The Glass is Always Cleaner

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Written to practice for an English Advanced exam, in response to the following question:

Select ONE of the following quotations. Use this quotation as a central idea in your own piece of writing that explores the experiences a journey may hold.
(c) ‘. . . A mosaic, a dance of broken, gleaming fragments . . .’

Submitted: November 08, 2008

A A A | A A A

Submitted: November 08, 2008

A A A

A A A


“Gaze too long into the abyss, and the abyss will gaze back” – Nietzsche

Jackson had cast his textbooks and notepads onto the cathartic funeral pyre weeks ago, and he still hadn’t returned home. His last memory of his mum was as she, stopped, steadily swept up the ash she and his drunken mates were too lazy to clean. She had looked meaningfully at the bodies and empty glasses scattered around the lawn, and then retreated into the house, swallowed up by the cavernous interior.

But post-exam celebrations could only go on for so long before parents trimmed allowances and imposed curfews. And then the prodigal son returned home, neither with his shield nor on it.

Mother hardly blinked as he slouched trhough the door. Her body was dwarfed beneath a cardboard box she was manoeuvering down the corridor. Jackson stepped out of her way, and while she passed he realised he should have offered to help her.

“What’s going on, Mum?”

“I’m moving house.” Her face was blank but her apron – “Kiss the Cook” – scrunched itself up in silent laughter.

“What do you…”

“Would you clean up the bathroom for me?”

* * *

Jackson’s guests would go to any lengths to avoid using the bathroom. The floor was daubed with splatters of red – like those paintings elephants do, after the cull they will never forget. Sinister fragments, broken and gleaming, cast a distorted, impish reflection for any unfortunate enough to glance down upon them. Neither Jackson or his mother had cleaned this room for seven years, seven years of bad luck.

Jackson crouched beside the slivers and jerked one off the ground. Years of muck and blood had affixed it firmly, but it finally came loose. He couldn’t help but glance at it as he slipped it into a plastic bag. The light danced across its surface.

* * *

Jackson, young-faced now like an impious angel, grabs a handful of half-clean clothes and waddles towards the bathroom. A few years of puberty has done nothing to shake the puppy fat off his frame.

The bathroom door is ajar, is pushed open without a thought.

Inside, a demon in the form of mother. Two vacuous, gaping red-raw holes in her chest. Pus, blood, tears dripple down porcelain skin flecked with bruising and scabs. Red-raw holes mirrored by two deep-set eye sockets gleaming grey with resignation.

Jackson cannot help but yell. The apparition turns towards him, turns back to look at mirror with new eyes. New eyes gaze on newly-noticed wounds, newly-noticed monstrous visage.

She grabs the mirror, throws it to the floor. Sweeps over to Jackson, seizes, him. Cries into his hair, sucks his vitality and unblemished perfection into her with great heaving gulps.

He pushes one hand against her face, the other against her gross chest. Springs out of her arms and runs down the hall with own hysterical mutterings.

* * *

Jackson shook his head and refocused on his task. The fragments were as blood-soaked as the tiles, but when removed they left a patch of gleaming purity. Their wake was a path of stepping stones to the sink where he could clean himself of seven-year-old blood and tears.

Not that many more to go. First, the futile tugs and then the sudden satisfied leap into his grasp. The second fragment went into the bag.

* * *

Jackson never goes into the bathroom after that; sneaks through abandoned master bedroom to nice clean one. Mother’s things all piled in here, but she never goes here. Dad’s stuff was piled in here until he knocked on the door one day, asked Jackson how his grades were, and dumped all his stuff in the back of his girlfriend’s Holden.

Jackson’s mum sleeps quivering on bunk bed above him, or on thin blanket on floor. Jackson’s mum must use bloodied bathroom, Jackson reasons. She must ignore the fragments, or maybe even has cleaned them up. Jackson tells himself this because he knows mother actually walks up and down mirrored floor, sobbing at sight of broken body – now blissfully separated into a thousand pieces.

Jackson knows this because bloody footprints lead always from bathroom to mother’s bed.

* * *

Jackson sat back on his heels. His finger moved idly back and forth on a glass fragment, the caked blood relinquishing its hold on the shiny surface. He would have gotten the whole thing cleaned, but it came off the floor instead. Jackson took it up and gazed into it, not even trying to avoid its haunting reflection.

* * *

Jackson has started hanging out with a new crowd. They’re smart and funny, and their girlfriends have pretty smiles and don’t wear glasses. Lazy James passed round a cigarette, didn’t make anyone try it: “you don’t want some, hey, that’s cool with me. I wish I never started”. But Jackson wants some, and has some. Jackson also wants Lazy James’ Japanese-American exchange student on-and-off girlfriend too, but this is not offered.

At home, Jackson kisses mother on the cheek as always (except when Jackson has friends over, then she kisses). One sniff, it’s too late. Mother looks at Jackosn like he kicked puppy or shot JFK, drags him to bathroom, struggles with doorknob, pulls him in.

She pushes his face into the glass fragments.

“Look at yourself! Look at you, look at what you are. Oh God!”

Jackson seems one terrified eye reflected inches from his own, the other reflected a foot away. He grimaces, the blood-soaked fragments make his teeth already smoke-stained and decayed.

Mother serves dinner: packet of smokes she bought at servo. Jackson to smoke them all, turn him off for life. Jackson smokes all, rather likes it.

Next day at school, it is Jackson who passes smokes around. Gropes Lazy James’ Japanese-American exchange student on-and-off girlfriend too.

Bad idea.

* * *

Jackson jumped his fingers along the stepping stones behind the mirror fragments. By this point, he was about half-way done cleaning up, and he had never felt so at peace.

The sudden rush of memories could be experienced and then discarded. With only a month until he left the state for university, he sampled these soon-to-be defunct memories like fine wines bottled many seasons ago.

Leaving the rest of the fragments, he traced the now faded footprints back to his room. He would complete the mosaic of yesterday tomorrow.

* * *

The next morning, Jackson visited the bathroom. He would follow his life through the stepping stones, oases of cleanliness in a lake of blood.

The entire room sparkled. His mother was washing the soapsuds off her hands. She caught her son’s gaze in a brand-new mirror hung jauntily over the sink.

“I’m so glad I finally got around to polishing up this old mess! I feel like I’ve reached the final destination in a journey I began all the way back when I was diagnosed. You might not remember, but I had some horrible surgery and I’m finally…”

My wordless yelp interrupted her.

“As for you, son, your journey’s just beginning!”


© Copyright 2020 William George. All rights reserved.

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