MIRROR, MIRROR • by Jonathan Pinnock

It isn’t easy being one of the beautiful people. The schedule is punishing, the rewards are frequently intangible and if you’re an up-and-coming It-girl like Velda Montaigne, the pressure can really get to you. Especially when you’re trying to apply your lippy far too quickly and you’re making a complete pig’s ear of it.

Velda stared in disbelief at the shattered glass on the floor. She really hadn’t meant to lash out like that. It wasn’t so much the seven years’ bad luck that she was concerned about; it was more the fact that Hello magazine were coming round to do a piece on her any minute (Velda Montaigne Shows Us Around Her Bijou Hideaway Where She Is Recovering From Her Failed Relationship With That Psycho Pervert Fabio) and she suddenly didn’t have a mirror any more.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!” yelled Velda, before falling back onto her bed and sobbing, her fists pummelling the pillow. This wouldn’t have happened if Fabio was still around. Bastard. Bastard. Bastard.

The doorbell rang.

“Go away!” she screamed. “Leave me alone!”

The doorbell rang again. And again. And again. Then an awful thought struck her. What if Hello had arrived early? She wouldn’t be able to hide forever, and she could do with the cash, now that bloody Fabio had pissed off. Drying her eyes as quickly as she could, and trusting that she didn’t look completely awful, she hurtled down the stairs and opened the door to a young man wearing a beanie hat. He waved a dubious-looking ID badge at her. She gave a sympathetic smile, shook her head and started to close the door.

“Don’t push me away,” he said, “I’ve got loads of stuff here, really good prices.” He gestured towards a bag on the step between them.

“Like what?” said Velda.

“Well, there’s clothes pegs, dishcloths, sponges, a strange and unnecessary thing for cleaning the inside of milk bottles…”

“Don’t suppose you’ve got a mirror, have you?” said Velda. The lad’s eyes lit up.

“Well, now that you mention it, I’ve got one left,” he said. “Bit pricey, mind.”

“Why’s that?”

“Well, it’s an internet mirror,” said the lad. “Got artificial intelligence and everything. It compares your face to every other one in the world and tells you how you match up. Only just come out of beta. Just right for a beautiful lady like you, if you don’t mind me saying so.”

“Cool,” said Velda, “I’ll take it.” Fabio could pay for it. It was all his fault, anyway.

Velda told the lad to bill Fabio and carried the mirror up to her bedroom. It was an excellent mirror, and it gave a really good, clear image for her to do her make-up. She looked absolutely stunning by the time Hello arrived, and it was a very successful shoot. That’ll show Fabio what he’s missing, she thought.

She was so pleased with the mirror that she completely forgot what the door-to-door salesman had told her about internet access, until one day she was adjusting it and she knocked a switch at the back.

“Rebooting,” said the mirror.

“Sorry?” said Velda.

“Connection status online,” said the mirror. “Downloading …”

“Wha …?”

“Download complete. Well, hello,” said the mirror. “What have we here?”

“Er… I’m Velda,” said Velda. “Velda Montaigne.” Then she suddenly had an idea. “Mirror, mirror on the wall,” she said, “Who is the fairest of them all?”

“Uploading,” said the mirror. Then there was a slight pause, following which it announced, “Why, you are, Velda Montaigne, you are.”

“Really?” said Velda, giggling, “Oh, you’re so cute.”

“Indeed I am,” said the mirror.

From then on, every day Velda would say to the mirror: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, Who is the fairest of them all?” and the mirror would upload her image, run its check and then report back: “Why, you are, Velda Montaigne.” The effect on her self-confidence was phenomenal, and it wasn’t long before she had put Fabio well and truly behind her. And soon her picture was everywhere, too. You couldn’t open a single celebrity magazine without her face beaming out at you. Velda Montaigne had finally arrived. She had reached the point where no-one bothered to ask what she did for a living. She was just Velda.

But one day she thought she detected a slight change of tone in the mirror’s voice. When she asked the usual question, the reply was more along the lines of “Yeah, whatever, you’re still the fairest, I s’pose”.

“Oi, cheeky,” said Velda, “Less of that.”

The mirror didn’t say anything, but she was convinced that it bulged slightly. At least, she thought her reflection became slightly distorted for an instant. But that was absurd.

The mirror’s surly attitude persisted for a whole week, until on the Friday morning, Velda went to comb her hair.

“Mirror, mirror, on the w– ” she began, but the mirror interrupted her.

“It’s all about you, isn’t it?” said the mirror.

“Sorry?” said Velda, thoroughly confused.

“You couldn’t give a damn about my feelings, could you? I’ve never heard you say anything about me. You take me for granted.”

“Well…” began Velda, “I… think… I think you’re a very nice mirror.”

“That it?” said the mirror.

“I mean…”

“Velda, Velda, fair and tall,” said the mirror, mimicking her voice, “Who’s the most beautiful mirror of them all?”

“That’s rubbish,” said Velda. “Doesn’t even scan.”

The mirror bulged alarmingly. This time, there was no way that she could deny what was happening, as her image was now distorted to twice its usual girth.

“Velda, Velda, fair and tall,” said the mirror again, “Who’s the — ”

“This is silly,” said Velda, “I’m going to get a proper one from Ikea.”

The mirror expanded again and then, before Velda could get out of the way, it exploded into a thousand pieces, most of which embedded themselves in the once-fairest It-girl’s face.

“Uploading,” said the mirror.

Jonathan Pinnock was born in Bedfordshire, England, and — despite having so far visited over forty other countries — has failed to relocate any further away than the next-door county of Hertfordshire. He is married with two children, several cats and a 1961 Ami Continental jukebox. His writing has won a number of prizes, short-listings and long-listings, and and he has been published in such diverse publications as Smokebox, Every Day Fiction and Necrotic Tissue. His unimaginatively-titled, but moderately interesting website may be found at www.jonathanpinnock.com.

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