“You’re fat,” the little girl inside the mirror said to Em.
It was long past midnight. Em’s parents and sister were in bed. Em was standing in front of the closed door of her room, where her Dad had hung the full length mirror. She regarded the reflection.
The person in the mirror looked just like Em. She wasn’t Em, though. She wasn’t even a little girl, though she looked like one.
She wasn’t Em, wasn’t a little girl, probably wasn’t even real. Or, if she was real, wasn’t human. Or, if she were human, wasn’t... Em didn’t know what she was. She had no name.
“You’re fat,” repeated the woman in the mirror.
I’m not fat, thought Em, though once the woman said it she immediately began to examine her body. Was she too fat? Was she too short? Were her eyebrows too bushy, her eyes too close together? Was she pretty?
No, I’m not pretty, she thought.
“Told you. Fat and short and ugly. And you are right about your eyebrows. They look like hairy caterpillars.”
“I’m healthy,” said Em. “I’m perfect. I’m beautiful. That’s what my Mom tells me.”
“Your Mom? She has to say that. She’s your Mom.”
“She doesn’t either have to say that.” Tears welled in Em’s eyes.
“Boo hoo,” said the woman. “You gonna cry? Like a scaredy-cat? Like a pussy-ass?” Names Em had been called at school, many times.
No, thought Em. I’m not gonna cry. But I’m gonna tell my Mom.
“And you think running to Mommy is going to help you?”
“I heard you thinking earlier if I had a name. Do you want to know who I am?” asked the woman.
I know you’re not real, thought Em.
“If I’m not real then how can you hear me?”
Em tried not to think. Then she remembered what happened the last time she emptied her mind. She remembered the glass, the blood, her sister’s scream. She didn’t want to empty her mind. She didn’t know what would take the place of the emptiness.
She thought of her cat. She thought of her sister’s cat. She thought of her Mom. She thought of her Dad.
“Do you know want to know who I am?” asked the woman again. “Do you want to know my name?”
Goawaygowaygoawaypleasejustgoaway, thought Em.
“I’ve gone by many names over the years,” said the woman. “I have no true name. You may call me Mother.”
You’re not my Mom, thought Em.
“No. I’m much older than your Mom. I’m the Mother of this place. I’m the Mother of the House. Mother of the Darkness. Mother of Glass. Mother of Tears.”
“I don’t have to talk to you.
“But you have to look in mirrors, don’t you?” asked the woman in the mirror. “To see how you look. Your hair. Your weight. Your big hairy caterpillar eyebrows. To see if you’re pretty. You’ll see me then.”
I don’t need to use the mirrors in the house. I can use the mirror in the car, thought Em. Or the mirror at school.
“And so what are you going to do, avoid looking at all the mirrors in the house whenever you walk by? Like your scaredy-cat, pussy-ass Dad? I’ve seen him do it. A grown man, scared to look in mirrors.”
I can cover all the mirrors, thought Em.
“I don’t have to use mirrors,” said the woman. “Yes, they make it easier. But I live in the walls of the house. I live in the bones of the house. As long as the house is here, I am here.”
Em tried to think of places other than the house. The tiny park down the street where her Dad used to take her and her sister to swing on the swings, slide on the slides. The sage bush in the garden on the corner of the block that her Mom would point out every time, taking a pinch of the sage between the fingers, crushing it, and holding the powdery residue under her nose so she could breathe in the impossibly rich and dizzying scent.
“Mirrors work best,” continued the woman. “Windows work too though. Mirrors are a kind of window.”
Em tried thinking of her sister El’s secret place, the small hill of gravel down by the river, the place where no one could find her. The trees swaying in the night breeze, the gurgle of the water, the plop whenever she threw a stone into the stream, the smell of fish and decay coming from the water.
“You know what works best? Better than windows? Better than mirrors?” asked the woman. Em could not resist, she had to ask.
What? she thought.
“Blood,” said Mother.
“Your blood,” she added, and laughed, her little girl’s mouth opening to reveal row upon row of tiny needle-like teeth spiraling down the black maw of her throat.