“What a load of rubbish!”
Jess stared at the pile of dishes stacked on the bench. No, not just the bench, the dining table. And no, not just dishes, but paper in the form of mail and notepads, plastic bottles, containers and various other, quite random, things. There was even a remote control…on the stovetop. Yikes!
She tried to walk around there to retrieve it, but nearly tripped over a cushion on the floor. There was a food stain on it.
Jess picked it up, or tried to. It stuck to the floor. Using more force, she peeled it off the lino and looked underneath.
Bad move. Dried cat vomit greeted her with its foul stench.
“Good lord! How long has that been there?” she murmured.
Things were worse than she’d thought.
This gave her pause. Was there something more important even than tidying her grandmother’s place up? Why was this mess here in the first place? Why had Pickle stopped cleaning up after herself? Pod had died six months ago. It couldn’t be that, could it? Delayed reaction? Part of the grieving process? Jess began to feel guilty for going on holiday.
She had to find Pickle.
Moving through to the hall and then to the bedroom, Jess passed the lounge, which felt abandoned.
She pushed the bedroom door. It creaked open.
“Pickle?” she called out. Not too loudly as she didn’t want to startle her.
Reasoning Pickle couldn’t have made such a mess if she were dead, Jess moved further into the dark, dank-smelling room.
Her eyes adjusted slowly and she peered around, trying to find Pickle. She looked at the bed first, but the sheets were pulled aside. It was empty. Jess had never seen the bed unmade before. Pickle was usually such a tidy creature.
Jess heard a sigh, then, and she turned to find Pickle sitting in the armchair in the corner of the room. Her gaze was fixed on the elaborate mirror in her hand. All she had on was her nightie, which had food stains all over it.
Jess walked over and knelt down on the floor next to her grandmother.
Pickle smelled. It wasn’t just food. It smelled like she hadn’t bathed for days.
Jess was really concerned now. This wasn’t like Pickle at all. Yes, she’d been saying she missed Pod a lot, but this was…this wasn’t good.
Should she call the doctor?
“Hello Jess, dear,” said Pickle, though she didn’t look away from the mirror and her voice sounded distant and distracted.
“Pickle, what’s happening? What’s wrong?” pleaded Jess.
Pickle spoke without taking her eyes off the mirror, “Oh, nothing, love. I’m just fine. Quite good, actually.”
Jess couldn’t believe her ears.
“How can you say that? You haven’t washed—you smell, Pickle!—the dishes are piled up, there’s vomit on the kitchen floor. What’s going on?” Jess said.
“Everything’s fine, Jess.” Pickle was starting to sound a little annoyed now, “I’m just fine. Don’t worry about anything.” But her eyes remained on the mirror.
Jess took a closer look at the mirror. It was an old-fashioned one, with a long, decorated handle. The back of the mirror itself had a padded section, with a beaded edge around both the mirror and the handle. She hadn’t seen it here before.
“Where did you get that mirror, Pickle? Is it new?” said Jess.
Pickle took a few seconds to reply, “Ah, yes. I found it in a garage sale near the beach.”
“Can I have a look?” Jess asked.
“Not right now, dear,” was Pickle’s response. And then she laughed. The laughter didn’t seem related to what had been said.
Jess sat back on her heels and wondered what she should do.
Despite her actual state, Pickle seemed much happier than she’d been since Pod died. But, here she was, staring into a mirror constantly. Pickle had never been a very vain person, so the behaviour puzzled Jess.
Well, she couldn’t think of anything to do immediately, so Jess stood up and decided to open the curtains at least. They were behind and on the other side of Pickle, so Jess carefully stepped over Pickle’s feet and found the draw cord.
The light exposed even more mess. There were several apple cores sitting on the floor next to where Pickle was sitting. All of them were quite brown. Jess knelt down again and, making a face, collected the apple cores in her hands. But when she looked up she froze.
She was now on an angle where she could see the mirror’s glass over Pickle’s shoulder. It didn’t show what Jess would have expected: a simple reflection. Instead there were figures and faces she didn’t immediately recognise. And they were moving. It was just like watching a film on a screen.
She continued to stare and began to recognise the faces. One was Pickle’s, but much younger, and another was Pod’s. She watched as the couple, possibly in their twenties, ice skated over a frozen lake. Pickle was much better at skating than Pod. He was quite unsteady and Pickle was keeping a firm grip on his hand. Much of the time she was the only thing that kept him upright. There seemed to be other people around, but they were fuzzy and indistinct in the background.
Jess dropped the apple cores and leaned closer.
“Pickle, where are you there?” she asked.
“We went to Canada on our honeymoon,” replied Pickle. There was a dreamy smile on her face, “I had to show Paul how to skate. He fell over so many times. He ended up with an enormous bruise on his bottom.”
The picture on the mirror changed then to Pod showing Pickle his bottom—the blue mark quite large—and the two of them sniggering over it. They seemed to be in a hotel room.
Both Jess and Pickle laughed aloud.
This must have been what happened before, when Pickle laughed out of context.
The hotel room scene quickly got hot and heavy and Jess, shocked, stood up suddenly and walked away. That was not something she should watch.
Absently stripping the bed, Jess thought about what she’d seen.
How was this possible? Pickle seemed to be seeing vivid scenes from her life in the mirror, so vivid that she’d become fixated on watching it and was ignoring everything else.
Was it magic? It did seem to be and Jess froze for a minute in realisation: If magic was real, what else was going on in the world that she didn’t know about? Were fairy tales true, for instance.
Nope, that’s just…nah. Anyway, kind of irrelevant here, really.
Jess had to figure out what to do in this situation. Pickle was neglecting herself and her life in favour of reliving her time with Pod.
It was perfectly understandable, though. Pickle and Pod had always been so obviously in love, it had been embarrassing sometimes. And Pickle was always saying she missed him. He’d been the love of her life.
Jess stuffed the bedclothes in the washing machine and turned it on, then remembered to put some washing powder in.
She wandered back to the kitchen and stood looking at it for a while. It smelled pretty bad.
She shook her head, “Nope. It can’t be good,” she said to herself.
Jess made her way back to the bedroom, walked straight up to Pickle and snatched the mirror out of her hand.
“No! Give that back to me. Jess!” Pickle, suddenly very animated, threw herself out of the chair and tried to wrestle the mirror back with her arthritic hands.
Jess pulled it away quickly, stowed it under the mattress and sat on it.
Pickle stood over her. “Give that back to me,” she demanded.
“Pickle, we need to talk this through,” Jess pleaded with her.
“That is my mirror. You can’t tell me what to do.” Pickle eyes were wide in desperation.
Jess held her gaze, “Pod wouldn’t want this. Not ever.”
“Well, he’s not here.” Pickle was nearly shouting, “Give it back!”
Jess needed to calm her down.
“I will,” she promised, “But you need to go and have a shower first. Then I’ll give it back to you.”
Pickle leaned over, her finger in Jess’ face, “You can’t dictate my life to me, young lady.” Jess had never seen her so angry.
Jess put her hands on her hips and glared back, “I have the mirror and I won’t give it back to you until you go and have a shower and get some clean clothes on.” She hoped there were some clean clothes in the house somewhere.
Pickle folded her arms defiantly and pouted at her for a while, and then tried to push Jess off the mattress. But she was smaller and weaker, her hands bent and gnarled. It wasn’t long before she gave up.
“Oh, Jess, please!” Now Pickle was in tears. Jess hated this, but she had to stick to her guns.
“Pickle, just go and have a nice shower and then I’ll give it back to you. I promise.” Jess was trying not to cry herself.
With her hands on her hips and her voice breaking, Pickle declared, “If you break it, I will never forgive you.” Then she turned and strode to the bathroom. Soon after, Jess heard the shower running.
She’d promised to give it back, but would she? How could she get her grandmother to see sense? If Jess let her keep doing this, Pickle would die. Not eating, not getting out of the house, she’d just waste away.
Jess, hearing Pickle’s feet making the shower floor squeak, reached under the mattress and pulled out the mirror. Holding it, she stared into it, wondering what it would show her.
At first, it simply showed her face, looking anxious. Then the image of her face swung to the side, like a door opening. It shrank and looked much younger, the rest of her body forming around it. She was looking up at Pod and they were in his workroom out the back of the house.
That was where they’d had their long talks when Jess was growing up. Dad had never had time to talk, so Jess had always come to Pod when she needed advice. Like she did now.
All his tools were hanging on the wall behind him. He was working at his bench on one of the kitchen devices—fixing it for Pickle. Jess was sitting on a box nearby.
“Pod, I never know what to say when people ask me what I want to do.” Jess’ voice sounded higher and so uncertain to her older self.
“Well-“ Pod was filing a section of the machine he was working on as he spoke, “-part of it is figuring out what you like to do. Part of it is figuring out what you’re good at, and part of it is trying lots of different things so you know which is which.” He picked up another tool, “What do you like to do, Jess?”
“Eating.” Jess remembered she’d been having him on then.
Pod chuckled, “Yep, you sure do. Perhaps you could be a chef, or a food critic. What else?”
“Flying.” She’d been on a plane the week before for the first time in her life and had loved it.
“A pilot. That sounds like fun,” said Pod, “But what about those gadgets you make?”
“You can’t make gadgets for a living,” Jess protested.
Pod turned to her then, his eyebrow raised, “Oh, can you not?”
Jess spread out her hands at him and shook her head sarcastically, “Not if they don’t work.”
Pod huffed a laugh then stood and thought for a moment. He looked at Jess, “The thing to do is use your time. You have a lot of time. Don’t waste it. Explore the world. Someone out there needs help with something. Someone needs loving. Someone needs caring for. Something needs doing. Find that something or that someone. Live your life to the full. And if you live it for others, that’s the best thing.”
Pod leaned against his bench, his expression distant now, “’Cause just living for yourself, that’s empty and vain. It might make a lot of noise and flash some lights, but it’s meaningless. Follow the meaning.”
Water dripped on Jess’ shoulder and she turned to find Pickle, stark naked, staring at the mirror, her eyes full of tears.
“I never knew he said that to you,” she said, her voice small.
“Yeah.” What she said didn’t really make sense, but Jess was finding it difficult to talk, her throat was so closed up.
Pickle sank down on the bed next to Jess, “I’m being selfish, aren’t I?”
Jess couldn’t answer. They looked at each other.
“I-“ Jess began, “I don’t want to lose you, too,” she whispered.
Pickle’s face fell and then she reached up and held Jess’ face with both hands, “You won’t. I’m right here and I’m staying right here.” She kissed her on the forehead and sniffed.
Letting go, she looked around the room, “Well, that’s a pickle and no mistake.” She laughed and shook her head, “What a mess.”
Jess saw she had her grandmother back and she heaved a sigh of relief.
Pickle stood up, “You put that-“ she pointed at the mirror, “-on my dressing table and we’ll deal with all this together, eh?”
Jess stood up, laying the mirror down, “Pickle?”
“You’d better put some clothes on.”
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