A Mirror


“A novel is a mirror walking down a road.”  –Stendhal

One day, a mirror went for a walk down a long country road. The mirror had packed granola bars, was wearing sensible walking shoes, a hat to protect him from the sun. Now, the mirror went for a walk down a long country road. Who knew what his destination might be?

There were butterflies and birds around the road. Tractors too. Deer at the edge of the woods, visible through the slices of the trees, intermittent and quickly vanishing. All these things were within the vision of the mirror.

The mirror could only reflect what he saw on his trip, good or bad. What he saw became a part of him. Mountains, clear blue skies; he saw these things as he advanced toward them. The journey came toward him, and the mirror bounced the journey back out into the world, for all to see. As the mountains moved closer to the mirror, the mountains became larger in the mirror itself — larger, more grand, with the sky more of an azure blue; these things became a part of the mirror’s soul, for lack of a better word, assuming that mirrors have souls, and we hope that they do, because they should have souls, shouldn’t they?

In the course of his journey, he saw things that he would never forget: spread-winged sandhill cranes flying over a lake in the morning; fish rising from the lake and taking the insects into their jaws; sunsets and moonsets over ochre-tinted valleys; fields of grain, the individual strands of grain like so many fibers, like so many flowers. It was all very lovely. The mirror thought of putting up a sign next to these things — a small, unobtrusive sign, hand-painted, a sign that would read something like: “THIS IS THE REAL WORLD… AND WE ARE ALL IN IT, SO MAYBE PAY ATTENTION.” But this was an idea that he had read in a book somewhere, making a sign like this, and so was not the mirror’s own idea.

But he saw bad things too. A dead cow by the edge of a fence, its tongue lolling, its skeletal body being picked over by ravenous crows. He saw this, and it became a larger part of him. He saw homeless people, he saw poor people, he saw dead things, more dead animals, their eyes lolling like the tongue of the dead cow.

…Early one night, he stopped by a motel for a rest. He didn’t have enough money for a motel, but it was pleasant just to rest there for a second on the curb, with moths haunting the yellow street lamps. The mirror was sitting by the open window of a motel room, with the curtain pushed back on a rail, so that the curtain zigzagged and scrunched up in the corner of the window, a series of little zs. He could see into the room, and whoever had rented the room was showering or had gone out, for the room was empty, but the TV was left on.

The mirror had never watched much TV before.

And so he watched though the window, watching various programs without much discernment: old cartoons like the Flintstones and reruns of Friends and CSI-type cop shows, game shows and news programs, and then talk shows where angry guests all argued over who was the father of whose child, and who had cheated on who, and sometimes both of these things at the same time.

When it was dark and he could no longer see the moths haunting the street lamps, the mirror decided that it was time to be moving on. It was deepest night already. He had wasted so much time watching TV! He felt guilty. But television was a novelty to him, since he hadn’t gotten out much, until this journey.

He rested for the night in his sleeping bag, under the shade of a leafy pine tree, whose tiny needles and long branches bristled out over the mirror in a canopy that was like a happy froth of green, half shelter and half decoration, like a song that moved.

At night, the mirror dreamed. He dreamed of TV, and in his dreams, the good TV shows and the bad TV shows got mixed up, combined, so that Wilma from The Flintstones got attacked by a murderer from CSI: Miami, while the Friends kids got locked in a hideous torture basement that had appeared on the news. I Love Lucy got bombed by North Korean jets. Women screamed at Pat Sajak that he was the true father of their baby. Crowds booed lustily, even during singing shows. Everywhere he looked, something horrible was happening. Jennifer Aniston was mauled by a multiple rapist. Hawaii Five-0 got hit by a tsunami which had traveled all the way from Bangladesh. Fred and Barney stabbed each other. Alex Trebek died. Simon Cowell died. Everyone died or had terrible accidents happen to them, things that they would never recover from. And in the dream he saw himself, watching it all, seeing himself from behind, from overhead, seeing himself, a mirror watching TV. A mirror mirroring a mirror.

The next day, things were the same but different. Birds were singing, the world was beautiful. The world was still a very beautiful place. But something about the dream had an effect on the mirror, and after-images from television still remained, gently etched upon his surface. And so the televised ghostly images and the real world combined inside the mirror.

Now, he could no longer see things freshly, for the first time. If he saw a canyon, he was reminded of a canyon from TV, and the two images were overlaid. The same with a cow, or a person, or a fence, or a gull, or a sunset; the two images combining, reflecting.

And still, as he traveled, he projected these things to the world; the things he saw, both lovely and terrible, the good and the bad images. You cannot blame him for showing these things back to the world. What he showed back to the world was the world. It could not be blamed on the mirror; the good and the bad things.

You could not blame these things on the mirror.

…The mirror’s journey was very long. He walked for months and months, walking through the seasons as they changed. Along the way, many people stopped and chatted with him, for they were struck by the sight of a mirror on such a long excursion, with his sensible walking shoes. “Awful long way from home, aren’t you?” they said. Or, “So what’s the craziest thing that you’ve seen on your trip?” And the mirror would do his best to answer them, and to be polite, and then he would ask polite questions about whatever small town he was in, and say things like, “Oh, so there’s a Strawberry Festival coming up in July, really?” Or, “My gosh, I didn’t know that a Civil War battle took place here/ that this celebrity was born here/ that you have the world’s largest beer keg in a museum here.” And so on.

…After the conversation was done, the small-town-folk would nod politely and tip their hats and be on their way. But these people who were talking to the mirror all ignored a crucial thing. What they saw reflected in the surface of the mirror was the road ahead, which was what was coming for them — and so they knew what was coming to them, if they paid enough attention, but they did not, and also they ignored one small but crucial thing: if you got close enough to the mirror, you could read, at the bottom, in a faded text — an embossed text, the letters faded and almost chipped off by the journey — but still they were there, and you could read these words, though in your head you knew them already: objects in mirror may be closer than they appear, which they were, they were, they really really were.

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