Published: August 27, 2017
I was about to close up and hang the sign on the door when the knock came, timid, as though it wasn’t quite sure that it wanted to be heard. For half a heartbeat I thought of leaving it unanswered, but no matter how late the night, turning custom away leads only to hunger; so I opened the door, and found before it a woman, with a large oval mirror clutched to her breast. It was an older piece, framed in tarnished silver, but her eyes were what caught me: large and dark, and almost frightened.
She hesitated a moment on the doorstep, until I waved her inside. “Come in,” I said. “Are you selling, then?”
She shook her head, setting the mirror down carefully, face-down, on one of my end-tables. “Only as a last resort,” she said. “Do you do repairs?”
The question startled me, and I checked in the midst of closing the door. “Generally not,” I answered at last, but closed it all the same. “I resell antiques, Miss –”
“You’re married, then?”
She hesitated just long enough for me to think it odd, then gave a shrug with aspirations to nodding.
“People don’t usually come to an antique shop looking for repairs, Mrs Witherblume.”
“I expect you get things broken from time to time, though – surely you’re able to refurbish the odd enchantment?”
There was something desperate in her tone, and despite everything I found myself eager to be of aid to her. “I’m no expert,” I warned her, “but I’ll do the best I can. What’s the trouble?”
Mrs Witherblume gestured to the mirror. “It’s stopped working.”
I stepped around the table and began to lift it, careful to keep from scratching the glass. “What was it meant to do? Scrying, warding, communication?”
“Just the usual,” said Mrs Witherblume. “It reflected the one who stood before it.”
Again, for a moment, I found myself pausing. “Ah,” I said at last, and turned the mirror over.
It seemed, to my eye, to be working just as it should. It reflected the ceiling of my shop with no difficulty, and the jewelled birdcage I had hanging from a rafter gave it no pause. Just to be sure, I passed my hand over the glass: it shone back from the mirror just as it was, down to the white lace that trimmed my sleeves.
Of course, one must not be an artificer to know that a mirror’s reflection is no enchantment but a simple physical property of silvered glass. It would take a curse to darken it.
“Would you come here for a moment, Mrs Witherblume?”
She came to stand beside the end-table, and I caught up her hand. Her fingers were cold, even through the light black glove she wore. I passed our joined hands over the mirror: within it I saw only my own, clasped around empty air.
I became aware, suddenly, of the beating of my heart; of the blood that rushed through my veins; of my fingers, still intertwined with hers. I squeezed lightly and let them go.
“Do you have other mirrors at home, Mrs Witherblume?”
“Of course.” She hesitated a moment. “But none other that shows the viewer’s face at once, I think. There’s my hand-mirror, of course – I did make certain that one was still working. It was enough to fix my hair with, at least.”
“Is it glass too, then?”
“No – polished steel.”
I liked this less and less. I felt for Mrs Witherblume, with her dark eyes and gentle fingers and timorous demeanour; I did not want for the obvious answer to be the right one.
More to busy myself than in hope of finding something, I took up the little jewelled brass rod that I use to sort out the enchantments on my wares and felt through the auras of the glass and the silver and the frame. As I had feared, there was nothing there. The mirror was as ordinary as a mirror could be.
I set the rod aside and looked back up at her, holding her eyes with my own. “When did you first see that the mirror was – no longer working?”
“This morning,” she answered at once. “I brought it over as soon as I could. It wouldn’t do to have it around, with…”
“Yes,” I said when it was clear she did not mean to go on. “Mrs Witherblume, you had better sit down. Have a spot of tea.”
“You can repair it, can’t you?”
“Of course,” I said; and for that matter I could, if my fears were true. “But I do need to know how this came about. Mrs Witherblume, would you mind terribly telling me how you spent your day yesterday?”
“But I had nothing at all to do with the mirror,” she said, taken aback.
“All the same: humour me, if you would. What was the last thing you did last night?”
She hesitated, eyes wide, fingers cold against the cup of tea I pressed into her hands. “I don’t remember.”
The name had been on the tip of her tongue all night, though she hadn’t dared to speak it aloud. Are you married? I’d asked her, and her silent nod-shrug answered: Harold. (Well, she wasn’t married any longer, for what little that was worth. Until death do us part, as the vow goes.)
She’d brought the mirror over as soon as she could. It wouldn’t do it have it around, not when Harold might see, might wonder. She never dreamed that he might already know.
It took two cups of tea and a glass of Scotch to get his name past her lips; but then the rest tumbled into place as neatly as anything. His sneering ownership of Mrs Witherblume, his temper, all the bruises she wore below her neckline. Even when she recalled, at last, his hands around her throat and the taste of blood below her tongue, she didn’t know what it meant that she awoke in the morning with her reflection in silver nowhere to be found.
“I’ll repair the mirror for you, of course,” I said. My skill with enchantment is small, of course – I am no artificer – but altering a mirror to show the dead is simple enough a task, and one I’ve had cause to practise before. “But, please – take this with you as well.”
I handed her a silver bauble, all wrapped in curses.
“Let it fall into Harold’s tea,” I told her, “and I promise you will be free of him.”
I found Harold Witherblume’s obituary in the paper some few days later. I never found Mrs Witherblume’s: with the mirror freshly enchanted, there was little cause for anyone to suspect she was anything but alive. I am still not fully certain whether she knows it herself.
Because I did her a kindness when I repaired her mirror, and because I shared tea and comfort with her, and because – perhaps – she took a liking to me as I did to her, I am a welcome visitor to the Witherblume place these days. I keep her enchantments in order as well as I can, of course, but I am no artificer. Mostly I come to share tea and comfort, to speak of this and that and other things. She is doing quite all right for herself, these days. Her freedom suits her.
Her name is Mary.