The mirror belonged to her husband’s first wife.
It had been passed down in that storied way that all haunted objects are--on boats, across oceans, in the back of wagons and automobiles, and tucked away in attics behind white cloth.
When Eliza, her husband’s first wife, discovered it, it was in an antique store gathering dust. The owner had kept track of its history. After regaling her with the mirror’s pedigree, Eliza cut the quickest check of her life and the mirror returned home with her where it would stay for the remainder of her life. It hung in the front hallway next to the hat rack that never had any hats on it and above the table that featured magazines from six or seven years ago. Eliza never used anything in the way it was meant to be used, and the mirror was no different. She refused to look at herself in it, but she encouraged others to do the same. They’d come into her house and she’d instruct them to check their reflection in the mirror to see if anything was amiss. Some assumed she just wanted to get her money’s worth, but others wondered if the mirror was capturing a bit of their soul as they tucked back a strand of hair or adjusted their tie. Perhaps the mirror was converting that vanity into energy and giving it to Eliza so she could stay young?
She had a magical air about her. Her hair would seem to float as if there was a spring breeze underneath it even in the dead of winter. When she smiled at small animals, they would go back on their hind legs as if to impress her with a trick they’d just learned. She could read an entire book in two hours or less and repeat entire passages of it without so much as a stuttered utterance. Most of all, she kept her beauty in a youthful way that could only be accomplished if an agreement had been reached with some kind of otherworldly force.
If there was an agreement, it seems the mirror broke the contract. Eliza died fairly young of a brain hemorrhage in bed on a Tuesday morning. Eight months later her husband married his second wife, Elizabeth, and when she moved in, she cleared the house of anything her predecessor had touched or even gazed at.
Except for the mirror.
Something about the way it was situated at the forefront of the house brought upon a sense in Elizabeth that moving or selling it would bring bad luck upon her marriage, and so it stayed where it was as the rest of the house underwent a total transformation.
Though there was not much talk around Elizabeth of her husband’s deceased wife’s habits and behaviors, a party was held one evening where the topic of conversation steered towards the mirror in the hall. It was a week before Christmas and all the guests were in red and gold. Elizabeth was still learning the names of all her husband’s friends and she had gotten into the unfortunate routine of assigning them nicknames instead like Asymmetrical Mustache and Questionable Pronunciation of Croissant.
One of the guests--the one Elizabeth had labeled A Few Too Many--pulled her aside while everyone else was gathered around the piano singing a third round of carols. She wanted to tell Elizabeth the story of the mirror. How everyone was required to use it except Eliza. How nobody liked the way they looked in it. No matter how thorough a guest would be before leaving their home to ensure they were well put together, they would arrive at Eliza’s mirror and find that something was amiss. Lipstick had been applied haphazardly. A patch of beard needed to be trimmed. An outfit that seemed to match from head-to-toe suddenly appeared to feature every color of the rainbow as if the person had been dressed by a blind beggar.
“You must have noticed when you looked in the mirror,” whispered A Few Too Many to Elizabeth, the cocktail on her breath crawling off every word.
Elizabeth hadn’t noticed, because, for some reason, she had never taken a good look at herself in the mirror. She had always been sensitive to auras and apparitions. It had taken both her mother and father’s convincing in order for her to marry a widower as she felt it was the epitome of bad luck. Had her family not been in dire need of assistance from a wealthy, grief-stricken tycoon, she would have gladly become a spinster in a rocking chair.
The days after Christmas leading up to New Year’s Eve always struck Elizabeth as lost time. There seemed to be everything and nothing to do. Things to plan. Things to forget. She spent too much time romanticizing the idea of cleaning out the hall closet and not enough time considering travel or comfort. Every activity seemed to carry an air of pointlessness. Why am I doing this now? Why not leave it for next year? As though one were better off getting credit for a job well done in the future when the opportunities for good karma might not be as prevalent as the current moment.
It is customary for a couple to spend the night before a new year’s beginning together, but Elizabeth’s husband was called away on business. Friends of friends invited her to their parties and gatherings, but she had an almost religious objection to celebrating the end of a year. She believed it should be a time for reflection. When her mother invited her over to toast at midnight, she politely declined, and prepared for a solitary set of hours before bed.
After changing into her nightgown and undoing the braid in her hair, she came downstairs from the bedroom she shared with her husband to put out all the candles around the house. The staff was good about tidying up before they left, but she always requested that they leave the flames burning as long as possible because she always found herself wandering around the first floor late in the night searching for a misplaced novel or a note reminding her to do something of great importance the following day.
The only candle she preferred to let burn out each night was the one underneath the mirror. It would not be impossible to blow it out without looking into the glass, but it felt silly to go to all that trouble just to avoid one’s own face. Still, Elizabeth blew out every other candle in the house first, saving the one beneath the mirror for last.
As she approached, she anticipated a chime. The clock in the adjoining room was getting ready to strike. Elizabeth did not consider herself to be preternatural in any way, but some things lived inside a person and passing time was one of them. As the seconds became silver and years became copper, Elizabeth found the will to look into the mirror for the very first time.
What she saw was a woman who had spent the last twelve months of her life meeting a man who would not say more than four or five words to her at a time. Watching her younger sister nearly die of a common disease that can be cured easily with access to proper medical care. Observing her father and mother signal to each other from across the room in a way that only a long-married couple can. A proposal that came without a bent knee or a touch of affection. A wedding ceremony that was too standard and too casual at the same time. A priest in attendance, but conducted outdoors as the wind whipped up and ruined the hair of every woman in attendance. Wind sent from a dead wife, one man remarked. New furniture. Too expensive. Bought but not curated. No style to be found. Nights up long stairways to an empty bedroom. Days spent in a garden hating the smell of dirt--even fresh dirt. Doing what seemed to be expected rather than desired. Books unfinished all over the house. A torn dress that needed to be mended. Maids who snickered at her. Dead flowers in hideous vases. The same priest from the wedding stopping by to see if she was doing well only to suggest that she rest more and speak less. We wouldn’t want to lose another one. The clock chimes. We wouldn’t want to lose another one. The church is a far walk. The cemetery even further. Where was the ghost in the mirror? We wouldn’t want to lose another one. Where was Eliza’s ghost?
Elizabeth tucked back a hair that was out of place. She ran her tongue over her teeth. Her shoulders were slouched, and so she raised them. The clock did not chime. She didn’t know why. It would have to be looked at to be sure it was working properly.
Another thing to take care of next year.