Mirror Mirror – a short story
Martha is a controlling bitch. Unfortunately I only realised this after the tenth week, and by then she had bought me a gift. For my birthday.
‘You’ll get it on Saturday.’ Martha says while smoothing down her hair in front of the mirror.
‘Ah, about that…’ I hold up one finger but she is waltzing out the room. Slow dancing with the ghosts again.
‘See you on Saturday!’ I hear her open the front door.
‘About that.’ I say again to my reflection in the mirror. But she slams shut the door, causing my metal-frame bed to rattle against the wall. ‘I want to break up with you.’
No, I couldn’t say it like that. Gently, break the news gently.
‘Martha, we’ve had fun together, but -‘
‘Martha…it’s not you, it’s me.’
Fuck that, it is her.
She’s kind of crazy, Martha. What with her fire red hair and weird obsessions with lunar activity. And those crystals she carries around like pockets of loose change Then there’s the conversations with spiritual entities. Usually during the night. But those traits are actually her good points. It’s the control-freak side of her that I can’t handle. I don’t even know how she manages it.
One minute I’m lounging around my flat, just doing my own thing. Next thing I know she waltzes in, starts issuing orders and I’m surrendering to her every command like a lap dog. Not in a kinky way or anything. Just in the we’re-doing-this-today-so-do-it sense.
My whole flat has been rearranged. To welcome the moon’s rays properly. She leaves those stinking sticks everywhere, the ones that smoulder. Incense, she calls them. They incense me, I want to tell her. Their dry scent gets stuck in my throat for days. And everywhere I go I’m finding crystals. If I accidentally move one, she freaks. If I start reading a book, I’ll find it the next day in a corner. With a heavy crystal placed on top of it. Everywhere I look there’s unfinished books, pinned down in fear under the weight of her gaudy stones, begging me to grow a backbone. I’ve started going to the library to hire them out and finish them off there. I don’t know why this happens. It’s not like I’m pussy-whipped. Or at least I wasn’t before I met Martha.
I know it makes sense for me to end it. For my own sanity. Who knows where it could lead. But of course I’ll have to accept the gift first. It’s only polite.
On Saturday Martha turns up earlier than usual. Before I know it she’s pulling out griddles and chopping up peppers. Apparently we’re having dinner here too.
‘The gift.’ I say. ‘When do I get it?’ I want this ordeal over.
She laughs as she tosses two bloody steaks into the pan. ‘How sweet. Are you all excited?’
‘Uh, yes.’ I say this, but I’m not. There I go again. Saying things I don’t want to.
‘After we eat.’
We’re cutting into our steaks and a pool of blood is gathering on my plate.
‘I don’t really like my steaks rare.’
Martha shrugs. ‘Overdoing it is like killing the meat.’
‘But meat’s already dead.’
‘Eat your steak.’
And I do.
Maybe I’m scared of her. Subconsciously. Maybe she attacks me in my sleep and I don’t know it. Maybe she holds a knife to my throat for an hour every night.
‘Steak good, honey?’
When the meal is over she brings out the gift. I’m praying it’s a nondescript jersey. It’s definitely not. It’s heavy in my hands and my stomach sinks with the weight of it. I have a feeling it’s something important. I hope to god she’s not spent a fortune.
I unwrap the green tissue paper and fold it back. I’m looking at myself. A worried picture of desperation.
‘It’s a mirror.’
‘Do you like it?’ Martha stands over me, awaiting reaction.
‘I do.’ I hold it up, examine it for a price tag. It’s circular and has gilt edging. It looks old, it even smells a bit musty. She probably bought it in a junk shop. I’m safe. There’s no way it cost a mint. ‘Thanks.’
She’s still not smiling though. ‘Is there something else you want to say to me?’
Oh, shit. It’s like she knows. She obviously does. Maybe it was the steak thing.
‘Well…yeah. Kind of.’ I stand up, still holding the mirror. ‘You know, it’s been great between us but…it’s not really working out for me right now…’ I’m still fumbling for more words but she cuts in.
‘Don’t worry about it.’ She’s actually smiling. This is good.
She gets her coat, twirls around the living room as she puts it on. I realise I might miss her autumn coloured hair.
‘Goodbye.’ she smiles. ‘Keep the mirror.’
I walk her to the door. I’m liking this. I’m liking this a lot. She even kisses me in the doorway. I half expect her to snap at my tongue with her teeth but it doesn’t happen. Then I close the door and she’s gone. I have my life back. Just like that. What the hell was I so worried about?
I hang the mirror in the bathroom. I’d always meant to put one there. Free and useful, I think happily as I bang a nail into the wall. ‘Perhaps you were worth the wait after all,’ I tell the aged thing as I straighten it up.
I spin round. It’s Martha’s voice but she’s not here. The bathroom door is closed and I’m standing alone.
‘What’s wrong, honey?’
I spin back round. ‘Shit.’
Martha is in the mirror. Like, her face. Her shoulders. In the mirror. She’s peering out like she’s trying to get a better look at me.
‘Where are you, honey? In the bathroom?’
I try to survey my surroundings but I can’t take my eyes off Martha’s face. I’m pretty sure I’m still in the bathroom though. ‘Yes.’ I tell her.
‘Ah. I see. So I gather you have just broken up with me.’
‘Yes.’ I say again. My voice is unsteady, mimicking my feet.
‘Oh sorry, honey. I guess I should explain.’ Martha’s face smiles at me. ‘I’m from the other earth.’
‘Other earth,’ I mutter under my breath. ‘Other earth, other earth…’ No matter how many times I repeat the words, they still sound like foreign gibberish to me. ‘But Martha … you’re in the mirror.’
‘No, no. This is the other me.’
‘But how did you get…’
‘I live here. On the other earth. I live here with you.’
‘Well, the other you.’
‘Oh.’ Nothing is making sense here.
‘You see in my world you didn’t break up with me. And I didn’t let you hang the mirror in here. I told you it would look better in the bedroom.’
Martha’s face nods. ‘I did. And then you asked me to move in with you.’
Martha’s face nods again. She seems kind of different this Martha. Kind of sweet on the inside. She doesn’t glare at me, this Martha. She gazes at me like a girlfriend should gaze at you.
‘And we’re married.’ she says.
‘Wow.’ I never thought it possible.
‘I only have this one chance.’ she says with a hint of sadness.
‘To tell you what a huge mistake you’ve just made, before this portal closes. Your life is not meant to go this way. This is the worst path you could have possibly chosen.’
‘Your life will go downhill from here on. In my earth you are happier than you’ve ever been with me.’
I look into the eyes of Martha’s face in the other earth and I see no trace of a lie. A strange feeling of dread begins to creep into my stomach.
‘I only wish I could have warned you sooner. Bad things will happen, my honey. Bad things.’
I peer closer into the mirror. Martha’s face is fading, like steam evaporating from glass.
‘Look out for the dangers, my honey. I wish I could be there to look after you.’
Her hand reaches out to me but before it can touch the glass she is gone.
‘Martha.’ I place my hand on the cold glass but see nothing except my own nervous sweat forming a print.
I stay like that for a long moment. I don’t want to leave the bathroom, Martha’s face may come back. I turn on the shower and the mirror steams up but I can still see that it is empty. I strip off and stand under the shower for a while but my eyes never leave the mirror. I miss Martha’s face, I realise. She has a beautiful face. And her hair, I remember the night she let me wash it. Long, long locks the colour of autumn leaves.
I step out of the shower and reach for a towel. The water is still hissing behind me. Suddenly I’m in darkness and there is a frightening crash. I kick open the door and light from the hall spills in. Plaster is dripping from the ceiling in heavy soggy chunks. Wires curl down towards the bath. What the hell has happened? The overhead light is now lying in the bathtub, sparking against the jets of water.
If I had been standing there a second sooner I would have been fried. My heartbeat would have fizzled out and died.
I run out the bathroom with the towel around my waist. I stumble against the table where our dinner plates still sit. The steak knife slides off, just missing my foot. It juts into the wooden floor, still wobbling from the impact. I’m not sure I like this. What did Martha’s face say about the bad things that would happen? I realise I am calling for her. I am begging for her. Come back, Martha, come back. I don’t want to die here.
There is a knock at the door and I’m running, I’m falling, splitting the skin on my bare knees. Martha is standing there. Real Martha, not mirror Martha from another earth. I’m hugging her, I’m sobbing like a maniac. I’m bleeding and I’m panicking. She thinks I’m regretting what I said to her earlier. She runs a hand through my hair and tells me not to worry.
‘Will you move in with me?’ I ask and she doesn’t look surprised.
She sorts out the disaster. She switches off the mains power, she clears away the dishes. She tidies the mess in the bathroom then emerges with the mirror in her hand.
‘Do you think it would look better in the bedroom?’ I ask, picturing her pulling a brush across those soft, copper curls in front of it.
To my surprise she chucks it in the bin. ‘That’s why I was coming back. I just remembered I bought it when the moon was waxing, not waning.’
‘That’s bad luck.’ Her lips curve into a smile and she holds out a hand to me. ‘Come here, honey.’
I’m still looking at the mirror, poking out of the bin. ‘But…I kind of liked it.’
‘It’s served its purpose.’
I blink at Martha. ‘What?’
‘Nothing, honey. Now sit down and I’ll fix up your knees.’
‘Whatever you say.’ I tell her. And for the first time I mean it.