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
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
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 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
“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
“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
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.
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.
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.
she said. “All right. It has to be better than this place.”
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
overhead, the devil playing ninepins. Lightning flashed over the
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