Rachel’s Mirrorbook

Rachel stood in the front hall of her house and watched her parents drive out of the laneway in their black Rover. She intended to spend the afternoon in her father’s library, her favourite place to pass time when her parents were away. She was not doing anything forbidden. In fact, she was always welcome in the library. On days like this, when she knew she would not be interrupted, she loved becoming completely absorbed in reading, being swept up into a story and carried away to another time or place.

Rachel already knew which book she was going to take down from the shelves. She had been waiting to read it until a day when her parents were sure to be away from the house for several hours.

As she walked into the library she noticed her black, short‑haired cat, Ptolemy, sitting on the sill of the partly opened window. He was licking his front paws, using first one and then the other to wash his face.

Rachel pushed the wooden ladder leaning in front of the wall of books along its track to the spot where she could reach the book she wanted. It was bound in red leather and hinged with silver along the spine. The covers were fastened close with finely engraved silver clasps that were locked by thin brass bolts attached to the locks by delicate silver chains.

Her father often talked to Rachel about the books in his collection but he had omitted this one even when they were talking about others on the same shelf. Twice when her father was showing her some of the library, she noticed his eyes fall on this volume and pause there for a moment but then move along the shelf with a quick glance at her to assure himself she had not noticed the omission. She never asked her father about the large red volume; she was sure he preferred that she not.

Rachel climbed up the ladder and pulled the book towards her. It was much heavier than she expected. The book started to fall; she grabbed it; she steadied herself on the ladder. Her legs felt wobbly and her heart was pounding as she climbed down the ladder with the book held tight against her chest. She took the fine red volume to her favourite wing chair beside the sunlit window where Ptolemy now was lying with his front paws curled under his chest and his eyelids pressed tight together as if he were concentrating on a difficult subject.

Rachel made herself comfortable in the black leather chair. She felt the book’s soft smooth binding as she held it and slid the small bolts out of place. They tinkled as they swung against the clasps.

As soon as she opened the front cover, Rachel realized that the contents were unusual. She found no end papers. Instead, a piece of chamois cloth was bound into the book. She folded the chamois gently back over the cover and looked at the first page.

As soon as she opened the front cover, Rachel realized that the contents were unusual. She found no end papers. Instead, a piece of chamois cloth was bound into the book. She folded the chamois gently back over the cover and looked at the first page.

She thought, what a strange book. All she could see was a glossy surface like a very dark mirror with a few streaks of light in it.

She wiggled about in the chair hoping to change the lighting enough to reveal something in the page. She had no idea what might appear within the dimly lit surface. She assured herself that Ptolemy was lying close beside her. He could console her if she found the book unsettling.

She notices the glassy page is becoming much brighter. When she concentrates on it, she sees a young woman with reddish-brown hair, the colour of her own, kneeling, leaning over a pool of water as if she is about to take a drink.

The woman is wearing a dark blue robe fastened tight around her neck with a bright yellow band which extends down the front of the robe. Yellow bands encircle the cuffs of the robe as well. The pool of water is surrounded by tall green grasses, which are reflected in it. Rachel can see sunlight glinting off ripples on the pool’s surface. She is staring so intently that she feels about to fall into the picture.

The woman begins to move. She is cupping one hand to her mouth and steadying herself with the other.

Rachel blinks her eyes self‑consciously and then stares again. A black cat walks up beside the woman at the pool, arches his spine, kneads the air with his paws, and rubs himself against her thigh. As the woman strokes his head, the cat curls his tail over his back and seems to smile up at the woman. She stops patting the cat and stands. Rachel is amazed to see the woman’s face is just like her own, freckled, blue-eyed with a long narrow nose and a dimple in her chin. The figure in the glass seems to be frozen in place now—no longer moving—and now the image is fading.

Rachel is not sure what to do. She looks at Ptolemy; he is resting quietly. She glances around the library and everything seems just as it should. When she looks back at the book on her lap the image is completely gone.

Rachel is not sure what to do. She looks at Ptolemy; he is resting quietly. She glances around the library and everything seems just as it should. When she looks back at the book on her lap the image is completely gone. She sees only the glimmering she found when she first turned back the chamois.She thinks how pleasant the scene appeared when she noticed the woman’s face. As she thinks about the scene, the glass starts to brighten, and the greens of the pond reappear. She can see the woman’s brilliant blue robe once again.

Now, the woman picks up a small red pouch. She walks along the edge of the pool carrying the pouch in one hand. The cat stays close to her, rubbing his face and side on her leg as she strolls through the tall grass. Rachel imagines the woman feeling the cat rubbing himself against her leg. She almost has the sensation that the bearded heads of grass are tickling her own hands and arms. Rachel can see a large yellow butterfly frisking in front of the woman.

The woman, the cat and the butterfly follow the edge of the pool until they come to a place where the grass separates. Rachel can see the woman turn and continue walking along what must be a path through the separation and beyond. After a few steps the woman comes to the edge of the page and she disappears from view.

The mirror grew dark again almost instantly. Rachel sank back in her chair. She relaxed her grip on the book. She had been holding on so tightly that her arms hurt. She balanced the book in her lap and let her arms hang over the sides of the chair. The blue-robed woman and the gently rippling pool remained vivid in front of her eyes even when she leaned her head back against one of the wings of the chair.

Rachel knew there were more pages in the book, but she was not sure whether to continue reading it. The similarity between herself and the woman in the book made her uneasy and fearful that she would see an unhappy event or a portent of her own future. At the same time, she was intrigued by the possible images the book might reveal, romantic visions of herself or a young woman like her adventuring in rugged, unknown places or taking part in charming, tranquil scenes.

She convinced herself that the woman in the book could not possibly be her. That idea was absurd. She decided that she had time before her parents came home to study the rest of the mysterious mirrors or glasses. She might as well find out what story they held.

She turned the thick dark page she already had looked at, and discovered that the next one also was covered by a chamois cloth. She lifted it and found another dim shiny surface. At first, she sees nothing but little flares of light. Rachel is not certain how to make an image appear or whether she has any control over the process. She begins to stare down intently, at the same time shifting slightly in her chair to view the mirror as clearly as possible.

Suddenly, the mirror surface becomes noticeably brighter. When her eyes come to rest on the page, she sees in its depths the same young woman with the long reddish-blond hair. The same black cat appears too.

Rachel feels as though the garden in the book is her own and that she is the woman, and Ptolemy, the cat, in the book.

Rachel feels as though the garden in the book is her own and that she is the woman, and Ptolemy, the cat, in the book.

“Ptolemy,” she whispers, “we’re in the picture in this book.” Ptolemy opens one eye half‑way.

The woman and the cat in the book are in a herb garden surrounded by a head‑high red brick wall covered by climbing roses. As the page becomes brighter, Rachel realizes that the woman is wearing a brilliant green, velvet jacket and a long, full, nutbrown skirt. As Rachel moves her eyes over the image, she sees that the garden is laid out in an intricate pattern of small beds connected with paths covered with crushed red brick. The woman is picking leaves from the plants at the edge of one of the paths and piling them carefully in a small open basket she holds on one arm. Each bed of herbs is arranged in a pattern—rosette, spiral, fleur-de-lys.

Rachel can feel the weight of the heavy fabric in the long skirt as the woman moves along the curved path towards the garden wall with the cat following her. At her waist hangs a small red leather pouch which bumps against her body as she walks. The cat nibbles at the thyme plants. A bee is buzzing near his head. When the cat notices the bee he jerks his head away from it.

Rachel continues to follow the movements of the woman and the cat as they amble about the garden. She can feel the woman bend to pick the herbs and she can almost smell them. When the woman has filled the basket, she walks to the red brick wall, opens the wooden gate, and holds it open for the cat. A yellow butterfly flits through the opening first. The cat follows it. Rachel is quite eager to see what lies beyond the wall of the garden, but when she sees the woman pass through the open gate she has gone beyond the edge of the page. Rachel tries to imagine following them through the gate, but before she manages to picture anything in her mind, the mirror grows dark.

Rachel was mesmerized. She wanted to continue reading but she needed to rest for a few moments before she viewed the next page. She was aware of a feeling of heaviness in her body. She leaned over to pat Ptolemy who stirred and gave a small purr-urp of greeting. His voice and soft fur comforted Rachel.

She felt as if she needed to stretch before she became caught up in the next image. She set the book on the table beside her and got up to look out the window. It was a bright but cool day, one of the first crisp days of autumn. As Rachel was staring out the window, she wondered what else the book could possibly show her. She looked at the clock and realized her parents would not be home for at least another hour. She decided to continue with her reading. She settled into the chair again with the book on her lap.

The next mirror was tinted light grey, as the sky just before the sun breaks through a morning mist. When she looks down into the mirror, she sees the reddish-haired young woman in a bright yellow shirt, blousing out, around her arms and over the waistband of her brown corduroy trousers. A butterfly is bobbing along in front of her. She is following a path through a grassy meadow, past a pond which is surrounded by tall green grass, along an aisle formed by the grass, until she comes out onto a beach. Fine, greyish sand stretches out ahead of the woman way down into the page. The sea is still; shades of blues and greens lie in irregular patches.

The young woman stoops to pick up a stone. Rachel can see that it is pink with grey lines slashed through it from side to side. The woman puts the stone in the pocket of her trousers and walks farther along the beach. A yellow butterfly settles on the beach very close to the place where she stops, bends over and picks up a shell. The purple shell has a shiny, milky white lining. The woman holds the shell in her hand and rubs her thumb back and forth over the smooth interior. She takes a small red leather pouch out of her pocket, puts the stone and the shell into it, and returns the pouch to her pocket. She continues walking along the beach, stopping often to look out to sea.

She finds a small green skiff. Rachel can feel the woman lean over to look at it more closely. She touches the very soft, unusually pliable wood of the boat. She runs her hand along the gunwale until she comes to the name printed in silver letters on the bow, “RACHEL”. A yellow butterfly is fluttering over the oarlock.

The young woman pulls the boat to the edge of the beach and launches herself in it. Steadily, she rows away from the shore, then, turns the little craft . . . .

The young woman pulls the boat to the edge of the beach and launches herself in it. Steadily, she rows away from the shore, then, turns the little craft and makes her way around a small point of land. The butterfly is resting on the bow of the boat. The woman pauses and apparently decides to land.

She turns the boat again and rows it toward shore. When she is at the edge of the sea, she steps out and hauls the skiff up onto the beach. She scans the edge of the beach and finds a path leading inland. The woman follows the path through a field where butterflies are dancing over the heads of white daisies. She comes to a high brick wall with a wooden door in it.

She opens the door with the curved top and passes through the wall. To her right, a row of beehives stands, and to her left, an old woman crouches. The woman is picking leaves from herb plants which are arranged in the same patterns as those in the other garden Rachel had seen in the book.

A movement in the library catches Rachel’s eye. A large yellow butterfly has flown in the window past Ptolemy. He sits up. He stretches his front paws, then, each hind leg, all the time watching the butterfly weave about the room. Now that he is alert and supple, Ptolemy jumps down to the floor and starts to chase the butterfly around the room. As it hovers over the desk, Ptolemy jumps onto the chair which swivels part way around as he lands. The butterfly comes to rest on a corner of the desk. Ptolemy watches its wings beat and flex slowly for a moment. Ptolemy jumps onto the desk and is about to pounce on the butterfly when Rachel shouts, “Ptolemy!” She lays the book on the floor and hurries over to the desk.

“You can be such a bad cat,” she scolds, as she lifts Ptolemy off the desk. As she is holding the cat, she notices a small red pouch on her father’s desk. She sets Ptolemy down and shoos him away. She uses her body, hands and arms as barriers to guide the butterfly back to the window and outside. She comes back to the desk and takes up the sac so much like the one carried by the woman in the book.

Rachel unties the lace around the bright red leather pouch and opens it carefully. She finds three objects inside. Two are wrapped in foil, one in silver and one in gold. The third object is a piece of wood. She opens the gold foil first, carefully peeling it back to reveal a purple shell with a milk white interior just like the one the woman picked up in the image in the book. Then she peels the silver foil from the hard centre it covers and finds the grey-striped pink stone. The piece of wood is a flat green disc a couple of inches across. When she examines it, she sees that it is etched with the design of a herb garden inside a brick wall. She turns the soft, pliant disc over and finds the word “RACHEL” imprinted in silver letters.

Rachel’s heart is pounding. She is almost afraid to handle the objects, but she takes the pouch, stone, shell and wooden disc to her chair, seats herself and lays the leather sac and its contents in her lap. She runs her fingers over each of the items. Each one has its own texture: the stone is slightly rough; the shell is silky smooth on the inside and rippled on the outside; the wood is grainy; the leather is soft and supple; and the pieces of foil are smooth, though fragile as gossamer.

She shakes the pouch to see if it contains anything more. A tiny bundle of nutbrown cloth falls out. She opens the bundle and, at once, recognizes the scent of dried thyme leaves and rose petals.

As she lowered the hand containing the aromatic bundle to her lap, Rachel sighed and turned her eyes dreamily to the window of the library. Through the window she could see the late afternoon sunlight warming the line of evergreens along the edge of the property. At that moment the trees could be those she had seen in the distance in the glassy pages of the book. She let herself drift into and become immersed, once again, in the calm warmth of the scenes she had viewed in the mirrors. As she floated in her mind from the garden to the beach, she remembered the sensation of turning the heavy pages in the red leather book. She wondered if she had looked at all of its mirrors. Her concentration shifted from reliving the scenes back to the book itself. She picked it up from the floor beside her chair and found, happily, that she had not viewed all the pages. She turned back the grey tinted page and the next chamois.

The warm brown tones of the surface of the next mirror reveal their image quickly. Immediately, Rachel realizes that this page contains an image of her father’s library. She sees two walls lined with shelves full of books. A wooden ladder attached to a track on the ceiling stands in front of each wall. A large desk, with a brown leather, swivel chair behind it, is angled across the corner formed by the two walls covered with book shelves. A tall blue-shaded lamp stands on the corner of the desk. She can see herself sitting in the black wing chair by the window. The cat on the sill in the book’s library yawns and stretches its front paws just as Ptolemy is doing beside her.

Rachel sees that the woman in the mirror is holding a large, thick book open on her lap. By concentrating on that book, Rachel is able to see what the other woman is seeing. The black cat and the young, reddish-haired woman are in a room like her father’s library. The woman in the image in the book on Rachel’s lap is looking at a book which Rachel can see has the same image repeated in it.

Ptolemy meows and jumps into the chair beside her. She sets the book on the table beside her chair. Ptolemy arranges himself in her lap. She leans over to look at the book. In the mirror the cat is now in the woman’s lap. The woman’s book is on the table beside her chair. Rachel concentrates on the mirror woman’s book until she seems to draw closer to it and is able to see that the same changes have taken place in it.

Rachel leans back in her chair. She feels very heavy, pressed against the chair, as if some force is holding her in it. After a few moments, Ptolemy jumps down from her lap. Dusk is falling outside; her parents will return soon.

She gathers the items from the pouch and carefully returns them to it. She wonders if she should replace the pouch on her father’s desk. She would like to keep the leather sac, but she fears her father might miss it.

Reluctantly, Rachel closes the red leather cover and locks the silver clasps with the thin brass bolts. Then, she climbs the ladder with the book held tight in her arm. Carefully, she places it back on the shelf. Every movement needs more effort than it should. She climbs down and returns to her chair. A huge yawn wells up through her throat and makes her open her mouth so wide her jaws hurt. She wants the soft dreamy mood of the room to remain. She closes her eyes willing the now oddly familiar mirror images to linger with her.

Drowsily, she looks up into her father’s face, when she hears him calling to her mother, “Here she is, dear, in the library.”.

Rachel’s story resumes here