Twilight Over Athens

Sheila Demetriou was considered odd by some, perhaps by many. Sheila, you see, had a tendency to fall in love with inanimate objects.

Before smuttier minds rush to the wrong conclusion, Sheila’s desires were not towards the products of seedy corner stores, nor for just any old objects: Sheila loved mirrors.

She loved the clarity of the glass and the rectangular perfection of the edges, but Sheila especially loved a nice bevelled edge. Her obsession was blissfully easy to satisfy, and her apartment was a maze lined with mirrors of many shapes and sizes. This confused many visitors, leading to some frankly stony silences, but she couldn’t stand to have a space uncovered by a layer of silver and glass.

Our story could have ended there, with Sheila and her thousand mirrors. However, there was one tiny problem: as much as Sheila loved her mirrors, she hated her own reflection.

Her favourite time of day wasn’t daytime at all, but sunset, when she could sit on her chair and watch the dwindling rays of light shimmer around the room, with only a silhouette to indicate her presence. In those moments, Sheila felt truly alive.

When the sun came up, she would see herself reflected over and over again, an endless parade of Sheilas, and she would instinctively cringe away. Sometimes, she would cover herself with a shawl from head to foot, and try to imagine that she was someone else. It never worked: the mirrors could see through her deception. A better strategy was to sit in odd corners of her apartment and angle the mirrors obliquely. This would bring the gorgeous Greek coastline inside, and Sheila enjoyed sitting and staring at the bevelled water, trying to avoid meeting the curious stares of passers-by, who were drawn to the glimmering reflections in her apartment windows.

It wasn’t that Sheila was ugly. Nobody would want to be near her in a dark alley, or, worse, in a well-lit alley, but her ugliness wasn’t the problem: it was that she hadn’t always been ugly. She once was beautiful, but her own pride and another’s jealousy had stripped that beauty away.

Sheila had heard tell of an amulet, a magical talisman that could help with her affliction. If it could restore even a hint of her former grace, she would be content, but finding it had proved difficult. The stories were plentiful, but the amulet remained elusive, and her years of searching had led to despair.

In the depths of desperation, Sheila visited a fortune-teller, a seer. The seer stared deep into Sheila’s purse, and told her that what she sought was “nearby.” Sheila stared deep into the seer’s eyes, and he spoke no more.

She visited another seer, then another, but their responses were vague and the amulet remained out of her reach.

Finally, Sheila summoned up her courage and went to visit the Oracle. She knew about the Oracle, of course, but it was daunting to visit someone who knows all of the answers before you even ask the questions.

The Oracle lived up to her reputation. Her door swung open before Sheila had knocked, and she was swept inside in a flurry of overlapping greetings and revelations.

“Hello my dear come in you were about to knock but now you never will, so did I know that you would knock or did I know that I would stop you from knocking and now you’re wondering about my sanity and if I ever get a chance to breathe? There’s too much flapping around in here,” she continued, tapping on her ancient skull, “and I have to let it out or the pressure will build up and there will be a simply dreadful explosion. Have you ever tried to get bone out of the carpet? No I don’t suppose you’d have that issue, dear, but trust me, it’s not a pleasant one. Now you’re wondering whether you should speak? No, don’t bother, I know why you’re here, and it’s much easier if I do the talking, you’re doing me a favour, really. You didn’t need to kill those frauds, and you’re sorry, but at least they won’t be doing any further harm, no weeping, poor girl. As for your question, yes, I’m pleased to tell you that there is a solution to your problem, it is the amulet you’ve been seeking, and I do know where it is. You want to know exactly where, of course, and it’s, oh, under that chair, I think. I’m sorry about the mess, my house tends to reflect my mind. It’s not there? No, of course not, I put it on the counter, so you’d be able to find it. Well? Hurry up girl. Put it on. There you are, problem solved. Would you like a coffee? No, no, that’s all right. Now off you go, I’ll email you the account in a day or two.”

Sheila made her way home, somehow, still puzzling over the strange woman and her words. She didn’t feel any different, aside from the dull weight of the amulet around her neck and the confusion that pulsed through her. She needed some time to think. She needed her mirrors.

She opened the apartment door and rushed into the room of reflections. What she saw astounded her.

The amulet had not returned the pink cheeks and glossy hair of her youth. It had not unwoven the wrinkles of age, nor even restored the plump curves that had so inflamed her suitors of old.

Looking back from the mirrors was still the crooked, wretched face of a Gorgon, a face with the power of petrification. And yet, something had changed.

For Sheila stared, and she did not hate. She stared, and stared, and the tiniest tear welled up in her eye. She stared some more, at an infinity of smiling Sheilas, and the teardrop broke, running down a face that was already hardening and growing cold.

This piece was written for Nika Harper’s Wordplay #12. The challenge was magic, with the prompts “indigenous” and “an amulet of love and mirrors.”

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