The mirror hung on one of the walls in the junk shop, a small and cluttered building on the corner of Wellburn Road and Cotton Lane. Although the sign over the door said "Antiques", there didn't appear to be anything of value that Jessie and Elise could spot among the assortment of jars and vases, glass bottles and dull copper horse shoes that littered the tops tables and bookshelves that had seen better days. Heavy mahogany cabinets pushed against the wall held incomplete collections of crockery and trays of costume jewellery.
The mirror was oval and yellow with age. The frame, ornately woven with vine leaves, was crafted in silver, corroded and tarnished. Clusters of grapes cut from semi precious stones were carefully dotted around the edge. Restored, the mirror had the potential to look quite majestic in the right setting.
Looking into the mirror, with nimble fingers Jessie re-arranged her fringe, and checked her flawless make-up.
"That mirror once belonged to Snowhite's stepmother, you know!" The owner of the shop, a small thin man, was nestling in a deep chair of old brown leather, reading a newspaper. Beside him, on the floor, a transistor radio, not quite tuned in to the sports channel gave a hissing commentary on a football match.
"Yeah, right," muttered Jessie.
He carefully folded the newspaper and laid it down on the floor. Standing up from the chair, he pulled a handkerchief from a pocket in his trousers. It was crumpled but clean. Spitting on a corner of it, he walked over to the mirror and began to polish the slightly warped surface.
"Picked it up a number of years ago I did. Clear houses I do, when folks die. Been in a family for generations that mirror had. Passed from mother to daughter, and mother to daughter and so on.
"How do you know it belonged to Snowhite's wicked stepmother?" Elise had gravitated towards the shop owner.
"Aww, Lise, it's just a mirror!" snapped Jessie. "There is nothing special about it. The man is trying to make a sale."
"Nothing special, you reckon, Miss?" The man looked at her. "Just a mirror you say? Seems to me there's one way to find out. You know the story. Suppose you stand in front of the mirror and say the magic words."
Jessie was unsure whether the shop owner was serious or just playing a practical joke. Hesitantly she stepped in front of the mirror, straightened her shoulders and smoothed her hair. "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?"
A disembodied voice spoke seeming to emanate from the mirror.
"Tis true, young maid, that thou art fair
With blushing cheeks and flowing hair
A form so lovely, most divine
But nought within to outward shine
Charm deceives and beauty fades
What then remains when time invades?
A joyful heart and thankful praise
Must thou pursue through all thy days!
For a moment Jessie stood still, her skin pale, her mouth dry and feeling quite unsteady. Her usual brash confidence seemed to have deserted her and her tongue could not find the short sharp word that usually came so swiftly. She abruptly turned and made her way to the door.
The man raised an eyebrow at Elise expectantly.
"I don't think there's much point in me asking." Elise knew only too well the imperfections of her face, hair and skin tone. No one could call her beautiful. Even so, she admitted to being curious about what the mirror might say.
She moved forward, but kept her eyes down, avoiding seeing her reflection. "Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?"
"I must confess that thou art plain
Thy face, no beauty, doth contain
But yet thine eyes, they sparkle so
Such life inside, I feel its glow
Thy loving heart wilt draw a king
To fill thy life and make thee sing
A happy home is in thy palm
With endless days of peace and calm"
Elise turned to the owner and smiled. "Thankyou."
At the back of the shop, while Jessie had been preening herself in front of the mirror, Elise had noticed the pile of posters and faded yellow leaflets on a chair. Admittedly he must have been much younger then, but there was no mistaking the shop owner. Balanced on his arm was a ventriloquist's dummy.
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