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The bathroom tiles stabbed at Rodrigo’s feet with their icy cold, even through the soles of his Donald Duck slippers. A shiver raced up his back in the dark. The warm air of May had vanished from the spring evening. Rodrigo lit the candle he had fished from the cabinet under the kitchen sink. Papa kept them around for power outages – either from storms or when the police battled the “bad men.” Rodrigo wasn’t supposed to play with matches, but the boy felt he was old enough, and he reasoned this was important enough for an exception.
Papa had gone out for the night, taking Seńora Melendez to celebrate Día de las Madres. Rodrigo liked Sra. Melendez and her children, so he definitely liked that Papa had been spending so much time with her. She lost her husband, just like Rodrigo had lost his Mama. Rodrigo was envious, though, because while the Melendez children were babysat by their eldest sibling, seventeen year old Emilia, he was stuck with Tiá Sofia. The old aunt sat dozing in the living room, the din of the evening news drowning out her snoring. Rodrigo hoped the noise would not interrupt the spell or irritate Sra. Mary.
Rodrigo’s old babysitter, Jaime, had told him about Sra. Mary before he left Ciudad Juarez to go to school in Estados Unidos. After Jaime was gone, Rodrigo asked the other older children, including Emilia Melendez, about the story. They all had versions of the same story to tell, which convinced Rodrigo that Jaime wasn’t just trying to trick him again.
Once the candle flame danced on its wick, Rodrigo doused the match under the bathroom faucet so Papa wouldn’t come home to any accidents. The boy started the magic spell just like he’d learned. Leaning against the sink, boosted up by an old wooden step stool, Rodrigo stared into the bathroom mirror. For now, the only thing he found on the other side was his small face, set aglow by the sliding shades of orange candlelight.
“Bloody Mary,” he began the chant. The words passed his lips slowly, like when he tried to lie to Papa to avoid getting in trouble. Rodrigo’s hands gripped the sink’s edge, trembling both as he balanced his weight and wrangled his rising fear.
After a time, he squeaked out the name once and then twice more in hushed whispers. For a long moment, a matter of two or three breaths, there was nothing.
Soon, however, the shadows around his face in the mirror reshaped themselves into a curtain of long, scraggly black hair. Raising her head, the strands of hair parted to reveal a new face in the mirror, hovering just over the shoulder of Rodrigo’s reflection.
Her skin was pale as milk, although her dark eyes were red-rimmed and streaked by oily tears. She wore a dress of torn black fabric that was nearly indistinguishable from her wild, unkempt hair. The mirror rippled like water, and she began to emerge. First her white fingertips, then her lanky arms followed until her whole body climbed out and stepped down from the sink.
Rodrigo stumbled back against the closed bathroom door. His foot grazed against the other thing he’d brought for the spell. The crinkle of paper broke through his pall of fear to remind him why he’d summoned the spirit in the first place.
Even with her slumped shoulders, Bloody Mary stood towering over Rodrigo as he knelt down to pick something up from the shadow-wreathed floor. He stood back up sharply, holding a bouquet of flowers to present to the ghostly woman. Her crimson eyes widened by a hair’s breadth, snared by surprise and confusion, as she beheld the small arrangement of pink and white blossoms, not quite in bloom, tied together with a scrap of yellow ribbon.
“What is this, child?” she croaked hoarsely.
“Happy Mother’s Day, Seńora Mary,” he yelped. “I heard Jaime and Emilia talk about you, and my Papa often prays to Mother Mary, so I wanted to give you some flowers.”
A long, silent pause haunted the cramped bathroom before the ghost spoke again.
“Save them for your own mother,” Bloody Mary said, genuinely baffled.
“Papa won’t let me visit Mama’s grave. He says it’s too dangerous there. We don’t go to that part of the city anymore. If you don’t want the flowers, maybe you could take them to Mama, but I would really like you to keep them. I don’t want you to feel left out.”
The ghost woman was taken aback. She suddenly remembered how to laugh. She was caught between the irony of this child confusing her with the Virgin Mary and the sweet innocence of his gesture. Bloody Mary could not disappoint the child. She was not a monster.
“You’re a good boy,” she said, patting him on the head as she accepted the bouquet before withdrawing back into the mirror.
The candle’s flame winked out as she passed, leaving Rodrigo in the darkened bathroom with the dying smell of smoke, his aunt’s snores carrying on from the living room, and the feeling of accomplishment in his heart.


Image of The other side


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