The Girl in the Mirror

‘My mother was a witch.’

He laughed loudly. Throwing his head back to let his mirth spill into the night air. She looked piqued at his reaction to her confession.

‘I mean it. She really was!’

‘Okay, sure. What, she was so mean to you?’

‘God, no. Never mean to us at all. She was an enchantress.’ 

She watched his eyes search her face for the lie. There was no lie, however. She bit her lip.

‘Go on,’ he prodded, finally.

She had the night sky in her eyes.’

He rolled his.

When she spoke, her voice was like the angels. So gentle, so quiet. A calming effect in the stormiest of seas. When my little sister bawled my mother sang to her. She swayed about the room, swishing her skirts and singing until my sister, sprawled on the floor, stopped her fit and stared in wonder.’

He shrugged, ‘She loved her mother.’

It was more than that.’

The silence hung between them like a heavy drape. The air was still, the stars above twinkling brightly. The city spread beneath them, their feet resting solidly on the edges of the plateau. He was staring out at the lights, she couldn’t read the expression on his face.

‘Well?’

Well?’

‘More than what?’

Oh. She was ethereal. Every mundane experience we had was something magical when she became involved. The table was a plateau. The fox was a wolf. The bread was cake dripping with honey. The blossoms were homes for the fairies and the daises were their purple tinged dresses.’

He turned to look at her then. His blue eyes looked black in the darkness. His face was thrown into shadow. She saw his outline against the backdrop of lights, which spilled into the inky blackness of the sky above, so that the stars over the city vanished, even though the ones above them were so brilliant.

‘You really loved your mother.’

His voice was soft. Sad.

I loved her, yes. But even if I hadn’t, even if I hadn’t’

‘How did she die?’

She looked down at the city again. She could hear it, all the way from here. The sound of  a rising highway. The sound of hundreds of machines. A loud, yet soft humming. A thrumming in the earth. The roots of concrete and people. She knew this was not the natural noise the earth made, and it made her feel part of something greater, somehow. As though she wasn’t entirely alone.

She didn’t.’

‘What?’

She didn’t die. She just tripped back through the mirror from where she came’

‘Emily, come on..’

‘My father always said that she stepped out of the mirror one day. He called her the Girl in the Mirror, when we were children, and we would laugh at him, calling him silly. He would tug at her long black tresses sometimes, and his eyes would look at her sadly. Once, when I was ten years old, he held her in his arms and whispered, ‘thank you for giving me your four little gifts’ – he meant us, of course. When she went back in, he told us it was her time to go back, and that she had left us four for him to always remember her by.’

‘Emily..’

She did not look at him. Her large violet eyes reflecting the thousands of lights spread before her.

There’s a girl in my mirror. I know she is not me. Sometimes when I blink, she doesn’t. Her smile is a little more sly than mine.’

‘I think this is all your imagination.’

And once I caught her making faces at my little sister.’

‘A coping mechanism, to cope with the pain of losing your mother..’

We are enemies now.’

‘Emily..’

I’ve always wondered who my mother’s Other Woman was. And if she looks like her at all. And if she knows her Mirror Woman came out and lived with us for a while.’

He didn’t say anything. Her face had a faraway quality to it. He realised that she wasn’t even there, with him, at that moment. He didn’t know if she’d heard anything he had said. He began to wish he hadn’t said it at all.

A low breeze wafted suddenly through the trees behind them, tugging gently at her long, ethereal black tresses, that cascaded all the way down her back. He heard it, swishing in the leaves and rumbling in the sky, he saw her dress move with it, but he didn’t feel it.

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Swarm

She was eloquently gut wrenching.

It couldn’t be said any other way. Languidly staring out of the dust-encrusted windows, the hazy afternoon sunshine filtering in through cracks on the caked grime. The dust mites did their peaceful thing, swirling in the slants of the lights, deceiving you into sobriety while the world burned outside.

There was nothing to look at, really. Everything was covered with white drapes, to protect the furniture from the same dusty decline that the floorboards had succumbed to. Termites, most likely.

She tiptoed cautiously around the holes, her boots making a suspicious crunching sound on the floor, amid, I then saw, mounds of sand, and small curled dead insect bodies.

‘I used to live here.’ I murmured.

She didn’t say anything. I stared at the ceiling; years of cobwebs interlacing each other, like an old, grey, time-worn wedding gown. The wooden beams arched upwards, meeting in a concave point high above our heads. When she stopped walking, the silence hissed loudly, pressing in on us, trapped and seething beneath the heavy roof.

‘Dina?’ she began, tentatively.

‘Hmm?’

‘I’m sorry I lied.’

‘You told me you had stage four brain cancer.’ I said, shortly. The sign outside creaked ominously, breaking the hissing silence my words had left behind them.

She shrugged. Her eyes were unreadable. She would do it again, and again, and again. Who would her next naive, fully supporting victim be?

Her hands brushed gently over one of the white sheets covering something sharp. She made as though to pull it off.

‘No.’

She stopped, looking expectantly at me. When I didn’t say anything else, she pulled it off anyway. Her mouth was set and firm, and I watched with a smirk that etched itself on my face against my will as a swarm of wasps surged out from under the sheet and swarmed towards her, as the sheet drifted to the ground amid a cloud of dust and stray wasps. Her shriek was lost in the loud, swirling drone.

I backed away slowly, feeling the wall behind me until I was at the entrance, my feet scraping on the piles of dust beneath me. A force field developed around the obstacle before me. I was alarmed, yet a little excited. I wanted to watch, I wanted to help, but I also wanted to desperately to run away as fast as I could.

So I did. I shut my eyes and turned away, opening them to the dim, cobwebby hallway. I wrenched the front door open, the wood fat and swollen with rot, and it crumbled against the wall behind me as I raced out and through the empty street, my feet flying past the brown rubble and ash covered doorways.

The sound was deafening. The image of her vanishing beneath the swarm clung to my brain and tugged at the edges of my heart, or my gut. I don’t know. I didn’t look back. I kept going.

Child’s Play

The small boys were in the field. Their naked backs glistening in the sunlight, panting. The sun was climbing in the sky, the haze of noon accentuated here and there by the buzz of insects and the mournful calls of tired birdsong. Still, they worked, rivulets pouring down their backs, scrabbling hungrily into the earth. The sun rose ever higher, and their bodies sunk deeper into the ground, grunts emanating from the caverns they created, feverishly digging, fingers turning into claws, breath shooting from dripping nostrils until, finally, one of them rose with a strangled shout.

‘I found the corpse!’

Storytellers

Stories have been told to countless audiences throughout the centuries of human existence. We started off with oral storytelling, where the individuality of a teller was just as important as the telling of the story, where both of these aspects married with the dynamic nature of the story itself to produce something vivid and magical, to ensnare an audience and teach countless generations lessons pertaining to life, morals and their own rich history and ancestry.

Storytelling does not just limit itself to mystical tellers enrapturing an audience around a campfire or in an ancient tent, however. Stories can be found in the most common places, around a dinner table, at a sleepover, during a picnic, at a meet up, over a steaming cup of coffee, in a diary and even through a Facebook message! A story does not just have to be a well written, much drafted and severely edited piece of work. It can also be an event dressed up and communicated through several choice words, expressions and gestures, all interplaying to create a tale which is uniquely creative to the person telling it.

A story is a performance, no matter it does not strictly adhere to a play or an opera. A story is individual or collective artistry, working closely with the conventions of performance and forming something familiar, yet distinct in its own right. And that is what captures the attention.

Tradition is therefore a huge part of storytelling. Be it at a pantomime or around a dinner table, certain conventions and expectations of performance intertwine with the teller’s innovation. The key here is manipulation of convention – a good story turns expectations on its heel, and makes something new out of something expected. A good novel has an unexpected twist, or challenges conventions of creative writing by using unique language structure, or changes the face of a genre by interlacing two completely different ones. A good play is one that challenges the audience to think and bates the breath. A good family story is one told with enough wit to conjure laughter at the table, or with a hilarious display of gestures to endear, or with solemnity in an otherwise jovial demeanour. The ways are countless, and they all can be understood through the context in which they are told, and the audience must therefore be familiar with the traditions around these stories. A story from Shakespeare’s time would not, perhaps, be understood in the midst of the Arabia desert, since they are worlds apart and flourish under different cultures.

As to how stories and story telling affect one’s life, well, we are living and breathing results of such an experiment. Every single one of us has heard stories in the past, has perhaps been influenced by a story or has had a story change one’s mindset.

As a child I heard hundreds of stories, from books, from relatives, from the security guard of our building warning us not to do something because so and so did it and such and such happened, from my mother relating past experiences in her mesmerising way, short and concise, yet carrying deep meaning, from my grandmother adding snippets in conversation, rolling rotis out and telling me the servants used to let her roll the last roti because they didn’t want her to ruin the batch. From my paternal aunt telling me stories of my father as a child, helping me understand his character better. Stories have added to my life perspective about people, places and feelings. And accompanying the stories themselves, the ways of narration, the different accents and languages and gestures and fonts and structures through which they were told have had just as much impact as the stories themselves. Stories would not carry the way they were, for impact as much as they have been, were it not for storytellers and story weavers.

Research has shown that storytelling in very young children improves their cognitive abilities. Stories are important. They are life changing, and they add colour and insight to one’s existence. They are the small threads that connect people together and unite them under one cause or many, under one tradition or many, and make people feel as though they are part of something larger in this vast world. I think that is something everybody wants to feel, don’t you?

How have stories and storytelling impacted your life? 

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Reckless

Ploughing. Raking. Toiling. Burning, wiping, smearing.

Looking up through sweat soaked eyebrows and blinking roughly against the salty stinging  in his eyes. The heat hazed in the distance, the trees rustled, or seemed to, because they didn’t move and from where he stood, the sun scorching his scalp, they looked like a painting. Lined up at the top of the fields in the distance, the sky a lazy blue, not quite burgeoning into the deep colour of summer, almost as though the sun was so bright that the sky paled in comparison. So still. Was the world even real?

Midday. A bird chirped quietly somewhere nearby, too tired to break into song. A pickup truck trundled slowly down the dusty road just outside his garden. A face, browned and hardened from heat, stared at him, turning as the truck drove past. He stared back.

The truck slowed, it seemed, creeping along now. He gripped his shovel tighter, aware his fingers were slick with sweat under his gloves.

‘Hey,’ he said to the man. The truck was level with his now, and the man’s eyes were piercing. They reflected the light like a pair of sapphire beacons under the shadow of the truck.

The man said nothing, and the truck slowed to a halt.

‘Can I help you?’ he tried again, shifting to his other foot. He was aware of his own pulse in his neck. The world was so still around them, even the solitary bird nearby ceased to chirp.

Nothing.

Then the wheels spun viciously in the dusty road, and a brown cloud rose behind the car and it roared into being and started off, engine rattling loud enough that birds flew up into the sky in alarm. He watched as it sped off along the road, growing smaller in the distance.

As the dust settled, and the birds swooped back into the cool shadows once more, the heat of the day took over again, blanketing the world in hot, tired silence.

The trees in the distance didn’t move a branch. The summer haze lay languidly over the earth. The silence was vast, universal.

Was the world even real?

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Reaper

My attempt at a 100 word story.

Merrin Reaper was a charmer.

He belonged to the Hill people, renowned for their electric blue hair and waif figures. Five foot tall, and a brilliant smile. Everybody loved Merrin, even the big people down by the river. Too bulky to venture near the Hills for fear of trampling on those mines, they only ever dwelled on the banks.

Merrin tripped there daily. An ear for everyone, and a comforting shoulder for those in mourning. It was hinted at darkly that there was a dark shadow behind the small fellow.

Merrin knew better, of course. It was his brother, Grim.

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Love Letters #35

I didn’t know I could feel that way. That reckless abandon. That absolute peace. It felt like I was in a small bubble, and I knew it would pop at any moment, but I didn’t want to think of that until it happened.

I just wanted to enjoy the now most thoroughly.

We walked on the mountain for hours every morning, as the sun climbed higher and higher in the sky. I could feel its malignant beam on my back, scorching through my clothes, making my skin prickle uncomfortably before it broke down and wept rivers of sweat. My feet were sore by the end of the day.

We ate whatever we could get our hands on. Pineapples chopped, mangoes until the orange stickiness dribbled down our chins and under our shirts. Strawberries by the bowlful. Fruit in abundance.

We jumped in the lake straight after, with all our clothes on. You swore loudly because the water was deceivingly cold, and we glanced back at our parents, our relief palpable when we saw them laughing on the lake’s edge, oblivious to our transgression.

We cycled on old rusty bikes found in the garage, the wheels patched and pumped, the chains oiled. Our fingers were grimy with mud and grease, and the summer wind rushed on our faces and separated every strand of our sun bleached hair. You burned severely one day, and your mother smothered you in aloe vera and I rolled around laughing as you squelched outside like a giant slug, a brilliant scowl on your face.

We were bloated with lemonade and stuffed full of sugar, our feet hardened over the span of the two months we were there, browned and baked by the heat and roughened by hot ground beneath our bare soles.

It ended though, as I knew it would. My father had an office to get back to and yours had patients to dissect. Our mothers bundled us away in our respective cars, stuffed blankets down by our feet as we sweltered within, our noses pressed to the windows, watching as the adults exchanged handshakes and claps on the back, and our cars trundled on the dusty road, the distance between them growing with each second.

They didn’t spare a thought for the little people. They dragged their children along wherever they went and they didn’t think that in leaving the holiday house they seared our hearts. Well, my heart. I’d never experienced anything like the friendship we had. the fearlessness, the secrets, the tents and the battles.

There was never a summer quite like that summer. I don’t know who you are, and my parents are vague whenever I ask them. So I leave it, thinking perhaps someday in the future we may meet again and rekindle that bond between spirits.

But I know it will never be the same. I am too old to feel that surge of excitement when I think of the day ahead. Ants and beetles on the ground are nothing to me now. Your voice echoes through the years sometimes, and that summer heavily influences all of my choices and the way I respond to the world.

It’s the smallest things, sometimes. The smallest things.

Poppy

Resilient.

That is what I would call her. She flounders, sometimes, in the shallows of life. Her heart may seem weak, but I secretly know she is just sensitive. She thinks too deeply about things.

He says she is drowning in ‘her vortex’.

Why, she asks, do they write about sad things, and try to make jokes out of them?

I think about what she means. She means those dark comedy sitcoms. You know, where the family are poor and there are lots of rude sex jokes, and dirty people saying filthy things, and jokes about mental instability and emotional unavailability.

Those are dark things. She says, Things you should keep hidden away. Things you mustn’t make light of.

Why?

Because the world needs to see happiness and hope. Not misery accompanied by obnoxious music. If I am unhappy, why would I want to laugh at other people’s unhappiness?

It’s just a TV show.

People drink too much alcohol and are seen as ‘party types’, adventurous and daring. People have ‘daddy issues’ and are blunt and rude about other people. People joking about the pills they pop to hide their deepest pains. People unconscious because of intoxication. When did this become a norm in society? What happened to living and laughing and talking genuinely about real things?

It’s just.. a TV show, Poppy.

She dances quietly in the rain, sometimes. Her movements, although rhythm-less, have a certain cadence. The way her arms move around her head, the way her bare feet touch the wet grass, gently kissing the sodden blades before moving on to another spot. The way her throat supports her face, craned towards the pregnant, grey heavens.

I think, sometimes, that you have to let life into your skin.

I don’t know what that means, Poppy.

When she works, she is vigilant. She is furious. When she sleeps, she is restless. Her eyes are always wandering.

Once she saw an old lady outside with no stockings. She rushed indoors and brought her a cape. The old woman, pushing her trolley before her, shook her away irritably.

What do you think I am, senile?!

Poppy stared as she hobbled away down the road. I couldn’t read the expression on her face.

She was vibrant, alive. But there was always a heavy sadness clinging to her. In her eyes, sometimes, when she thought I wasn’t looking.

I feel lonely, Sebastian.

I’m here, Poppy.

I .. know.

Your life, always, over mine, Poppy.

 

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Dream

She was a dream. No, she was dreaming.

She thought that dreams were just thoughts your brain is trying to have, but because it is asleep, it jumbles them up and gets confused. Poor thing.

She found this out because last night when she was trying to sleep she was asking her friend why her shoulders were over there. That was strange. There was a bird in a cage.

It made sense when she was awake, though. Because she was thinking of Barney’s canary. And Barney had wonderfully large shoulders. That was slightly sexual. She didn’t want to think of Barney’s shoulders, because what kind of name was Barney? A big fat purple dinosaur name, that’s what it was.

She couldn’t tell if this was a dream, or reality. She was standing, and she felt pretty tall. And Barney was there in his purple jacket, kneeling on the stone before her. The stunning view that was Granada fell away behind his back, and all she could see where the white houses tripping down the mountainside, cobbled streets winding around them like gleaming snakes in the bright sunshine. There was sweat on her back and behind her hair, and her lips were sticky with the remains of an ice cold coke, that left a hot, melty film around her mouth. It was horrible. She needed a drink. And he was on his goddamn knees.

Wait. He was on his knees. Dusty with the stone of one of the towers. Palm trees and red sand in the distance. Sweltering heat and tapas bars blaring sultry music. And he was on his knees.

She felt sick, suddenly. Barney with his purple jacket in the heat. Like the big fat singing dinosaur. The coke churned very realistically, very uncomfortably in her stomach.

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Love Letters #31

I am a liar.

Em, can you help me with this tie?

Didn’t you hear me? I’m a liar.

He leant his forehead on the doorframe. His hair was thick, black, shiny. It was straight, almost spiky and fell over his wonderfully tan forehead. He was outlandishly handsome. There was no denying that.

Don’t you want to know what I am talking about?

He looked at her sideways, and there was tiredness in his hazel eyes, green in the dim haze of the dingy hotel room. Then he walked slowly towards her, slouching, his back a weary hump, and put his head on her shoulder. They stood like that for what seemed like an age.

Dean?

He didn’t say anything. He just leant on her, and she had to bend her knees slightly to support his weight. He smelled of leather and expensive spice. A hint of manufactured tobacco essence, and cinnamon. She could smell his hair, so human and masculine, clean sweat. She closed her eyes and loved him incredibly in that moment.

I lied to you, Dean. I lied ab-

Shhh. Just – shhhh.

His finger was on her lips. He straightened up, tied his tie, slid his watch on to his wrist and went to the door.

Come on.

She went.

They were silent, walking down the stairs. Her heart was racing, and she glanced sideways at him as they emerged through the dirty glass doors of the hotel. He glanced back at the sign, ‘Hotel Mariano’ the ‘O’s were blacked out marks where the metal letters were welded on once. The orange street lamps gave his face angular shadows. His forehead jutted out at night. It reminded her of a gorilla.

Why won’t you talk to me about it?

Just drop it, Emily, won’t you?

And now we’re just going to the party and pretending everything is normal?

Everything is normal.

You don’t even know what –

Just drop it. Please. I don’t want to know.

Do you even care?

I do. 

She dropped it.