As soon as the ladies departed, Lucille summoned Mary in a shrill voice that still bore the remnants of her recent irritation. Mary emerged from her room sheepishly, trying to hide her glowing hair and looking for ways to diffuse her aunt’s annoyance. Lucille didn’t seem upset though, rather intrigued, a look that the girl knew very well and that was a sure sign the good lady had come upon an interesting little project to work on.
“Sit down, dear,” Lucille encouraged, smiling broadly to put the girl at ease.
Mary sat, uncomfortable.
“Have some cookies,” her aunt offered.
They were the girl’s favorite treats and she helped herself to a good handful. Lucille let her munch in silence for a while, and then opened the subject, from a safe distance.
“Sweetie, you never told me how you figured out there was something different about you? How did you find out you were fair?” she finally asked, gently.
She didn’t want to rattle the girl and risk one of Mary’s taciturn streaks. Her stubborn niece could spend weeks and months in silence, a habit she had acquired by necessity, since most of the town’s people preferred to avoid addressing her altogether, but which drove her aunt up the walls. Lucille appreciated eloquence, a skill that had served her very well over the decades. One of the reasons the good lady managed to command attention and respect was her uncanny ability to talk her way out of any situation. The girl’s silence undermined this very aspect of her command and as such, annoyed her greatly.
Mary looked up at her aunt, trying to gather her thoughts before answering. Lucille suppressed an irritated twitch. What on earth was there to think about? Half the time she couldn’t tell if the girl was purposefully defying her authority or had become too shy to speak up due to her unfortunate situation. It took all of her resolve to refrain from prodding the answer out of Mary. She smiled instead, and waited patiently for her niece to answer.
“The sand,” the girl mumbled, still munching on her cookies.
“What on earth do you mean?” Lucille forgot her composure.
“I saw my reflection in the sand,” Mary clarified.
“Mary, this really is not the time! Seriously, where did you see your reflection?” Lucille forced.
“I swear, auntie, the moon was bouncing off the sand, I only got a glimpse,” Mary swore.
Her aunt believed her, she knew her niece couldn’t be deceitful even if she tried.
“You didn’t find a mirror, then?” she asked directly, driving a probing stare into the girl’s green eyes to make sure she wasn’t hiding anything.
Their large pools didn’t harbor any hidden thoughts, but as usual, glancing into their transparent depths put a shiver down Lucille’s spine. She lowered her gaze, uncomfortable.
“A mirror?” Mary asked. “Where would I find a mirror?” she asked, lowering her voice more and more until it reached a whisper. “Is there a mirror in the village?” she asked, almost without sound.
“No,” Lucille spoke unconvincingly, stirring Mary’s curiosity to new heights. “Not that I’m aware of,” she left the door open for additional details, wondering if she couldn’t persuade the girl to let out more precious information out of that sealed tomb of a mouth.
Unfortunately it didn’t look like Mary knew anything else, but now that the cat was out of the bag, her aunt decided that sharing a little more of what she knew might prove beneficial in the future.
“There have been rumors…” she continued, keeping a keen eye on Mary for any tell tale reaction.
The girl looked just as confused as always, with a slight hint of curiosity.
“Yes?” she asked.
“There have been rumors,” her aunt continued, mincing her words to play for time, but since there didn’t seem to be any acknowledgement from Mary that she had any clue about anything, she sighed and continued, “that some of the ladies in the Ladies’ Circle have sought their own reflection in their youth. We were all very young and the elders didn’t go into details, but they found the mirror and broke it. We all assumed it had been the only one, so the incident died down, fortunately.”
Lucille looked down quickly to hide a little pang of guilt, and her reaction didn’t escape Mary, who was a lot sharper than her aunt thought.
“Did you seek your own reflection?” Mary asked directly, rousing a bout of outrage.
“Mary, what a disrespectful thing to say! How can you even suspect!” Lucille overplayed her hand, giving the girl the confirmation she was looking for.
Mary didn’t let her off the hook.
“Why is it wrong, aunt Lucille? What’s so wrong about knowing what you look like?” she stared at her aunt, giving the latter the chills.
‘Those eyes could keep a person awake at night,’ Lucille shuddered, ‘I can’t get used to them, no matter how innocent she is, so help me! She knows, the imp, how could she possibly know?’ Lucille looked for a reasonable explanation for the mirror ban, but couldn’t come up with anything that stood to reason. The rule had always seemed absurd to her too, but it had never been open to discussion; the council of elders, and council leader Abraham in particular, weren’t the kind of people who could be swayed to give up the power and control of being the bearers of absolute moral authority. The result of this social dynamic had been that all those who didn’t believe mirrors were a wide open door to hell sought their own image if they were lucky enough to find a reflective surface, and said nothing about it, not knowing who to trust. They enjoyed the revelation of their own countenance privately, drew their own conclusions about it and became the wiser for the knowledge. Lucille happened to be one of them.
“It isn’t allowed, Mary,” she eventually said, feeling awkward because she couldn’t find anything to add to qualify this comment.
“Why?” the girl asked, really wanting to understand the purpose behind the ban.
“I don’t know, why are you asking me?” the aunt snapped. “I didn’t make the rules!” she let out, carefully fishing out the adjective ‘stupid’ from the phrase before it passed her lips.
Mary’s eyes were shining with curiosity, so she continued.
“There have been rumors,” Lucille said again, cautiously, “that there may be some reflective surfaces left, that some of the girls way back managed to actually make some,” she whispered.
“All you have to do is paint the back of a shard of glass!” Mary blurted loudly, and her comment terrified Lucille to such a degree she actually covered the girl’s mouth, looking around to make sure nobody heard.
“Shut up, girl! Do you want to get us banished? Oh, mercy, I knew this was going to end badly! How stupid of me to discuss grown up issues with a child! Don’t ever mention it again!” Lucille regained her parental authority.
“I’m just saying,” Mary replied, in a much lower voice, “if they are that easy to make, there must be some still laying around.”
She wanted to comment that Lucille probably had one hidden on one of her deep coffers, but reconsidered.
“We don’t talk about these things, Mary!” her aunt ended the inquiry abruptly. “You know,” she changed the subject, “my friends Rosemary and Giselle were gracious enough to stop by this morning. They were worried sick about you, thinking that you sought your own reflection! I told them I’d talk to you about it, to ensure you couldn’t possibly have done something like that! I hope you didn’t, sweetheart, you know it is forbidden!” she stared at Mary, with her eyes conveying the imperative more than her words.
“But,” Mary blurted, innocently, ready to point out that they already discussed this subject. Lucille interrupted her.
“More cookies, dear? Oh, it feels like only yesterday you were just a baby! I’m getting old, my memory is not what it used to be! I’m so glad we had this talk, and so relieved you couldn’t possibly have broken the rules! I didn’t think you’ve done something wrong, I raised you well, thank goodness, to be a comfort in my old age.” She watched Mary munch on her cookies and her impatience grew.
“Well, we have things to do, Mary, we can’t sit here and chitchat all day long. Idle hands, you know?” she got up and rose her niece from her chair. “I’ll just have to get to the council hall and let the Ladies’ Circle know they were mistaken about you. I can’t wait to see the look on Rosemary’s face…” she started with a wry smile, but realized she was setting a bad example for Mary and stopped.
“Go on, dear! Don’t you worry about wicked reflections anymore! To think they suspected you, poor innocent child! The times we live in!”
Mary acknowledged the fact that the conversation was officially over, and as she went up the stairs to her room she glanced at Lucille, out of the corner of her eye, to see the latter pace the room, energized, deep in thought and smiling at the strategies that started developing in her mind. Mary hadn’t seen her aunt so excited about something in a very long time, and since it was her adventure that generated this excitement, the fair child felt proud.