The woman in the mirror spoke to her.
This was before she covered all the mirrors in the house. This was back when she was like eleven, maybe twelve, before all the crazy shit happened. Back when they first moved into the house.
The woman had been in her mirror for some time. Hiding. At first, Em didn’t even now she was there. She thought it was her own reflection.
Em noticed the woman only when she smiled. The woman smiled whenever Em smiled, but she didn’t smile in exactly the same way. And her smile was much prettier than Em’s smile.
That’s what Em thought, anyway. She also thought the woman’s smile began a split second later than hers did, as if she did not expect the smile. Em did not, admittedly, smile very often.
The woman stayed in the mirror at first, content with copying Em’s movements. She never did anything out of the ordinary. At first. Just that tell-tale little stuttered pause of the smile.
One day, after school, the woman spoke.
The woman told her to break the mirror. To break the mirror, take the pieces, and cut herself.
Her mom would not have wanted her to cut herself.
People will see, thought Em.
The woman told her to hide the cuts. To cut herself in places where no one would see. Upper thigh. Upper arm. Stomach. Even the inside of her mouth.
“Just cut,” said the woman. “It won’t hurt. It will feel better.”
No it won’t, thought Em.
“Don’t you want to see what it looks like?” asked the woman. “The cut? The blood?”
No, thought Em.
“Don’t you want to know what it smells like?”
Em didn’t know that blood had a smell. She didn’t respond.
“What it tastes like? The woman asked, “Don’t you want to know what it tastes like?”
Em didn’t respond.
“Aren’t you curious?”
Em was curious. She had tasted blood before. She’d had bloody noses, several times, and she tasted a lot of blood every time, as she pinched her nose and tilted her head and felt the gooey semi-congealed stalactites of the stuff drip down the back of her throat. It tasted like pennies, sort of. It tasted like the clunky metal braces she had worn when she was younger. It tasted like the aluminum foil that sometimes stuck to the bottoms of cookies her Mom used to bake, back when her Mom was still alive.
Her mom would not have wanted her to break the mirror.
I don’t want to break the mirror, thought Em.
This time the woman didn’t respond.
I don’t want to break the mirror, thought Em, so I won’t be able to find out….
She heard a small clink come from the mirror, like a tiny bell, musical. She looked to the corner and saw a small crack running from one border to the other, in a perfectly straight line at odds with the seemingly liquid surface.
“You don’t need to break the mirror. Just pick out the little piece in the corner.”
Em tried to empty her mind.
“You like red. Blood is red. So is licorice.”
Em thought about other things. School. Her sister. Her cat.
“So are cherry sours.”
Em thought about her mom.
“So is watermelon. You love watermelon.”
Attempting to think nothing, Em reached down to the sliver of glass, using her fingernail to pry it away from the surface of the mirror, then plucked it out from under the frame. She held it out in front of her, turning it until it caught the light of the sky blue day shining through her bedroom window.
“Go on. You know you want to.”
Em took the shard of silvered glass, pressed the long, sharp edge it against her tongue until she felt a bite of pain. She stopped.
Em applied a slight bit more pressure, wondering if it would hurt, or if it would, as the woman said, take the pain away.
She wondered what the blood would taste like, this time. Like pennies, like braces, like foil? Like licorice, like cherries, like watermelon?
“Don’t think,” said the woman in the mirror.
Em wondered what it would feel like to quit thinking. And then she simply stopped, simply quit thinking, halted the turning cogs of her mind, no more wondering about pain or taste or thought, no more worrying if her Mom would have disapproved. No more wondering or worry at all. No more thinking. She pressed the glass harder against her tongue.
Her sister heard the scream.