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The Happy House

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Emma was the sixth child of a wealthy merchant. In her youth, she had lived with her large family in a glass house by the sea. Most of the time, her father was away and her mother struggled to care for her large brood, so Emma was left to her own devices. She spent much of her time outside when it was nice, or inside when it rained, observing the world. Emma was very observant and soaked up the most minute details of her surroundings. She liked to imagine that she had melted away into the earth - becoming one with the world she so admired.
Then, when her father was lost to the sea, Emma was sent out into the world. She was essentially abandoned in the big city, and had to fend against a world that seemed it wished to gobble her right up and spit her bones out when it had finished with her. Indeed, Emma became quite thin during her first years in the big city but, although her appearance showed her hunger and hardships, Emma felt the look quite suited her. Emma was unhappy and depressed and hungry and cold those first few years. She blended right into the dark gray landscape of the big city. Her skin even seemed ashen under the looming skyscrapers.
It was the hardest winter Emma had seen yet when she met Biff. He was bright and golden and stood out from the black and evil city. When they were married, they settled into an empty house just outside the city in some upper-class suburbs. Emma glowed with an energy she had lacked in her city years and set about fulfilling the role of the happy house maker. She filled the house with all the newest gadgets and made three-course meals every night for her hard-working Biff. He worked enthusiastically to provide for his wife and they were ecstatic.
Then one day, Emma bought a magazine subscription. She had seen other women reading magazines at the grocery store and felt it was her duty as a woman to follow in their footsteps, therefore fulfilling her role in society. She bought The Happy House, a magazine with new ways to have a better life in each issue. Emma lived by this magazine after that. It was the first thing she looked at each morning, and the last thing she read before falling asleep. Then came that fateful issue #232.
Emma brought it home with the groceries. She put away the food and then settled in to read. It was a fascinating issue. It had an article about mirrors and their uses in the home, and Emma resolved to go out first thing the next day and buy several. Then, she turned to the final essay and read it slowly, her eyes brightening and her mouth falling open on occasion. The article was titled, ‘Organization Is The Key’. After reading it a few times over, Emma sat down at her desk and began to write.
When Biff awoke the following morning, it was not to his Chester Cat alarm clock he’d had since childhood. Emma shook him roughly and managed to lure him from beneath the covers with the smell of cooking bacon, a trick she’d learned from The Happy House. As he groggily ate his delicious breakfast, Emma explained her epiphany to him. “Organization is the key,” she repeated several times over for emphasis. She proceeded to outline her plan for the house’s complete and total organization. Emma had even made a schedule for Biff that was to be followed exactly. Biff complied. He never had been the smartest fellow to begin with.
Every morning, Biff left the house at 9 am. Emma woke at 4 am, insisting that it was the exactly perfect time for waking. Biff did not mind too much, since this meant he woke each day to the smell of some delicious concoction cooking in the kitchen. After Biff left, Emma would re-order the house for hours, between cooking and shopping and reading The Happy House. When Biff returned, he was scheduled to complete an alternating regime of either running the treadmill or swimming laps in the pool out back. They ate a scrumptious dinner each night, and were more than satisfied with their lives.
As their orderly life progressed, Emma added to the house and their life in the suburbs. She read about TVs in The Happy House, and bought one labeled, The Happy TV. Emma decided to put it in the living room, which she re-organized every Thursday at 1 pm. Biff joined Emma in the living room each night after dinner to read the paper while Emma watched Happy TV’s Happy House channel. She added mirrors frequently, compiling quite a collection. The halls were lined with them and Emma loved to waste the hours away walking up and down the hallway, admiring her own reflection, which The Happy House told her would improve self-image. In the mornings, she began to take an hour to apply herbs and oils to her skin, so that it glowed and shone and she was nearly reflective herself.
Biff went along with the schedule, uncomplaining. He was wretchedly in love with Emma, and he lived for her. He admired all her courage, for he knew it took a lot of that noble substance to change yourself so dramatically. Even when Emma decided that 11 am was the ideal time to wake, Biff did not complain. Sure, it meant no more hot breakfasts, but he loved Emma dearly and knew she needed her beauty sleep.
When Emma read the article ‘Thin Makes You Happy’ in The Happy House, she ordered a diet change for all of the Mirror House. Biff joined her, as usual, in her scheme. They dined on lettuce, mango juice, and cabbage soup. Emma grew thin, and she was extremely happy. Biff had preferred it when Emma had been glowing and warm, but he felt that as long as she was happy, he would be, too.
She was also enthusiastic about the results of her quest for pale skin. In the Happy House article ‘Pale Is In!’, Emma learned that paper-white skin was the best skin tone. She had mirrors put up over the windows to block out the sun, and hid in a back room when Biff came in from work. After a few weeks, Emma was delighted to find that her skin had become a pleasingly plain tone.
Emma’s mirror fetish grew and grew and grew. She ordered all the walls in Mirror House to be covered in large sheets of mirror, except for the halls. She took all the mirrors in the house and Biff nailed them into the walls for her, so that the mirrors created a mosaic of reflections that flickered back on themselves as Emma pranced down the hall. She did this for most of the day, admiring her own pale skin and noticing how especially beautiful her bones were as they showed through her skin. Emma just knew that she was the most beautiful and perfect person in the world, and she was so glad to have The Happy House to thank for it.
Emma felt she was living in a castle of mirrors, and eventually re-named the house Mirror Castle.
Emma was satisfied with her Mirror Castle. It was absolutely perfect. Except, of course, for the times when Biff arrived home and went to work. Then, sunlight came in and Emma felt she could hear it in the house, and see it in the mirrors. She worried it would ruin her complexion, this ghost of sunlight she imagined was stalking her, and so Emma made a very important decision. When Biff left for work, she hid in the back room as usual. Then, when the door was safely shut and the sunlight shut out, Emma took a bag from under her bed and strode confidently to the front door.
She extricated three thick, strong locks from the plastic bags and examined them carefully. Deeming them sufficient, Emma proceeded to attach the three locks to the front door, making her the sole occupant of Mirror Castle. Emma had decided that Biff was not welcome in her paradise and had locked him out as securely as she had blocked out the sun.
That night, as Emma lay in her bed, attempting to sleep, she couldn’t. She saw herself reflected in her four mirror walls and it felt strange in a way she couldn’t describe - being alone, yet in her own company times four. She crept into the hallway leading to the kitchen to get herself a drink of water, hoping this would settle her stomach. The mirrors lining the hall showed her broken image, reflected a thousand times over again. Emma stood in the middle of the hallway, paused by the sight of her refracted images. There was a full-length mirror centered against the wall, and Emma watched as her reflection’s hand trembled.
Emma clamped her trembling hand in the other and attempted to stop the tremors. But the shaking didn’t stop. It spread. First her other hand, then her arms, next her shoulders and her entire frame. Emma’s sight blurred as the hundreds of Emma-reflections contracted in around her. She could see herself through the blur; her nearly transparent skin stretched taunt over bones lacking meat. She fell to the floor, losing the battle against the inner earthquake threatening to split her to pieces, like her many mirrors.
And Emma thought, Maybe this shaking will make me even thinner!



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This article has 2 comments. Post your own!

Mum said...
Apr. 28, 2009 at 2:17 am:
I really love this story - I think it shows very subtle insights into the ways we can fool ourselves. And it has fabulous imagery and metaphors.
 
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hbwriter This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 25, 2009 at 9:47 pm:
This is meant to be a satire of the idea of a perfect life and of society's standards.
Also, did you know that 'utopia' comes from a word meaning 'no where'. It is non-existent.
 
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