The Mirror And The Dark
The Mirror And The Dark
“One glass of the red, sir?”
“Yes, thank you,” Henry said, pausing before taking the glass. He reached over to his jacket, which lay beside him, reached inside to his pocket watch, and checked the time. He seemed satisfied by what it was, and he took the glass from the patiently poised waiter. He paused to look at his drink as he took it, as if to savour its spectacle, of swirls of blood red which contorted and dissolved to black. He raised the glass to his nose and breathed in the aroma, unaware of what he was searching for by doing so until he found it, and a pleased smile touched upon his lips. He put the drink down, and remained by it for a few minutes, looking around at his setting. The hotel’s drawing room was certainly ornate, possibly the best in all of London. It held an air that he would have believed had been lost a hundred years before; of regency and beauty, dignity and perfection.
All of this pleased him immensely. He called to the waiter, and asked if it were at all possible for him to be brought a pen, some good writing paper and an envelope. The waiter replied that certainly, that was no problem; nothing was. Henry was pleased. The weary smile that refused to leave his lips almost splintered into a strangely hysterical laughter, but Henry repressed it. There was work to be done, and the graceful silence of this beautiful room he was in should not be so crudely broken.
The waiter soon returned; prompt service was an essential part of his job. As he had undoubtedly hoped, Henry tipped him generously, and he bowed low before departing to fulfil his employment elsewhere.
Henry wetted his right finger and thumb, and took the top sheet of paper. He took the ballpen he had been given, and paused momentarily, right hand suspended almost theatrically in the air, and then began to write:
Ha ha! All these years, and still the childish thrill of writing that phrase at the head of a letter refuses to leave me! Still, it is long since I have had the opportunity. I have been immersed in some serious business, my friend, and it has delayed me long. I have to inform you of it, and I am afraid that my principle motive for penning this letter to you is this, rather than glad tidings or an impending visit, which we discussed last time we saw each other. I have waited a long time to write this letter, and it is a grand weight off my shoulders to do so, let me assure you. I feel that someone should know what has become of me, since I have come so adrift from everyone.
This rather sorry business all began at the party which I attended shortly after you and I last met up, the Champagne-and-Dinner reception for the company centenary, in London. I went in my official capacity, you understand, as I would never have attended one of those dreadful things voluntarily. I was speaking of some trivial, Company matter to Simon and to Jűrgen, whom I sincerely believed to be the only two other remotely sane people in the room (you are aware of course that I have always considered extreme dullness as a form of acute insanity), when we were suddenly approached by an elderly, balding gentleman, whom I had not seen before at any of these functions. None of us had, yet he introduced himself as if he were well known, and so we responded accordingly. There was nothing strange about this man, save for a peculiar aura which seemed to flow from him. I know that you consider all such notions nonsense, but I think events will bear me out in this case. He seemed almost mystic in nature, like an old man with a thousand tales to tell, who knows more faces and has witnessed more than an ordinary man could in a thousand lifetimes.
It quickly became clear that he wished exclusively to speak to me. I could not understand why, but Simon and Jűrgen are far from fools and took their leave as soon as this became apparent. The man seemed to puff out his chest as he began to speak to me. I felt as if he had a long-prepared speech for this moment. Embarrassed and not a little bemused, I listened attentively for a means of escape. But there was none offered to me. He was clearly a fine salesman, although at no point did he indicate exactly what he was speaking of, except that he had come by a particularly rare antique and that he wanted my opinion as to its value. Of course, I told him that this was not my field, but he seemed indifferent to this fact. I looked around me, but there was no-one around who seemed willing to leap to my aid. So, when he told me that this thing, whatever it was, was in the old drawing room just apart from where the main body of the function was taking place, I had little choice but to follow. I will confess that by this point I was more than a little intrigued, and not entirely opposed to this distraction from the dreary event I had turned up for.
The room was old, and dusty enough to make me cough violently as I entered. I was not overly surprised; most of these Company places are only kept in shape as necessary, and it seemed nobody had made use of this room for some time.
“There it is,” he said, indicating to the far wall.
A mirror was leaned against the wall; full-length, dignified, ancient. I moved towards it, and the closer I got, the more addictive it seemed. It was not the design of the frame, nor was it the reflection; my abhorrence for mirrors on this basis is well documented. It seemed clearer, more vivid than anything I had seen before in its very nature, almost as if it were more real than the world that surrounded it.
My reaction must have been writ large on my face because the man knowingly motioned me onwards towards it. You may have noticed that I have not mentioned his name; I cannot recall it. I am sure he introduced himself, and that for a long time I knew his name, but that name dances beyond my reach each time I try to gather it from my memory. At this late stage, it matters little. What matters is what he brought my attention to; that I cannot forget.
I stood before the mirror, and examined it thoroughly, I was captivated by it completely. I was not exalted, as perhaps I have sounded here. I felt an intangible sense of dread, but also the unnerved sense of excitement that only that emotion can give. I felt the compulsion to reach out my hand to the mirror, to touch it. I moved to do so, but then retracted my hand, feeling that it would not do to touch something so obviously valuable.
“Go on,” the man pressed gently. “It’s fine, I assure you. I have seen a hundred people manhandle this mirror in the most awful ways, but it remains as it has always been.”
This vague statement was all the encouragement I required, and almost enthusiastically I reached out, and touched the glass. Immediately I snapped my hand back, startled at the effect that my seemingly harmless gesture had.
The glass was simply gone; it had not fallen away, and neither had it shattered at my touch. It had utterly vanished, and I saw what lay behind its fašade.
It seemed to open out onto a corridor which could not possibly have been there; a passage of cold, grey walls and dark, narrow dimensions. I was unreservedly attracted to it, bizarre as that may seem to you reading this. Like the mirror just moments previously, it was sharper, more genuine than the world that surrounded it. It seemed purer, nearer to reality than anything I had seen before.
I went to move forward, as if I could walk into the mirror, down the corridor to wherever that would lead, as ludicrous as I know that sounds. The man made no motion to stop me.
Suddenly, the door was pushed open behind us. It was Simon, clearly in search of myself. He looked first at me, confused by my undoubtedly astonished expression, and then at my companion, who smiled with a peculiar knowing innocence, if such a thing is possible.
“Nice mirror,” Simon said, evidently not intending to discover what on earth was going on. “You need to come outside, Henry,” he said, returning his mind to what he had clearly intended to say once he found me. “They’re asking for you; I think it’s time for the food, thank God.”
I nodded, and turned to the old man to make my excuses. He accepted them politely, and I departed for the meal, which apparently he was not to be a part of. I would not see him again.
On my way home in one of what must have been thousand prepared taxis that evening, I could not take the mirror from my mind. The corridor could not have been there, I knew, and why did it seem so real if that was the case? I looked outside the taxi as we sped through the city, and it seemed as it always had, but as if seen through different eyes. Nothing seemed to fit; the entire world seemed pained and contrived, as if drawn by an artist who had struggled to draw reality but never fully succeeded, instead falling uncomfortably short, and unaware of the extra ingredient which would have given him the vision he knew he should have brought into life, only aware of its absence, and the empty sensation which accompanied its not being there.
When I reached home, I undressed and readied myself for bed. I had successfully avoided the excesses of champagne favoured by my colleagues, many of whom would be carried into their homes by their taxi drivers, Simon I’m sure amongst them. I wondered if he would recall the mirror; I have not spoken to him since, so maybe I remain in the dark on the issue. For his sake, I hope he does not.
I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth before bed. As I stood, I looked up into my own mirror, in which I had shaved every morning for the last twenty years.
The corridor stretched for miles before me. Its chasm of dark uncertainty speared into the distance, dimly lit only by the light of my bathroom. As I looked, the corridor, as it had before, seemed to sharpen, and the room in which I stood clouded and blurred in contrast. I spat out the water in my mouth into the sink, and stared directly into the space where my mirror should have been. I tried to see the mirror, to see myself in it, to see the reflection that must have been there, but could not. Once I had seen through one mirror, I would see through any other. This I have tested a hundred times since, but I knew it well enough then. I climbed onto the sink, and, afraid to be headed into the darkness so quickly, moved slowly forward, craning my neck into the space. As my face passed through, my heart jumped as I felt that I would be pulled in, and that once inside I could not turn back. I fell back and landed painfully on the bathroom floor; that at least seemed real enough. The smell of the corridor remained in my nose. Its fresh and almost exhilarating chill swept into me. I shuddered, and closed my eyes.
I must have slept there, because when I opened my eyes again it was light, and my exhaustion of the night before was largely gone, replaced only by the disappointed, tired feeling that comes with the morning. I stood, and saw that the corridor was still there, beckoning. My movements after that are simple enough to relate. I have not been back to my house since, and I write to you now from an exquisite London hotel, where the mirrors present only corridors, as they do everywhere else.
I cannot expect you to believe all this. I know you too well; you will think that finally I have lost my mind, that crazy old Henry has finally gone crackers on you. In a way, I suspect you may be right, although I scarcely have the courage to admit this to myself. Either way, it doesn’t seem to matter a great deal to the man in my shoes. I have decided, at length, to go into the mirror. I shall pack light, for if there is anything for me to find there I am sure I will find it quickly, and if not then I would prefer not to survive long in that cold, dark place. You will have to forgive my morbidity. Indeed, I sincerely hope that I shall return. If I have the chance to write to you again, I am optimistic that it will be on happier terms. I have made up my mind, and am sure that the decision is the right one. I should have gone sooner, but the uncertainty of the dark always held me back.
I will not let it do so any longer.
That was all. He sealed and addressed the envelope and called over the waiter to ask for a glass of water. The waiter, whilst noting that the guest was yet to touch his wine, did as was required of him. Upon his return, Henry thanked and tipped him once more, asking him to put a stamp on the letter and add it to the hotel’s outgoing mail. The waiter obliged, and turned away.
Now alone, Henry drained his glass of water, and turned his attention once again to the wine. He lifted the glass, and sloshed the wine around inside. He smelt it, and noted that the scent that had so pleased him earlier remained strong. He would have to drink quickly, lest the pleasure of the wine be taken away from him.
He raised the glass and drank it all, tipping the glass and his head as he lowered it finally, as if toasting something, seeming to see within the pale glass something special that someone else would have missed.
He stood, picked up his jacket, and left the room.