What a strange gift, she thought. What a strange gift it was to be able to touch the heartbeat of existence with her hands. She grabbed a handful of soil, warm and fragrant in the afternoon sunshine. It was dark and shiny, it smelled of mushrooms and forests and clumped loosely in her fist: the crowning glory of garden soils.
She let go of it and brushed her hands against each other, her spirit far away, her heart split between this and the other world, her mind struggling to reconcile living in such an impossible bind.
Ever since she had returned to her childhood home she had been feeling like she was living on borrowed time, like life was expecting her to choose between the options it had laid before her and her decision was overdue. The almost unbearable weight of this imperative burdened her every thought and interaction and made her anxious for no reason.
“What is bothering you, bebelle?” Grandmother asked kindly.
“It’s hard to explain,” Claire welcomed the counsel. “I feel like I have to choose between things I can barely understand.”
“I don’t know, who I should be, I guess. It doesn’t make any sense, right? Why should one choose who one should be. Aren’t we already who we are? What does that even mean? Besides, I don’t want to choose. You always lose something every time you make a choice.”
“You’ll have to choose something eventually,” Grandmother argued.
Grandmother didn’t answer. The obvious answer, that one couldn’t be in two places at once and be all things to all people didn’t seem to be enough to satisfy her granddaughter’s quest for meaning.
“What do you want to do?” she asked instead.
“I’m doing it right now,” Claire responded. “I keep hearing people expect something else from me and I can’t understand what that is or why?”
“Because you’re always looking like you’re stuck waiting,” Grandmother offered the answer. “Nobody lives in the world of all possibilities. People usually pick one and stick with it.”
“Because otherwise living becomes impossibly hard.”
Claire frowned and turned quiet.
She felt like a curtain had been lifted and she could finally see her life the way it truly was — a never ending tree of binary choices influenced by the pushes and pulls of emotions, desires, ambitions, societal rules, unquestioned traditions and tacit priority rankings, a tree whose branches had indifferent value and whose only function was to impose the choice.
But having to choose meant having no choice at all because it meant that this tree-like version of her life did not belong to her, it was nothing more than a set of preselected one way doors with already determined destinations: Claire the urban artist, Claire the homesteader, down to earth Claire, Claire who’d gone with the winds, Claire at life’s crossroads. Slices of Claire, layers of the Claire onion, not a whole Claire at all.
It was like the world was attempting to build an almost Claire person out of random pictures of her that other people had taken, according to their own priorities and beliefs.
There was no room in this paper mache replica of herself for things that hadn’t happened before, for inexplicable experiences, for wandering off the path. She was living in a world that had been stripped of color in order to eliminate the things which could not be rendered in black and white.
She got up and went back into the house through one of the side doors of the parlor, with Grandmother following behind her without a word. She hesitated a second and then continued walking and only stopped when she reached the alcove between the mirrors. Infinite replicas of herself got lost into the distance in both directions. All the Claires that she could possibly have been were already there, she carried them with her everywhere she went, but she could only differentiate between them when she stood inside the prism of the mirrors.
With measured gestures she brought her palms together in front of her heart, then turned them outward and reached for the door handles; she swung the heavy doors open in one sweep with an imperative gesture that gave them such momentum they barely missed the edges of the mirrors. Claire placed her hands on the surfaces of the glass and felt the rush of current run through them and into her blood; the sights of the other world blended seamlessly into the picture in front of her eyes and the two became one: her new reality. A larger existence was staring back at her from the frame of the doorway, daring her to take the first step.
She walked past the threshold, half expecting the world to dissolve behind her, but when she turned around she saw the familiar decor of the foyer with her grandparents standing in the middle of it and watching her in dismay. She waved at them and started down the stairs of the porch towards the long alley between oaks that faded into the mist. It had been raining all morning and the heat of the afternoon sun was raising steam from the earth in wispy strands. They rambled across the landscape, woven together into a thin veil that concealed the reality behind it.
As she walked down the path the world surrounded her with a wide harmony of being that overwhelmed her senses. Her ears tuned in to the sweet sounds of nature one doesn’t usually pay attention to, her eyes filled with tears at the splendor of colors and her surroundings were permeated by the strong scent of violets and rain. The senses fought each other for a moment and then suddenly snapped together like atoms binding into a stable molecule, to reveal the larger whole. There was sunshine in it, and rain, and birds, and tree frogs, and Claire’s family line, spun together from spools of different colors. Their strands were twisted together so fine that the resulting thread didn’t resemble either of them, it looked like something entirely different.
The thought that different Claire might be nothing more than another destination in her set of one way doors, another place of no return, bothered her, so she turned around and pulled gently at the veil of mist with her fingers. The steam yielded to her move, obedient, opening for her a view of the house with her grandparents standing in the doorway. The world moved slower for a moment and she stopped to watch it, her arms still wide open in an embrace.
Claire had yet to understand it but she had already made her choice, like many of us do, by following her instincts and without even being aware of what she was doing. She had decided to make her life the bridge between these two realities which were not so different from each other that they couldn’t interface. She had decided to live neither in one world nor in the other but always in both.
Her grandparents muttered to each other from behind the frame of the doorway, which seemed worlds away right now, and Claire could hear them through the thin veil of the mist.
“Can you believe she left the doors open again?” Grandmother turned to Grandfather, outraged. “Claire! Claire! Come back this instant and shut the doors before you let God knows what into the house! Claire!”
But Claire was lost into the splendor of her worlds and she couldn’t even tell which world she was looking at, but it didn’t matter very much right now when she watched the two realities reflect each other, bound at the frame of the doorway like pages in a book.
(From the novel Between Mirrors, by Francis Rosenfeld)