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© Vivienne Kearns

I wander through the grounds, a rag doll swinging in my hand.  Her hair trails on the soft rolling slopes of the green lawn below.  There is nothing to do here in summer. My private tutor Magali has left, deserting me to my mother and grandmother. The low fog of daylight obscures the castle behind.

The giant round stone structure blocks my view of the sea.  I hear horses pulling their cargo on the highway, farmers travelling to trade their produce in the village, and families passing by with echoes of laughter on their way to the fair. 

Magali tells me of country children and I imagine I play with them as I move in circles in the swaying grasses. When I am older I hope to leave this stagnant place, but my mother tells me that this can never be. I am forbidden to trespass the river. The walls and hedgerows are too high for me to climb. I have never been across the boundaries of our land.

It is late in the evening and I return to the castle for dinner.  My grandmother does not eat with us anymore, so it is my mother and I who stare across the dining table at each other.  She chews her food with intensity and watches every morsel I eat with wooden knives and forks. She refuses to use the silver despite our wealth.

“Why can’t we leave?” I ask.

“It’s not safe in the village,” she says.

“But Magali goes there.”

“That’s none of your concern.”

“Please….”

“You cannot go. Let that be an end to it.”

I hang my head and do not answer.

“Tell me where you played today, my love?” she asks me gently.

”In the top meadow,” I whisper, and we remain silent thereafter.

My grandmother is beautiful. She lives in the battlements that face north. I rarely see her and only when accompanied by my mother.  She has a looking glass in her room but it is always covered before we enter.  My mother disapproves of her vanity and has locked the rest of the mirrors in the east tower.  I see fear in my mother’s face as she watches the covered glass behind us. Grandmother lies in the four poster bed at the centre of the room. She is the matriarch of this cursed fortress that has passed down through our family for generations.  We are what remains, we three who hide away from the world.

It is another day. There is thunder so I remain inside, safe from the lightening that flashes around us.  I sit on the landing of the east tower above my mother’s bedroom on dusty floorboards and examine the threads that make up my doll’s face with its black woollen stitches for eyes, and the heavy strands of dark thread for hair.  There is a mirror hanging so high that I cannot even make out the ancient carvings on its frame.

I lie down and sleep and dream of my father and brothers.  I have seen their images on the painting my mother keeps in her bedroom, but I do not recognize them. They are strangers to me.  My mother and I are with them on this canvas, and she laughs beside them, her smile carefree.  She tells me they died when I was very young, but she avoids my eyes when she tells me this story. I don’t believe what she says, but still, I know that they are dead.

There is a rumble and I wake.  I think the mirror moves forward a little but I am not sure.  It is still in place and so look at the doll in my hands.  Then I hear my mother shouting from below.

The floorboards beneath me shift and I am confused.  Suddenly the mirror slides and moves down the wall, falling to the floor that shudders to support its great weight, until its frame settles against the wall.

The glass has not broken.  I raise my eyes and dare to look. My mother is screaming below, straining as she claws her way up the stairs.

“Turn away,” she cries but it is too late. She is almost at the landing but I am unable to move.

I stare at my reflection for the first time. The cold red dress, the doll, my hands, my face. Somehow it is not me. The surface moves as if I am reflected in water. Then my vision clears and I see my face for the first time.

Now I understand. My skin is coarse and red.  My eyes are sunken.  It is my forehead and nose that are the most horrible to see, until I notice the deepest scar that almost cuts my chin in two.  My mother’s hands reach me, her arms crash past, through the mirror’s surface, splintering, bleeding to free me from this sight.  I turn away, shivering, hiding my face in the floor as I have been taught to do.

She screams and pulls me to her, pushing the mirror over. It smashes underneath the oak panel, until I am safe from its vision of me.

She holds me in her arms and my body shakes.  Then I remember the crash and the steam of the train.  I remember that it has killed my brothers, my father, and left me to live. My hands cover my open mouth and I cry coloured tears of pain, as my mother’s blood slips through my hair, caressing me.

And I understand why I can never leave.