A woman struggling with her identity as the perfect stay-at-home wife sees her dream life in the mirror on the wall of her perfectly designed, French-influenced lounge room. What is real, what is imagined and what is fantasy defy the barrier of the cold glass mirror and it is hard to tell if she is on this side of the mirror or that. Her passion for voluptuous iced cakes leads her to indulge in a feeding frenzy that drives her to the edge of reality until the hardened façade of her married self once again re-asserts itself. In no time another delicious cake is baking in the oven and uncontrolled passion is squashed back behind the mirror.
Tilly knew that she could no longer avoid looking in the mirror on the wall in her lounge room. She had resisted yesterday because she thought what she had glimpsed was too absurd. But she was sure she had seen it again today out of the corner of her eye, as she had passed the lounge room on her way to breakfast.
It was now well into the morning and she stood at the kitchen bench spreading the last dollop of creamy icing on the cake. The lemon-tang of dishwashing liquid mingled with the rich aroma of baked cake. With a last spray and wipe over the bench and sink, and with everything put away, Tilly was prepared to face the mirror.
She took the cake to the lounge room and placed it in the middle of the coffee-table without letting her eyes wander to the mirror. She stepped back to admire how well the cake looked on the pedestal cake plate amidst the collection of white and dark-wood furniture.
She turned to the mirror. She walked to it and slid her hand along the lower edge of the frame enjoying the cool texture of golden oak leaves and twining vines. Standing very close to the glass, she took a calming breath and looked in.
At first, all she could see was her face, the pores caked in ivory-tone make-up; her eyes, green with flecks of brown, like her father’s. She expelled her breath which formed a misty cloud on the glass. She stepped back and swiped at the cloudy patch. She saw the whole room reflected back at her. It was a room she had spent many hours perfecting: the chiffon swags draped above the floor-to-ceiling windows; the polished-wood display cabinet encasing her crystal collection; the creamy damask lounge suite; and the textured white-and-gold wallpaper imported from France.
She twisted her torso to move her shoulder out of the way and, keeping her eyes on the mirror, saw the high-backed white lounge-chair behind her and the top of the cake sitting on the low table in front of that. The creamy icing on the cake looked so luscious Tilly was salivating at the thought of the first mouthful. Then there it was, just as she had spied it yesterday. On the far side of the mirrored room, on a side table, was a large leather-bound book. She was certain there was no such book in her own lounge room, but there it was in the mirror.
The book had a dark green leather finish with gold lettering down the spine. She couldn’t make out the words, but she could see that it was a short title and that the author’s name had three words. She stared intently at the book, trying to think of where it might have come from. Maybe a visitor had left it there. But that was ridiculous. A dark leather book would have stood out immediately in her beautiful white and gold lounge.
Tilly brought her head as close to the mirror as she could without touching it and looked at the reflection of the carpet on the floor. It looked just as her carpet did, but then she noticed that the white carpet had tiny sand coloured speckles all over. Tilly leapt back from the mirror and looked down at the carpet at her feet. There were no speckles in her carpet and, as far as she could recall, there never had been. She turned to face the table in the far corner of the room; there was no large leather-bound book.
Tilly turned back to the mirror and inspected it, taking particular notice of the glass to see if there was some trickery there. Was it really a mirror? The frame was as it had always been. The glass was spotless, except the smudge where she had wiped her breath away; she would clean that later. She stepped to the left, keeping her eyes on the far wall in the mirror. It moved in the other direction exactly at the pace she moved. She leapt swiftly to the right to see if she could find a flaw in the image, but everything reflected just as she expected it to.
Tilly stopped. She looked at the cake in the mirror room. Someone had cut a slice from it. Tilly pressed her sweaty hands to the mirror, for once not caring about the marks she was making on the spotless glass, and stared at the chocolaty interior of the cake and the whiteness of the icing. A sob escaped her distorted mouth. She whipped around and stared at the table where she had left her cake. There was a slice missing from that cake too. A dirty plate and a scrunched up napkin lay messily on the table. Tilly ran to the corridor leading to the kitchen to see if there was someone else in the house with her. She would never have left a mess like that. She stood still and listened. There was no sound, just as she expected. Then from somewhere far away she heard music. She craned her neck and listened. The sound was coming from the lounge room. She followed the unfamiliar melody and found herself standing in the doorway, her attention, once again, drawn to the mirror.
A movement in the mirror caught her eye. A tall woman with brown hair in an orange floor-length dress was leaving through the frosted-glass sliding doors on the far side of the mirrored room, the exact doors that Tilly now stood in. Tilly dashed to the mirror and saw the last edge of the hem of the floaty dress flicking out behind the woman as she left the lounge room.
Tilly stepped back from the mirror and cradled her head in her hands. Nothing was making sense. She knew that if she had eaten cake she would remember it; cake was, for her, a reward earned after hard work, not some trifling matter. She also knew that she didn’t own an orange dress and it couldn’t have been her leaving the room in the mirror because she was still in the room now.
Tilly decided she would calm herself with a piece of cake. She sat in the large lounge chair with her back to the mirror and noticed she had nothing to cut the cake with. However the cake had been cut before, there was no evidence of a knife in the room now. She went to the kitchen and returned with the long knife. She sank the shiny blade into the gooey icing just as the door bell rang. Tilly’s fingers tightened around the handle.
Cheery banter spilt from the mirror. The knife slipped from her hand. It clattered onto the table and then onto the floor, flicking icing and bits of cake across the table and carpet. Shocked at the mess she had made, Tilly cried out and slid down onto her beautiful white carpet, scraping at the chocolate cake crumbs with her hands, her breath coming in raggedy gasps. Now she could hear several women laughing and cooing, discussing the cake and the wonderful smell in the room.
Tilly crawled to the wall below the mirror and slumped against it, forgetting the chocolaty smudge on the carpet and the trail of chocolate handprints now leading to the wall. Unsure of whether the people in the mirror could see her, she stood up next to the mirror with her back to the wall and listened. She heard the hostess describing the delicious scent: she had fed a lemon through the Insinkerator in the kitchen, sending a lemony scent throughout the house. The other women laughed loudly and congratulated her on her cleverness. Tilly knew a plug-in air freshener would do a much better job, like the sunshine-and-fresh-citrus scent she used.
Tilly took several deep breaths and refreshed her face with a wet wipe from the pack she kept in her pocket. She peeked in the mirror. The room was washed with warm yellow light and the woman in the orange dress was walking bare-foot below a magnificent cut-glass chandelier. With the curtains drawn, delicate light beams twinkled all around the room and there were four women who all seemed to glow under the light. The leather-bound book was now on the table near the cake. Tilly strained to see what was written on the spine, but it was facing away from her. The tall, brown-haired woman led the other women, laughing and chatting, out of the room towards the kitchen. She wanted to call out to the women in the mirror, but they were gone.
She began to sob and pressed her head against the cold glass. Her hands lay flat on the mirror above her head and with each great sob, saliva and snot spattered the once clean surface. Her hands slid down off the mirror leaving long sweaty streaks. Tilly cried even harder because now she had another cleaning job to do and all she wanted was to enjoy her cake. She rounded the high-backed white chair and remembered the mess on the carpet. She knew it was much easier to clean a stain when it was fresh than when it was dried, so she went to the laundry where the carpet cleaner was stored and lugged the machine to the kitchen. She filled the water containers and hauled the carpet cleaner into the lounge room.
The brown-haired woman had returned. She was now standing with her back to the mirror, reading from the leather-bound book. The other three women were sitting comfortably on the chairs and eating chocolate cake with silver spoons, their coffee mugs sitting on woven sisal placemats. Tilly dumped the machine and approached the mirror. She stood close enough to look over the woman’s shoulder. Printed at the top of the page was the title “Great-Aunt Matilda’s Recipes, Proverbs and Quotations“.
Tilly watched the women taking pleasure in each mouthful of cake and in each other’s company and then looked at her empty room. She yelled and lunged towards the glass coffee table in the middle of the room. She grabbed at the cake; her fingers gouged out a hunk of warm gooeyness and pressed it to her mouth. Sticky crumbs tumbled down her front and scattered on the floor. Tilly laughed at the rich taste, spraying more soggy crumbs across the carpet. She filled her mouth again and swallowed hard. She grabbed more handfuls of the brown and white mess, forcing it down her throat. The cake was large and soggy in her mouth and throat and she was forced to push some of it back out with her tongue. Tilly looked down at her clothes and began to wipe her hands up and down her blouse.
The cake was destroyed and Tilly sat in a heap on the floor in front of the lounge chair. The filthy mess spread around her body; an erupted chocolate volcano. Her arms and legs, even her neck, seemed to be enormously heavy as she stood up and faced the mirror. She saw herself standing in the room surrounded by the demolished cake; she was a dark smear in the whiteness. Her hair hung in streaks and stuck to the sides of her face. Make-up, mixed with chocolate and saliva, smeared her face.
Tilly bent down and picked up the knife. Its smooth handle was slippery with squashed cake and icing. Tilly lifted the knife in front of her and brandished it like a sword, threatening the Tilly in the mirror. She walked toward the mirror with the knife in front of her until the point touched the glass with a loud crack. It slid upwards as she moved forward. She pressed her face onto the glass and kissed her image, running her tongue round and round on the glass. She pressed her breasts against the golden frame and watched herself writhing.
She stopped and looked at the room in the mirror. It was her room. Standing on a sideboard was a white photo frame with a picture of her in France. She remembered the day she visited the pâtisserie and charmed the chocolate cake recipe from the chef. The knife was still in her hand. She swiped it across her thigh, cleaning the stickiness off. She collected the dirty cake-plate and took it to the kitchen sink. In her usual routine she filled the basin with hot soapy water, so she could wash as she cooked, and began making another chocolate cake with all the care and attention of a midwife with a new-born baby.