Once during an incarnation in a very near place, there lived a beautiful woman whose chief grief was that she had no children. It was usual for her to sit sewing and sighing by the window: stitch stitch, if only… stitch stitch, if only… stitch stitch, if only… One day she pricked her finger and three droplets of blood fell upon the pure white lingerie she was making herself.
“If only,” she mused, watching the blood spread, “if only I had a daughter with lips as red as blood and hair as black as ebony and a modest tan. Wouldn’t she be gorgeous in sharp white lingerie?”
As it happened, a daughter was born to her some nine months later, and her mother named her Blanche. But shortly after the birth the unhappy mother was diagnosed with cancer and died; an event which launched Blanche’s father into a mid-life crisis, and hence, therapy.
In the safe and secret refuge of his therapist’s rooms, he confessed he was relieved to be finished with his late wife’s whinging and miseries, but even so, he’d been counting on her to take care of the little one because his computer software business was going through the roof!
Nevertheless, being the sort of fellow who learns from his mistakes and makes the best of a mess, he didn’t waste time bemoaning his fate but simply hired a nanny and made the best of it; and as time went on, the unhappy memories of his late wife dimmed and he began to think of her nostalgically, and to spoil little Blanche, who was, after all, the only child from his marriage with his childhood sweetheart.
So Blanche grew up, the apple of her father’s eye. “If” she lisped, “Daddy, please…?”, Daddy did, and since it was the nanny who usually incurred the results of the choccies and ice cream, Daddy never learnt any better.
Anyway, all’s well that ends well. When little Blanche was seven years old, her father met a woman who was affectionate, energetic, and had a head on her shoulders.
She wasn’t particularly attractive, but hey! beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Jane, for so she was called, had three kids of her own, and she was both willing and able to take wee Blanche under her wing. Which she did. Firmly and kindly. Kindly, but firmly.
From being the star and feature of every show, Blanche became one of four children vying for parental attention. She had to share a bedroom with Beatrice, who was nine and had freckles and a big loud sniff. She had to take turns feeding Hector, their dog, who farted something awful. She had to make her own bed and help set the table and polish her own black leather shoes! She couldn’t coax her dad into special trips to the park anymore, because like it or not, Beatrice, Roger and Lizzie would come along too. She wasn’t allowed to watch television hardly at all, wasn’t allowed to have a new toy whenever she wanted, and her temper tantrums were met with, well, complete indifference amid the typical commotion.
Deep in her heart, Blanche knew that Jane was quite a good sort really. The family laughed and clowned around a lot with Jane at the helm, she was an ace cook, and she told fabulous bedtime stories. But she was definitely The Boss, and Blanche had lost her spot in the sun. At least, to be perfectly fair, Jane treated all of the children exactly the same. She had a favourite expression that she turned on any whinger, and it went like this:
“Mirror mirror on the world, Tells the fairest truth of all.”
So if Beatrice came home from school sniffling about the tattle-tale who dobbed her in, Jane would sing her little song and make Beatrice think very hard about her own tendency to carry tales. And if Roger was furious with Lizzie for borrowing his best pencils without asking, Jane would sing her little song and suggest that Roger check his behaviour. And if Lizzie smirked about how ugly so-and-so was, Jane would frown, nod in the direction of Lizzie’s dressing table, and ask her if all those lotions were an attempt to cover “an ugly feeling”.
That jolly ditty was to haunt our pretty Blanche as she grew up. You couldn’t point a finger at anyone else, without being reminded that three fingers meanwhile pointed back at the pointer.
“Whatever you can’t stand out in the world is just a reflection of something in you,” Jane would say as she flicked the peel off spuds and tossed the naked veggies into a baking dish. “And it’s just as true that whatever you like out there is a reflection of something in you. The world is your mirror, and you’d do well to never forget it.” Great chunks of pumpkin leapt into the dish. “How many friends you have and how much you can trust them will show you how much you like and trust yourself. It’s just the same with money,” a brief grimace, chopping carrots, “how you’re doing financially or how easily things and opportunities flow to you is just mirroring your beliefs about those things. You could think of the world as being kind of like plasticine – a kind of plasticine that automatically gives shape to your thoughts and beliefs.” A generous dollop of olive oil, and the casserole dish was delivered to the oven with a flourish. “And the reason nobody likes to hear this, or fights it when they do, is because the bottom line is Responsibility. Personal Responsibility. If there’s anything most human beings can do, it’s lay blame. End of lecture. Lizzie, have you fed the dog?”
Lizzie, Roger and Beatrice didn’t seem to mind the chant too much, but to Blanche, it was just too much! The older she got, the more she asserted her independence and reminded Jane that, after all, she was not her mother. Jane couldn’t argue with that, and wouldn’t; she merely backed off with a quiet nod, and, brick by brick, Blanche built a wall right around herself against that penetrating, “Mirror mirror…” until, on her sixteenth birthday, she launched herself out into the world, secretly believing that her father would at last come to his senses and come after her, demonstrating to all and sundry who really came first in his heart.
There she was in the big wild world. And what a jungle it was. She had left some decent clues for her father that she could be found at a favourite seaside hotel of theirs, and when, after three days, he was not forthcoming and her savings were fast going, she went in search of a job and a place to stay.
So there she was in the workforce at the tender age of sixteen, wiping tables and serving meals and emptying ashtrays at a hospital cafeteria. “But at least I’m being paid for it,” she’d mutter, moving from one table to the next so abruptly that she’d knock her shins against a chair that was poking out. Glare. No-one around here could be bothered with putting their chairs away properly. Shove.
And the clients were – well! the silliest people came into this place. For instance, on her very first day, there was this young guy who breezed in and asked if he could pay for his lunch by cheque, while right above him, in great black letters, were the words: SORRY, CASH ONLY. What a Dope! she thought. Can’t you see something that’s right in front of your face?
On the second day, she had the bad luck to serve a woman who just couldn’t stop coughing and spluttering. Sneeze! Right over the tray of food that Blanche was carrying, which meant that two other people’s meals were ruined and had to be done all over. How irresponsible! Blanche fumed, to go out to a public place when you’re sick.
On the third day, Blanche struck possibly the Grumpiest person she had ever had the misfortune to meet in her life. No matter what she suggested from the menu, he would snap some reason why that dish wasn’t good enough and make derogatory comments about the cafeteria itself. You grouchy ill-tempered old thing, she thought.
On the fourth day, when she was sitting to the side of the counter having a well- earned break, a Doctor came in and, catching sight of her apron, beckoned to her impatiently with an order for a cappuccino on the run. She Made Him Wait. Just because you’re an authority figure doesn’t mean you can lord it over all of us, she told him coolly – in her mind, that is.
On the fifth day, a Bashful young woman sidled up to the counter and began mumbling away into her hand, actually trembling when Blanche asked her to speak up.
Good lord, thought Blanche, I’m not a dragon! You’ve got to have more confidence than that in life.
On the sixth day, she had to clean around a slothful Sleepy youth who couldn’t be bothered moving his feet for her mop or lifting his head off the table so she could wipe it. Apathy! You won’t get anywhere in life, she pronounced inwardly, bumping into his chair on her way past (accidentally-on-purpose).
On the seventh day a familiar face approached, beaming a Happy smile, so glad to finally catch up with what Blanche was doing now, and how was it going and would she like to come round for tea some time soon?
“I’ll have a cup of coffee and one of those yummy looking hedgehog slices while I’m here,” Jane said indulgently, dragging her moth-eaten purse out of her bag. “And perhaps an apple as well, for conscience’
sake, for my teeth. I’ve got an appointment at the dentist tomorrow. That red one there looks scrummy.”
“That will be six dollars eighty,” Blanche said primly, with sinking heart. Why are you here and not Dad? You mean he doesn’t miss me – nobody misses me? You mean you’re all just carrying on as before?
Jane was heading off for a table with her goodies, when she hesitated and half- turned. “You almost finished for the day? I’m not in any hurry, and I’d love to catch up.”
As luck would have it, Blanche’s boss was right there by her elbow. “No worries, love, off you go. It’s pretty quiet now.”
So there they both were, sitting eye-to-eye at one of the brown plastic tables that Blanche had only just wiped. Jane ripped the paper bag open and broke the hedgehog in half.
“Oh no –”
“Go on, I know you love dark chocolate.” Jane stirred her coffee and took a sip.
“I suppose you’d like to hear some of the family news. Well, let’s see, Lizzie has started a business skills course and she’s enjoying it immensely. Roger has auditioned for the tenor role in the school drama, which is quite a step for him. And Bea has started swimming training. She says to tell you that she misses you.”
But what about Dad?
“And your father,” Jane paused for a long sip and a nibble of hedgehog, “your father was in quite a muddle about your leaving so abruptly at first. He didn’t know whether to be sorry or glad.”
“What do you mean!” Blanche burst out.
“Well, you weren’t exactly easy to get along with, the last little while,” Jane said evenly. She stabbed one finger into some crumbs and lifted them to her mouth. “I think in a way your going gave him a rest from the anxiety of worrying about if you were ever going to fit into the family. Not that he hasn’t worried about you being on your own in the big wide world,” she grinned companionably, “but I reassured him on that count. ‘She’s no dill,’ I said. ‘She’ll manage just fine.’ And you have, I see,” looking around, “I’ll tell him that.”
“I’d like to tell him myself,” Blanche interrupted.
“Oh good! Even better. He’d love to see you. Well, I must get home.” She tucked the red apple into her bag. “I’ll eat that on the way. Give us a bell when you’re ready to come over.”
Lying on her bed that night, Blanche had a lot of thinking to do. “… it gave him a rest from the anxiety of worrying about if you were ever going to fit into the family…”
What troubling words. It sounded as if they were the family and Blanche the intruder, and not the other way around!
Mirror mirror on the world…
Time and distance were giving her a different perspective on it all. What a Dope she had been! She felt a surge of anger at her own silliness in creating such a fuss and not allowing her father to have a new wife in peace.
Wife… She thought of the mother she had never had, and recognized how much anger and sadness and loss she felt with her mother for being sick and dying. ‘How could you give birth and then run out on me?’ she sobbed.
And what a hard time she had given Jane and the others. What a Grumpy old thing she had been – hardly even a ‘good morning’ out of her, most days. She flushed red at the memory.
Flushed redder at the memory of her bossiness toward Jane’s children, especially Beatrice. “This is my house and if it wasn’t for my father letting you be here you’d have nowhere to live,” she remembered announcing. The arrogant Doctor the other day had nothing on her.
The more she pondered, the more hurt she felt. “No need to be Bashful,” her father would say when they went on family outings and Jane’s children would be first on the windsurfer or first to play charades. Now she saw her secret inner feelings of inadequacy behind it all.
And all those Sleepy mornings when she’d lie in bed and hear the others banging doors and calling to each other cheerily, and she simply couldn’t be bothered with getting up. What had she retorted (in her mind) to that slothful youth at the cafeteria? ‘You won’t get anywhere in life…’
Mirror mirror on the world, Tells the fairest truth of all.
She had a good cry. Owned all her projections – the dopey, sick, grumpy, doctorish, bashful, sleepy parts of herself. And when she had cried herself out, she remembered something else that Jane had said:
“Whatever you can’t stand out in the world is just a reflection of something in you, and it’s just as true that whatever you like out there is a reflection of something in you.”
Well, deep inside her she did like Jane. She enjoyed Jane’s happy, practical, energetic nature, was inspired by her creativity, couldn’t help laughing at her jokes…
So maybe Blanche wasn’t just a pile of trash – maybe if Jane was in her world, that meant that Blanche also had a few worthwhile qualities…
It warranted some thought. The thought, in fact, was every bit as good as the kiss of a handsome prince. It got Blanche up and out of bed with a smile, and in a tick she was on the phone to her family to invite herself over for tea.