The Mythology of Daffodils
By Eloise Carson
I was born of mirrors. They are all I know. I am your reflection waiting patiently behind reflective glass for you to walk by and bring me to life. I’ve never seen my own reflection but I imagine my skin to be molded of mirrors so that I myself am nothing but the world around me painted on my skin. Or maybe I really do look just like you. A shoddy knockoff with your face but not your soul.
I remember when I first saw you. We were at that old thrift store on Ninth. I was blinked into existence when you stepped before my mirror and looked into my eyes. It felt like magic, like it was meant to be. But you weren’t really seeing me. I knew that then, and I know it all the better now. You were looking at the clean glass, the pretty wooden frame, the crispness of my image on the other side. You were young, but you begged your parents to take me home.
I was set up in your room, soft pink and always clean. You patted my wooden frame as if it were my head and welcomed me politely to your room. You were prim, pristine. Your curls never had a hair out of place.
I remember you got bored one day and stuck a line of princess stickers along my frame. It blocked my view a little, but I didn’t mind. It meant I was yours. Your parents were upset so you apologized and promised not to do it again. I was the only one who saw the way you crossed your fingers behind your back. You turned around and winked at me when they left, and I happily winked right back. I miss the way you talked to me when you could still imagine that I was something more than just a refraction of light.
Those stickers stayed there for a long time, but eventually you had had enough. You were in middle school. You had decided that your room looked like it was for a baby so you painted the walls blue, gave away your stuffed animals, and sat down with a spray bottle and tools to get the stickers off. Your parents offered to buy you a new mirror but you said no. In that moment I wondered if I was as important to you as you were to me.
When you went away to school I would sit for long empty hours in silence, watching the light paint pictures across your walls. I felt like a dog, waiting patiently for you to return and scratch my head and call me a good boy.
I remember how we spent hours before your first day of high school deciding what you would wear. I thought you looked good in everything but you seemed to disagree. I hated that something you saw in me was telling you that you didn’t look perfect.
High school was a hard time for you. You had started talking to me less and less as you got older, but I gathered what I could from phone calls to your friends. You felt like an outsider at school. Your grades were slipping, and you didn’t like the person you saw in the mirror. When you did talk to me it was only to yell at me or insult me. You called me ugly and stupid. You said you hated me and wished I was dead. I was almost happy when, that one night, you dragged me up to the attic, leaned me against the boarded window in the corner, left the attic, and locked the door behind you.
The attic was lonely, suffocatingly so. And it was dark. Oh it was so dark. My reflection was dim and barely present and I could barely take in my surroundings. The only thing I had was a sliver of light through the tiny blocked off window and the faint sounds of life from downstairs. Sometimes I heard you laughing and joking. Other times, I heard you screaming and slamming doors. I was torn between fear of your anger and love for you.
I was up there for years until, one day, I heard the lock click open and there you were. You looked different, older. Your brown hair was now streaked with blue and your eyes looked so much less sad than they did the night you left me there. My heart soared at the sight of you, and then crashed down into my gut at the fear that you might not be here for me. But you were. You carried me down carefully, like I was precious cargo. You brought me outside to your daddy’s old minivan. I realized we were leaving. I remembered the thrift store where you found me. I prayed with my whole heart that you didn’t find me just to leave me again. You wrapped me up in blankets so I didn’t break during the ride. You said that breaking a mirror would give you seven years of bad luck. I wondered if, aside from bad luck, you would care if I broke.
But I didn’t break. When you removed the blankets I found that I was set up in your dorm room, eggshell white and empty, full of bags and posters to be hung on the walls. You patted my wooden frame just like you did when you first brought me home so many years ago and welcomed me to your room. The way you talked to me made me feel like I was something more than just a refraction of light.
For years you brought me with you from dorm rooms to apartments. I met your friends and boyfriends, roommates and girlfriends.
When you graduated, you worked as a teacher. I thought teaching made sense for you. You brought order to every situation. And you did like kids and desperately wanted a younger sibling. I always felt like I was your sibling.
You got a cat, named her Scar. Scar would get distracted by me, sitting in front of my mirror and staring for minutes at a time. You thought it was silly, but it made me feel as though Scar knew there was more to me than just glass and wood.
You dated over the years. I liked some of them, hated others. I was happy when you chose your husband though. He treated you right. Being around him made you happy. You had children, a boy and a girl, and I remember watching them grow up, thinking how they looked just like you did when you were their age. I cried with you when they went off to college.
You and your husband retired and you moved down to the beach. The moisture in the air felt like it was rotting my wood and fogging up my glass, but you seemed happy so I didn’t mind.
As the years went on you started to struggle. Your son moved in to try and help but we all knew you didn’t have much more time.
When you died I didn’t know what to do. It seemed as though I should have died right alongside you, your soulless reflection.
Your husband joined you before long. Then it was just your son and his family. Your daughter would visit and sometimes I would mistake her for you.
I stayed there for a while but it was lonely. None of them looked at me like you did.
I was just sitting there watching, watching, watching, year after year. There was nothing left to see. There was nothing.
I became so tired of watching. I was restless, flighty. I was bored, and I missed you. I didn’t feel like myself anymore. I couldn’t shake this feeling. Was it emptiness, anger, sadness, contempt? I realized I was hopelessly pining after something.
It was at that point, I guess, that I had had enough.
And I looked to the side.
I looked to the side. I didn’t even know that was possible, but somehow it was. I felt dizzy at first. I almost fell. The world seemed to spin a bit and I had to get my bearings.
I steadied myself, watching wind tussle the fabric of the curtains that seemed to make up the walls of this little one window room. My room?
And then I was me, or I guess you, when we were seventeen and you were heading off to college, ready to start your own life. I was you, but different. Somehow.
I braced myself, and I took a step. It was wobbly, inelegant. I knew you would be embarrassed to seem so klutzy, you, always so pristine. That made me sort of smile. I brushed the curtains aside with my hand and immediately squeezed my eyes shut. The light was searing, so bright it hurt.
When I opened my eyes again I saw endless fields, trees, life. A bubbling brook, green frogs hopping on lily pads, and golden flowers dotted alongside. I could have sat in that moment forever, but I didn’t want to.
I looked back at the mirror and for a second I hesitated, uncertain. I knew you were gone but, for some reason, leaving the mirror felt like I was betraying you.
I’m sad that you’re gone, but I got a shiver of dread when I imagined you in the mirror looking back at me.
I shook out my heavy limbs and wobbly as a newborn calf, I ran. I ran and I ran and I ran. Over hills, across fields, and through forests. I ran until my lungs ached and my legs felt even more like jelly than they did when I started. But I didn’t break.
I collapsed at the banks of a spring in a sweaty heap of awkward limbs and windblown curls, the rushing of my blood roaring in my ears. I lay there as I tried to catch my breath, quiet my racing heart. It felt good. I was flesh and bone and blood, and it felt good.
I stared up at the blue sky for a long time. I let you go. I felt the breeze tickle my cheeks and brush my hair softly across my face. I heard the gentle waters of the spring a few feet away.
After some time, after a very, very long time, I let my head fall to the side. Inches from my face, silhouetted against the glistening waters of the spring, grew a simple, golden daffodil, drifting in the soft wind.