Nancarrow's Mirror

by RP Fox

He slept with women he didn’t like. This was one of the first things I learned about Danny Cavendish. Which sort of meant I was safe, I realised.

Although I did have my moments of jealousy. We got on straight away and, yes, I found him attractive. Oddly. But that was when we first met. I could see the attraction of him back then. We’d drive along thin roads and end up at these secluded pubs, where there would sometimes be some young thing who knew him. I’d be smiling along but killing myself wondering if they’d slept together. Certain women just seemed to have history in their eyes. He’d be casual enough talking to them, but they looked as if they wanted something from him. Or perhaps wished they didn’t. There were quite a few, but after a while I realised I wasn’t destined to join their numbers. I was to be something else instead to Danny. 

It was partly because I was from Liverpool, like him. That’s one reason we got on. Just from my accent he pinpointed the area, the very place, I’d grown up in. ‘Primrose Street,’ he concluded. But I wasn’t freaked out. I found it comforting, in fact. He was good like that, with finding people out. It was part of his charm. 

I had moved to Shropshire around six months before. Having left college and simply wanting a change, I sought something that wasn’t the city. I soon found myself in Telford New Town, in one of those squat tower blocks on pale brick and concrete estates they’d built on the disused mines of the easterly coalfields. Life quickly began shifting between a secretarial job at the town centre and being back in my flat, with very little in between. I’d made a few half-friends through work. Gone out for girly cocktails at places like Cascades nightclub. Been on a few directionless dates. But everything seemed to revolve around the town centre, and I lost interest. Or perhaps I never had it. Back and forth like a yo-yo, day and night; I think it might have made me depressed. 

As I was leaving the town library one evening, I spotted a half-concealed poster for a play. You, Too, Can Have a Body, the title called out to me, beckoning a smile. By a group called the Ratlinghope Players, at somewhere called Condover Village Hall. The final performance was that night, so I just went. Having not seen any amateur dramatics previously, on the drive out I had it in my head that it would be, well, amateur. And that’s what it was. The play, farcical and frantic as the script intended, suffocated beneath mostly weak performances. It also probably didn’t help that of sixty or so chairs put out, the actors played to an audience of eleven including me. I had sat at the back, near the door. Just in case it was unbearable. But something made me stick it out. Unlike my fellow attendees I tried to make an effort, laughing at any overtly funny bits; to not to just seemed stubborn. Not that it made me feel any better as every time I did I laughed alone. You’d think by the final night a production might be tighter, having settled-in to itself. But no. The director, Danny as it would transpire, lurked beneath the foot of the stage, script in hand, prompting any especially forgetful cast members around every few lines or so.

When it ended I gave a sigh of relief as the near-dozen of us clapped. In the car park, I saw the cast ambling through a back door, lighting self-important cigarettes as if their lives depended on it. Behind followed their director, clearly used to singing their praises. Catching any fragility in a net of positivity. I waved as he caught my eye, unsure what else to do. ‘Glad to see there was at least one living person out there tonight,’ he beamed, approaching with a smile. ‘I hope you enjoyed it?’ I told him I had. Within a few minutes we had all been introduced, and those that weren’t heading home were piling into cars intent on getting to the nearest pub and drowning their sorrows. Danny offered to come along with me. 

The Compasses was less than five minutes away and was heaving. As we worked our way toward the only available table, I remember feeling it a pity that none of these people had been to see the play. Wasn’t there a village noticeboard? Danny didn’t seem too bothered, though, and immediately fetched the first celebratory round. Instead of being what I expected of a theatre director, he simply looked happy to be out. He was a fattening, greying man, quickly approaching his late fifties. In his several days-old shirt and cardigan, he looked as if he should be dressing the stage instead of directing. 

The cast sat there, forlornly reflecting on the show. They were all still in costume. Yvonne, Danny’s leading lady, was in a maid’s outfit which gained a few cutting dog whistles from pint-wielding onlookers. But her detachment was admirable. She was too busy chewing the ear off Colin, the leading man, and another actress called Michelle. Trying to get to the bottom of the production’s failings. Over the cramped din, I heard her saying, ‘He just doesn’t know how to direct comedy at all. At all,’ and chopping the air in frustration. ‘I’d do a better bloody job of directing it myself.’ Colin and Michelle nodded along, neither really agreeing nor disagreeing. That at least seemed well-rehearsed. Everyone took out cigarettes and soon began disappearing behind a thickening halo of smoke. 

Danny sat with me when he returned. I caught Yvonne and Michelle eyeing him. Eyeing me. I took no notice. Danny asked me what I was doing in Shropshire. We talked about that. Theatre then came up, but You, Too, Can Have a Body didn’t get much of a look-in. We talked about Liverpool. He told me that he had co-owned a graphic design firm by day and directed am-dram by night; I admitted I had never heard of his Liverpool company, but he talked about them anyway. They had been successful for some time apparently. But he had had a nasty falling out with someone called Ken Campbell; something to do with favours and money and it had cost him. It sounded more like partially-buried envy to me. He also spoke briefly of the divorce which had inspired him to quit his company, the design job, and eventually Liverpool. Now in Shropshire he was free to focus on the Ratlinghope Players. 

Although that night’s performance hadn’t been great I was impressed by Danny, I admit. It was refreshing to meet someone with a plan; a passion for something, even if he was older. He must have seen something in me as well because he invited me to join them. Startled, I warned him I had never acted. ‘No experience necessary,’ he waved. ‘There’s always a role to fill.’ Yvonne’s face carefully dropped as she overheard. I felt exposed and kept away from her for the rest of the evening. 

Any concerns I had were short-lived. Danny collected me to go out one evening the following week. He told me that Yvonne had left the company. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said. 

‘She’ll be fine,’ he dismissed. ‘Actors come, actors go. Especially at that age.’ ‘What will you do?’ 

‘Well, we’ll have to recast our female lead for The Crucible, I suppose. We’ll have to work quickly.’ I thought about how Yvonne had probably been his strongest performer, from what I saw. Danny clearly didn’t see lead potential in his other female actors. He turned, looking straight at me. It was then he offered me the position of company secretary. ‘It’s not all that much work,’ he said. ‘You don’t need to attend all rehearsals. It’s mainly daytime duties. Handling the paperwork, correspondence, promotion. Collecting subs.’ 

He offered to match my secretary’s salary. ‘Do the others get paid?’ I asked. He faced the road, scratching his wiry beard. ‘Look, I just need someone to help me run things. To handle the day-to-day. If I’m writing directions or editing scripts, I haven’t got time for . . . admin.’ He said the word as if it disgusted him. ‘So, what d’you say, mate?’ He smiled, thickening his accent. ‘One Scouser ‘elpin’ out another, eh?’ 

‘Oh, right, like that is it?’ I aped. ‘You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours?’ ‘Exactly!’ he said loudly. It made him seem younger. I liked it. 

The night was black by the time we reached the Bridges in Ratlinghope; the village Danny had named the company after. ‘Favourite pub in all Shropshire,’ he said as we walked past a line of parked motorbikes. I could already hear the thud of the jukebox. ‘Beautiful by day round here as well. It sits right on the meeting of the River Onny and Danford Brook.’ He gestured somewhere in the darkness beyond the car park, towards a whispering of unseen water. For a moment he reminded me of my dad. I tried to overlook it. Inside, The Bridges was alive with Thin Lizzy and the airless fug of beer and bike leathers. For the first time since being in Shropshire I had found somewhere that reminded me of home, and I wondered if Danny had brought me deliberately. He approached the bar; a few eager faces greeted him with backslaps and rough, handy welcomes. It was a strange sight; him standing there in his crumpled shirt and cardigan. He looked small amongst these heavyset men who towered over him. But he had no problem entertaining them, clearly. But I wondered what they possibly had in common. Perhaps Danny, like the bikers, was just good at getting out of town. 

Not everyone was as pleased to see him, though. On a later trip to the bar, I watched from our table as two women apprehended him. They looked like bikers too in their black shirts, jeans, and intense makeup. The smaller one, a slim-framed redhead, took Danny’s elbow. She looked drunk. Her friend, slightly older with tightly curled brown hair, watched on coolly. As the redhead spoke to him, she appeared more and more defensive. It felt too personal a thing to witness, but I couldn’t look away. Whatever was actually said was concealed from me behind the shapeless wall of noise. I watched as she tried whispering closely, but Danny moved; his head curled from hers as if in contempt, or repulsion. This infuriated her, and she called him something. Spitting the word out. Her friend then intervened, pulling her aside. After I saw Danny gesturing, over towards me, I looked down into our empties. When I dared look up both women were staring at me. But nothing further happened, and they left a clearly irritated Danny at the bar. I wondered if that had been their intention all along. 

I asked what that was about as he sat. ‘Oh, nothing.’ He took up his wine. ‘Just a walk-on from an old production.’ 

It wasn’t the only time it happened. Every so often we would arrive at some pub, and Danny would be approached; usually by some slender little thing, passing off as vulnerable to hook him in. If he felt like giving them the time of day, he would; if not, he just engaged them thinly until they went away. It could get horribly awkward. If it only happened when it was just him and me, I might not have been able to cope. But it happened with other company members present. One evening after an initial read-through for The Crucible, Danny had left the table so I asked Colin about it. He seemed entertained, ready for my question. ‘What can I say?’ he smirked. ‘Danny’s a popular guy. Or, at least, he was.’ I asked him what that meant. ‘When Danny first appeared on the scene, he was quite the . . .’ 

‘Casanova?’ I suggested. 

Casanova. Yeah,’ he grinned. ‘But perhaps he might’ve spread it around a bit too much. Broken too many hearts.’ I pictured Danny meeting people. His warm way of introducing himself. A city like Liverpool was probably a big enough place to be able to cover your tracks. To disappear from your own antics. It must be different here. 

‘Has he tried it on with you at all?’ Colin asked. I didn’t respond. ‘Sorry. None of my business, I’m sure.’ 

‘No, it’s fine,’ I replied. ‘Did he and Yvonne ever . . ?’ He didn’t respond. ‘Sorry. None of my business.’ 

He looked around furtively, leaning in. ‘I heard that’s how she got the lead for You, Too, Can Have a Body,’ he half-whispered, satisfied with his dose of gossip. ‘Michelle told me. She got on with Yvonne so I think they confided a bit. None of us had heard of her before she joined.’ 

‘Didn’t he do auditions for it?’ 

‘Some roles, yeah. All the male parts at least.’ That made sense. ‘Really not sure where he found her though.’ 

I nodded. ‘So, it was a case of you too can have a body if you, too, give me your body, then?’ 

Colin looked at me and laughed. Two pints in and he was already loosening up. I pressed further. Being the company’s current longest-serving actor, having been with it for eighteen months, he had been Danny’s go-to drinking partner for a time. They had discussed, or Colin had witnessed at least, Danny’s womanising. How he saw it as a reward for the stresses of managing the company. Part of me assumed Colin shared the same outlook. He probably treated women like he treated his hometown; something to be walked across. I was making assumptions, but he was typical of a certain type of lad I had encountered. Good-looking. Aimlessly energetic. Thick on confidence, thin on ambition. He had studied drama at college but seemed impervious to the notion of developing it. Of taking it somewhere, anywhere else. As a result, his acting was as wooden as his life experience; something he seemed depressingly content with. 

‘Apparently, his dad was the same,’ Colin added. ‘He comes from a long line of womanisers, stretching all the way back to the Wirral.’ 

I smiled at that, despite myself. ‘Do you know anything about his divorce?’ ‘Which one?’ 

‘Oh,’ I said. This really felt like privy information. ‘The last one, I suppose. Before he moved.’ 

‘He’s been separated twice, I know that. Had a kid with the second one. A boy.’ I felt happy to hear he had a son. But I also felt left out for not already knowing. ‘That’s nice.’ 

‘Yeah,’ he nodded. ‘Well, he died.’ Colin’s expression flattened. He hadn’t meant to shock me, I’m sure. Not like that. He changed the subject, politely asked about my new duties, as if he wouldn’t understand them. I told him how boring it could be, but didn’t elaborate on the fact it involved very little work, especially for a salary. Nor that really I was becoming Danny’s personal assistant. That’s the way it was heading; I had spent more time at his house in Shrewsbury than I had my flat in weeks. I kept a toothbrush there. It was a nice place, near the town park. It was also clear he had been living alone. Piles of orphaned scripts, half-empty cups and glasses, and abandoned props dominated much of the space. I attempted tidying initially, but couldn’t really find anywhere to put things. 

But it was pleasant enough. Comfortable enough. I never spent money as Danny paid for everything, insisting it was ‘all part of our arrangement.’ 

We ate together most evenings if we weren’t out in the car or sat in a restaurant. Rather than having actual conversations, I would simply listen most of the time. Which was fine. In me, Danny had found another younger person to regale, as men his age often seek. I tended to let it wash over me. It was engaging, if often superficial, stuff. Theatre anecdotes; often hilarious, but occasionally tellingly embittered. I was more interested in those. Although he had successfully directed am-dram for many years, he was also blacklisted by Equity. This hung heavily at times. It crept into the talk all the more readily as the night and the drink wore on, but only in point of icy reference. He never really explained why he was blacklisted. 

And little in the way of his private life filtered through. The only evidence of which I was granted was a mention of his sister’s contribution to the Liverpool company, and two photographs I found on a dusty bookshelf in a top floor room. One showed a younger, thinner Danny with a woman I assumed to be his ex-wife. The other was of a little boy, grinning triumphantly at the beach. Danny never brought the pictures up, and I never asked. 

After tackling an initial backlog, my duties settled into editing and posting our newsletter to subscribers; going to the shops or bank, and making regular tea and toast. It did not fill a working week. Danny remained in his study, poring over scripts. On especially quiet days, I would knock to tell him I was going for a walk or a drive; I always invited him along, but he never did. Returning a few hours later, I would find him in the same position, as if time had stood still. As unmoving as the little boy’s grin in the photograph upstairs, which I privately came to imagine was bidding me goodbye and then welcoming me back again each time I stepped through the front door. 

Shrewsbury was pleasant enough. It reminded me of childhood trips Jack and me were taken on to Chester. The kind of town Mother would have called “Christmassy” as if you could lift and shake it to summon the snow. But it was the drives out I preferred, where I saw much of the old county. As New Towns tended to, Telford had colonised existing settlements, dispersing established communities whilst pouring others in. There would have been some tribal push-back at the time, but I arrived after all that had been quashed. By then the town centre had its spidering reach everywhere, establishing its strange mosaic identity via A-roads and bus stops; sometimes literally, given the artworks positioned along faster stretches of the Eastern Primary like corporate-sponsored acid trips. To look at, Telford was modern, brighter perhaps, compared to its forebears. But its uniform newness didn’t prove it to be better. Salopian industry had been put to rest, but there was little evidence that this was the thing to naturally replace it, even if slogans like “your opportunity” and “enterprise zone” spurred newcomers to see it that way. The sprawl didn’t seem to be based in heritage, let alone a taking-up of the responsibility of history. 

But those folds of community not directly accessible from navigating aggressive knuckles of roundabouts and dual carriageways was what interested me. Places parallel with the now-abandoned mines; many of which were never backfilled in after closing, leaving shapeless caverns of nothing but industry’s full stops. These villages, uninfected with New Town bombast, were where the local church and the local pub still drew healthy pilgrimage. I could understand why Danny sought them too, especially under the intimacy of night. There was nothing to be intimidated by, unlike the parts of Liverpool I would never visit alone, day or night. Danny had done as I was doing and immersed himself. But perhaps my seeking something smaller, less demanding than home had been enough; Danny must have mined the limits of what the county offered much sooner. 

Colin would never have made a convincing Reverend Samuel Parris. It was clear from those early rehearsals, and even more so with the cassock and caked-on wrinkles. Michelle and Sandra were slightly more believable as women associating with Abigail Williams, whose role had been handed to Natasha; Danny’s latest ‘true discovery’. I had suspected he’d found his leading lady when he hadn’t been home a couple of nights before read-throughs began. She was, at least, an experienced actor, according to Colin who had studied with her. She, as Yvonne had been, was a smoky, confident thing without an ounce of shyness. It would set a fire in Danny. An excitable impatience that drove his directing, and began to shape the play into something. A look from her, a coded smile. A gentle caress. It all seemed to thrill him into action momentarily. 

But the other actors never provoked such inspiration, and rehearsals ran stale as the true limits of everyone’s collective talents were reached. The atmosphere in the village hall we were using as a rehearsal space was tiring to be immersed in for too long. Danny began struggling, and the production suffered without his focus. Whenever Natasha tightly held his arm whilst everyone else disappeared for a cigarette, I saw a despondency in him that, although I hadn’t truly witnessed before, I suspected to be just around the corner. Seeking him out. 

‘He was let go from the design firm,’ Jack told me one evening. I made myself more comfortable on the sofa, bringing the phone line across the floor. ‘There were some serious discrepancies with the accounts.’ 

‘Theft?’ I asked. 

‘Big time. Like, thousands.’ 

‘Oh my god.’ 

‘But nothing could be proven. They couldn’t pin it on Danny. His business partner decided it would be easier to pay him off, because he’d been a bit . . handy with some of the women there as well apparently. They were glad to see the back of him.’ 

‘Who told you all this?’ 

‘Mate of Uncle Terry’s. Turns out he’s known this partner for years. It got nasty.’ I pictured the look on Danny’s face when he was at his most impatient, his most unwilling. ‘He was having an affair around the time as well. Sounds like he was goin’ off the bloody rails if you ask me.’ 

‘Which was what cost him his marriage?’ 

‘Not just that,’ Jack paused for a moment. ‘Did you know his son died?’ 

‘I did.’ 

‘Right. But do you know how?’ 

Danny had taken the settlement money and blown a large chunk right away. Nights of drinks for everyone at his usual haunts. Wining and dining different, often random women; some of whom might have ripped him off. Because he stopped even turning up for them, rehearsals for a Christmas production the company was working on withered away, eventually leading to Danny cravenly announcing his departure through a short letter to the cast. 

One day, hungover and sick again, he had his son with him for the day. His wife had already asked him to move out, and she had to work. Danny took the boy and drove them out to see a woman he had recently met; a wealthy divorcee, older than his usual type by all accounts, but who might have become besotted with him. When they arrived, Danny hurriedly bundled his son up to the top-most room; the playroom of her own children, who had long since flown the roost. He and the woman disappeared downstairs. It was a large house, too much for one person really. It was over a mile from the nearest village; the sort of place you only knew was there if you were looking. This might have been why the woman wanted Danny there. To have another soul around, even for a short time. 

When Danny went back up to fetch his son, he was gone. 

The large, round window, which led out directly onto the harsh slope of the roof tiles, had a broken latch, and he had opened it all by himself. Like a clever boy. 

No one else was at the house, and Danny and the woman hadn’t heard a thing. Danny escaped prosecution, as much as his ex-wife’s lawyers pressed for it. The story even found its way into the Echo, boiled down to a tightly-written fable of horror, betrayal and tragedy. The writer had somehow made it sound inevitable as if that’s what happens to children in these situations. They even used a photo of him, as well as one of the son. He left Liverpool soon after. 

There will have been regret in there, I would think to myself. An ossuary of incidents, confrontations, choices, all of Danny’s own making. Crushed in together, dryly, in the dark. It must all be buried so deep, of course. Anything approaching the surface might take him. Might even destroy him. I kept what my brother told me to myself, heavy as it was. Rehearsals continued on, stagnant as they felt. And with Natasha now firmly ingrained both in Danny’s private and professional life, I returned to my flat. He assumed I would be fine with leaving, seeing as the three of us all being under his roof felt claustrophobically intimate. It was simpler to let him believe it to be the reason. 

Then one day, I turned up at rehearsals to find everyone sitting on chairs in a circle. They all turned to look as I stepped into the hall. ‘Ah. Great,’ Danny grinned, ‘you’re just in time. Take a seat.’ There was a woman standing in the middle of the circle. She wore a white shirt and billowing brown trousers. As she smiled warmly at me, I felt I knew her from somewhere. But I couldn’t be sure, so I quickly tripped out an apology and sat. 

‘This is Annie Nancarrow,’ he said. I assumed she was simply another of his late-night foundlings. ‘She’s here to help with the rehearsals.’ 

Danny had never really had much time for drama theory, or at least he had never bored any of us with it. Colin and his fellow graduates had been the ones to worship at the altar of Stanislavski or Brecht, usually appearing as if they just wanted to sound clever. But probably because of the unorthodox way he recruited, Danny must have decided academic theory possibly wasn’t the right method to train with. 

But Annie Nancarrow wasn’t a drama practitioner. Not in any usual sense. Standing before us she spoke initially about the importance of ‘embodiment of character,’ and ‘inhabiting the role fully’; stuff actors wanted to believe they were capable of conveying, of course. I could tell as I watched their unconsciously gormless expressions as they watched her. Then she brought up the idea of ‘inner-reflection,’ and ‘the journey towards complete embodiment.’ 

‘Now, can you all please turn your chairs around, so you are facing out from the circle?’ Everyone did so, and Annie left the centre, ushering us non-actors to do the same. It was then I saw the line of upright rectangular objects, with sheets draped over them. There were eight in total. I was surprised that I hadn’t noticed them earlier. Annie gently pushed one of them towards Colin, positioning it in front of him. She did the same with the others, positioning one in front of each actor. Then she removed the sheets to reveal full-length mirrors. Most of them looked well used, with scratches and a few oily smudges along the edges. But each person was reflected well enough. 

‘Okay,’ she said, returning to the circle, looking across the actor’s shoulders towards the mirrors. ‘Pick up your scripts, choose what you feel are your strongest lines . . . and read.’ Everyone lifted their scripts, looking sheepishly between her and each other. ‘It’s alright,’ she smiled. ‘Just go for it.’ They began reading, consciously over each other at first, but then with more conviction as they stayed facing forwards. Colin, glancing occasionally at the pages on his lap, began gesticulating to his reflection. He seemed to come out of himself as he did so, his confidence striding him across the lines. Natasha began to pull at her gown, conveying Abigail William’s torment with a strength I hadn’t seen her convey before. Suddenly, Michelle went still, dropping her script. She was still staring forwards. I carefully walked around and saw something was happening behind the glass. Michelle’s face was shifting. Her features were becoming older, thinner. She was becoming another woman. And it could be only one woman; her character, Rebecca Nurse. ‘That’s good,’ called Annie. ‘Keep reading. Stick to your scripts.’ 

Michelle continued, and within moments she and the elderly Rebecca Nurse were in awkward unison. Both somehow possessing the lines. It soon began happening to the others. Colin was soon facing the pale, furrowed brow of Reverend Parris, who spoke the words back to the young man in earnest respectability. My breath caught the back of my throat as I watched, and I leant against the wall. Danny, the other side of the circle from me, looked on in sheer, emotive admiration. Annie Nancarrow stood there, a smile across her face as she observed the cacophony of spoken lines competing for supremacy around the echoing hall. 

Eventually, she brought it to a conclusion, and the alternates disappeared as soon as the actors stopped. They sat there, silent. Then they began moving about as if waking up. Some hugged each other, out of relief or confusion. Danny was clapping loudly as if revived by what he had seen. Annie told them that was enough for the night. After a brief explanation from Annie about ‘occupying the dreamscape of believability’, and how it can only occur in such a setting as this. The actors, exhausted, left soon after. Danny barely noticed Natasha leave with them. 

I waited around, unsure what for exactly. I watched Danny and Annie. She was recovering the mirrors. He was enthusing about what had happened, following her from mirror to mirror. 

‘Does it only work with lines?’ he asked. 

‘The mirrors find what needs to be found,’ she replied. ‘They connect the seer to it if needs be.’ 

‘It’s incredible,’ he said admiringly. Then he paused. ‘Can I try it?’ Annie looked at him carefully. ‘I mean if that’s allowed, of course. I’ll pay you more if you want.’ ‘That won’t be necessary,’ she said, a smile crossing her face. ‘It would be my pleasure.’ She removed the sheet from the last mirror and stepped aside. Danny walked towards it and stood there. He stared at himself for a few moments. At that tired man, dressed shapelessly and ill-fitting. He looked himself up and down, catching his own eye as he made private judgements. 

He turned to Annie. ‘What do I say?’ 

‘Whatever is in the script,’ she said. I didn’t know what she meant. But Danny just looked back into the mirror. From where I stood, I couldn’t make out what he uttered. All I saw was his mouth opening a little, words emerging. I moved, staying close to the wall until I was nearer to him. He was repeating words, his eyes locked with those of his reversed self. 

Nothing happened for a few minutes, and I thought about just leaving. Then the reflection began to shimmer, differently to how it had with the actors. A fogged darkness appeared from the edges, slowly, gently, clasping in towards the other Danny. 

Then he was gone, and only a horrible lightlessness remained. 

I froze but kept staring. The blackness then began shifting, and something else appeared. A red-brown form, angular and motionless. In the middle of it, a shadowy circle. It seemed to move closer as if about to touch the inner-surface of the mirror. But then it stopped, and I realised I was looking at the roof of a house, with a large round window looking into an attic. There were heavy shadows to one side of the pane, razoring past tiles towards a bottommost edge. As if we were seeing things by moonlight, and there was no light inside. The house stood lifeless, I could sense it. 

Danny stared hard, leaning toward the shimmering pane. Then he flexed and stepped backwards. Something was moving in the room, coming towards the glass. A hand appeared. Small, and skinny. Then another. 

And then an emaciated, eyeless face. Its forehead was flat as if having been caved in. Any skin was grey or green and dry against the bone. It was smiling as well, its teeth clenched. Tiny milk teeth. It looked happy. Pleased with itself. 

Danny’s breath grew deeper. ‘I’m sorry,’ he called, almost coughing. ‘I’m sorry.’

Annie moved closer to him. I watched helplessly, pressing my back to the wall. ‘And there it is,’ she said, smiling in satisfaction. ‘You have been rehearsing, haven’t you?’ She laughed gently as if to soothe him somehow. 

‘I don’t, I can’t . . .’ 

She touched his shoulder. ‘Stick to the script, Danny.’ 

It was then I realised where I had seen her before. She had been in The Bridges. It was her whose friend, the redhead, heartbroken and humiliated, had apprehended Danny. The child’s teeth began chattering in nauseating excitement. Danny moaned. ‘I’m sorry.’ He fell to his knees, bringing his hands to his face. The child then began to pull itself up, onto the curved window edge. Its body, what there was of it, heaved into view, and soon it was crouching. Then it let go and fell weightlessly into the void below the tiles. 

The reflection soon returned to what it had been; an inversion of the village hall with its unoccupied chairs, half-lit stage, and now a pitiful, broken Danny Cavendish. Annie Nancarrow replaced the sheet back over the mirror and turned to me. I don’t know if she recognised me, but she said nothing and simply gave a distant smile. I stood there for a moment before I turned and walked into the imperfect closure of night. 

The Crucible ended up going ahead, from what I heard. 

It ran for three nights at the Bayston Hill Memorial Hall. Danny didn’t direct. In fact, none of the cast had seen him since that night, so they had decided to stage it by themselves ‘in his honour’. I can imagine Colin giving the directing a stab. I had already gone back to Liverpool, and like the Ratlinghope Players, I never heard from Danny again. Jack and everyone back home asked why I stayed with Danny Cavendish, but I could never find an answer at first. I see now that men like him need women like me. They hate us for it, but they know it. Fearing they might wither without us. There were always going to be things Danny Cavendish was never going to escape, and there were always going to be women who helped him forget once in a while. Behind doors, he would only ever use the once, or so he hoped. For women like me, he saw instead someone to hold him up during the daylight. A guardian at the threshold; a simple enough role for him to bestow, especially if you don’t tell the person. But he’d got his sums wrong, as someone with too much burying to do so often does. A common mistake made by those who think so little of the ones they take advantage of. 

Scenes don’t always have the endings we want to force upon them. When you’re reading a room, a pub, a bar, when you’re only after the one thing, there’s always a chance you miss the backstory that ends up coming along with it. Ends up taking over the whole show.

All illustrations reproduced by kind permission of the author.

RP Fox

RP Fox

RP Fox is a writer based in Bristol, and has had short horror and SF stories published in collections edited by Pencil Tip and Pseudoscope Press. He recently wrote the narrative screenplay outline for Jupiter Rising, a time travel-oriented PC game due out in 2021. He has also contributed reviews and criticism to This Is Horror, and Robert Aickman Studies. (Click on RP's name above to visit the Aickman Studies website.)

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