This is the eleventh installment of Duessa, a 12,000-word allegory (of sorts). I’m posting a new installment on each of the twelve days of Christmas, wrapping up on January 5th. See the previous ten here.


After shedding a few tears, she set herself moving toward the brighter lights  Now she found two people in the mirrors, alternating.  Her closest reflection was the one she had become used to in the mirror room, beautiful and almost impossible to pin down or describe.  But the one on the other side of it — the reflections of the back of her head — were of her original self, she was almost sure: the braid dyed a rich brown, the pale neck.  She reached back, awkwardly cradling the partial globe, and found not the Beloved’s free-flowing hair but just the same braid.  She continued, wishing she had counted the number of mirrors on the way out: how to know original from copy–

Arriving to a room, bright-burning, perhaps more than before, she was called by her lovely reflections as if through a pane of glass. The calling voice rang out strong enough to shake the glass, yet sweet and pure.

The voice, which had, earlier, been hers, filled her with raw rage — why she could not say, until she looked into lovely eyes of no color, or every one, so beautiful  — she and saw perfection there, across the mirror. The very thought stirred her rage, but the other, her reflection who was no longer she, then knelt, pleading, no longer perfect but appearing there with numberless wounds and deformities, no beauty left.

“Help!  I too know pain,” she said. “Please let me through.”

She started back in physical disgust, horror, pity, shame, all mixed together, that this should be.  And yet, “Perfect even in imperfection,” she could not help but mock, and her fickle heart went on to her that she was weak and alone and hurt enough herself she could not bear to let this woman near.

Laughing bitterly, the other woman stood and said, “What do you want of me before you help me through —

Perhaps you can love yourself enough, or even pity?”

Let him be mine, not yours, she thought, and cackled at the cruel, idiotic wish, as her own face appeared in the mirror, for the first time not from behind, at every age, in every petty joy or misery.  She wanted to leave: one of her was one too many. Instead she stayed to listen, as the other said, “Reach out your hand.  The one who loves me with all love, and pities me as well, and sometimes wears a face a thousand times more terrible than yours, would put me here at your mercy.  Let me through to my true Love.”


The woman on the other side is the true Beloved. Duessa has caused her to appear; I think that perhaps the fusion of the first two parts of the globe made her real. Duessa knows who she is partly through instinct, partly because she has the body that had been Duessa’s, while Duessa now has her real body.