Though it may be hard to imagine, you must understand that I, too, was once a little girl, sewn together out of lace and frills and Barbie dolls with their hair cut into mayhem with my safety scissors. I had an extraordinary fondness for tea parties. I wanted to grow up to be a ballerina.
It is imperative that you know this. That I was not always what I am today.
No, I had all the markings of girlhood. I spent many days in what I guess was a happy enough childhood. I had dreams. I had nightmares.
Most people grow out of their nightmares. Those of us who don’t either succumb to them or become them.
I cannot say that I am sorry for becoming so many people’s nightmare.
The seeds of my future were sown when I was eleven years old.
When my mother cried, I could hear it from my room down the hall, even when she was trying to be quiet. Our walls were thin. She didn’t cry as much when I was young, but the older I got, the more frequent her tears.
That night when I heard her crying, I padded on bare feet down the hall. I opened the wooden door just as I heard my father throw a bottle against a wall downstairs. The shattering noise was deafening as I peered inside.
My mother sat at her vanity – it was a beautiful piece of furniture that her mother had handed down to her. I would inherit it, too, one day. She stared into the mirror, tears streaming down her face and making tracks in the foundation she was layering onto her cheek. I could see a light blue blooming across her face. When the bruise developed fully, all the makeup in the world wouldn’t hide it, but that didn’t stop her from trying.
She saw me peering at her and motioned me over. I walked close, a little afraid for the calm on her face, so incongruous with her tears, and she pulled me into her lap.
She smoothed out my mess of brown hair and picked up her makeup blush. She held out her blush pallet for me to choose the color. When I did, she began to apply it to the apples of my cheeks with a steady hand. I settled quietly in her lap, enjoying the soft sweep of the brush against my skin. I loved when my mother let me play with makeup.
As she put down the brush and chose a tube of lipstick – bright red, just the color I would have picked – she said, “Rona, there are certain things a woman needs to know in this world. Today I’m going to tell you one of them. No matter how you think you can trick it – with makeup, new dresses, fancy jewelry – the mirror never lies.”
My eyes slid up to meet my mother’s. She painted quite a picture, the bruise on her porcelain skin, the tears clumping in her eyelashes, her lip trembling from the strain of holding back her sobs.
Yes, mother. The mirror never lies.
Never once have I been able to forget that lesson.
For a few months after that, I was very interested in mirrors.
Whenever I was alone in the house, I would run to my mother’s vanity and stand in front of it, my pale face encircled in the gilt frame as I cast my words like magic.
“Does Eddie from school have a crush on me?”
The mirror didn’t answer.
“Is there really buried treasure in the backyard, like Uncle Rob said?”
The mirror didn’t answer.
“Why won’t mom and dad stop fighting?”
The mirror didn’t answer.
Gradually, I stopped asking my questions, realizing that I’d only ever see my own thin face staring back at me. Instead, I tried a different approach. I studied the face in the mirror, reading between the lines on my mouth and around my eyes. I looked for hints and secrets bubbling underneath the surface of my skin. Sometimes I found things. Sometimes I didn’t.
But I never stopped looking.
I inherited the vanity. I am an only child, so there were no other sisters to fight with me about it when my mother passed away.
Well. No. She didn’t pass away. That doesn’t seem like the right word for it. When somebody wraps their tongue around the barrel of a gun and swallows lead, do they really “pass away”? No, I think that’s just called dying.
I think her death was all the worse because she had to be drunk to do it. See, when someone commits suicide, if they do it sober, leave a note, start selling their possessions… then maybe, just maybe, you can trick yourself into believing that they were ready for it, that there were no second thoughts. My mother didn’t want to die, but she had to. So she hit the booze, missed the spinal chord, and blew out her right cheek along with the back right portion of her skull.
So I got the vanity. Which was just peachy, really, because I needed an answer and the mirror is the only thing in this world that doesn’t lie.
When someone dies, the first thing people ask is how it happened. There is a hidden question under that – *why* did it happen. The two are inextricably linked, you see. The police determined that she’d been long-suffering from depression. That was their why. But it wasn’t the right answer. I remembered my mother that night, sitting in front of the mirror, applying makeup to conceal a bruise that she couldn’t hide. A futile endeavor.
My father is the why. He understands this. I understand this. He does not blame me for hating him, neither does he feel guilt for what he’s done.
My father is an evil man.
But I do not need a mirror to know these things.
No, I needed the mirror to tell me about myself. In those strange myriad hours between my mother’s death and her eventual burial, I sat and stared into the mirror, my father’s indifference soft in the background. My eyes drifted along the sharp jut of my cheekbones, the sallow bags under my eyes, the determined twitch in my eyes.
I asked the mirror if I was strong enough.
The mirror said yes.
One week after the burial, I went back home – to my new home, in the city, away from my small family that had grown smaller by one person. I took the vanity with me.
A week after that, my father died.
Nothing strange about that, really. He’d been an alcoholic for the better part of twenty years. It just got to his heart. The how and the why were both inside the bottle.
The why was in my mother’s open skull. The how was in the poison I added to his whiskey. I’m surprised that it took him so long to get to that particular bottle, but I am not displeased. The anticipation was sweet.
I expected to be caught. I would be the obvious suspect, wouldn’t I? I was ready to leave my mirror behind when the law came for me. But they didn’t.
That night, after telling the police station to do whatever they liked with his body, I stared into the mirror again.
In it, I saw my future.