A year or so ago, browsing in an antique store in the town my in-laws live in, I came across a decorative mirror. It was wildly embellished. Over-the-top, some would consider. But I liked it—it was unusual and beautiful. However, it was a bit pricey. And, perhaps not to everyone’s taste. To be honest, seeing it in the shop, I wasn’t sure it was even to my taste.
The next time I came to town, I looked for the mirror where it had been hanging on a back wall. Perhaps, seeing it again, I would decide if I wanted it.
It wasn’t there. Someone bought it, I thought. I imagined the purchaser—a man with an apartment full of beaux arts and art deco furniture. At night he’d make cocktails in a silver shaker. When he had a party, he’d play jazz standards on a baby grand piano.
However, since I visit that town several times a year, I kept an eye out for the mirror. The stock in antique stores does get moved around. Over repeated trips I’ve bought many things at this antique store: jewelry, an embellished coat, an old typewriter. I like dropping in when I visit. On my latest trip, I spent a happy hour trying on vintage hats and examining rhinestone broaches. And then, tucked in a back corner, partially hidden by an armoire, I saw it: the embellished mirror.
At least I thought it was the same one: it had the etched daisies and raised flower details I remembered. And what were the chances that there were two similar mirrors in the same antique shop?
I said goodbye to my mental picture of the natty man in the golden-brown cardigan and his silver cocktail shaker.
Looking at the mirror again, I decided I liked it for sure. More than that, I knew I wanted it because it had lived on in my mind for so long.
Some objects remain in our thoughts, even when we don’t see them. The harvest gold round pitcher my mom used to have. My grandmother’s low rocking chair with its flattened green pillow in the seat. The metal bird masks displayed in a Venetian shop window.
Details live on in our thoughts too: the half-full pool at my apartment complex after a major earthquake sloshed water out, the sludgy brown of a glacier-fed stream, the heat wafting up from the pavement in front of the old Frye’s grocery store on a summer’s day. And incidents too: slipping and falling in my first pair of high heels in front of a boy I had a crush on, catching a lift back to my hotel in the back of a Bahamian road-worker’s van, watching my grandmother grabbing blueberries with her arthritic hands.
All of these objects, details, incidents that linger—they are the secret engine that drives fiction. My stories are stuffed with the details that live on, the incidents I can’t shake. Sometimes I massage them beyond recognition, sometimes they’re nearly verbatim, sometimes they're merely the set decoration for an unrelated story. When I wrote a story that featured some old jewelry, my brother said he recognized some of the jewelry I wrote about, even though the elderly grandmother in the story resembled neither of our grandmothers.
Whatever we write becomes a mirror reflecting the things that live on in us.
And for the actual mirror? I bought it. The story I told about the jazz-playing, art deco loving man was just fiction. I may yet write it—or some other story featuring an elaborate mirror, reflecting my life.
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Ann Hillesland writes fiction and essays. Her work has appeared in many literary journals, including Fourth Genre, Bayou, The Laurel Review, and Sou’wester.
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