“Once upon a time, there were men and women in the world.”
“Just as there are now.”
“Just as now. And there was a devil, as there is also now, and he desired to destroy the happiness of man and woman. So he created a twisted looking glass. This looking-glass was not a mirror, but a piece of glass so invisible that a man could look through it and not realize he was seeing a twisted reality. And it reflected a bit, like a mirror, so that a man could see himself, or what he thought was himself.”
“Go on,” Rachel said.
“Now, this glass was made particularly for men, and the devil made sure that men looked through it whenever they chanced to look at women. And this glass changed the women.”
“It made them ugly,” Rachel said, thinking she had heard this story before.
“No, not really. That’s actually a lot harder to do than you might think. What the mirror did was more insidious. It reduced them.”
“So that, to a man looking through the glass, the woman appeared to be an object, a pretty plaything put there for his pleasure. Now, the man might know that the woman had brains, or talents, or any number of other gifts, but when he looked through the mirror, he saw her only as a toy. And the devil made every effort to push that glass before a man’s eyes when he was as young as possible. So that most men were so used to looking through the glass that, even when it wasn’t there, the images they saw in the glass dictated their reality.”
“Hmph,” was all Rachel could think of to say.
Paul kicked the water with his toe. “There was a further trick to the devil’s glass. The glass taught the men to sort all women they saw into two types: worthwhile, and not worthwhile. Or ‘good’ and ‘bad’, as some men took to calling them. Good and bad toys. And so this was the way they had of speaking about women among themselves. As you can imagine, the women couldn’t help overhearing these conversations. And even though most of the women hadn’t glanced through the mirror, they couldn’t help think of themselves in that manner. As toys. Good or bad toys.”
“What was the difference between the good toys and the bad toys?” Rachel said, scraping at the rock with her fingernail.
“Nothing,” Paul said,
“What do you mean, nothing?”
“Nothing essential,” Paul said. “Once you’ve decided to see a person as a toy, the degrees between the toys are close to non-existent. But for practical purposes as far as the deluded men were concerned, there was a difference.”
“Which was?” Rachel asked.
“Time,” Paul said slowly. “Only time. You spend more time with a good toy. Lots of time. You date her, you take her out, you pay her lots of compliments. You might even marry her. But in the end, she’s just a toy.”
“And the bad toys?” she asked after a moment.
His face had a rigid, hard look on it. “You don’t waste your time. You play with them, but not for long. Maybe not even twenty-four hours. And then you don’t care if you ever see her again. Remember,” he said, “From this twisted point of view, a smart man doesn’t waste his time on bad toys.”
“But what about Christian men?” she objected.
“Christian men were taught to look through this mirror, too. Sometimes they attached more importance to the ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ distinction. You have to make sure you marry a ‘good’ toy. Because a Christian man doesn’t waste his time on ‘bad’ toys. Oh, maybe a Christian man might glanced at a ‘bad’ toy - say, in the pages of a sports magazine, or on a web page. But a good Christian doesn’t waste his time on ‘bad’ toys. You want a good toy - just one. Or at any rate, only one at a time.”
His voice was bitter. She was breathing hard, staring at him.
“But that’s not fair!”
“Of course it’s not.”
“I don’t believe all men are like this.”
He met her eyes. “They’re not, but don’t underestimate the power of the looking glass. Many, many women do. They think they’re being brave. But they’re only naive. Naive girls who think they’re being bold are girls who are going to get hurt. And maybe hurt beyond repair.”
He looked away. “You see, there’s no place in a deluded man’s world for an old toy, or an ugly toy, or a toy who doesn’t have the right figure, or whose body doesn’t work the way it should - a handicapped toy, a toy who’s fallen ill. If the toy was once a good toy, you might hang around - after all, she was once a good toy. And you can feast on the memories, and keep an eye on other good toys from the sidelines or glance at the bad toys in the magazines - but a a ‘smart’ man doesn’t let himself get stuck with a toy who’s been used or is in need of repair.”
She wiped her eyes, angry. “What are you telling me this? I know all of this already. I know everything you’re saying.”
Now he turned to her and looked at her, his voice unexpectedly husky. “You do?”
“Yes,” her face was red with shame. “It’s what happens to girls who aren’t careful. Who think too much about their bodies. I’ve been warned all my life about what happens to girls - who become like you said. Who become bad toys.”
His face twitched, as if he were in pain. He said softly, “Don’t say that. Don’t you understand? The whole point is, it’s all a lie. You’re not a toy at all.”
The Midnight Dancers - Regina Doman