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 by Patricia Russo

     He had a single mirror in his apartment (the one in the bathroom had been torn out, replaced by a Burne-Jones print scotch taped into the rectangular hollow above the sink; the previous tenant had done that, he claimed), a full-length oval glass with a cherrywood frame.  It hung on the wall between the windows that let onto the fire escape.
     She’d been there three minutes, tops; they’d taken a couple of sips of beer each, and had just started kissing, when outside, high in the sky, lightning flashed and thunder boomed.
     He leaped off the futon, almost kneecapping himself on the milk-crate coffee-table, and threw a brown-and-orange afghan (his mother had crocheted it, an inch a day during Activities Hour at the Senior Drop-In Center, he told her, glumly) over the mirror.
     “Why did you do that?” she asked.
     “Because I am tempted,” he said, and flushed as if he’d just been caught performing a shameful act.
     He sat back down beside her and wanted to kiss some more, but she’d lost the mood.
     The next time they met, his eyes were dusty, gray and grainy as ashpits, so she gave him all the candy she had, just to see if he would cry.  He didn’t He scarfed the jellybellies and the jujubes, masticated the licorice bites, slurped the syrup from the wax baby-bottles.  Grinning (black pits of licorice like mouse turds stuck in his teeth), he invited her up to his apartment.
     “I’ll come,” she said, “but only if you tell me about the mirror.”
     “Not much to tell,” he said, with a shrug.  “When it thunders I can see another place inside the glass, a land with no people in it, and I want to go there so bad that one day I know I’ll step inside the mirror, and....”  Her expression made him stop.
     “No people?”
     “No people at all.”  He grinned again, and she wished she had the nerve to suck the licorice out of his teeth.  “You can come with me if you want.  When I go.”
     “But we’re people.  You and me, we’re both people.  How could we exist in this other land of yours?”
     “It’s not my land,” he said, affronted.
     “It’s your mirror.”
     “Ha,” he said.  “I’ll tell you a secret, if you’re strong enough to hear it.  It’s not just my mirror.  You can see the land with no people in it in any mirror, in every mirror, if you look.  But you have to look when the thunder is booming and the lightning is cracking the sky open like a flat black egg.  but don’t look too hard, unless you’re ready to go.”
     “Get help,” she advised him, and went home.
     Two days later, a thunderstorm swept through the city.  Holding her breath, she peaked into the bathroom mirror.  Then ran out of the room, locked the door behind her, and didn’t go back inside until the rain stopped and the sky cleared.
     He phoned her.  “People are shits,” he said, “don’t you know that by now?  A country with no people is heaven.”
     “But I am a person,” she answered.  “I’m a person, and so are you, you jerk.”
     But then her fingernails stopped growing and whenever she swallowed she tasted rose petals, and she began to wonder.
     She bought more candy, but when she took it to him he said he’d given it up.
     “Bastard,” she said, “I was just trying to be nice,” and slammed his door when she left.
     And it didn’t rain, and it didn’t rain, and the taste of roses in her mouth changed to goldenrod pollen, and one morning she found her toenails had turned into blank silver coins.
     The thunderstorms she was waiting for caught her on the street, browsing among the stalls of the illegal flea market on Third and Briggs.  She arrived at his apartment drenched and shaking.
     “All right,” she said.  “All right.  It has to be better than this place.”
     (Anyplace had to be better than this place.)
     “I’m not sure I’m ready yet,” he said, drawing back from her.  The autumn-colored afghan was draped over the mirror.
     She saw all he needed was a little tug, a hand to hold.
     She yanked the afghan off the mirror.
     And there it was, the country with not a single person in it, a green land of sunlight and flowers and fluffy lamb-shaped clouds.
     It can’t be real, she thought, but I don’t care.
     She took his hand.  He tried to kiss her, but she said, “Not yet.”
     They walked toward the mirror.
     Thunder rolled overhead, the devil playing ninepins.  Lightning flashed over the city.
     “No people?”
     “No.  I’ve watched for years and years.  No people at all.”
     “Good,” she said, and stepping forward, she drew him to the mirror, and through to the other side.