In this vignette inspired by a poem by Sylvia Plath, Sean O’Shea portrays a solitary woman attempting to connect with some inner sense of goodness and quietude.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall. It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long I think it is part of my heart. But it flickers. Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Mirror, Sylvia Plath
She polished her mirror every day, breathing on the glass and wiping the clouds from side to side. The smell of lavender wafted and mingled with the smell of her sweat. Little beads dripped from her forehead – her crown of beads; then the satisfaction of cleanliness, a rest afterwards and some tea taken by the window.
There were other residents in the house; she didn’t know how many. They lived so discretely they were like ghostly absences, or they may have been mice, as the sound of rodents is easily mistaken for people as they scurry about in the night. The room was her refuge; its walls offered protection from the gaze of others and from the menacing indifference of the city streets.
Thoughts, feelings and memories raced through her mind incessantly. She worried about everything: how she looked, what she thought, what other people thought, whether she did things right, whether she was good enough.
She had been told who she was from an early age. She had been her daddy’s pride and joy. She was the object of men’s desire. She knew what was expected. Yet slowly she protested, dismantling each cage in which they sought to confine her.
Breathing again on the mirror she clouded her reflection to see what it would be like to disappear. This childlike game amused her. Some evenings she would waltz around like an Egyptian queen or gyrate like a belly dancer, or pretend she was the god Shiva who could take whatever form he chose. And so she danced in her secret hall of mirrors, waving to all the passing phantoms which shimmered before her in their lakes of glass.
There was a statue of Buddha on the mantelpiece, alongside which was a small vase and incense burner. Here she placed fresh flowers once a month to mark the occasion of her bleeding. The flowers would wither and die and remain in the vase till she bled again.
The walls were bare except for one poster, Sorrow by Van Gogh. In a letter Van Gogh had written: I want to make drawings that touch some people. Sorrow is a small beginning…
Her bed was at the back of the room facing the window. On the bedside table was a book called, How to Meditate, with a picture on the front depicting Tara, the mother of all Buddhas. Tara manifested in emerald green.
Each morning she lit an incense stick and sat in the lotus position to meditate. First she concentrated on her breath, aware of her chest rising and falling with each inhalation and exhalation. Then she was aware of the passage of her thoughts; she sought to let these drift like clouds before her mind’s eye.
She remembered the deceased; they appeared as hazy shadows in the distance. Her late mother, her later father and former generations, fully dressed and fully smiled, preserving their lives in albums. She remembered her scrapbook with its painted leaves, dried butterflies and once treasured locks of hair.
She thought of her former lovers and the other beings in the house, rodents or otherwise. Each lived according to their own rhythm: the rhythm of pleasure, the rhythm of pain – the two were the same.
Hide and seek, give us a crumb for we are dumb even though we have lovely long tails and sharp claws and strong jaws – all the better for biting with. Spare us the fatality of a piece of cheese. Rising and falling.
All these creatures were just trying to make the best of their lives, including those who were angry or violent.
Following the guidance in her meditation handbook, she visualised love as a warm bright light rising from the base of her spine, travelling through her solar plexus, inflaming her heart, then moving up towards the top of her head and radiating outwards touching all living creatures. May our confusion cease, may love and wisdom grow in us, may we become whole and free, she prayed.
Some mornings this worked better than others. The morning mourns the night as daybreak is witness to broken dreams that leave their stains on clean white sheets. The promises, the soft words in the ear, then the fear, the power of passion and the dread, let me in… now…ahh…rising and falling…
As a child she blew on the silky white gossamer ball of the withered dandelion. The baring of the stem would mark the answer to her quest. He loves me. He loves me not. In such ways were divined the inscrutable mysteries of the heart.
Her attention wandered to the street below her window. Some youths loitered by the station leering at passersby. Would you like a shag darling, they sneered.
Long ago women would weave and spin. She neither wove nor spun, nor sang, rock-a-bye baby on the tree top…
She reminded herself that the tree of life had endless roots and endless branches. In winter the bare branches reach towards the sky like a scream. Come spring there are the usual stirrings, the soft rains beckoning the buds and then the inevitable efflorescence, followed to be sure by the fall.
She remembered her deflowering under the French sun. He undid his trousers but his defences remained intact. He kept his heart in his fridge chilling by his Grolsch. Tiring at the mouth she gulped. You are only a tart and not very smart, he said as he left. Afterwards she inspected his teeth marks on her neck before covering them with concealer. Love bites.
Had her body lost its youthful vigour? Perhaps it sagged a little but it could still appeal when seen in a soft light. She would look in the mirror no more. Her former lovers were scattered like leaves blown this way and that by other amours. Rising and falling the waves of passion ebb and flow with awesome impersonality. The beam of her eye cast its light on herself and her shrinking world and could see nothing that didn’t wither under its gaze.
There was something dripping in her head. Was it dread? Had the cat been fed? Had something fallen on the rodent’s head?
Steady up, this is a cup. These are my hands before my eyes. Inhale. Exhale.
She hung a dust sheet over the mirror. Now this is a ghost, a clean white ghost. There is nothing to fear, there is nothing here, nothing to weave and nothing to retrieve. Inhale. Exhale.
The smell of incense filled the thinning air. The sun cast its rays across the room bathing all in a viridescent hue. She lay on her bed with her thumb in her mouth… throbbing between worlds…in-folding like a foetus…tears falling from pale green cheeks…dusting still…the incense smouldered…
A howl rose from the pit of her stomach, and she howled until her lungs began to ache and she could howl no more. Thereafter she stretched spread-eagled on the floor with her eyes closed. The familiar babble in her mind had subsided, giving way to a stillness, disturbed only by the beat of her heart and the gentle purr of the cat as it rubbed itself against her cheek.
Mirror by Sylvia Plath.
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