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Mirrors of Desire
She once lived in a simple wooden house deep into the labyrinthine alleyways and forgotten streets of the west side of the town. Down there it was not a surprise when people disappeared. There, where eyes watched from the shadows of doorways and the cracks in the walls. There, where the law enforcement succumbed to the mind numbing fear that hung like thick fog in the air. There, where she once lived.
The dress sat in a chest at the foot of her long forgotten bed. The once mirror bright threads of the material had long ago lost its reflective qualities. Moths and time had tattered the silver cloth, wearing away at the weave and binding threads. The glow that the dress had taken on while worn was dispersed, completely gone with the passing of the years.
Only the echo of her laughter still rang in the small room that housed the chest. Those who remembered her recalled her differently. All with pleasure and delight, but her features varied. With some she appeared willowy and graceful, others round and soft. Accounts of her countenance and personality were so different that at times it was impossible to know if descriptions were of the same person.
Only her laugh remained the same. The pure notes of her musical laugh still rang in the empty hallways of the house where she had once rented a room. The now dilapidated building no longer rumbled with life like it once had. Back when children ran through the halls, chased by yelling siblings and when parents rushed in and out on their exhaustive work schedules. Back when the smell of freshly baked bread and day old loaves permeated the air from the second-rate bakery across the alley. Back when she occupied the last room on the second floor of that old wooden building.
She arrived on a cold and rainy day in the dead of winter with no whisper of where she came from. The owner of the house automatically rented the room to her when she inquired. The old woman had said she had a trustworthy look about her. The young woman’s name was Alice, and she had been given a job as a maid at a house just a twenty minutes away.
Alice kept to herself. She hardly came out of her room unless it was to go to work. And even then she rarely made eye contact with anyone who lived with her.
As she worked, she kept her head down and her eyes averted from anything and anyone that might look in her direction. She was very good at her job. The man who owned the house liked her because she was so inconspicuous. She was practically invisible as she moved around his house. She cleaned well and did not disrupt anything.
Alice did not mind her job. It was easy. The pay was good and the best part of it was that she hardly ever needed to make contact with the people around her. No one noticed her, and she was left in peace. The thought of talking to another person terrified her. When addressed, she often responded with shakes of her head. When she had first rented her room and applied for her job, the owner and employer had been so desperate for help that all she had to do was whisper her name and they accepted her.
Alice had been relieved. You see, Alice’s greatest fear was that of rejection. She could not stand the thought of someone refusing her or not liking her. It was why she refused to talk to anyone she met; she feared that they would hurt her fragile mind-set.
Then one day her employer’s son came home. From the moment she first saw him, Alice was infatuated with him. He was tall and handsome and had just come back from traveling the world for his father’s business. As she cleaned, she listened to him speak in his deep, smooth voice. It mesmerized her. She longed to go up and speak to him as many of the other girls who worked in the house had done. He had laughed and spoken to them good naturedly but still, she was paralyzed by her fear. What if he did not like her? What if she repulsed him? The queries were endless. They refused to allow her to find the courage to go and talk to this man she was so obviously fascinated with.
She watched him every day; his routine was the same every day. He would come down stairs for breakfast in the morning between nine and nine thirty, seat himself on the divan by the fire place, and read the morning newspaper. He would spend the morning doing business with his father in the study, usually taking lunch in the same way. In the afternoon, however, Alice watched him socialize. She quietly observed him interact with every beautiful woman in the entire town, as each threw themselves at him.
One particular woman was often a return guest. Alice had noticed her often when she went on her rounds of all the rooms. The woman was tall with a willowy frame and had high cheekbones she hid behind her white feather fan. She painted her face with rouge and powders, and her hair was always a cascade of stiff yellow curls falling down her back. Despite Alice’s skepticisms about this so-called beauty, she watched as time and time again he received her, smiled at her, and laughed at her jokes.
Alice made sure to dust the parlor when the son was entertaining guests. She liked to tell herself that it was because she enjoyed looking at the fancy dresses the women wore, but she knew it was to watch him. One day while she was dusting, that same woman walked in the parlor, holding the arm of her employer’s son. Alice made herself as small as she could in the corner she was dusting. The couple did not notice her as they made themselves comfortable, sitting inappropriately close on the couch.
In shock, Alice watched as the woman threw her fan on the floor and leaned into the man. The two shared a passionate embrace that kept Alice frozen in her tracks. She was terrified of what would happen if they discovered her. The woman looked up, her chest heaving; she draped her arms around the man and looked straight across the room. When she made eye contact with Alice, there was a moment of shock. Suddenly, the woman shrieked and pulled herself away from the man, frantically pointing at Alice.
Alice’s eyes widened as his face went red with anger at being spied on. His shaking finger pointed at the door as he told her in a voice that could peel paint to get out of his house. He spoke to her then. The first words that this fascinating man uttered to her. But what he said were not the words she had dreamt of hearing. His words were angry. Hate licked at his syllables and colored his tone. His eyes burned as they looked at her; his face twisted into a mask of disgust.
Alice looked down at her feet as she scooted out the door. She ran all the way home, tears threatening to fall. The image of his burning eyes and disgusted face were seared beneath her eye lids. It was all she could do to get into her room and sink onto the bed before letting herself cry.
He had looked at her in disgust. His eye burning with anger and antipathy. He seemed to be looking through her, seeing only the plain work dress she wore and the interruption she had made. She looked in the mirror, smoothing her hair and dress. She was plain, she was simple, she wore a uniform. That was it. She wanted to be like that woman. He took notice of her, talked to her, laughed with her. He had probably never looked at the blonde woman with a look of disgust on his face.
She looked at herself in the mirror, tears streaming down her face. Suddenly in a rush of anger, she grabbed the mirror and thrust it at the ground. The resounding crash was satisfying. Despite the fruitlessness of the action, the resulting mess gave her a powerful feeling. On a spontaneous urge she gathered up the broken pieces of the mirror, all sharp and silvery, and began to spin the pieces into thread. The familiar motions were soothing and her spiking anger simmered into a comfortable boil.
When she had spools and spools of bright and reflective silver mirror thread, she wove them. She wove them into a shimmering cloth that reflected who others wanted her to be. Into it she wove her frustrations and anger, her rejection and fear. She wove all of the pent up emotions until she had created a dress that fit her like a glove.
A silver glow emanated from her when she put it on. The newly made dress filled her with an artificial confidence. She had made the dress to enable her to be anyone she wanted to be, to be loved by every person she came into contact with. It enabled her to hide behind a persona that was impossible for people to reject. She became who others wanted her to be, and that gave her the confidence she stepped out of her room with. For once she held her head high and walked out the door with a spring in her step, not cowering as she had once done. All eyes on the landing turned to her as she exited her room.
A wave of whispers followed in her wake as she went out into the street. Every head turned to her wherever she walked. A large smile broke out over her face as she watched men’s eyes widen in awe and women titter behind their fans. Her silver dress glowed in the attention, as the magic and emotion that she had woven into it did its work on the eyes of the people around her. Now, she would never be rejected. Now, everyone would see in her exactly what they wanted to see. Her silver dress reflected upon her the exact qualities and characteristics that anyone and everyone wanted to see in her. No longer was she the plain little girl. Now, she was the talk of the town, and everyone wanted to be with her.
Her prowess and popularity grew in proportion to her comfort in her new persona. She may have reflected different qualities with different people, but every person had that same look of awe in their eyes when they looked at her. It did not matter if she bent down to speak to a child on the street, or went dancing with a man who lived in the neighborhood. They all treated her like she was something to adore, someone to worship. She reveled in the attention, loving the confidence that the knowledge of the magic of the dress gave her.
Of course, because of his active social life, the man who she had once worked for soon heard of the amazing new girl in the silver dress. When she received an invitation to his house one afternoon, she was ecstatic. Her enthusiasm for the man had not dimmed in her time away; rather it had intensified as she examined others. Not one man she had met had compared to the son of her former employer.
When she met him again, his eyes rounded in awe. She smiled almost smugly to herself. Even the high and powerful man could not resist the magic of her dress. She watched his face throughout their time together. She watched the way he moved as they talked and laughed together. He was ever attentive to her every whim. The look in his eyes never went black with fury like he had the last time she had been in his house. It was like she was a completely different person.
The man invited her back to his house day after day. Sometimes they went out, others they stayed in and just spent time together. Alice became so comfortable with the powers of the silver dress she wore. She automatically settled into whatever role she played. It became a part of her to bury her own thoughts and feelings and let her personas come to life. With the man, however, it was different. The more time that she spent with him, the more the dress’ glow faded in his presence. She was more of herself around him than with anyone. Despite the shift in her outward appearance, she expressed more of her true personality with the man than she did with anyone else.
The two became inseparable. It came to the point where Alice became so comfortable with him that she wanted to show him all of who she truly was. She was confident that she had let enough of herself shine through the silver dress that he would still know her without it.
One morning she woke up determined to show him her true face. Her fingers scrabbled at the silver cloth around her neck. The buttons wouldn’t budge, no matter how hard she tried to pull them. The silver cloth stuck to her like a second skin. Wherever it touched it seemed as if it were sealed to her. It was impossible to remove with her bare hands. She had worn the dress for such a long time that it had become a part of her. The silver had become a permanent part of her body, her mind, her soul. The whole of her true self had become lost within the persona’s that she projected.
Slowly, ever so slowly, Alice closed her eyes. In her mind, she gathered around her all of her shadowed childhood memories. She remembered the time before the dress, the time when she was just Alice and no one knew her. She remembered her face it had once been, not reflecting the eyes and lips and hair that other people wanted to see. All of the repressed thoughts and emotions she had pushed away while her dress worked its magic came back to her. Finally, she remembered why she had made the dress in the first place. She remembered the look in his eyes when he had shouted at her to leave his house for good.
When she looked up again, once again fully Alice, the silver glow that the dress exerted had vanished. Instead, the dress was just silver cloth.
With shaking fingers, she unbuttoned the dress. Her entire body shook with apprehension as she carefully folded the dress and put it into the chest at the foot of her bed. To calm herself down, she quietly reminded herself that the man knew her. She had been more of herself with him than with anyone. That had to mean something. The dress would not allow her to be anyone other than what needed to be reflected. That had to mean the man would like her as just herself as well. He just had to realize that the silver dress and she were one and the same.
Quietly she left her room and went out of the building. It was a refreshing change from the clamors of people around her, wanting for her every attention, to just walk by herself. Even though she no longer wore the silver dress, the memory of the attention she received still gave her a sense of confidence. Instead of shrinking away from people, she walked on the sidewalk in the sunshine, letting the rays of light warm her newly exposed skin; some places still raw where the silver had melded with her flesh.
She got to the man’s house quickly; the way was familiar to her by now. She waited to be let into the parlor, where the man usually met her and was instead met with the butler. He looked at her coldly, as if he had never seen her before. When she asked to see the man, he spoke to her as if he was expecting someone else. In shock, she realized that the butler did not recognize her. The silver dress had changed her appearance so much without the dress, she truly looked like a different person. She tried to convince him otherwise and when the man came down the stairs she called out to him.
He looked over at Alice, who was still struggling with the butler. She desperately looked at the man, begging him to recognize her. He needed to know her. It was impossible for him not to know her. He had to. But the man looked through her as he had done the first time he had spoken to her. His eyes examined her face once and then slid away. He shook his head and motioned for the butler to expel her from the house, then went into the parlor to await his silver dressed girl.
Standing in shock outside the door that had just been slammed in her face, Alice looked to the window where she knew the man would be. There he was, poking at the empty hearth staring at the picture of the two of them they had taken together. How was it that he could not know her? All she wanted was to show him herself. Show him who she truly was. She wanted to be herself around him. She thought he would understand. He didn’t. He didn’t know; he didn’t care. All he wanted was the vision of his dream girl that he got when she wore the silver dress.
Alice walked back to her small room. Her mind a numb cloud. No thoughts swirled around in her head for once. Her eyes were blank as she navigated her way through the winding streets. No one looked at her. No one stopped her to talk. No one needed her anymore. No one needed Alice. All anyone wanted was their vision of perfection.
She walked in her room and stared at the bare walls. On a whim, she packed her meager belongings. Her limbs, once engaging and full of life, moved sluggishly and weakly. The energy she once had no longer was present in her eyes. Surprisingly, she was not angry. Instead her youth and life had been sapped out of her. Slowly, she looked around the little used room. Dust had collected in the corners since she had been preoccupied. Her eyes landed on the chest at the foot of her small bed. The handle was well worn and again she lifted the familiar lid and gazed at the dress that was inside.
The silver was still bright, and the glow that surrounded it lit her with a deathly pallor. Despite the worn edges and frayed cuffs, the dress had never ripped and seemed to repel stains. It was as beautiful as it had been when she had first sewn it, that fateful night when this all had started.
A lonely tear dripped down her cheek and landed inside the chest. Angrily Alice slammed it closed, gathered her scant belongings and walked out the door. The farther she walked away the less the glow that came from inside the chest shone through the cracks. Because with that single tear that had escaped her frigid exterior, the magic and life that permeated the silvery dress, faded as she did; until finally, the house vacated and the room fell into disrepair. And Alice became just a legend. Alice became nothing but a once beautiful girl who came and went like a shadow, disappearing into the darkness of mystery.
And that simple wooden house she lived in, a long way into the labyrinthine alleyways and forgotten streets of the west side of town, faded from recognition. The neighborhood became fearful as the remnants of magic faded from the air, leaving it cold and unwelcoming. And the dress still sat in her chest, the threads fading and losing their reflective qualities. Only a faint glow, around a round, tear shaped mark still shone throughout the years. And suddenly even that was gone. And the legend and mystery died along with it. Until only the echo of her laughter rang throughout the room.