The Mirrors Were Gardens

by Mat Joiner

For Michele Bannister

It was that year in our town when the reflections turned to roses. It wasn’t a subtle change; you might be combing your hair or drinking from a public fountain, and the image would erupt into thorns, leaves and buds, silver foliage variegated with smeared faces, skies, bathroom wallpaper (which in my own apartment, was already festooned with a pattern of briar roses, leading to an infinite floral regression that I could have done without). There was a very particular sound to the event, a kind of mutated tinkling like bells turned inside-out; not as dramatic as you would think.

This was happening to reflective surfaces all over town: mirrors, ponds, shop windows all blooming. The effect was most marked on silvered glass – the roses that grew from moving water tumbled into foam after a few hours, clear glass offered a frail crop. We had enough experience with reality being somewhat elastic in these parts, so expected this to be a passing malady. After the first few days, we began to worry. The roses were going nowhere. In fact they looked very much ready to open.

The usual quacks made themselves known. It was a disease peculiar to looking-glasses, some said, an inflammation of the tain. So you had charlatans peddling special creams to idiots – “Doctor Boletus’ Vitreous Salve” was a popular brand – said fools smearing their mirrors with unguent; did nothing at all. More practical folk took to the secateurs. The pruning had a better effect. But the mirror-roses were more tenacious than the earthbound kind and began to sprout back within a few hours. I believe Nancarrow the watchmaker had some plans to build clockwork greenfly as a solution; but as always his dreams were better than his machines.

There were even a few head-doctors who attempted to prove the mirrors themselves had some psychological problem, ideas above their station. You’d see these trick-cyclists arguing with the opening roses – “This urge to ape the organic is a dangerous delusion. Best for everyone if you return to the reflective…”

“It’s one thing to sing to your mirror,” I said to Aunt Miriam in our favourite bar. “Sticking it on a couch and talking about its complexes is going a bit far.” We both rather enjoyed these random misshapes in the course of our town. Nature, my aunt thought, liked a bit of anarchy now and then.

Miriam contemplated the end of her cheroot. “I think it’s rather pretty. We’ll adapt, Carl.”

Indeed, we did. Shaving had now become a bit improbable – any mirrors brought in from the outside world fell prey to the Rosa specula. The autumn coffeehouses were now full of shaggy-headed, newly-bearded gentlemen sipping the new rosehip tea, covertly picking silvered shreds from between their teeth. (I tried some once. I don’t know whose reflection I was drinking, but there was a gamey tang. It was damnably like cannibalism in a cup.) Some women used the crisis to cheerfully reject slap; others had “cosmetic communes”, painting each other’s faces in elaborate masks.

Not everybody took it well. While the seller of art-glass turned his stall into a little floristry shop, the local hairdressers took to alcoholism and street-fighting with their own razors. Or worse, singing dirges. “The Barbershop Blues Quartet” was certainly the most unpleasant thing to come out of that year. I had to see them off with the blunderbuss Auntie kept for emergencies. Now I can’t hear the sounds of a banjo without night-sweats.

The end would come; it always did with these kind of things. There had been flower shows and competitions. Anybody who’d got a mirror in her house could be a gardener; I never held with the theories of some of the more snobbish townspeople that plebeian mirrors would produce an inferior rose. If you wanted to see class war in action, all you had to do was read the gardening column in the local paper. Aunt Miriam thought it was hilarious. Anyway. There were experiments with grafting, and that’s how normality came back to our streets. One old chap, name of Brockdottle, had a particularly fine rosebed growing in what had been fairly grotty glass - an ancient thing, much foxed. His blooms were the envy of town. A burglar of horticultural bent got into the house and made off with cuttings. Poor Brockdottle was beside himself. The constabulary couldn’t do much; any number of neighbours could be rose-nappers. They couldn’t check every bit of glass in the parish.

It turned out quite a few had paid (in more ways than one) for a cutting of Brockdottle’s Double Argent. For as the grafts took, the shiny gardens began to fog over, and grow speckles like black star-charts. The foxing that had seemed a boon in the old gardener’s crop was an absolute blight anywhere else. We woke up to thorns littering the carpets, leaves and petals withered to little more than discarded sweet wrappers. The mirrors convulsed, and smoothed over, and it was quite a shock to see your reflection where once there had been a garden. We’d all forgotten what we looked like, you see, and a few of us followed Brockdottle into the nuthouse.

I remember looking at myself and wondering why in god’s name I had ever thought a beard was a good idea, and how long I’d been buttoning my shirts the wrong way. I reached for foam and a razor pretty damn’ pronto.

Later, smooth-faced and tragic, I bought Aunt Miriam and I two pints of milk-stout -- black beer for mourning. We drank a toast to the memory of roses. “Well, that’s that,” I said. “Now we go back to a world where flowers grow in soil, just like everywhere else. How very dull.”

Auntie had been looking glum too. She took a drag on her cigar, scried the smoke awhile, and said at last, “Oh, Carl. There’ll be something strange along next year.”

And how right she was.

Mat Joiner is a writer and poet based in the English Midlands; his work has appeared in Sein Und Werden, Strange Horizons, Not One Of Us, and Goblin Fruit. He haunts second-hand bookshops, canals and real-ale pubs, and accumulates books and badges.