The pixies lived in my mother’s full-length, antique mirror that stood in the corner of my parents’ bedroom. Mom would stand in front of it every morning, brushing her long brown hair as it dried in fresh coconut scented ripples against her robed shoulders. I’d watch her from the doorway, wishing my hair smelled as good as hers did when it was washed, and she’d whisper over her shoulder at me,
“Vivian! Come say hi to the pixies!”
And she would gesture for me to come look. She would face the mirror and smile, while the mirror stared back, apathetically offering our figures across its unblemished glass. Then, she would call, softly,
“Pixies! Good morning!”
And she would smile at the mirror again. As she smiled the second time, she would grab my arm and open her eyes wide so I would peer more intently. I’d lean in just in time to see four pink pixies dancing on my mother’s cheeks in the mirror. I could hear, faintly through my amazement, my mother’s wind chime laugh. The pixies waved and smiled at me, and somersaulted across her overjoyed cheekbones. I stared, rapt, until a motion on my mother’s reflected lips dragged my eyes downward. There, on her beaming, toothy grin, were five more pixies; three white ones sunning themselves on her teeth, in the rays of her blinding smile, and another two, on either end of her mouth, doing handstands and making faces at each other.
My mom whispered, “Do you hear them, Viv?”
I listened as I watched them fill my mom’s face with sunshine and glory. A silvery thread of song trickled into my ears and across the back of my neck. I forgot to breathe while the clean, unfettered strain shattered my disbelief and flung me straight into the palm of gratitude. I gazed at my mother’s face in the mirror, and all I saw was magic.
My mother died when I was nine. I used to go into her bedroom and stare at the mirror, waiting for the pixies. As my tears grew to a steamy stream, the pixies would appear, floating downwards with every current, disappearing under my chin and reappearing in the corner of my eye. They would smile serenely at me, translucent and watchful; their goofiness replaced by a gentle patience that let me simply stand with my crying eyes and sad heart. Their soft song cradled my broken will in a gossamer hum that made me remember how much lighter I used to be. I looked into that clear reflected surface and let the stone neglect of the world crumble behind me.
That mirror became my safety during my teenage years when being lumpy and articulate and unsmiling made me a daily spectacle, in some form or another. I remember the looks and the titters and the coldness. I never wrestled over much with the persistent schoolyard chill, though. Even in its most frigid moments, I knew I would come home to the mirror in my mom’s room, and find my song and my meaning in a few short glances. I knew I would see them and remember joy, and that reality kept me snug until Jenna looked in the mirror.
Jenna was my only real friend for nearly ten years after my mother passed. She was small and loud, and wore thick-framed black glasses that took up most of her face. She made me laugh when I didn’t have any humor left, and believed me when I told her about the pixies.
She and I ran home from school, the day I told her. She’d stood in front of Dave and opened her mouth to ask him to study with her. He’d turned, spotted her black-framed face and rawked loudly about squids with gas needing a special tank of their own. She cried while he rolled his eyes at his buddies. They cleared the hallway and left us, a horrified squid and a sad manatee, in the insidious quiet of a school after hours. I knew exactly what would fix it; I told her about the pixies in my mother’s mirror. Her face lit up, and we ran, like the carefree, over-bundled kids in Christmas specials from the 80s, all the way to my house.
We stood in front of the mirror, awkward squid and obtrusive manatee looking back at us across its glass. I called, softly,
“Pixies! Come meet Jenna!”
We stared at the mirror, clutching each other’s arms, and barely breathed. We waited, and even though neither of us saw anything but hopeful sea creatures, I whispered,
“Jenna! Do you hear them??”
She didn’t. Neither of us did. The pixies weren’t there, and we were just two shored lonelies, out of element, staring at glass. Jenna stepped backwards and shook her head. She took her glasses off and wiped her eyes, as I frantically searched the mirror, my face, for my pixies.
Jenna said, “Maybe they’re shy?”
I said, eagerly, “No! They always come right out for me!”
Jenna began to cry, and I hated myself for my eagerness. I pressed, “I’m sure we just weren’t looking carefully. Let’s try again!”
Jenna shook her head again, and trudged out of the bedroom. I followed after her, calling, “I think we just surprised them! Jenna, they totally help! Come on, please just try again!”
Jenna stopped dead on the staircase, her shoulders rigid with shame and fury. She turned to me and hissed, “Maybe they never existed at all.”
Then she ran down the rest of the stairs, and out of my house, leaving the door swinging behind her.
Jenna apologized immediately and unabashedly; she called later that night in frantic tears that I hated her for being so mean. She insisted she believed in my pixies and demanded to know if I still believed, too. But her doubt was now my doubt, and when she asked, I said yes like a rattling gourd in nonchalant winds. I stared at my mother’s mirror, furious, betrayed, and waited. For pixies that never came.
I spent years hating my mother’s mirror. Jenna and I were fine; it became a bit of a joke. For a while, we referred to Dave as ‘that corn toothed misfortune’, and eventually there were other Daves to distract us with entirely new variations of contempt. The mirror fell from our conversations; a loose scab over a barely noticeable scar.
Then, in my early twenties, my father called, and told me the mirror had been accidentally shattered while they were moving things to storage. He said he felt bad because he knew how much I loved it. I told him it didn’t matter and went about my day.
After classes and waitressing, I slouched home with only Netflix and sleep on my mind. I flung myself into jammies and stood in front of my bathroom mirror while brushing my teeth. As I polished away the grime of cheap food and several gallons of coffee, I began to weep. I put the brush down and gazed into that teeny, nearly opaque mirror and saw my face.
It was smeared with toothpaste and tears and a decade of poorly carried grief; it looked like a patchwork of mistakes in someone’s design for paper dolls. I wept as I stared, my shoulders shaking and my wails thudding against my ears like some foreign catastrophe with no known protocol. And in my tear soaked eyes, I saw a glimmer. My breath caught, and the tears fell; were they? Was it?
But it was just my face, my eyes…with my mom’s creases as she laughed when I first saw the pixies, those creases as she hugged my shoulders when I told her about their song. I stared, and saw, around the corners of my taut mouth, my somersaulting troublemakers from my mother’s grin. I bared my teeth at the dingy mirror, daring it to find pixies in my minty froth filled mouth. The gleaming white pixies of my mother’s perfect grin flung bits of foam at each other, slid across my squeaky clean incisors, and laughed at my shock. My entire face was flushed, but my cheeks shone mercilessly with my mother’s blushing pixies, pirouetting with grace and joy, across my cheeks. I saw myself, without device, and understood that the wonder I’d felt as a child was not in front of me, behind that glass.
I stood, though smeared and broken, my pixies finally on my face, in my smile and my pain, and not at all in the mirror. I stood, me and my mother, growth and loss, in epic beauty that can only be accurately described as magic.