not breaking apart and reassembling. It was instead turning back time. That was the displacement. It was displacing all objects to a time before they were damaged, and all creatures and people to a time before they were injured.

But that did not make sense to Clara. People and animals suffered many injuries throughout their lives. How had the mirror decided to take Henry back to the moment before he lost his legs? Why had it not taken him back to his childhood, when he received the terrible gash across his left cheek? Perhaps it was because that gash had not crippled him.

Still, Clara was troubled that she had missed such a profound detail in the mirror’s function. She would look into it, but done was done. Henry was walking again, but as far as he knew, it was five years ago. He and Clara had only been married for half a year. He asked again whose house they were staying in, thinking that he had drunk too much to travel far, and that they were staying with one of Clara’s relatives.

***

Clara feared he would not believe her. So she retrieved a cup from the pantry. She asked him to return with her to the basement. She demonstrated for him first with the cup. She broke off the handle and sent it through the mirror. The cup reemerged intact. Henry thought it a trick at first. But she told him that he had just passed through it. He remembered falling on the pillows if nothing else from the past day.

Clara was in such earnest that he set aside all jests and listened. He listened as she told him the story of how they were leaving her grandmother’s house after that feast he spoke of, and how they were happily walking down the road, because Clara wanted to take a walk with her husband alone after being surrounded by all their family for days. Henry had wanted to stay inside and have another serving of the baked pear. A runaway carriage caught them by surprise. It seemed to appear out of nowhere. Henry had pushed Clara aside and been trampled.

He lived, to the relief of all who loved him. But he never walked again. After he recovered, they moved into that house, inside the city, close to family and to doctors. Five years passed. Henry recovered and returned to his work and to his life. In those same five years, Clara sought to restore what he lost.

“You would not play a jest so cruel,” Henry said, “or else you’re not the woman I married. But I must see for myself.”

Henry accepted that if he went out into the world that he would have to sit in the wheelchair. Clara took him out for the day. By the time they returned home, Henry believed. The twinkle that he had in his eye when he found himself alone and naked with his new wife had faded, sobered by all that came after. Exhausted as they were, Henry and Clara collapsed on their couch and slept in each other’s arms all the day and the night.

***

The next morning, they woke rested and happy. They spoke of how they would live. Clara would fill the five-year gap in his memory. They spoke of which friends they might be able to confide in so that friend could fill whatever gaps Clara could not. They spoke of how they might present the restoration of Henry’s legs. They could leave for holiday, claim to have found a doctor with an experimental treatment, and return with Henry walking. But that would lead others to ask them about that doctor. Clara realized that she had not truly thought matters through. She had always thought that she would be able to reveal the mirror, and the mirror would explain how Henry was healed.

They spoke of the mirror and how it still had the potential to help and heal many. Now that they knew that the mirror’s true working was to displace a person through time, they could use it for immediate injuries, but they would have to be careful. For if a man who had become crippled in childhood wished to be healed, he would come through the mirror as a boy. Some might pay that price, wanting not just to be healed but to relive their lives.

“Perhaps going away for a while and returning with a wild story of unspeakable things I tried to restore my legs is the best course of action after all,” Henry finally said as evening fell and they set the table for dinner.

“But why would we risk it now of all times?” Clara asked. “People will ask.”

“Children. We took the risk so we could have children.”

After another day spent trying to sort out what they had done, should do, and would do, Clara and Henry again took comfort in each, fulfilling first their passion for each other, then falling asleep in each other’s arms once more.

***

A violent crash woke them, shifting the bed and making the walls and windows shudder. Henry warned Clara to stay in the bedroom and lock the doors, but she insisted on going with him, unwilling to let him risk his life for her yet again. They both crept downstairs, Clara wielding a heavy statue from their bedside table, and Henry wielding nothing but his fists.

They searched the first floor of the house and found nothing. Then came another crash. In horror, Clara realized that the sound had come from the basement. When she feared there was a burglar, she had hoped her neighbors would wake. But now she hoped they did not.

Clara followed behind Henry as they descended the stairs. He was holding a lantern. She almost knocked him over when he suddenly stopped short near the foot of the stairs.

Clara clapped a hand to her mouth.

Lying near the foot of the stairs on its back was a dead cricket. It must have been six feet long.

There was glass on the stone floor. The cricket must have burst out of its own case and it had knocked over several others. There were a few other dead crickets on the floor, of natural size. And a dead frog. The fall had killed the frog. Most of the frogs were still in their cases and they were croaking, though the crickets, if any were left alive, were silent.

Henry took a few careful steps forward. Clara followed and reached for the gas lantern that was hung at the foot of the stairs. She turned up the lamp and half the room became visible, the other half still in darkness. The large tarp that she placed over the mirror when it was not in use was undisturbed.

She heard a scraping and clutched her Henry’s shoulder. She pulled him back as the creature emerged into the lit side of the room. It was another cricket, this one the size of a puppy. It launched itself toward them, but failed to aim itself properly and knocked into the near wall. As they watched, the creature grew larger. They saw it, and they heard it. They heard the growing. It sounded like crunching and snapping, gurgling and murmuring. Clara watched the poor creature’s insectoid twitching. Soon, it stopped moving and thudded to the ground beside the other cricket.

Clara pulled Henry back onto the stairs just as an antenna pierced the darkness. Based on the size of the antenna, the cricket it belonged to must have been twice as big—at least—as the ones that lay dead before them. They backed up the stairs just as the creature rushed toward them. It crashed into the wooden stairs and collapsed them. The lift for Henry’s chair was still at the top of the landing. Clara clung to it. She and Henry helped each other up to the first floor.

***

They shut the door to the basement and caught their breath.

“The frogs,” Clara said. If any lived, she wondered if they too would begin to grow.

Why and how, she did not know. A worm of fear began to squirm in her belly and she turned her gaze slowly toward her husband. He raised his gaze slowly to meet hers.

They did not speak, but each knew the other’s thoughts.

***

That morning, after all sounds from the basement ceased, Clara left Henry sleeping in their bed, a deep and deathlike sleep. She used his wheelchair lift to lower herself into the basement.

The entire basement was littered with shards of glass, splinters of wood, books, scrolls, and papers strewn everywhere. Everything seemed cracked, torn, or broken. Giant dead crickets lay on their backs or sides, oozing fluids that emitted no odor. The crickets had died from their growing or from being knocked to the ground and crushed. The frogs likewise where all dead. None had grown to monstrous size. They had been crushed or had fallen.

In the midst of it all stood the mirror.

It was still covered by the heavy tarp. Clara pulled the tarp down. She would need it to gather all the broken and dead things. She began the gruesome task of cleaning up her basement laboratory.

***

Perhaps it was because he was larger, more complex, than the animals. Henry began to grow faster. He began to grow that very day. Spasms seized his muscles. His bones stretched and jutted from his skin. His nails and hair grew so fast, he had to cut them several times a day. Then Clara had to cut them, for in only three days, his body became so seized that he could not move.

“I had not considered that there might be pain,” Henry said, lying in bed. “In the growing.” He laughed and winced. “I was a fool to forget. There is always pain in growing.”

His body was frozen, as if all his muscles were clenched, all his tendons stretched taut. He was eight feet tall and near as broad as two broad-chested men. An unrelenting heat pulsed from his body. His face was red always.

Clara kept her tears to herself. She did not deserve to weep before him. She squeezed cool water from a towel and placed it atop his forehead.

“Do you suppose this is how giants came to be?” he asked. “Some of them at least?”

By some indomitable strength of his spirit, he had staved off delirium, though his body was in fever and turmoil. Every time he closed his eyes, Clara feared it was for the last time. She watched the gentle rise and fall of his chest and leaned back in her chair. She had found her journal of observations in the basement. She had found ink and pen. She dipped pen into ink now.

She looked upon the memory of herself building the mirror. She could not fathom the arrogance and folly she had succumbed to, the willful blindness to all warnings. To be so reckless with the life of one she held so dear…

You had become jolly again. I was the one who was miserable. I was the one who needed healing. Clara shook her head as she wrote the words. You were conflicted about going through. I saw that. I thought you were afraid of it, but there was no fear in your eyes, love. I know what it was. You did it for me. You thought I wanted or needed a husband who could walk. Now I’ve killed you.

There was a time to reject fate and a time to adapt to it. She had failed to judge what time it was for her and her husband. Now she would care for him until he died. Then she would answer for her crime.

“I know what to do, my love,” Clara said. She lay a gentle kiss upon his lips. She lifted up the knife that lay upon the bedside.

***

The basement was clean and clear. When Clara was not tending to her husband, she had cleared it and cleaned it of all death and destruction. Only the mirror stood there now.

The knife she held was made of seven. Seven metals made the blade. Seven woods made the handle. She had acquired it long ago, before she even began building the mirror. For she had not ignored all the warnings. Before building it, she had learned how she might dismantle it.

It would take many days. Henry would be dead before she finished. She raised the knife. The mirror’s plasmic surface glinted in the light reflected from the knife.

Suddenly, a clear notion rose above the clamor in Clara’s harried mind. A notion about displacement.

***

Henry was nine feet tall. He was almost too big to fit through the door. She had feared that she would kill him in moving him, but he still breathed. She needed many more ropes and pulleys to lower him to the basement than she had when she lowered his chair only days past.

The basement was once again replete with pillows and this time also with mattresses. They would likely both die there. They should at least be comfortable. Though she was unworthy, she would at least assure that her husband did not die alone.

But before she did, she had one more attempt to make. She stripped both herself and Henry of all clothing and ornament. She wept, despairing because she could not drag his now giant body into the mirror with her strength alone. She wiped away her tears and thought of how she might do it.

She lay his head against her chest. She tied a strap under his arms and around her hips. With the strength of her hips, she could just lift him high enough. They would pass over the mirror’s threshold. She hoped that one little strip of cloth would not throw off the mirror’s workings.  Clara began to drag herself and Henry backward through the mirror. As she did, she prayed and begged that she could take on his malady. That his condition could be displaced, and placed into her.

She gasped as she felt the cold shock of the mirror’s surface. She felt its resistance, like a cold gelatin, until her skin pierced its surface and then it embraced her and pulled her. She kept dragging herself and her husband through. First her shoulders, then her head. She closed her eyes. She did not know if she would emerge having gone mad if she was awake. She remembered nothing but blackness and softness. There was no sound, smell, or feeling.

Suddenly, she felt her back pressing against something warm. She pushed and she fell back into a pile of pillows and a mattress, into her basement.

Gasping, she dragged herself and her husband, who was still tied to her, out from the mirror’s back side. She rested on the pillows for a moment, then sat up and looked at Henry.

He looked the same. But he was still breathing. Clara was drained of all life and spirit, and yet with the remnant of that strange energy that hopelessness permits, she rose. She covered Henry and she dressed herself.

She began the task of dismantling the mirror.

She did not count the days. She did not measure the time. She did not write or think.

When she was done, the mirror was gone. Only a pile of bricks and slabs of crystal remained.

Clara went to lay beside her husband.

*****

Deep was the sleep from which she struggled to wake. She was still so tired. Clara opened her eyes and turned her head. She found herself in her own bed. Shafts of warm sunlight pierced through gaps in the heavy curtains, brightening the chamber enough for her to see quite clearly. She was dressed in her bedclothes. Had she not been still so tired, she would have felt wonderful. For the air was chill, but it was warm and soft in the bed.

She caught sight of the wheelchair next to her side of the bed and frowned. She rose up on her elbows and frowned again, for she could not move her legs. She whipped aside the bedsheets and pulled the wheelchair closer. It was as if she had forgotten how to get into it. She shook her head, trying to shake off the murk and haze of sleep. She shifted herself in her bed and slid into the chair just as Henry walked into the door.

“What are you doing?” he asked striding toward her. He leaned down and kissed her forehead. He was already dressed in a fine blue suit. He smelled of soap, his face clean- shaven and smiling. “You should still be sleeping. You’re not quite recovered yet.”

Clara blinked slowly and remembered. She remembered why her arms were so sore. She had raced her chair in a contest. She had baked a dozen pies. It had been a tumultuous few weeks of holiday.

“I’ll take Junior out,” Henry said. “So you can have some peace and quiet.”

Speak of the devil, Clara thought, just as he appeared. Tousle-haired, rosy-cheeked, and smiling, Henry Junior jumped onto the bed. He too was still in his bedclothes.

“Mornin,’ Mum.”

Henry—Senior—nudged his son off the bed. “Come now, Cricket. Hop to.”

Junior sprung off the bed and dashed through the door. They heard him scrambling downstairs.

“Ah!” Clara exclaimed.

Henry raised a brow, but she waved him off, and he followed his son down the stairs.

Something had tickled her memory and tugged at her gut at the same time. She sighed heavily. Perhaps she would think on it later. She was still so tired, so drained. It was not the work she had done in the basement with Junior, collecting and cataloging leaves, insects, and frogs for their local naturalist society that had tired her so. It was not the baking of pies or the racing of wheeled chairs. It was nothing she had done in her waking hours. It was those dreams she’d had the last night, such vivid and wrenching dreams. She had dreamt she could walk again. She would not tell Henry. After all those years, he still sometimes felt guilty for not reaching her in time.

Clara rolled her chair to her vanity and peered at her reflection in the mirror. Her hair was a mess. The skin beneath her eyes was sunken. She was indeed tired. But when she met her own gaze, she saw that her eyes at least were bright and clear. Her spirit was awake. But if her body needed to doze, she would do so downstairs to the sound of her husband and son making whatever mischief they had planned for the day.

Clara smiled and turned away from the mirror.

 

Copyright © 2016. Story by Nila L. Patel. Artwork: “Displacement” by Sanjay Patel.

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