Story by Georgia Cook
My mother was a creature of sunlight and glass, spun from pressed sand in a blazing heat. She glittered as she walked, her arms and legs riddled in cracks from the exertion, the fine lines around her mouth sharp with splinters.
She never spoke, my mother; my mirror-mother. My fragile, breakable, looking-glass mother. She gazed at the world through crystalline eyes and held my father’s fingers in her ice-cool grasp. She signed her requests to me, her hands flitting and darting like minnows, casting glittering fractals across the walls of our home.
I love you.
I love you.
I wondered sometimes how she could possibly have given birth to me; a daughter of flesh and blood, warm and loud and terrifying, with sticky fingers and frizzy brown hair. I wondered if she might have preferred a baby of glass and air; one who never cried or fussed but lay in her arms like a perfect statue. Childhood, captured in time.
In time, I distanced myself from my mother; ran from her at the school gates, pretended not to see her frantic signing, brushed off my friend’s questions and wide-eyed stares with a nonchalance mingled with guilt.
She was my mother, but I did not understand her. How would I ever understand?
She was a fragile thing, a silent thing. She risked fractures as she climbed the stairs, broken fingers and shattered skin as she lifted the kettle. One trip— an uneven pavement crack, a misplaced foot in the dark— would mean the end of her. She was so careful, so careful all the time. But accidents happen.
When I was fifteen, my Mother shattered; came undone, unformed, broke into a hundred glittering pieces.
My father tried his best, but even his careful eye and a well-practised hand couldn’t piece my mother back together. She was a sea of scattered shards, swept from us by the cruelty of a misplaced step.
My father laid her in a wooden box, a haphazard approximation of crystal puzzle pieces surrounded by pressed silk and cotton wool, and placed her up in the attic. He visited her often— told her about his day, about how I was doing at school, how much he missed her. If she replied, I never knew, and I never climbed up there to visit.
As I grew older, I began to notice my own oddities; I broke bones too easily, cracked and bruised with every knock, grew silent and watchful at the slightest hurt. My fragility radiated out like sunlight through an open window. One day, bumping my hip against a sideboard, I heard a sharp crystal ring.
Sometimes, I’d catch myself staring intently into shop windows and bathroom mirrors, studying my reflection for splinters, subtle cracks around the eyes, brilliant flashes of refracted light. I’d press closer and closer, until the grey-blue of my irises filled the world.
I realised then just how little I’d known my mother; my silent, beautiful, looking-glass mother. How much I hadn’t asked, how much I hadn’t thought to know, hadn’t bothered to discover.
How much of her I should have preserved.
I could gaze forever into my mother’s crystal-and-glass face, find my reflection in every curve and twist, every facet of fractured light.
And see only myself, staring back.
Georgia Cook is an illustrator and writer from London. She is the winner of the LISP 2020 Flash Fiction Prize, and has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, Staunch Book Prize and Reflex Fiction Award, among others. She can be found on twitter at @georgiacooked and on her website at https://www.georgiacookwriter.com/
This story by Georgia Cook was the winner of fiction in our recent writing competition with the theme "Passed Down." Follow us on Facebook and join our newsletter to receive invitations to future competitions.