Before the Mirror Broke (Short Story)

This story was written 4-8-2021

Wordcount: 1,914 words.

Genre: Contemporary/fantasy

Tagline: Trapped inside a mirror, a girl with healing powers finds herself friends with a dying child.

(Written for a picture prompt short story contest. Winning entry.)

I still remember what life was like before.

Before Leah needed my tears.

Before I gave up my only friend.

Before the mirror broke.

Sometimes I wonder . . . what if I could go back and do it again? Would I? Or now that I’ve seen what happened, would I make a different choice?

But all my wondering, all my dreaming, all my wishing . . . it never changes anything.

I don’t have another chance. I can’t go back.

And I wouldn’t choose anything different.  

*~*~*

It was raining the day I met her. I can still remember the sound of the raindrops against the windows, filtering back to me through the mirror. The glass makes any sound bigger. Fuller. Richer. Like a magnifying glass to sound, it fills the mirror until it’s all I can hear. Until it seeps into my blood and occupies every thought.

I’d closed my eyes for a moment then, soaking it in. Letting the sound of the rain become so broad and so close that I could almost taste the cool drops. Longing for more, I approached the glass and pressed my palms and forehead against the familiar barrier. Hard. Unmovable. One clear yet dusty wall of my prison.

Something nagged at the back of my mind, like an itch I couldn’t scratch. I opened my eyes.

And she stood there, staring at me.

The patters of the rain echoed around me. I stared back. How could eyes be so blue?

“Are you trapped?” Her voice—sweet and clear—cut through the echoes, as if piercing my very soul.

I didn’t answer. I couldn’t.

The girl’s forehead dissolved into a sea of wrinkles. She stepped closer, her dark hair bouncing around her shoulders. She reminded me of one of the porcelain dolls sitting in the corner of the attic. “What’s the matter?” Her voice even sounded dainty. “Can’t you speak?”

Pursing my lips, I shook my head, and my own dark hair caught my gaze. Shorter. And full of snarls and tangles I’d given up combing with my fingers. I looked back to the girl to see her examining it, too.

“You ought to brush it.” She cocked her head. “But I suppose it’s hard to fit a brush inside a mirror.”

I stared at her.

“Then again, you’re in the mirror. And a brush is much smaller than a human.” Her slender eyebrows knitted together. “You are human, aren’t you?”

Hesitating a moment, I nodded. Perhaps I shouldn’t have lied, but it was close enough to the truth. And how could I explain it all—the gift of healing my mother possessed, passed on, and then wasted . . . our penalty of entrapment . . . the confounding way I could remember exactly what life was like before the mirror, but not how long I’d been inside. Yes, I was right to nod.

The smallest of smiles tugged at the girl’s mouth. “That’s what I thought. Though I still don’t know what you’re doing in there.” She paused, as if waiting for an answer. “Oh, I’m sorry. Rude of me to expect you to speak when you obviously can’t.”

I blinked.

“I wish I could know your name.”

Frowning, I cocked my head at her.

“I’m Leah. Just Leah. I never care to bother people with last names.” She gave a slight curtsey, her pale blue skirt swishing around her feet. “Could you mouth your name to me?”

Oh. Yes, I could. And, with several tries, I did.

Leah’s dark eyes lit up. “Crystal is a beautiful name.”

*~*~*

I didn’t think she would come back. Surely she’d start to second-guess herself. Perhaps she’d think she was only dreaming or imagining me. I expected to never see her again.

But I did.

Every day she came back, her blue eyes sparkling and her hair bouncing around her shoulders as she hurried toward the mirror. She’d offer one of her sweet smiles and sink to the floor in front of me, just inches from the glass.

At first she asked questions, never remembering that I couldn’t answer them. But as the days continued and we grew settled in our routine, she took to just talking.

About her day. About her dreams. About her father, mother, and new baby brother.

Her school had new water fountains put in because the old ones leaked. Her shoes used to be her mother’s. And her cat was adopted after they found it scavenging for scraps in a garbage can.

I wished I could respond. To ask her questions. But I suppose that would have taken up valuable time. Time I got to spend listening to her stories, to her wishes, and to her feelings. Time I regret not cherishing more. Time I miss more than anything now.

*~*~*

It was raining again the day I noticed it.

The change. The difference in her.

My stomach knotted up as if string, and it’s stayed that way ever since.

It was subtle. Less energy in her steps. A new heaviness as she lowered herself to the floor. Paler skin and trembling fingers.

When she met my gaze, her eyes were tired and sad. No longer clear blue, but marred and darkened.

“They say it should help,” she said, her voice daintier than I’d heard it yet. “But so far, all it’s done is made me feel even more awful.”

I cocked my head, and she gave a small smile.

“You know, I’m glad I see you instead of me in this mirror.” She yawned. “When mother or father look at me now, they only seem to grow sadder. But when I look at you, it makes me want to smile. And I’ve always preferred to smile.”

I nodded—answering with a quirk of my lips.

She grinned back.

*~*~*

“It’s not so bad.” Her shaking fingers traced the smooth skin of her scalp. Pale. Too pale. Had her dark curls remained, they would have made her look even whiter. “They told me it should grow back well after I’m healthy.” Her voice softened. “If I’m healthy again.”

My heart ached, and I stared at her. She stared back, her eyes wide on her sunken face.

“Father tells me I’ll be fine. That it’ll all be over soon. I want to believe him.” She glances at the floor. “But I don’t feel fine now. In fact, I feel less fine every moment.”

I shift, a shiver prickling my arms.

“You’re never sick, are you? I suppose the mirror must keep you healthy.” She frowns at the glass. “But all the same, I wish you were out of it. I’d very much like to show you around and introduce you to my family before—”

Her gaze met mine then, and her shimmering eyes reflected my own.

“I’m trying awfully hard to be brave, Crystal.” Her lip quivered. “But the truth is, I’m scared. For myself. For father and mother. For little David. He won’t remember me once he gets older.”

My heart squeezed. How I wished I could comfort her! But what would I even say if I could? What did I know of dying?

Slowly, I reached toward the glass and spread my trembling fingers against it. Leah swallowed hard. Raising her thin arm, she pressed her palm against mine—separated only by the mirror’s glass.

“You’ve been a good friend to me, Crystal.” A tear trickled from the corner of her eye and down her snow-colored cheeks. She smiled. “And no matter what happens, I’m glad to have met you.”

My cheek tickled, and a tear dripped onto the floor of the mirror, reflecting back at me.  

And that’s when I realized. I knew what to do. Why hadn’t I thought of it before?

There was no other choice.

Taking my hand from the mirror, I motioned behind Leah, to the box of glass vials under the fading footstool. Her forehead wrinkled, and she turned.

“Those little bottles?” She looked back to me, and I nodded and held up one finger. “You want one? But I don’t know how . . .”

I held her gaze. “Trust me,” I mouthed.

Her lips quirked. “I do trust you.” Leaning back, she plucked one of the vials from the box and turned back to me. It glinted with the light, casting its sparkling reflections onto the walls.

I took a deep breath. One act. Of all the things I did and didn’t remember about my entrapment, I’d always remembered that. My mother, acting from her hate, had doomed me. As such, I was permitted one act of freedom. One chance to reach outside the mirror—and never encounter it again afterward.

Leah watched me, her hands still clutching the vial. “Crystal?”

Tears would not be difficult to give. With watering eyes, I nodded and motioned her closer. I held out my hand, my fingertips pressing against the mirror. The glass rippled.

Leah’s eyes widened. “How . . .” She raised the vial to my fingertips, and I stretched my hand out farther, grasping the vial. My fingers brushed hers.

Cold. Too cold.

“Crystal, I-I don’t understand.”

Looking up, I offered her a wavering smile, and she stared at me. I moved my foot to remain within the rippling glass and drew back the vial, into the mirror. Raising the vial to my cheek, I let my gaze rest on Leah’s flushed face.

Her own stormy eyes flickered with emotion. But she couldn’t understand. She wouldn’t. Not everything, and not what mattered until later.

But she would live. She would grow. And so would her hair. Her dark curls would bounce around her shoulders again, and her eyes would receive their sparkling blue once more. Her father and mother wouldn’t look upon her and be sad anymore. And little David would remember her.

And so would I.

I squeezed my eyes shut and let my tears flow down my cheeks. Opening my eyes again, I collected the shimmering tears in the vial, watching as it filled with blue nearly as bright as Leah’s eyes used to be. Blinking, I glanced up—and met Leah’s gaze.

Tears slid down her own face, glistening along her cheekbones.

Shifting, I reached through the rippling glass and pulled my foot back inside, holding the vial out to Leah. She looked down at it, then back up at me.

“This…isn’t as easy as it seems, is it?” Her voice shook. “If these are for me, then what—”

I nodded toward the vial. “Trust me,” I mouthed again. 

“I do trust you.” As the whispered words left her lips, Leah reached for the vial and took it in her quivering fingers. The tears inside shook, the healing inside them like music against the glass. Leah drew a sharp breath. “Thank you,” she whispered, and looked back at me.

I smiled.

She smiled back.

I closed my eyes—and pulled my arm back inside the mirror. 

Glass shattered. The sounds of it echoed around me, inside me, through me…until at last its sprinkling faded away into nothing. And left me with the same.

*~*~*

I still remember what life was like before.

Before I offered my tears.

Before my friend received her second chance.

Before the mirror broke.

I know now . . . it was right. I did what my mother would not—and loved, despite the pain.

And I wouldn’t choose anything different.

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