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.