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Voices in Fairy Tales

by Michelle Tocher

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Mirror from Kioto

Themes: Reflection | Wonder

I hung in a fine shop in Kioto, one of many metal mirrors that glittered in the sunshine.

An aging and handsome man came along. “Oh, the pretty silver moons!” he said. Tentatively, he reached for me.

He looked into my face and turned as white as rice. He sat on a seat in the shop door. He couldn’t take his eyes off me.

“Why, father,” he said to the face he saw in my metal. “How did you come here? You are not dead, then? Now the dear gods be praised for that! Yet I could have sworn—— But no matter, since you are here alive and well. You are something pale still, but how young you look. You move your lips, father, and seem to speak, but I do not hear you. You’ll come home with me, dear, and live with us just as you used to do? You smile, you smile, that is well.”

“Fine mirrors, my young gentleman,” said the shopman, “the best that can be made, and that’s one of the best of the lot you have there.”

The simple man clutched me tightly and sat stared stupidly at his reflection. He trembled so much I shook. “How much?” he whispered. “Is it for sale?”

“For sale it is, indeed, most noble sir,” said the shopman, “and the price is a trifle, only two bu. It’s almost giving it away, I am.”

“Two bu—only two bu! Now the gods be praised for this their mercy!” cried the happy young man. He had the money out of his purse in a twinkling.

The shopman wrapped me in silk and put me in a box. The man carried the box home and put it in the cupboard of the toko no ma. Every now and then he would come in for a peek, but he didn’t tell his wife.

The next thing I knew, the man’s wife was rushing to the toko no ma like the wings of the wind. She flung open the doors with a clang. The first thing she saw were the green sleeve linings on the inside of the door. Her husband had hung them there where he stood to speak to his father.

“What are my sleeve linings doing here?” Then she found the wooden box. She opened it quickly, and took me out.

“What an odd flat shining thing!” she said, looking into my face.

There was silence for a moment. And then tears of anger and jealousy stood in her pretty eyes, and her face flushed from forehead to chin.

“A woman!” she cried, “a woman! So that is his secret! He keeps a woman in this cupboard. A woman, very young and very pretty—no, not pretty at all. She only she thinks herself so. A dancing-girl from Kioto, I’ll be bound; ill-tempered too—her face is scarlet; and oh, how she frowns, nasty little spitfire. Ah, who could have thought it of him? Ah, and I’ve cooked his daikon and mended his hakama a hundred times. Oh! oh! oh!”

With that, she hurled me back into the case and slammed the cupboard door shut.

I am amazed at what humans see in their own reflections. Love, grief, jealousy, it’s all there.

Lady of the Morning Dew. Reflections, Japanese Fairy Tales. Illustration by Warwick Goble.