We recently published Jennifer Fliss’s haunting “Mirror, ca. 1550 – 1350 B.C.”
Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) I love how this story functions in two parts — the description of the mirror and the narrator’s reaction. Was it very hard to make the description sound authentic and “official” while still maintaining your beautiful writer’s voice?
I did a fair amount of looking around on the Met’s website, where they have so many of their items inventoried. (It’s the most amazing time-suck!) I heavily based my description on this, but I wanted it to be more personal, subjective, as if my protagonist was the archivist writing up the brief histories. What would she be thinking as she followed the rote plan for archiving? An archivist (and I’m not even sure this would be the role doing this job) is meant to be objective. What does the object look like and where is its place in history, based on science and research. They are not to tell us how we are to feel, or even what the persons who used the items must have felt. I find this connection – or really an intentional lack of connection – fascinating and ripe for fiction.
2) The sense of loss in this piece is so understated and poignant, packed into this small moment where the narrator is considering a mirror. What would she do, do you think, if she could see it in person?
As I said before, I wanted to channel what the archivist might be thinking to access a more personal approach for my protagonist. However, my protagonist is not the archivist. She is looking at this at quite a remove, several, really. I would think my character would desperately want to touch this mirror, as if touch would afford her a glimpse of the item’s owner. Her own loss, a miscarriage, is something that women have experienced all over the world and throughout history, even thousands of years ago. And yet, perhaps in her idea for the mirror, a piece of that specific history has been saved. Something did not die; it lived on. What are the fragments that survive death (and time)? And what do they mean to those who experience those fragments later? What would my protagonist do? My character might break through the glass to hold this mirror, perhaps stow it away, blame it on a rogue thief, and run out of the museum before the security staff sees the footage. Back at home, she would be disappointed that it doesn’t, in fact, reflect her own face. It is a failed mirror. But she would stow it in a drawer of the bureau that had been in the nursery, to take it out occasionally to stare into the non-mirror. Later, when the police arrive at her door, as they’ve discovered she was the thief, she takes the mirror out the back door and throws it in the river. She pleads hysterical. She is let off the hook. The museum has an empty shelf with the description pinned beside it for two years before they change up the exhibit.