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Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End

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I knew what it was before I’d finished opening it: the weight, the size, the shape, the feel, they all told me what I needed to know. And, as I tore the final piece of packaging away, I found myself looking down at my reflection. It was that mirror.

The letter from Aunt Sarah’s executors had explained that I would be receiving a package containing, to use the words in my aunt’s will, ‘something to remember our brief times together by’. I looked at the thing now resting on my knee and was taken back to my childhood and those occasional visits to see my mother’s great aunt. The long train journey, the bus, then the long walk. Her house, I remember, was imposing and, although my memory holds more of an impression of the place than a clear vision, I remember the tall, dark rooms soaked in sepia, like an old photograph.

Mum, dad and Aunt Sarah would talk over tea and biscuits while I, as a bored child, would wander off and explore. If I was lucky, I’d come across Snowy, Aunt Sarah’s fluffy white cat. She wasn’t the nicest cat. She’d lost her tail in some sort of accident and I remember a little angry red bottom just below the stump. But she’d let me pet her for a while before strolling off, leaving me, once more, on my own.

Then there were the dolls, porcelain-faced little creatures dressed in lacy clothes. They were dotted around the house like lost children who’d given up on ever leaving. Like so many things, it’s only when I look back that I can make some sort of sense of what it all meant.

At some point, during our visit, Aunt Sarah would lead me up to her bedroom to brush my hair. I never thought much about it back then, but now, thinking back, it was a little bit weird. She’d sit me on a stool in front of the mirror and run her silver-backed brush through my hair. She’d splash droplets of lavender water along the strands and tell me how beautiful it would make me and what she called my golden tresses. And then she’d tell me about the mirror. Every time we went it was the same story of how, long ago, she’d worked in a home for lost children and that very mirror had hung in one of the parlours. Mrs Grimble would bring certain girls into that parlour to brush and style their hair, ‘but oh, she was a cruel woman,’ my aunt would say. ‘If that mirror could speak, what horrible tales it would tell. If you watch very closely, my dear, you may see one of those poor souls. Mrs Grimble could be so cruel. So unspeakably cruel.’

I’d learned to look towards the mirror and study the thick, metal frame that held the glass in place. And if I looked into the mirror, I’d focus my eyes on me and my hair. I knew there were the dead eyes of a few dolls in the background but I found I could make them a fade away by looking straight at my own eyes looking back at me.

There are times when I think I should have said something to my parents but they probably thought there was no harm in letting a maiden aunt brush a young girl’s hair. They didn’t know about the things she said.

I looked back down at the mirror resting on my knee. I was an adult now and a square of silvered glass in a tarnished metal frame was not a scary thing. So, with some fondness, I hung it in the broad hallway, opposite the console table. I stepped away and looked into it. I was there, dyed, cropped hair; smudges of make-up and lines around my eyes. I smiled and looked beyond me at the table top; a couple of picture frames and my mother’s paperweight – more relics from a lost lives. I went back busying myself around the house.

But that night, I didn’t sleep well. My dreams were vivid. I was back in Aunt Sarah’s house . . and lost. I went from room to room, looking for a way out, but every turn was a dead end. The eyes of one doll followed me as I crossed another room and I sensed she, and her sisters, were stirring.

I woke with a start and turned my bedside lamp on. The light killed my fear, or so I thought. I swung out of my bed, slid my feet into my slippers and got up. I was thirsty, so I made my way downstairs, through the hallway and into the kitchen where I poured myself a glass of water. After a couple of gulps, I put the glass down. I walked back into the hall and stopped by the mirror. I turned to face it full on to see what the night’s disturbance had done to my face and hair. I leant forward.

My eyes were red and my hair was scuffed this way and that.

Then a small white hand touched my shoulder. I screamed and turned around. No one was there. I jerked my head back to the mirror and saw a face that wasn’t mine. And then it was my face but one with such a look of horror, I barely recognised it. Something moved behind, a shape, fast and blurred, fleeing before I could turn again.

The shock of terror had already hit me, something primitive had taken over, my body numb and my mind barely responding to what my eyes had seen. I then knew I wasn’t breathing and I struggled to catch breath, as if my throat had been clamped shut. Panic rose and then burst as I finally inhaled, my lungs grasping at the air, saved from drowning.

‘Damn you all!’ I screamed and I picked up the paperweight from the table beside me and hurled it into the eye of the mirror. The glass shattered and an explosion of silver shards hit me. Everything turned red and I was falling. The floor slammed hard against me and the red turned to black.

*     *     *

They remove the bandages tomorrow. They say I’ve healed well. But what healing is there when I’ll never see the light again. I’ll never see the moon and the stars set in a night sky. Never see the sun dance on the ripples of a lake or light up the eyes of all my little children. And I’ll never see myself again, a brush running through my long, lavender-scented hair.


*     *     *


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On 09/09/2016 at 7:36 PM, maryspetses said:

It was the dead eyes of the dolls - scary stuff!  Just pleased there wasn't a ventriloquist dummy lurking in there...

Think that might be the next episode. ha ha

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