What the Mirror Saw
by Kim Michele Richardson
Fall around Kentucky is a testament to countenance—a cheval glass of what has been and what is to come—a time when these old hills and valleys pull toward winter slumber, surrendering to the dying season with its last volley of majestic colors that brings reflective moods. It has me recalling back to the October several years ago, when my mister bought me a birthday present.
He was certainly pleased with himself, especially after his birthday present the year before. This new gift was regal, not like the birthday outhouse (I kid you not) he’d built on our tiny Kentucky farm—the one thing he thought I would ‘need, absolutely had to have, let me build it for you-have’, in the overgrown acres of our wilded Kentucky land.
This birthday present was a massive, antique pier mirror, most likely from the 40s or earlier. Worth a great deal, he’d paid pennies compared to what it should’ve cost, which truly surprised me and should have set off alarm bells. Brass and copper with intricate carved roses and a hammered bead scroll work running the border, weighing probably close to 200 pounds. A gorgeous piece, it was something I had been looking for to fill and accent our large bedroom wall.
For unknown reasons, my first glimpse of the old floor-length mirror made me feel gloomy. Maybe because it signified another birthday, another year gone. To shake off the feelings, I opened the windows to let in the crisp fall breeze and the comforting woodsmoke that drifted from a neighbor’s home.
I didn’t sleep well for three nights. Maybe it was because the bedroom lighting was off, the balance slightly stretched or hitched with the burden of such a heavy, ornate piece and the new reflections. I ended up painting the bedroom and changing out the curtains, using a soothing, charming color palette as my guide. Still, every time I looked at the birthday mirror I felt a twinge of sadness.
Since its delivery, there’d been strange happenings, too. Not in the ‘I see dead people, chain-rattling-woo-woo’ sorta way, but in the ‘I’m dreaming dead people’ way. Not really bad dreams, but more unusual and lingering: one about my beloved first cat and another about a dead relative, yet another of a deceased childhood friend. And I’ve noticed my second cat spending a large amount of time sitting in front of the huge mirror.
The mirror was on my side of the bed, closest to me. Maybe that was the problem, so I suggested we switch sides of the mattress to sleep on. My mister loved the mirror so much, he readily agreed.
I worried about the mirror’s careless, wide, slanted perch atop the wooden floor, which it had been left on. “Let’s anchor it to the floor with big screws,” I’d suggested.
“Let’s shine it,” he said. (He truly loved the mirror.)
We polished the brass and copper frame. Several days later, my mister, unaware of my uneasiness, said we should call the antique store and try to find out the history of this glorious antique.
When the antique dealer called back with its trace, I was (maybe not) surprised to find out that it had belonged to a funeral home from 1919 to the early 90s.
“It’s not like it came from an asylum or somewhere bad,” the mister brushed it off, “and can you believe the great price!” My neighbor piped up, “It’s so elegant, and it’s not like it sat in a house of ill repute or—”
Any of those they suggested would’ve left me more at ease.
I’d heard the old stories on twilight, muddled porches about lost souls attaching themselves to objects—of the woman on vacation who purchased an antique, silver bracelet believed to be owned by an Indian tribal princess. Every time the woman wore it, she would find tracks of blood and scratches on her wrist the next morning. Unwilling to part with the showy piece, or the attention she got from wearing it, the woman ended up having to wear a long glove to hide the scars of the possessed object.
There was the tale of a different kind—the strapped-for-cash daddy who bought his seven-year-old daughter a set of gently used riding boots, only to have the child awaken during the middle of the night, frightened from the sounds of wearisome clip-clops, the steady pacing across floorboards. In the mornings the mother discovered the boots under the bed instead of the closet they’d been stored the night before. The father buried the boots inside the cellar wall.
And didn’t the old-timers living up in the hollows always claim a coffin should never be reflected in a mirror—that you should drape all the looking glasses in dark cloths during a wake, or else the devil would hitch himself to the mirror and beckon to the coffin, luring the soul of the deceased into the mirror where it would become eternally damned, locked inside … A sure invitation to catastrophe, the hillfolk declared. Some are bound by these beliefs and take them very seriously.
I told the mister it might be best if we found another home for the mirror.
Maybe he didn’t take me seriously because I didn’t have my chin set right, or there wasn’t enough quiver in my voice. I ended up white-saging the hell out of it, but it was still there, I felt, looming inside—the hundred years of history, the bearing of witness to bereavement and always-permanence.
Sometimes, the old mirror startled me when I walked into the bedroom and heard it slightly groaning from my footsteps, its weight cumbersome atop the floor. As I hurried past, its protests lingered and punched around the walls like it was trying to push me away, or worse, trap me inside.
A week ago, I found my cat behind the slanted mirror clawing at the back, shredding the thick, tan paper dustcover. I scooted her away to pick up the scraps of strewn paper, and that’s when I saw it, saw what had been hidden inside the cavity of the old mirror. I poked my fingers behind the decaying dustcover, and dug out two crumpled sheets of paper that had been wedged between the splintered plywood frame.
Carefully, I smoothed out the pieces, one a yellowed newspaper clipping from October, 1936, the other dated two days later for a funeral program for sixty-one-year-old Elizabeth “Elsie” Creech who’d met her demise on her birthday. Then I read the newsprint and saw what she’d done, saw ol Elsie’s sin: Elizabeth Creech, widow of Reverend J. Creech, lived with her twenty-year-old son, Franklin J. Creech, on their farm out off Soldier Creek Road. On Tuesday morning, October 20th, the elderly Creech shot her son in the chest multiple times after he announced his plans to marry and move away. When Sheriff St. Clair arrived at the Creech homestead, the mother confessed and turned the gun on herself. Mrs. J. Creech had been struggling to save her small farm for several years, and it was reported … and …
As my birthday once again rolls around this twentieth day of October, I’m planning on taking the funeral mirror, Creech’s soul, out to our farm and surrendering it to the ghosts of birthday gifts past, to the abandoned, mirrorless outhouse shrouded in the knotweed and twisty honeysuckle grave.
Kim Michele Richardson lives in Kentucky and resides part-time in Western North Carolina. She is the author of the bestselling memoir The Unbreakable Child, and a book critic for the New York Journal of Books. She is the founder of tiny home, Shy Rabbit, a writers/artists residency offered for low-income artists. Her novels include Liar’s Bench, GodPretty in the Tobacco Field and The Sisters of Glass Ferry, and a forthcoming novel The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. Friend her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.