Inside, water saturates the ceiling and drips down the wall. Shadows invade the family portraits that hang on rusted nails, contaminating the happy days captured in frames. A maple tree stands in the dining room, it’s back breaking from the posture forced upon it. The carpet cries for attention, a wounded soldier on the battlefield in desperate need of a medic. Down the hallway and to the left, another door winces at the slightest touch. Inside, a ladybug trapped in a butterfly garden, her head too big for her small shoulders.
The room sits patiently in wait of its rescuer. A crack in the wall filters in grey light that fills the air and chokes everything in a dull color. Clothes swing on their hangers, peeking through prison bars. A mirror sits across from the bed, which slumps against the wall. A fallen blockade of pillows decorates one end of the bed and most of the floor. In the middle of the fallen fortress, the jittery girl, a pillow clasped tightly over her face. The mirror examines the girl, a doctor taking an x-ray.
The duvet cover folds around Mara as she buries her face into the pillow. Shadows climb through the window and spin on the ceiling, blowing air that rustles the hair on her shoulders. Down the hall, pops and cracks bounce out of the kitchen and into the bedroom. Voices crawl through the empty hallway like ghosts longing to move on to the next life. Dishes clatter against the table and silverware dinks into the sink as Mother washes and prepares for dinner.
Mara’s eyelids flutter shut, and blue and purple splotches dance leisurely in a ballet. Her mind waltzes with the blue and purple ballerinas, each elegant dancer takes one of her hands. Together, they dance in the darkness, their feet feeling blindly for their next step. The blue ballerina spins into a mist and vanishes. Mara looks to her left for the purple ballerina, and the dancer’s eyes melt with sympathy and dissolve into the darkness surrounding them.
Mara’s eyes open in search of the dancers, desperate to feel the silk and to indulge in the bright color of their leotards, but there is nothing. The shadows on the ceiling moved to the outer corners of the wall, and they stare at her with anticipation. Mara carefully eyes the shadows and sits up on her bed, wary of their movement. Across the room, the mirror peeks around the wooden frame and blinks at her with hollow eyes. “Don’t look at yourself in the mirror. You know what happens when you look in the mirror,” Mara says as she closes her eyes. The hair on her skin rises to attention. The mirror blinks at her. “I should just get rid of it,” she mumbles. Without meeting it’s gaze, she opens her eyes and rises from the bed. Cautious feet pad against the soft cotton of the carpet. “Just a look, nothing more.”
In the glass, hollow eyes stare out, longing eyes stare in. Mara takes a deep breath, calming herself as she turns her face slowly to the left, exposing her bony cheek and protruding jaw. A sigh, a whisper in a crowded train station. “I would give anything to look like Cecilia,” Mara breathes, the image of her best friend burning into her eyes.
“Well, my darling, you know that you could never look like her.” This voice, the one in her head, her constant companion of eternal harassment, the image reaching through the glass to choke all happiness. The hollow eyes, the girl in the glass, every doubt that resounds in Mara’s skull.
“Oh, shut up,” Mara says. “It’s not my fault that I’m not as beautiful as Cecilia. Her parents pamper her and buy her all the makeup she could ever imagine. If my family had that kind of money, I would look just as beautiful as her.”
“Are you sure? You’ve addressed the facial aspect of Cecilia’s beauty, but you have once again failed to address the... rest... of the issue,” the mirror gestures at the entirety of Mara’s body.
“I don’t look that bad. At least... I don’t think I do. I look like every other girl at my school, right?”
“Dear, I certainly can’t tell you that! I’ve seen tons of young girls, and sweetie, you have some work to do. When I’m done with you, you will surely be pleased.”
Mara glances up and down at herself, flitting back and forth between her body and the mirror. Her muscles stiffen as a small fire begins to blaze in the back of her eyes. “Yeah, very funny. You told me that six months ago. How much longer do you expect this to take?” she asks.
“Well, dear, I can’t say for sure. Some girls reach their goal within a few months, while others take a lifetime to achieve it.”
“I don’t have a lifetime, I barely have five more minutes!” Mara gasps, exasperated. “I’ve already given you six months of my life, and I’ve lost twenty pounds. By the way you’re talking, it sounds like you want me to permanently change everything about myself. How can you expect me to do that?”
“It’s just something that has to be done, my dear. Everyone wants to look like this,” the mirror explains. As soon as the last sound exists it’s mouth, the imaginary girl in the mirror morphs into an entirely different person. Golden blonde hair flows around her shoulders like silk. The body is one that can only be achieved in dreams, a flat stomach and captivating curves. Blue eyes stare out of the glass like icy fire.
Mara’s teeth grind together as tears fill her eyes. “No one could possibly look like that,” she whispers, her voice trembling with rage. The fire grows and burns fiercely within her irises, melting the hazel circles into lava. A tear drips from her eyelashes, liquid fire burns her cheek. She wipes it away and runs her fingers through her short, black hair. “Who are you do say that I’m not beautiful?”
“I never said anything, dear. Society is the one who said that.”
The taste of iron gradually fills Mara’s mouth. Her mind spins like a lone tire rolling rampant downhill. Goosebumps fill her arms, and her shoulders begin to shake. The shadows on the wall move behind the mirror, waiting for her reply.
“Mara?” The rap on the door mimics that of a soldier looking for survivors. “Who are you talking to, dear? Are you alright?”
“Yes, mom, I’m fine. I’m just talking to myself,” Mara replies, glancing at the lock on the door.
“Alright, honey, I just wanted to check on you. Dinner is almost ready, so come down in a few minutes,” Mother says, walking away before she could finish her sentence.
Mara glances back at the mirror. The impossible figure vanished in that short span of time, her mind quiet for now. The shadows have retreated back into the outer corners, and the silence breaks as the pops and cracks echo down the hall.
Her hand comes up and touches the smooth glass, tracing over the figure staring into the mirror. Embers from her inflamed irises drift and cool as a small smile spreads across her lips. “I think I look just fine.” Feet pad gently over to the door. A small ray of sunlight reaches for the knob and unlocks it, the captive set free. With one glance back at the mirror, Mara opens the door and walks down the hall.