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Her name is Teresa Ann Gravatt and she is seven years old. She has a mirror through which she can see into another world.
The real world is for Teresa a small and unexciting one, but she dreams of better things, of a world beyond the one she knows. She lives with her parents on a US Air Force base near Liverpool, in the north-west of England. Her father is a serving officer in the USAF; her mother is British, a local girl from Birkenhead. One day the family will move back to the USA when her father's tour of European duty is through. They will probably go to Richmond, Virginia, where Bob Gravatt originated, and where his own father has a franchise for distributing industrial paints. Bob often talks about what he will do when he leaves the Air Force, but it's plain to everyone that the Cold War is going to continue for many years to come, and that US military preparedness is not going to be relaxed.
Teresa has long curls of pale-brown hair, gradually darkening from the baby fairness that made her daddy call her his princess. Her mommy likes to brush it for her, although she doesn't seem to realize when the tangles get caught. Teresa can now read books by herself, write and draw by herself, play by herself. She is used to being alone, but likes playing with the other kids on the base. She rides her bicycle every day in the safety of the park near the living quarters, and it's then she plays with some of her friends. She's currently the only one with an English mother, but no one seems to notice. Every weekday her daddy drives her to and from the other side of the base, where thechildren of the serving men attend school.
Teresa looks and acts like a happy little gift; she is loved by her parents and liked by her friends at school. Nothing seems wrong in Teresa's life, because those who know her best live in the same secure world of the US Air Force. Her friends also lack a permanent home, and are moved at the will of the Defense Department from one Air Force camp to another. They too know the long weeks when their fathers are away on exercises, or training. They also understand the sudden disruption to their lives that follows when a posting comes through: to West Germany, to the Philippines, to Central America, to Japan.
Although she has never yet crossed the Atlantic, Teresa has spent almost all of her life on American territory, those pockets carved out of other people's countries that the US Government takes for its own bases. Teresa was born an American citizen, she is being educated in the American way, and in a few years' time, when her father finishes his military service, she will live out the rest of her life in the United States. Teresa knows none of this at the moment, and if she did she would probably not care. To her, the world she knows is one place, and the world she imagines is another. Daddy's world ends at the perimeter fence; hers goes on for ever.
Sometimes, when it rains, which in this part of England it seems to do almost every day, or when she most wants the company of other kids, or when she just feels like it, Teresa plays a game in her parents' bedroom that she has made up by herself.
Like all the best games it has been growing and changing for some time, and goes on getting more complicated week by week, but right from the start it has been built around the wooden door flame that stands at the mid-point of the bedroom wall. No actual door has apparently ever hung in the frame; perhaps no door was intended for it, for there is no sign in the smooth wood of where hinges might once have been.
Long ago, Teresa noticed that the window of the living room beyond is the same size, shape and appearance as the window of the bedroom, and that identical orange curtains hang in both. If she arranges these curtains just so, and then stands in a certain position a foot or two away from the door frame, and does not look to either side, it is possible for her to imagine that she is looking not through an open doorway but into a mirror. Then, what she sees ahead of her, through the frame, is no longer a part of the next room but actually a reflected view back into the room behind her.
The mirror world is where her private reality begins. Through there it is possible for her to run for ever, a place that is free of military bases, free of perimeter fences, a land where her dreams might come true.
That place begins with the identical room that stands on the other side of the frame. And in that room she sees another little girl, one who looks exactly like her.
A few weeks ago, while she stood before her make-believe mirror, Teresa had raised a hand, reaching out towards the little girl she could so easily imagine standing beyond her, in the next room, in the mirror world. Magically, the imagined friend raised her hand too, copying her every movement.
The little girl's name was Megan, and she became Teresa's opposite in every way. She was her identical twin, but also her reverse, her opposite.
Now whenever Teresa is left alone, or when her parents are busy elsewhere in the house, she comes to the mirror and plays her harmless fantasy games with Megan.
First she smiles and tweaks at her dress, then inclines her head. In the mirror the Megan-friend smiles and lifts the hem of her dress and lowers her head shyly. Hands stretch out, fingertips brush clumsily where the mirror glass would be. Teresa dances away, laughing back over her shoulder as Megan mirrors her movements. Everything the girls do has a reflection, an exact replica.
Sometimes the two little girls settle on the floor at the base of the mirror, and whisper about the world they each inhabit. Should an outsider ever be able to overhear what they are saying, it would not make sense in adult terms. It is a strange, erratic fantasy, endlessly absorbing and plausible to the children, but it would seem shapeless and random to an adult mind, because they make it up as they go along. For the two little girls, the nature of this contact is the rationale. Their lives and fantasies fit seamlessly together, because each is the complement to the other. They are so uncannily alike, so instinctively in touch, but their worlds are filled with different names.
So the pleasant dreams of childhood spin happily away. Days, weeks, months go by, and Teresa and Megan live out their innocent daydreams of other lands and deeds. It is a period of certainty and stability in their lives. They both have a constant friend, and they completely trust and understand each other.
Because Megan is always there, looking back at her from the other side of their mirror, Teresa draws strength from the friendship and begins to develop more ideas about herself and the world she lives in. She feels better able to see what's going on around her and live with what she finds, to understand what her dad is doing, and why he and her mommy had married, and what their lives would mean for her. Even her mother detects a difference in her, and often remarks that her little girl is growing up at last. Everyone can sense the growth.
In the mirror, Megan is changing too.
One day her mommy says to Teresa, `Do you remember that I said we would be going to live in America?'
`Yes, I do.'
`It's going to happen soon. Really soon. Maybe in a couple of weeks or so. Would that make you happy?'
`Will Daddy be there with us?'
`He's the reason we're going.'
Her mother holds her against her chest more tightly.
`Of course Megan will be with us. Did you think we would leave her behind?'
`I guess not,' says Teresa, looking back over her mother's shoulder at the doorway, where the mirror usually stands. She can't see Megan from this angle, but knows she must be there, somewhere out of sight.
One day, while her parents are in another part of the apartment talking about the trip back to America, how close it's getting, all the things they have to do before they fly back, Teresa is alone in the bedroom. She has her toys spread out on the carpet, but she's bored with them. She looks across to the doorway, and sees that Megan is there, waiting for her. Her friend looks as cross and bored as she feels, and both little girls seem to realize that for once their shared fantasy world is not going to distract them from reality.
While Megan turns away, Teresa crosses the room to her parents' double bed, where the lightly padded quilt her mommy made last Christmas holiday lies in a show of muted colours across the sheets and blankets. Out of sight of Megan she bounces up and down a few times, but even this familiar physical activity is not enough to cheer her up. She's beginning to wonder if Megan really will be there, in the new house in America.
Teresa looks across at what she can see of the mirror, but because the bed is not visible she knows that Megan cannot be seen either. Already, her little world feels as if it is narrowing, that the perimeter fences are drawing in around her.
Later, after a meal, she returns to the bed, still worried and alarmed. Her daddy has been saying he will be flying out to Florida the day after tomorrow, and that she and Mommy will follow within a few days. At the mirror Megan is as unhappy as she is, fearing a final separation, and they soon move back from each other.
There's a low table beside the bed on her daddy's side, and facing into the room there's a shallow drawer which, once, long ago, her daddy had warned her never to open. Teresa has always known what lies inside, but until now she has never felt sufficiently curious to look.
Now she does, and lays her hand on the gun that lies within. She touches it once or twice, feeling the shape of it with her fingertips, then uses both hands to lift the weapon out. She knows how it should be held, because her daddy once showed her, but now she actually has a hold of it in her tiny hands her main preoccupation is how heavy the thing is. She can barely carry it before her.
It's the most exciting thing she has ever held, and the most frightening.
In the centre of the room, facing the mirror, she lays the gun on the seat of a chair, and looks across at Megan. She is standing there beside her own chair, still with the melancholy expression they have both been wearing for the last day or two.
There is no gun on Megan's chair.
`Look what I've got,' says Teresa, and as Megan strains to see she lifts it up and holds it out. She points it at her twin, across the narrow space that divides them. She is aware of movement in the room, a sudden intrusion, an adult size, and she moves swiftly in alarm. In that moment there is a shattering explosion, the gun flies out of Teresa's hands, twisting her wrists, and in the other part of the room, beyond the make-believe mirror, a small life of dreams has suddenly ended.
Thirty-five years pass.
Eight years after the family's return to the USA, Bob Gravatt, Teresa's father, dies in an automobile accident on Interstate 24 close to a USAF base in Kentucky. After the accident Teresa's mother Abigail moves to Richmond, Virginia, to stay with Bob's parents. It is an arrangement forced on them all, and it is difficult to make it work. Abigail starts drinking heavily, runs up debts, has a series of rows with Bob's parents, and eventually remarries. Teresa now has two new stepbrothers and a stepsister, but no one likes anyone. It's not a happy situation for Teresa, or even, finally, for her mother. The remainder of Teresa's teenage years are hard on everyone around her, and things do not look good for her.
As she grows into an adult, Teresa's emotional upheavals continue. She goes through heartbreaks, failed romances, relocations, alienation from her mother, also from her father's family; there's a long live-in relationship with a man who develops steadily into an alcoholic brimming with denial and violent repression; there is a short period living alone, then a longer one of sharing an apartment with another young woman, then finally arrives the good fortune of discovering a city scheme that funds mature students to take a degree course.
Here her adult life begins at last. After four years of intensive academic work, supporting herself with secretarial jobs, Teresa earns her BA in information studies, and with this lands a prize job with the federal government, in the Department of Justice.
Within a couple of years she is married to a fellow worker named Andy Simons, and it is on the whole a successful marriage. Andy and Teresa live contentedly together for several years, with few upsets. The marriage is childless, because they are both dedicated to their careers and sublimating all their energies into them, but it's the life they want to lead. With two government incomes they gradually become well off, take expensive foreign vacations, start collecting antiques and pictures, buy several cars, throw numerous parties, and wind up buying a large house in Woodbridge, Virginia, overlooking the Potomac river. Then one hot June day, while on an assignment in a small town in the Texas panhandle, Andy is shot dead by a gunman, and Teresa's happiness abruptly ends.
Eight months later, life is still in limbo. She knows only the misery of sudden widowhood, made infinitely worse by a deep resentment about the circumstances in which Andy was killed, and a lasting frustration at the failure of the Department of Justice to give her any substantive information about how his death occurred.
She is now forty-three. A third of a century has slipped by since the day Megan died, and in the cold light of hindsight the years telescope into what feels like a summary of a life, a prologue to something else she does not want. Everything that happened led only to the moment of bereavement. Teresa is left with the generous pay-outs from Andy's insurance policies, their three jointly owned cars, a large house echoing with unwanted acquisitions and treasured memories, and a career from which she has been granted the opportunity to take temporary leave on compassionate grounds.
In the dark of a February evening, Teresa finally takes up her section chief's offer of leave. She drives to John Foster Dulles Airport in Washington DC, deposits her car in the long-stay parking garage, and flies American Airways on the overnight plane to Britain.
As she looks eagerly from the window, while the aircraft circles down towards London Gatwick in the morning light, Teresa thinks the English countryside looks dark and rain-sodden. She doesn't know what she had been expecting, but the reality depresses her. As the plane touches down her view of the airport is briefly obscured by the flying spray thrown up from the runway by the wheels and the engine exhausts. February in England is not as cold as February in Washington, but as she crosses the airport's concrete concourse in search of her rental car, the weather feels to Teresa more damp and discouraging than she wanted or expected.
She drives away into England, fighting back these initial feelings of disappointment. She is nervous of the twitchy handling of the small car, a Ford Escort, uncomfortable too with the impatient speed with which the rest of the traffic moves, and the erratic and apparently illogical way the intersections have to be negotiated.
As she becomes more familiar with the car, she casts quick glances away from the traffic and round at the countryside, looking with intense interest at the low hills, the winter-bare trees, the small houses and the muddy fields. This is her first trip back to England since she left as a child, and in spite of everything it begins at last to charm her.
She imagines a smaller, older, more tightly constructed place, different from the one she knows, spreading out, not in endless stretches of featureless country, as in the US, but in concentrated time: history reaching behind her, the future extending before her, meeting at this moment of the present. She's tired from the long flight, the lack of sleep, the wait at the UK Immigration desk, and so she's open to fanciful thoughts.
She stops in a small town somewhere, to walk around and look at the shops, but afterwards returns to the car and naps for a while in the cramped position behind the steering wheel. She wakes up suddenly, momentarily unsure of where she is, thinking desperately of Andy, how much she wishes he could see this with her. She came here to try to forget him, but in many ways she had been doing better so long as she stayed at home. She wants him here. She cries in the car, wondering whether to go back to Gatwick and take the first flight home, but in the end she knows she has to see this through.
The short afternoon is ending as she drives on south towards the Sussex coast, looking for a small seaside town called Bulverton. She keeps thinking, This is England, this is where I come from, this is what I really know. But she has no remaining family in Britain, no friends. She is in every way a stranger here. A year ago, eight months ago, what was for her a lifetime ago, she had never even heard of Bulverton on Sea.
Teresa arrives in Bulverton after night has fallen. The streets are narrow, the buildings are dark, the traffic pours through on the coastal road. She finds her hotel but sits outside in the car for a few minutes, bracing herself. At last, she collects together some of her stuff and climbs out.
A brilliant white light suddenly surrounds her.