Callie and the Looking Glass
Once upon time there was a little girl who lived in a small cottage on the outskirts of a large kingdom. Every morning when she rose she would stand on her front step and look at the beautiful castle on the tallest hill in the kingdom. It was grander and more beautiful than anything else in all the valley, with its white pillars reaching heavenward. A great king lived in that castle and he ruled the large kingdom with wisdom and patience beyond any other.
Callie loved to stand and imagine what it would be like to live in such a place. Callie was a quiet girl. Her face was scared and ugly from an accident years before. When she was but a baby her little home had been lost to a fire, and in the heat and flame that engulfed the little house Callie nearly lost her life. But her mother with the strength that only mothers can have, ran back into the burning cottage and saved her infant daughter from the death that surely awaited her there. Her mother had given her own life to save Callie and Callie was reminded every time that she looked into the mirror of the woman who had died for her.
The neighborhood boys would tease and torment Callie, never letting her forget the horror that was streaked across her face. As she grew older she grew more remote and sullen, staying quietly to her home and as far away from other’s stares as she could.
Callie’s father was bitter too, missing his wife horribly and being reminded of what he lost that day every time that he looked at his daughter’s face. Although he never meant to blame her, his bitterness grew with the years.
Callie dreamed of traveling to the beautiful castle and meeting the great king that lived there. It was rumored that inside the beautiful castle, locked in the highest room in the tallest tower, was a magical looking glass. The looking glass was told to hold a magic that could look into the beholder’s soul and tell of the value of the life that stood before it. More than anything Callie dreamed of knowing the value of the solitary life that she lived.
Every morning Callie remained hidden, locked away in her little farm. She milked the cows and tended their little garden. She cleaned the house and cooked the meals and stayed hidden far away from cruel eyes and wicked stares.
One morning as Callie was finishing milking the little jersey cow out along the fence that separated their little farm from the country road, an old woman stumbled along its path. Her face was tired and old, her skin wrinkled and thin. Salt and peppered hair was falling messy out of a corkscrew bun and her clothes were tattered and torn. She looked at Callie, her tired eyes weak and sad, and in a soft crackled voice pleaded with Callie.
“I’m so thirsty. Perhaps you could spare some of your warm milk to wet my tired lips.”
Callie looked down at the bucket, barely sloshing with what little milk the old jersey cow could give and knew that it wouldn’t be wise to share what little they had. When Callie looked back at the old woman, her back bent and her eyes begging, she couldn’t withhold what little that she could give.
Thank you, thank you,” the woman whispered as once she sipped the last from Callie’s ladle. “Please I must know your name.”
“CCCallie,” Callie stammered shyly. “My name is Callie.”
“What a beautiful name,” the woman spoke back. “Callie means most beautiful as truly you are.”
As the old woman limped down the road Callie couldn’t help but to look down at her face in the pale white milk. An ugly, scarred face looked back at her, even more hideous than Callie had hoped. Nothing had changed and surely the old lady had been blind.
Later that day, after feeding her father and picking the grapes heavy on the vine, Callie traipsed off toward the neighbor who lived down the lane. Farmer Jones had just harvested the last of his wheat and every year Callie traded her grapes for some of Farmer Jones’ grain. Callie looked down at the basket in her hands. The grapes this year were small and uneven, nothing like the years past, and she worried that he would reject her offering completely.
On the way to the farmer’s house Callie stumbled upon some boys up to mischief. When they eyed Callie their attention went from the poor little kitten that they were tormenting to Callie and almost instantly the name calling began. Callie tried to hide her hideous face behind her hands, but the boys kept on teasing. Soon enough one of the boys gathered some pebbles and started throwing them at Callie. She dropped her basket and covered her head and began to run. It wasn’t long until Callie was stumbling, falling in her haste to get away. As she went down she thrust her hands out in front of her to catch her fall, scuffing them and skinning her knees.
Just when Callie had lost all hope, warm arms wrapped around her and a gentle voice shewed the boys away.
“Let me help you,” the kind voice said and Callie looked up into the eyes of a broken and shattered man.
From the top of the man’s shaggy brown locks to the bottom of his holey shoes the man was covered in a thick layer of dirt and grime. He smiled kindly at Callie, his teeth brown and many missing and Callie tried to keep from turning away.
“Thank you,” she said. “How can I ever repay you?”
The man handed Callie the basket that she had dropped and looking at her grapes hungrily asked, “May I have a few for my dinner? I am so hungry and it has been so long since I remember eating, and your grapes look so appetizing.”
Callie shrunk knowing that to give him even a little of the grapes that were already so lacking would take away any hope she had of bartering with Farmer Jones, but she couldn’t turn the man away when he had done so much for her.
“Thank you,” the man said when at last he licked the last of the grape juice from his lips. “I will forever remember you my beautiful deliverer, in my heart.”
As he turned walking away briskly, Callie looked down at the basket in her hands. Where once the pitiful harvest of grapes had been now sat a basket over flowing with magnificent giant, purple grapes, certainly Farmer Jones would repay her generously.
When Callie arrived home that afternoon it was to find her father packing the wagon and their little tired donkey for a journey into town. Fall harvest had come and the village would soon be a bustle with farmers and their wares. Every year Callie’s father went to town to try and sell off the abundance from their garden. Every year Callie had sat at home praying for a good market for her father.
“Pack a change of clothes, Callie Girl.”
“Me?” Callie asked, looking toward town and the beautiful castle.
“Of course you,” he grumped. “Instead of standing there and dreaming of a life you don’t have, you could come and help me to provide for the one that you do have.”
Callie was afraid to go into town in front of all those people with her scarred and ugly face, but she was even more afraid to anger her father. The trip was long and night seemed to come on early but before morning even had a chance to awake they were arriving in town. Through sleepy eyes Callie helped her father set up their tent and arrange their wares. While their first costumer was bartering with Callie’s father she was setting up their meager breakfast. Nature had not been good to their family this year and there was not much at their scant table for the two of them to eat. All that they could spare was at market to bring in what little they needed to heat their cottage and feed their animals through the winter.
As Callie laid out the last cracked plate little eyes stared up at her from behind the table’s wobbly legs. A little boy, no bigger than four or five looked up at her, his blue eyes large and sunken. His legs were thin and wobbly and his tattered night shirt torn and stained. His bare toes stood out dirty and callused and Callie knew even before he opened his mouth the pleading that would come.
“Please,” was all that he said with big tears tugging at the corners of his eyes.
Callie loaded up her breakfast, dried bread and salted butter, and wrapped it in a faded linen napkin. As she placed it in the young boy’s hands he wrapped his arms loosely around her and kissed her hand gratefully.
“Thank you, Beautiful Princess,” he said as he stumbled away, his hand clinging tightly to Callie’s breakfast.
That night, after a long day at market Callie and her father slipped down for the evening, their tired bodies struggling to sleep under the majesty of the great castle that loomed above them. Callie closed her eyes imagining that she was there. Her stomach growled and she wished that she had saved something for herself. Her father tossed and turned beside her, unable to sleep with the knowledge of the failure that the day had been.
“If only,” Callie wished but instead of in her head the words had drifted to the empty space between her father and herself.
“If only what?” her father asked.
“If only what?” he said again more commanding.
“If only we lived in that great castle. If only we didn’t have to worry or starve. If only I could get just one glimpse of the magic mirror tucked away in the tallest tower.”
Callie knew almost as soon as the words left her mouth the trouble that she had caused. Her father jumped to his feet almost instantly despite his weariness and was swiftly yanking Callie to her feet.
“Go,” he yelled. “Go. See what happens when you get there. All your life you spend dreaming but you do nothing. Go and see if anything changes. You’re ugly Callie and you don’t need a magic mirror to tell you that. You will always be the ugly reminder of what I lost.”
She knew the moment that he said those awful words that he regretted it, but still Callie could not erase the meaning behind the pain her father held. She stumbled through the night, wandering almost blinded by her tears, and she could hear him calling after her, an apology almost innocent and sweet, but he didn’t bother to stumble behind her.
The large castle, magnificent and magical, seemed to dazzle as it stood before her. Callie wiped the tears from her eyes, though they had left a salted path in the dust on her face, and wiped the travels from her skirt. With trembling hands Callie knocked on the door turning almost instantly to crawl silently away into the night when suddenly the door opened throwing brilliant yellow light out across the darkness. A tall man stood there. He had soft brown waves and a neatly trimmed beard. Blue eyes as clear as a mountain stream smiled back at her kind and understanding. He was robed from top to bottom in a gown of whitest silk and his feet were clothed in the softest leather sandals.
“Finally,” he said to her, reaching out and drawing her in. “It took you longer than I thought to get here.”
Callie looked around her at the enchanting room she stood in confused by his meaning. Every corner of the room was white and perfect, from its plush carpet to its overstuffed furniture.
“You’ve come to see,” was all that the great king said, but Callie knew what he meant. He pointed to a winding staircase paved in shimmering white marble. “But know this, once you look you will never be able to unsee. Once you see the value that I see in your soul you will never be able to forget. Some say it haunts them until the day that they die, but,” he said with a twinkle to his smile, “others say it brings them the peace that this world could never bring. Are you sure?” he asked her and Callie only nodded her head nervously. “Then,” he said giving her a gentle nudge, “no time better than now.”
The trip up the winding stairs seemed to drag on for eternity. The thumping behind Callie’s heart seemed to beat harder with every step. As Callie struggled to turn the gold doorknob at the end of the stairs her hands were slippery from perspiration and fear. The door slid open smoothly revealing a large empty room, from top to bottom as white and as pure as the rest of the castle. The only thing to be found at all in the empty room was a large white oval mirror draped across an elegant stand and standing gracefully in the far corner. Callie inched her way to it, wary of what she might find.
As she stood in front of it, Callie locked her eyes tightly until she could gain the nerve to peek. She opened her eyes slowly and examined the image in the mirror carefully. A beautiful woman, with soft blond curls and beautiful almond eyes smiled back at her. Her skin was clear and smooth, her long willowing body elegant and poised. She stood with grace and character and splendor beyond any woman that Callie had ever seen. As Callie reached forth her hand she felt it touch lightly on the cool glass, and as she looked behind her, she realized that no one was in the room but herself, that no one else was reflecting in the mirror.
She turned her head once again upon the mirror and once again she saw the beautiful woman in the glass, but this time a man stood behind her in Callie’s reflection. The great king of the castle placed his hands on the woman’s shoulders, and as he did Callie felt his warm hands grip softly to her shoulders too. As she turned around there were questions in her eyes and the king smiled lovingly.
“Do you not see, Callie the most beautiful? It is you in the mirror, the way that I truly see you. I do not see the scars that you see, only the beauty of the scars that your mother so perfectly left behind on the day that she saved you. No greater love hath any man than I for you and no greater love had your mother either than for you.”
“Why?” Callie asked. “Why do you love me so much?”
“For I was a hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.” (Matthew 25:35)
“When, Lord?” she asked. “When did I feed you and give you drink?”
The king bent forward and raised her chin slightly in his hand, smilingly softly down at her. He came clearly into her view then and she knew him. She had seen him many times in the past several days, although each time he had taken on a different form. She knew him now for who he really was. He was in the old broken woman and the tired lost man. He was even in the tiny hungry child. He gently turned her back to the woman in the mirror and as Callie looked upon herself, for it truly was her, she knew that she would never be able to see her reflection again without remembering the true one that was inside, Callie the most beautiful.