In the Mirror’s Heart
(c) 2012 Cat Rambo
Your mirror hung in the house when I bought it. The side hall, an entrance reserved for tradesmen, but I saw you in it again and again, and you were no tradesman.
At first, a mirror that showed the house’s past was just a curiosity. A parlor game to amuse visitors, let them speculate on the mysteries of space and time, of odd echoes and eddies in the continuum.
But it was too intriguing, watching the ins and outs of the servants’ common room reflected in one corner. And I began to notice you. Were you the house’s owner or some younger son? Sometimes it seemed the servants deferred to you – at other moments, that they were laughing behind your back.
A stocky man, of a kind I’d never liked. The easy arrogance of the rich coupled with a knife of a nose cutting through the air. Supercilious, it seemed to me at first, tired as I was of my new country’s ways, of being patronized. Like them, you were too aware of yourself to see anything else.
But as I watched, you seemed to change, to grow softer, gentler. At first you moved through the mirror and rarely glanced at it. Then more and more often, you stood looking in the mirror with a face whose bewilderment reflected my own.
One lonely day, I thought you were looking back at me.
Love affairs are usually made of actual encounters, but ours, ours was all in my mind. Sometimes I thought you’d answered my gesture with one of your own. Then I’d see the person you were speaking to and realize that to you that past moment was an ordinary day, made of nothing but minutes and hours, while to me it was worth marking on the calendar, a day I’d seen your face, another scrap of paper bearing your image in my mental scrapbook, flimsy armor against spears of solitude.
I loved you in that way that takes no account of the loved other than an object of affection. To have you look back, to think you might feel that frisson as well — it was too much to hope.
But you did.
Or seemed to. I’m not sure.
Your clothes, the servants’ clothes — historical research placed you a hundred years in the past. Long dead. Else I’d have come hunting you, an elderly man now in an empty hall, dreaming of the face he used to see in a mirror, the one he sometimes thought was looking back at him.
Love is sensation and madness, and without sensation, it is all madness, figures on yellow wallpaper promising an illusion of escape. But what would you or I escape from?
When I try to dream of you, then you’re static, still. A portrait of the kind that used to hang throughout this manor house before an American interloper took over, decorated. Threw out everything except this mirror, preserved through an impulse I often bless and occasionally curse.
Is it enough to love without being loved in turn? I use your imagined presence to pull me through grey days, as though waiting for some celebration. I trick myself into continuing, surprise myself by smiling when I remember a particular expression on your face, a movement of the hand so graceful it strikes me to the heart with longing.
It’s springtime in the time when you are. A balmy spring, whose sunshine I see gleaming outside those windows in the past. It makes me worry that your thoughts will turn to the inevitable, that at some point I’ll see you eying that scullery maid that is always trying to sit beside you, that you’ll take her into your arms, and my heart will be broken.
Other times I see you making promises with your eyes and they are to me, only to me.
I found you in the history books, I think. The second son of the Earl of Malmbrook, who vanished one night in his 27th year. That time must be close. I saw them making you a birthday cake and the scullery maid laying lime blossoms along the plate’s rim.
When you vanish from their lives, do you appear in mine?
I think it is tonight. I’ll steal through the moonlit house to your mirror. I’ll put my hands on either side and will you forward in time, myself backward. Somehow we’ll meet, I swear it. Even if I must smash the mirror and lift the shards to my skin. I hope before then it melts, that we merge, and that the last reflection is you and I, together, stealing away into lands I cannot see.
John Barth described Cat Rambo’s writings as “works of urban mythopoeia” — her stories take place in a universe where chickens aid the lovelorn, Death is just another face on the train, and Bigfoot gives interviews to the media on a daily basis. She has worked as a programmer-writer for Microsoft and a Tarot card reader, professions which, she claims, both involve a certain combination of technical knowledge and willingness to go with the flow. In 2005 she attended the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop. Among the places in which her stories have appeared are ASIMOV’S, WEIRD TALES, CLARKESWORLD, and STRANGE HORIZONS, and her work has consistently garnered mentions and appearances in year’s best of anthologies. Her collection, EYES LIKE SKY AND COAL AND MOONLIGHT was an Endeavour Award finalist in 2010 and followed her collaboration with Jeff VanderMeer, THE SURGEON’S TALE AND OTHER STORIES.
She has edited anthologies as well as critically-acclaimed Fantasy Magazine, is a board member of feminist science fiction group Broad Universe, a member of the Codex Writers’ Group, and volunteers with Clarion West.