Taylor loved going into the antique stores around town; he never bought anything, because he was frugal. There was never anything he really needed, and what seemed like something he could use always cost more than he was willing to spend. There was a discount store not far from his place; that was where he purchased his needs, from toiletries to cheap furnishings.
He was a young aspiring artist, with his mother being his biggest supporter. He had to tend a parking lot downtown, just so he could pay the rent on his little studio. And maybe the reason he liked looking at the antiques was that there was a certain je ne sais quoi about some pieces that flared his imagination.
He studied some old vases, and then, he moved on until he noticed some figurines from the Orient. Intricate work, he thought; and he tried to imagine the artisan who might have made them. What had he or she been trying to express? Or had it been nothing more than a commission … something desired by one of means … or something ordered by one of authority? But the love of the craft was there, regardless.
He got an idea for a sketch then and decided to go home and start working on it before the spark faded. He thought he saw somebody moving along the aisle, and he turned his head casually, in friendly manner, as was his way; he always made eye contact with people and said hi or at least smiled. And he almost laughed out loud when he realized it was just his own reflection in a mirror.
He stopped and began to gather in the details of it, not that there were that many. It was just a mirror, about 18 inches wide and maybe 3 feet long. Hanging at an exaggerated angle, the way it was, one could see one’s entire person, from head to toe. And the frame was nothing more than lumber, though he couldn’t tell what kind, without any noticeable grain, unadorned, uncarved, and unpainted. Something about it held his interest, though, and he couldn’t figure out what it was.
“Please, buy it,” one of the staff was standing a few feet away. “We’ve had that thing in here since before I started working; it’s becoming dead weight. We’ve lowered the price I don’t know how many times.”
He turned and smiled at her, “I’ve never seen it before … and I come in here all the time. You probably remember me.”
She was nodding at the same time as she answered, “See what I mean? Nobody sees it … or maybe they pretend not to. Anyway, we’ve got it down to a couple of bucks. I’d hate to go any lower; it ‘is’ pretty old.”
“Uh, how old?”
She smiled, walked up to the mirror, and carefully took it down; then, she turned it over and showed him the back of it. There was a stiff parchment-like material covering it, tacked all around, but he could see that a corner of it had been loosened. She continued to hold it, but she motioned for him to take a look. An inscription of some sort had been burned into the wood, and it looked as if someone had tried to sand it off; but he could still see the words ‘Saint-Gobain’ and ’17’. The ’17’ was very faded, and the space following it had been sanded in deep; apparently, it had been a date of the 1700’s.
“Wow,” he uttered in a long breath. “You’re only asking two bucks?”
She was looking him straight in the eyes, a Mona Lisa smile on her face. “Well, like I said, nobody seems to want it.” She turned then and proceeded to hang it back up.
“I’ll take it.”
And she turned back to him, still smiling, and then she walked, with him following, over to the counter, where the old, antique cash register seemed to glint at them. “I’ll wrap this up for you,” she said. “The sun isn’t good on a mirror’s surface … or so I’ve heard.”
Taylor nodded as he dug the two dollars out of his jeans’ pocket, but he was wondering to himself, ‘What the hell am I doing? I don’t need a mirror.’
His purchase proved to be quite a handful on the way home; it was heavier than he had expected, and he couldn’t seem to find a good way to hold it. Thankfully, it was just a six-block walk.
His apartment was small … and cluttered. He set the mirror down and looked around. The only other mirror he had was the one on the cabinet in the bathroom, and he grinned as he realized that he didn’t use it much.
On the entry door was a hook, which he used for his jacket mostly. This was a good place for a mirror, he thought … where one could make final adjustments before stepping out. And he chuckled, yeah, that’s me … well, maybe having a mirror there would change all that. And he proceeded to look for the Phillips-head screwdriver, wherever he had left it the last time.
While still looking for the screwdriver, 10 or 15 minutes later, he remembered the idea he’d had about a sketch; and he turned his attention to that … forgetting about the mirror for at least an hour. While searching for a fresh pencil, he found the screwdriver; he placed it next to the mirror on the floor, and went back to the sketch.
It wasn’t until later that night, after he had scattered several preliminaries of the sketch around the floor and had finally given in to his hunger, heating up some leftover soup and spooning it down while walking around looking at the sketches, that he finally looked over and decided to tackle the mirror mounting project.
Hanging it from a wire didn’t seem like a good idea, considering that it would be on a door that would be moving on a regular basis. He had decided to use at least four screws, securing a block at the top to give it the angle it needed. He knew from experience that jobs like this never went as planned, and he was glad to have another day off tomorrow. He found the screws he would need and a wood block that would serve the purpose, and he got to work.
As luck would have it, he was able to put in the screws at the top of the door, where it was thicker, and then at the thick part in the middle of the door … something he hadn’t considered at first; and the job went smoothly, without a hitch. He stood back and admired his work.
His apartment was laid out so that, from his door, he had a view across the living room/studio space into the kitchenette and into the bathroom; and standing there, looking at the mirror, he had that same perspective in the reflection. But the important thing was that he could now stand there and check his hair and his shoes before he stepped out into the world … and he laughed out loud. Maybe his mom would appreciate it the next time she brought over some soup.
Taylor passed out on the couch, from sheer fatigue, as he often did; and the light pouring in the next day finally roused him. The first thing he saw, as he sat up drowsily, was the array of sketches scattered on the floor. Then he looked over and saw the mirror, and he smiled to himself.
He showered hastily, thinking of taking a walk before anything else; this was customary when he didn’t have to go to work. As he approached the door, he looked into the mirror … and then, he turned around and decided to go comb his hair. It took him awhile to find a comb.
And now, as he came before the door again, and checked out his new image, he suddenly felt his hackles rise … he had just seen somebody peeking at him from the kitchenette! He turned on his heel immediately. “Who’s in there!? Come on out now!”
That space behind the wall was just enough to hide behind if one stood up straight. In the closet, next to where he was standing, there was a baseball bat; he slid the door open, just enough to reach in and get it, without taking his eyes off the kitchenette entry. And then he walked over as quietly as he could, being careful not to step on his sketches. When he was 3 or 4 feet from the door, he called out again, this time with a little more composure, “Come on out, man, I know you’re in there.”
He was thinking he should be able to hear their breathing from here; but it was quiet, too quiet. Raising the bat and poised to strike, he moved quickly to the opposite side of the door, which would give him sight of the space behind the wall. There was no one there!
He let out a sigh of relief and lowered the bat, but this did not solve the puzzle of what he was sure he had seen. He walked back and put the bat away. And when he looked at the mirror again, there she was! He turned around quickly, but she wasn’t in the kitchenette … she was in the mirror!
He looked at her directly now. She was a young woman, about his age and rather pretty; but she looked skinny, as if ill fed, and she was wearing nothing more than what he thought was a slip. “What’s going on?” he said. “Who are you? What are you?”
She looked really sad, and she spoke meekly, as if she was afraid of his reaction, “Pardonnez-moi, jeune homme. Mon nom est Michelle … je m’appelle Michelle.” She looked down, as if she was embarrassed, “Je suis un fantôme.” She looked up with a pained looked on her face
Taylor shook his head. “That sounds like French … I flunked French.” He looked at her and shook his head again, “I’m sorry … uh, Michelle … I just don’t understand …”
And then, she put her hand out, as if she was touching the glass from the other side, “Toucher ma main … s’il vous plait.”
“Okay … I remember s’il vous plait. So … you want me to touch your hand?” And he raised his hand in similar manner. She nodded.
He stretched his hand over to hers, ever so apprehensively. And, as soon as their fingertips touched, he felt a tremendous jolt of energy surge through his hand, his arm, and his neck; and it gently entered his brain. And now he knew.
Michelle was a ghost, trapped in the mirror. She had once been enslaved by the man who had made the mirror, abused, and raped; she tried to escape so many times that he beat her repeatedly, until he ended up killing her. And as a final claim and defilement of her, he used the skin from her back to line the back of the frame. This remnant of her body had somehow trapped her soul in the mirror.
Taylor was sick to his stomach, but he was more moved by her situation. He wanted to help her. She smiled and nodded. She was conveying to him that he had a good heart, a very big heart, and that was why she had shown herself to him.
“But what can I do?” he thought.
She answered silently and solemnly, “You must have the mirror blessed by a priest, and then, you must destroy it thoroughly … take it to a crematorium or a foundry, and have them burn it into ash.”
He pulled his hand away slowly and thought about what she was asking. He had the rest of the day in which to get it done, but he was going to need some transportation … and probably some money, which he didn’t have. His mother might be able to help, but she was a practical woman. How in the world could he ever explain this to her?
Well, he had to try. First thing to do would be to call her. He looked up at Michelle, with the intention of reassuring her; but she was motioning him over and holding her hand out again. This time, she conveyed to him that before doing anything else, he should look behind the skin on the back of the frame.
Taylor thought this would be a distasteful thing to do; he was repulsed by the idea of handling her skin. But she was looking right at him, assuring him, in her own way, that it would be alright … that it was what she wanted.
Some minutes later, he had the mirror face down on the floor; he had located the flathead screwdriver and was proceeding to pry up the tacks. He was almost in tears, thinking that someone had been heartless enough to have done this. He was painstakingly careful; he did not want to mishandle her skin or just rip it up thoughtlessly. Finally, he had removed all the tacks on three sides; he lifted the skin and folded it over the still attached side. There was some other fabric laid over the back of the mirror; it had become adhered in places, but he lifted it carefully … and he could not believe his eyes.
Adhered to the back of the mirror, on still another layer of fabric, arranged in a 10 by 10 square pattern, were 100 gold coins, in mint condition, lettered in French and all dated 1725. After a long moment of chaotic emotions and muddled thought processing, he stood the mirror up and leaned it against the wall.
There was Michelle, beaming at him. “Il est tout pour vous,” she said, “tout pour vous.”
Taylor called his mother; he had to convince her to clear her day and come over. When she arrived, she looked at him with surprise and exclaimed, “Taylor! Did you comb your hair!?”
He had a most difficult time trying to explain everything, without sounding like a babbling fool. But then, he introduced her to Michelle; and then, he showed her the coins.
After the reality sank in, she took over the proceedings; she could tell her son was deeply distraught. They found a priest, who looked at them quizzically but performed a sensitive blessing, accepting a small tithing. On the way to a foundry listed in the phonebook, he said goodbye to Michelle; and they both wished her a long-deserved peace. The foreman at the foundry looked at them equally puzzled, but he lowered the mirror into a boiling cauldron, for a hundred dollar bill, which mom offered with a respectable poker face.
On the way home, she was talking on and on about setting up a trust fund, Taylor taking up some more classes, and cautioning him not to squander or run off at the mouth. “People mustn’t know, Taylor; you have to be careful.” She glanced at him and saw him hanging his head, looking very withdrawn and sad. “What is it, honey?”
“She was really beautiful … wasn’t she?”
“Oh, baby … did you fall in love with her?” She glanced over again, and she knew. Her son was suffering from a broken heart; she had always known he was a hopeless romantic. He was an artist.
A moment of silence went by. “I wonder if you could paint her.” She glanced over.
Taylor lifted his head, and a spark came into his eyes. “You bet I can! That’s exactly what I’m going to do. She’s going to be my masterpiece! Thanks, mom … thanks for everything!”
She smiled and whispered to herself, “That’s my boy.”
It was perhaps 4 months later. Taylor had been working fiendishly on his portrait of Michelle. He was looking pretty pale for lack of sunshine. His mother had finally convinced him to go outside and start getting back into his normal routines.
He walked into that same antique store, and at first, he browsed casually; but he was working his way to that spot … where he had found the mirror. He stood there and stared at the still empty space. And then, realizing he was just being foolish, he turned to leave … and he froze in place, his mouth agape. There was Michelle, standing and looking at him!
She smiled with her whole face, radiant, soft, and beautiful! “Can I help you find something?”
Taylor looked around, not sure why. Was this a dream? Or an apparition? “Uh, who are you? I mean … I’ve never seen you in here before … I … uh …”
She giggled. “I’m Mikki; I just started working here last Monday.”
“Mikki.” It was all he could say; he was suddenly very self-conscious, remembering that he hadn’t combed his hair.