The Looking Glass – Part One

It had been a while since Jilly had gone antique shopping. Mr. Billings had left a message telling her he had acquired some pieces she may be interested in purchasing. As she dressed that morning, she was excited to explore Mr. Billing’s new finds in his second-hand store. Jilly was a history buff. Not only did her house contain her great-great-grandmother, Marie’s antiques, but she also enjoyed wearing vintage clothing from different periods. Her friends always complimented her on her unusual outfits. 

Looking in the hall mirror, adjusting the bangs of her straight hair, she was pleased with the reflection staring back at her. Her pale white skin contrasted her black hair and thick, black eyebrows. She didn’t have to wear much makeup except for red lipstick. 

“Be a good girl, Chloe,” Jilly called out to her calico cat as she walked out the front door.

Jilly didn’t live far from Main Street, where Mr. Billings store was located. As she strolled past the old buildings and Victorian-style homes, she marveled at the beauty of the town’s past architects. 

A small bell hanging from the doorway dinged as Jilly opened the door to Mr. Billing’s antique shop. She took a deep whiff through her nose. Ahh, the smell of the past, she thought. It intoxicated her. She had to control her giddiness as she walked down the aisle towards the back of the store.

“Mr. Billings? It’s Jilly. Are you back here?” she said as she walked the length of the store, turning her head from left to right, glancing at all the turn-of-the-century glass and tables.

An old man, bent over from the waist, assisted by a brass handled cane, appeared in the back doorway. “Ms. Jilly. What a pleasant surprise. Have you come to see my new treasures?”

“I got your message and couldn’t wait to get down here.”

“Follow me, I put them all in the back corner of the store as I wanted you to have the first pick.”

Shuffling out from behind the counter, he slowly worked his way over to the newly acquired antiques.

“Look at this mirror,” he exclaimed. “My guess is its early 1800s, and except for a few scratches on the wood, it seems to be in perfect condition.”

Jilly walked over to the full-length mirror sitting in an ornate wooden frame.

“I would have to agree, Mr. Billings. The early to middle 1800s.” As she examined the beveling and oxidation around the edges, she walked to the back of the mirror. “The wood backing also solidifies the age, and the ornate frame looks to be from the Victorian age. I’ll bet this was made in Venice. Mr. Billings, I’d say you scored on this piece.”

A smile crossed the old man’s lips. “Are you interested in buying it?” he asked Jilly. “I’ll give you a good deal.”

Jilly continued to look the piece over. She removed the wooden plank from behind the mirror. The reflective silver mercury backing was breaking down and had oxidized. Nothing unusual about that, as it happens over time, causing random cloudy spots around the edges. The old glass also had a distinctive gray cast to it; another indicator it was not a reproduction. She turned to ask Mr. Billings how much he wanted for it when out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw a faint image in the mirror. Jerking her head around, she stared into the mirror. “Did you see that?” she asked the old man.

“See what?” 

“Nothing, it was probably just a shadow from the street. Yes, I am very interested in this piece, I just don’t know where I’ll put it. My house is already looking like a museum, according to my boyfriend.” Jilly smiled when she thought what Matt’s reaction would be once she added this to her collection.

Mr. Billings thought for a moment. “Tell you what, I’ll have Daniel deliver it this afternoon, and you can take your time finding the perfect place for it. If you can’t find a place for it, I’ll pick it up, no charge. If you decide to keep it, I’ll trust you’ll give me a fair price.”

“Deal,” Jilly said, shaking Mr. Billing’s hand.

Jilly was excited about her new, almost purchase. Once Daniel delivered the mirror, she was able to go over it in more detail. She had him place it in the corner of her bedroom; after all, it was a wardrobe mirror.

That night Jilly dressed for bed. She called Matt to say goodnight but didn’t mention the mirror. He would see it soon enough. During the night, Jilly was restless. She tossed and turned, unable to get comfortable. Her dreams were weird too. But she couldn’t remember enough of them to make sense of it all. 

In the morning, she showered and dressed. She noticed each time she passed the mirror, she felt a strange sensation as if an electrical current were going through her body. It wasn’t in her mind as she could see her hair standing on end. She also had an eerie feeling she was being watched. 

It was while she was making her bed, she felt the first jolt. The floor looked like it was buckling, and the walls started to sway. Is this what an earthquake felt like? Holding onto the bedpost, she waited for the floor to stop moving. Glancing over to the mirror, she saw her reflection change. A young woman was staring out at her. Hands reached out beyond the mirror. Frightened, Jilly jumped up on the bed and slid up toward the headboard. The hands reached out again, this time grabbing onto her bare feet. Jilly squeezed her eyes shut and let out a scream no one heard.

When Jilly opened her eyes, she was looking up at the ceiling. Her light fixture and fan were gone. The paint, a different color on the walls. She slowly sat up and realized she was in her bedroom, but the furniture was different. White curtains draped down from the four posters. Glancing around the room, the mirror she had gotten from Mr. Billings store wasn’t in the corner any longer but next to the bedroom door and looked brand new. She could hear people talking downstairs. Who was in her house? Could be her neighbors checking on her after the earthquake? Hearing a horse neighing, she went over to her bedroom window. 

The streets were all dirt. Several horses and buggies were trotting along the widened road. “What the hell?” Jilly was horrified. The smell that emanated up from the street made her nauseous. Holding her nose closed, she backed away from the window. So much for the smells of the past, she thought.

“Marie. Marie? Let’s get cracking.” She heard a voice calling from downstairs. Not knowing who this person was or who Marie was, Jilly headed downstairs to find out why these people were in her house.

As she walked down the stairs, she saw portraits hung on the stairwell wall. These were not her works of art. Did she somehow sleepwalk and enter the wrong home? No, she had been up for hours before the earthquake. As she made it to the kitchen doorway, she noticed several small children slurping on soup. A black woman, with kind eyes, looked up from the hearth. “Ms. Marie, your mother is in a frenzy. I suggest you get upstairs and change into your church clothing before she sees you.”

“Are you speaking to me?” Jilly asked, placing her hands on her hips. “My name is Jilly, and I’d like to know what you all are doing in my house?”

“Oh, Lordy, where are my salts?” the black woman said to no one. “Come on now, whatever your name is today, we gots chores to do. I don’t have time to deal with this today.” The woman grabbed Jilly by the arm and walked her up the stairs. “Now git in there and change,” she said as she shoved her into the bedroom. “And please, try not to upset your mama today.”

Confused, Jilly’s thoughts raced through her mind. If this is a dream, you need to wake up. NOW! Pinching her arm, she cried out from the pain. Walking over to the mirror, she stared at her reflection. She didn’t recognize the night dress she was wearing. In fact, she remembers dressing that morning prior to the earthquake or whatever it was that brought her here. Placing her hand on the mirror in hopes it would take her back to her bedroom, nothing happened. Jilly sat on the bed. Think. There must be a way to get back. I mean, if the mirror was able to transport me here, it can transport me back. Until she was able to figure it out, she was stuck. 

Walking over to the enormous armoire, she opened the doors and found two dresses. One black dress with a large metal hoop and a corset hung on one side and a simple, cotton dress with another corset hanging on the other side. She chose the black dress, assuming it was her church outfit. 

As Jilly reached for the dress and corset, a woman rushed into her room. “Come on, dear, I’ll help you with your corset. Harriet is busy with the younger children. What’s gotten into you this morning? Are you having one of your headaches again?” Jilly stared at this woman’s face to see if she recognized her. She was a natural beauty. Her full lips and thick eyebrows looked familiar. The woman turned her around and began lacing the corset strings. 

“No, mama. I had a bad dream, I suppose.”

“Well, never you mind. Dreams are just that, dreams.” As the woman pulled on the cords of the corset, Jilly thought she was going to suffocate with how tight this woman was pulling. “There. That should do it. Come on, finish up. We don’t want to keep your papa waiting.” With that, the woman swooshed out of the room.

Standing in front of the mirror, dressed in all black, she adjusted her large, taffeta hat. Looking at her image, she slowly put her face closer to the mirror as if she were sharing a secret. “Please, help me. I need to go back to where I came from, but I need you to show me how.” Suddenly, her room, the room she came from, appeared in view. There was Chloe, on the bed bathing herself as she lay in the warm sun. “Chloe,” she called out. The cat stopped licking her paws and looked up. Jilly knew the cat heard her.

“Marie, let’s go,” a voice from downstairs called up to her.

Between the hoop skirt and tight corset, Jilly found herself extremely uncomfortable trying to keep up with everyone as they walked to church. The air was humid and hot. The little girl who had been sitting at the breakfast table came over and grabbed her gloved hand. As they walked down the dirt road toward the town church, Jilly decided to ask a few questions to see what year she was in. “Do you know who the President is?” The little girl looked up at Jilly. “Of course I do. We learnt it in school.”

“Well, tell me.” pushed Jilly.

“Why, it’s Ulysess. S. Grant.” With each word the little girl spoke, she paused as if his name was a sentence. “Papa says he’s the man we need to fix things after the war.” The little girl let go of Jilly’s hand and started skipping in front of her, singing, “Here we go round the Mulberry Bush, the Mulberry Bush…”

If Jilly remembered correctly, Grant was elected in 1868. And from all the American flags hanging from the porch rails, and the stifling heat, she suspected it was around the 4th of July.

(Part Two in three weeks!)

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