The Land of Mirrors Takes Hold

[StoryADayMay Prompt: “ReTelling A Folk Or Fairy Tale“]

[Retelling “The Story of Vain Lamorna” in On a Pincushion by Mary de Morgan]

In the Land of Mirrors there is in fact only one, though here in the real world there seem to be as many to reflect us in glass, water, or mirage as there are stars in the sky. So when the faery in the Land of Mirrors look into our world what they see are all reflections, and thus a very good approximation of the totality of reality. It can be quite difficult for the faery to look on any one thing in our world with any concentration, but there are certainly occasions when they become angry enough to try.

Consider the beautiful young man staring at himself in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors of his local gym. He’s at his peak of piquing those voyeurs lifting and spinning around him but his eyes are only for his own reflection. “You are so hot!” he murmurs. “There is no one else as fit as you.”

His name was Eric and everyone told him he was gorgeous, and so indeed he was. He had the face of a twink but was all twunk, light blue eyes, full pouty lips, and medium length dark hair no one would ever request he cut. He was carved out of stone, with cut edges as sharp as obsidian: chin and abs and every defined muscle all begging to be traced. He traced them with his gaze and when the faery in the Land of Mirrors shook their heads and sighed and said “Eric! Eric! you are so vain,” he didn’t hear them and went on lifting, flexing, and admiring.

When he finally left for the locker room—sweaty, pumped, and followed as far as possible by every gaze—a young man who had been watching him unperceived stepped off the stationary bike he had ridden for miles and found a place to stretch. His name was Lamar and the faery often watched him and knew he was here for good health and a positive mood and for thinking, deep thinking, the kind of thinking that caused the thin film between reality and the Land of Mirrors to tremble with expectation. He would, they knew, bridge their worlds.

Today, however, he seemed very sad, and while he crunched into crunches, lunged into lunges, and stretched into stretches, he hardly had the spirit to push through each set.

“Eric,” he thought, “Freshman year I thought we would never part again and now we’re seniors and we’re strangers. You stopped talking to me, though I didn’t do anything wrong.”

The faery argued about how they could punish Eric for his vanity and especially his rejection of Lamar. They argued about how they could teach him a lesson. They argued so long and hard that after the gym closed the security guard watching the mirrors vibrate wondered if they would shatter or if he should stop drinking so much.

And then they thought to steal Eric’s reflection.

They followed him and his reflection from reflector to reflector, or rather, the reflectors reflected back to them in a single mirror all the places he found to look at himself in vanity. He made them more and more angry.

Eric and Lamar ran into each other. It was random. It was fate. It was an opportunity to avoid what the faery were planning for Eric and his reflection. Eric seemed genuinely happy to see Lamar, at first, until it became clear he was masking impatience, not being able to see himself in reflection in Lamar’s dark handsome eyes, and wishing he was in the gym. “Are you going to the gym?” Lamar asked. “I’ll join you.”

“We’re both in great shape these days,” Lamar said as he worked his biceps, not watching Eric watch himself do the same in the mirror. Eric nodded, but he had not even a glance for Lamar in him.

So the faery in droves grasped hold of Eric’s reflection and yanked and then Eric stepped back with a shudder.

“Do you see that?” he whispered. “Is there something wrong with the light?”

“No. I don’t think so.”

“I…I don’t feel well.”

Lamar led him to the locker room. “Do you need water? Did you pull something?”

The faery loved their new piece of art. They hovered around it. How strange that separated from the object that cast it, Eric’s reflection seemed to be smiling not with vanity but with appreciation and respect. It was beautiful. It was tall. It was hardworking. It was young. It was lonely.

In the locker room, Eric looked startled. “Do you see it, too?”

“See what?”

“Something missing.”

“Nothing. Nothing’s ever missing on you.”

“Are you fucking with me?”

“Eric?”

“You didn’t see anything. You don’t see at all.”

There was only so much Lamar could take. He patted Eric on the shoulder. He grabbed his bag out of the locker where he had stowed it. He walked away.

Eric couldn’t find himself in the locker room mirror. He couldn’t find himself in the fountain outside the gym. In every reflective surface he saw the world without him, the way it filled in every detail as if never obstructed. He ignored as always everyone gazing undisguised at him and made his way back to his dorm room as if he weighed twice what he had before. “I’m really tired” he said to his room, to his bed, to the mirror in the closet that told him he wasn’t there. “I’ll sleep now. Tomorrow. Yes. Tomorrow.”

He slept all afternoon and evening and through the early morning until the birds and sun were high and his floormates were coming off their highs, and then he leapt out of bed and ran to the mirror. He hadn’t arrived.

Eric cried. Eric punched the mirror. Eric browsed to the student health website and had no idea what to click next. His floormates would want whatever he had taken. The RA would consider reporting him for drug use or a mental health breakdown. “I can talk to Lamar.”

He knew where Lamar lived off campus. He didn’t remember how he knew the address, but he walked directly there. Lamar wasn’t there. Lamar’s roommate told Eric he hadn’t come home the previous night. He asked Eric if he wanted to come in. He had notions in his eyes, and Eric wasn’t reflected in them. He hurried away.

Days and weeks went by. Eric tried to work out. He couldn’t see what he was doing, what it was doing to him. He hooked up, a lot, even more than usual, in bathrooms and in hallways and at the end of bar hopping and after class. He looked for Lamar everywhere and did not find him, though he found people who said Lamar was still around, and Eric had only just missed him.

More drinking. Drugs. No more moderation. Stopped doing his homework. Stopped going to the gym. Stopped going to class. In the bars at night everyone was watching his breakdown and he wasn’t quite as attractive any more. A hot mess. Not quite on fleek. All that time next to the dance floor mirrors and always a fleeting look of horror when he turned to them again. And driving. Should he be driving? Shouldn’t someone say something? Shouldn’t someone stop him?

The telephone pole stopped him. He could feel how his face was wet but he couldn’t see himself in the broken glass or driver’s side mirror hanging like it was lonely and wanted back up. At the hospital they patched him up, including the cuts and scrapes on his face. The police didn’t find his alcohol level high enough to charge him. Back in the dorm he slept for days and tried to change his own bandages and only the RA really noticed that he didn’t seem to be doing a very good job of it.

Eric had plenty of time to think. Plenty of time to think about Lamar. Plenty of time to realize how vain he had become. Plenty of time to let vanity go.

He returned to the gym. He noticed the intensity of those watching him. For a moment he wondered just how monstrous he must look, but then he wondered why it mattered. Monstrous or beautiful, why should anyone stare at him like that. Their naked thirst, it seemed to drown him. “Maybe it’s the new scars,” he thought, “and maybe I’m better looking than ever. But who I don’t see is Lamar. Who I don’t see is anyone who really knows me.”

The thought shook the mirror. The faery waited.

Eric returned to his routine. His workouts, his classes, his studies. There were other really beautiful things to find, like knowledge, like art, like studying on the grass on the vast lawns between dormitories. Like the people around him, in all shapes and sizes, colors and beliefs. This was a university, a calling to higher learning answered by all sorts of people. He was nearing graduation, if he salvaged his semester in time, and that meant he would probably end up somewhere else other than this beautiful campus and its freedoms and challenges and varieties. Had he appreciated it enough? He remembered appreciating it his freshman year. The year he met Lamar and as roommates they spent almost every moment together. He felt he had recaptured what he had felt back then.

He really missed Lamar.

“Hey.”

It was as easy as that. The long search and then Eric on the grass, barefoot, pen in mouth, taking notes from a bulky textbook, musing about the past but not pursuing it, pursuing instead the present and the future, looked up and saw Lamar backlit by the sun nod down at him and smile.

“Hey, Lamar.”

It was as easy as how it had been their freshman year. The way they liked to talk then and were talking now, telling each other about their semesters, Lamar having focused on his studies, and Eric dismissing his with “it’s been rough, but, yeah, it was time to hunker down.”

“You still working out?”

“Not as much, but pretty good results. Feeling strong. Healthy. Helps me study better. Think better.”

Lamar said he hadn’t been back to the gym in awhile.

“We should go together next time,” Eric suggested. “Better to work out with a partner.”

The faery didn’t wait any more. Eric’s reflection unmoored in the Land of Mirrors fit itself back into the world again, back onto Eric, back into Lamar’s eyes.

“What’s the matter?”

Eric grinned. “Must be the light. You want to grab something to eat?”

The faery watched in the only mirror in the Land of Mirrors, looking for a brief time on only this one thing, how two people found their reflections in one another, and the faery didn’t feel angry any more. This was always cause for celebration there.

StoryADay May 2016 Day 20