Friday, 12 March 2010

The Mirror World

I have been thinking recently about the terrors that everyday objects held for me when I was a child. I remember how I spent long periods of time staring into the mirror in my parents’ bedroom, checking that the room it showed me was exactly the same as the one in which I stood.

I would look very carefully at the position of an object in the room, try to fix it in my mind, then turn quickly and find it in the mirror, check to see that it wasn’t just a inch or two to the right or left. Then I would repeat the exercise with another object. I never managed to find any discrepancy.

But even when I found that the object and its mirror image were in exactly the same positions I was always convinced that I had not turned my head quickly enough. In that in-between instant, things had been altered in the mirror-world, put right, made respectable. I had been fooled again.

Sometimes I focused on my own appearance. If I raised my eyebrows did my twin in the mirror room raise his eyebrows equally quickly, or was there just the hint of a delay, just a moment when he realised what I was doing and copied the gesture?

Equally worrying was the window pane in the kitchen. It was made of beaded, or bubbled glass so as to make it opaque. When my mother or father were in the house it was no more than an ordinary window. But whenever I was left alone in the house, when my father was at work, my mother at church and my brothers elsewhere, then that glass would develop a life of its own, a menacing existence that only I was aware of.

At any moment I was certain, those beads of glass would detach themselves from the window and dance their way towards me, intent on consuming me utterly. I would stare at them furiously, fists clenched, letting them know that I was well aware of what they were plotting. I knew that if they called my bluff I wouldn’t stand a chance but still I was determined to render a good account of myself, to outface them, to go down fighting.

A few years ago in a primary school I overheard two young children talking. They weren’t aware that I was listening. One of them was describing the way that the leg of a table sometimes swarmed with patterns that turned into living things when her parents weren’t there. Cats, dogs, monsters even.

I wanted to crouch down and tell her, ‘I’ve seen that. I know about those bloody table legs. You can’t trust them as far as you can spit.’ But I didn’t. Instead I walked away, a little ashamed at eavesdropping on a world in which I no longer truly belonged, a world where the borders between the imagination and reality had yet to become entirely fixed.

5 comments:

Dolly said...

It's a shame adults feel inclined to leave everything of childhood behind. Though perhaps writers do get little bit good deal, since we see those monsters and moving furniture, even if we wouldn't admit to it in "grown-up" company, though I am used to insisting on value of imagination which gets me a lot of head-shaking from the too-logical people I am often surrounded by.

Paul said...

Fascinating. I'm sure I had similar irrational fears as a child, but I've managed to suppress them. Now all of my fears are completely rational and reasonable!

Derek said...

I can see why you connect with your readers, Brian. You clearly have a direct line to the child you were and you articulate that very well now.

Brian Keaney said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone. Dolly you're right, it is a shame. But being a writer for children allows you to indulge your inner child more than most. Glad to hear about the rationality, Paul! Derek, thank you for that. It's certainly what I aspire to.

Liza Swift said...

I was always convinced that my dolls and teddies would jump up and begin talking to each other as soon as I left and scramble to get back into place when they heard me coming home. I sometimes closed the door whispering "please tidy my room for me", and was genuinely disappointed when I came home and they hadn't.

Though I am an adult I still believe there are secrets around us, whether it be fairies and gnomes or werewolves and vampires.
My imagination is too important for me to give it up to become an adult.