by K. Tempest Bradford
(originally published in Thou Shalt Not…)
Clia stood before the large, oval mirror in her room and stared at the reflection. Bone-straight hair–long, shiny and black–a heart-shaped face, perfect button nose, sensual mouth, and wide green eyes. The skin held no blemish and no imperfection–not too dark, but not too light. An elegant neck; firm, round breasts; smooth, flat stomach; curvy hips; long, muscular legs tapering toward the floor and ending at the bottom of the mirror.
“Yes, this is what I want,” Clia said. Her mouth moved. The reflection’s did not.
Are you ready to gather what I need?
“Yes. It’ll take a few days, though.”
I have nothing but time. The reflection shimmered away, replaced by an image of what Clia looked like in every other mirror.
She did not often look at mirrors.
It took four days to find the mugwort. She combed the phone book for a Wiccan store near her tiny town. When she found one, the goth girl behind the counter didn’t even look up when she told Clia to hunt for it out back.
“What, you have a garden or something?” Clia asked.
“No, a parking lot,” the girl said. “There’s some growing by the fence.”
Clia didn’t like the tone of her voice.
“What is that smell?” her mother asked.
“Tea,” Clia replied.
“It’s awfully strong. Are you sure it’s okay to drink?”
Clia responded with an over-the-book, you’re-persecuting-me-again glare.
Her mother tried to smile the tension away. “Is it one of those herbal teas that help you think better or something?”
Clia just shrugged and was silent. So silent that she drove her mother from the room.
She coated the mirror’s surface with mugwort tea. It then instructed her to pry out the smaller mirrors, seven in number, set in the decorative wood framing it. She hoped her mother wouldn’t barge in suddenly and see what she was doing.
The mirror had come to her father when great aunt May Ella passed on. Her mother suggested giving it to Clia because she was reaching “that age” and might want to “take more pride in her appearance.” Five generations had gazed into this mirror before her. Clia wondered what they’d looked like before… and then after.
She tried to think of this instead of her reflection. She kept catching glimpses of herself in the glass. Her true self.
What a cruel gift, she thought. Even if it is magical.
As the bell rang on her first period class Clia decided that the time was right. She marched over to Jennie Garner’s desk, which was surrounded by the crème de la crème of the Jackson High School social circle, and inserted herself into the scene.
“Hi Jennie,” she said over the conversation. The other kids didn’t even bother to taper off and glare at her in distaste. They just ignored her and kept talking. Jennie rolled her eyes before tearing them away from Scott Jackson to finally acknowledge her. Her look said volumes about her opinion of Clia and her interruption.
“Merry Christmas.” Clia extended a small package.
“For me?” Jennie seemed genuinely surprised. “Thanks.” She took the gift and tore into the paper.
“It’s a mirror,” Clia said. “I made it myself.”
The other kids had stopped talking by then and watched this little exchange with interest. Jennie finally unwrapped the hand mirror and held it up to her face. Her fingers traced the decorations Clia had burned into the polished wood.
“You made this yourself? It’s pretty.” Jennie was absorbed in her own reflection.
“I knew you’d like it.” Of course she liked it. Who could blame her for admiring any mirror that reflected a face like that? Perfect heart shape, perfect button nose, sensual mouth. She had great eyes, too. But they were blue. Clia had always wanted green eyes.
“You made that?” Rachel asked. “Will you make me one?”
Green eyes like Rachel had.
“I already did,” Clia said, handing her a similar package. “For helping me with that geometry test.”
Rachel hadn’t actually helped. She’d stolen the answers and made Clia pay twenty dollars to share them.
Clia returned to her desk. She knew what the other kids were saying behind her back. They were probably calling her a suck-up or a lesbian. She didn’t care. Soon it wouldn’t matter.
Fourth period English. Clia’s seat was right next to Chelsea ‘s, yet the two had never spoken. The light -skinned girl barely knew she existed. But Clia was always aware of her neighbor. Chelsea never got pimples or pock marks. Her skin was always smooth and clear. Clia imagined that it was soft to the touch.
She set the gift on Chelsea ‘s desk just before class ended.
“What’s this?” Chelsea asked.
“A Christmas gift.”
“For me?” She picked it up, a small frown on her face. “But I don’t really know you.”
“I know. I just thought you’d like it. Open it.” Clia twisted the fringes of her sweater nervously.
“I can’t accept this.” Chelsea held it out to her. “I mean, I didn’t get you anything.”
Clia stood up quickly when the bell rang. “That’s okay. Really. Please, take it.” She joined the rest of the class filing out into the hall. When she looked back, Chelsea had unwrapped the mirror and was using it to check her lipstick.
At lunch Clia stopped by Christina Carter’s table and gave her a mirror, too. She pretended that it was to repay Chris for showing her around on her first day back in October. While Clia talked to Christina, she dutifully averted her gaze from the senior’s breasts.
In seventh period gym, after suffering through twenty push-ups and a game of dodgeball, Clia caught Miko before she left the locker room.
“Happy Holidays.” Clia pressed the mirror into the exchange student’s hand.
Miko’s face lit up, her smile genuine and warm. “For me? Oh, thank you!” She reached into her gym bag and handed Clia a small tin of holiday chocolates. “Happy Christmas to you, too.”
Clia didn’t know what to say. She hadn’t expected a gift from her. From anyone. She watched as Miko worked the wrapping off carefully so as to not tear it. Clia almost pulled the mirror away before she could look in it, the guilt making her slightly nauseated. But one look at Miko’s long, beautiful hair stayed her hand.
After school, Clia waited by Mary’s locker. Her own was just across the hall so she knew the star forward would pass by on her way to practice. A few minutes later Mary jogged down the hall and smiled at Clia as she dialed her combination.
“Last week’s game… you were really great,” Clia stammered, her eyes lingering on Mary’s long legs.
“I got lucky on that last point,” she said absently.
“This is for you.” Clia held out the mirror.
“Thanks.” Mary tossed it into her locker and closed the door. “See ya.”
Clia’s heart sped up. It wouldn’t work if Mary didn’t look in it. “Wait!”
Mary looked over and frowned. “What?”
“Aren’t you going to unwrap it? It’s a Christmas present.”
Mary shrugged. “Can it wait? I’m gonna be late for practice.”
She might unwrap it afterwards, but if she didn’t…
“Just… that I made it myself.”
“Oh, is it like the one you gave Jennie?” Mary opened her locker and ripped the wrapping off.
Clia’s fingers were tangled in the fringes of her sweater. One look is all it takes. She relaxed when Mary finally held it up, admiring herself.
“Thanks. This is really pretty.” She dropped the mirror into her backpack and jogged off down the hall.
Clia was imagining how those legs would look in shorts when Mary turned back and called out to her. “Hey, we’re having a winter break party at my house tomorrow night. You should come by.”
Clia smiled. “Sure!” She leaned against a locker until the nausea passed.
She packed the remaining mugwort into one of her mother’s silver ashtrays.
Light it on fire.
Clia did so. The pungent aroma filled the room.
Clia took the one small mirror she hadn’t given away and popped it into the center notch of the frame above the big mirror. She’d moved the heavy thing in front of the window at sunset. Now the moon was reflected in both surfaces.
The kitchen knife was sharp and cold and painful in her arm. She forced herself to cut deep enough. Dark red blood dribbled into a small bowl on her dresser. She filled it halfway and then stopped to wrap the cut with gauze.
Draw the person you want to be.
“On the mirror?”
Clia dipped her finger in the blood and brought it up to the glass. Her hand shook, but she drew.
At first she used her own outline as a guide, putting the face where it should be. Perfect shape. Perfect nose. Perfect mouth. One of the small mirrors appeared in its notch. Her own reflection faded away. She drew the eyes. The second mirror appeared. Next came the hair, long and straight. The third mirror. Upper body, curves, breasts, smooth lines. The fourth mirror. Long, muscular legs. The fifth mirror. Clia only saw six, including hers. There should have been seven. Then she remembered. She used the last of the blood to fill in the lines. The last mirror appeared.
Clia stepped back and waited.
The drawing blinked. The edges blurred. Clia blinked. The mirror was covered in blood.
Movement caught the corner of her eye. In one of the little mirrors she saw Jennie. Just her face, then her image pulled away, back into the glass, farther and farther, like she was falling, then gone. In the next she saw Rachel’s green eyes. And again, the image pulled away until she became only a dot in the silverblack landscape of the glass. Miko’s raven hair twirled and twirled and twirled into the background. Christina’s heaving torso fell away. Mary’s long legs kicked into nothingness. Chelsea ‘s perfect skin filled her space then dissolved.
The blood seeped into the space between the glass and the wood, leaving a clean surface and a reflection behind–the perfect image Clia had seen only in this mirror and her most desperate daydreams. She reached toward it.
The reflection reached out, too.
Slowly, her hand abandoned its course and went instead to touch the hair–no longer kinky and coarse, but silky and straight. Clia and her reflection discovered her new self by touch. Perfect skin. Perfect nose. Perfect mouth. Firm breasts. Curvy hips. Legs that were long and…
Her reflection ended at her ankles. It had no feet. She had no feet. There was nothing below her legs.
“Where are my feet?”
You didn’t ask for feet.
Clia crashed to the floor, the illusion no longer holding up, and screamed in pain. Her legs ended in bloody stumps, a dull ache, and the phantom feeling of feet that should have been there.
“I gave you six souls for this!” she shrieked. “I gave what you asked!”
If you want feet, you’ll have to give me seven.
Someone pounded on her door.
“Clia!” Her mother. “What’s wrong? Are you all right? Open the door!”
She looked from the door to the mirror, then down at the raw stumps.
“Clia! Are you hurt?”
The reflection was still standing. Now it held something in its hand. A pair of sandals. Her mother’s beaded sandals. The sandals Clia coveted but could never borrow. Her own feet had always been too big.
Her mother was trying to break in.
She strained and grunted, using her knees for leverage, and slid the mirror around to face the door.
She had no choice. She needed feet.
And the lock would give way any moment.
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.