What would you see in Harry Potter’s Mirror of Erised? What is the thing you so much desire to see that you might actually starve to death in front of a mirror of desire, gazing at it? What is your heart’s desire?
By the way, I am indebted for this tiny fragment of inspiration to Erised Moon, the éminence grise behind an excellent blog called Dwelling in Erised. I rather doubt that it’s an original idea, and won’t have been used a hundred, or even a million times before but wotthehell wotthehell as Mehitabel sings, I’ll give it a go.
You tend to become wary of dreams as you get older. Suspicious, reluctant, having been carried away, then let down by them many times before. First you get to know that most of them won’t come true. Then you get to realise there’s either no time or no realistic way for them to come true. A romantic weekend in Venice with Daniel Craig is out of the question: any un-magical mirror will tell me that. In fact, would always have told me that. Kate Bottley, the lady vicar who appears with her husband on Gogglebox, once remarked that she knew there must be a benevolent God because He’d created Daniel Craig. Daniel Craig, to me, falls into the same category as the Northern Lights, Ming vases and the Mona Lisa – unique, admirable, a thing of beauty, and to be appreciated at a distance only.
But then that’s the point of the Mirror of Erised, isn’t it? It gives you permission to dream without restraint.
So, what would I see? Different things on different days.
I might see Sophie, my cat, who had to be put to sleep after a long, long life. I might see her young, and purring, curled up in a corner of the garden, basking in warm summer sun.
I might see that forest retreat I used to dream about when I was younger, where I would write, or rather type on an old-fashioned, black, sit-up-and-beg typewriter (since one’s dreams can only be furnished with the technology of the time) and where there would be no one at all but me – just me, the trees, and the rain on the roof. And a black and white cat. In fact, Sophie.
Expanding that dream a little – after all there is rheumatism to consider, in a damply forested retreat – I might see a long, sandy beach, a hammock and a stack of really interesting paperbacks. Somewhere in the background there would be a nice little cabin with a straw roof, and a perhaps word processor rather than a sit-up-and-beg black typewriter – you needed hands of steel for those big old keys, they were so hard to hit. And of course there would be cats. Sandy sort of cats, more than one, possibly ginger.
I suppose I might see a different looking me – less of a giantess – fragile, lissom, blonde and impossibly, high-cheekbonedly beautiful. You see, it does matter what you look like. Beauty may only be skin deep, but it’s both a head start and something to fall back on. It’s like the secretarial or accountancy qualification children who want to be actors and actresses are always urged by their parents to get. In times of dearth and famine it’s a weapon and a resource at your disposal. With looks like that, even Daniel Craig might have been a possibility.
I wonder why I would not want to see my grandparents, or their garden, my playground and retreat when I was a child. Or the man I loved and lost. Years, I spent fantasising that one day, just one day, just briefly I might be permitted a fleeting glimpse of him – in a crowded city street, perhaps. And then I did see him, in a queue at the Halifax building society during my lunch-hour. I was thirteen years older than the last time he’d seen me and, frankly, I looked a mess. Because it was such a lousy, wet day I was wearing those zip-up grandma ankle bootees from the old-lady catalogue; not the sort of bootees you’d want to be seen clumping around in by any desirable man, let alone him. And I think he saw me, but then again, maybe he didn’t. And I think maybe we saw each other and arrived at some instant, unspoken decision to look in different directions. Because some things can only ever work in the past; symbols, archetypes, memories, characters in some long-forgotten play, therein lies their power. Invisibility and impossibility – that’s what makes them sweet.