You were eleven and I was twelve, Irish twins, and I was always telling you to come on, move faster, hurry up. I already felt so far behind the rest of the world. And there we were in summer exile at our grandmother’s house in Boring, Pennsylvania, a town with no mall, no movie theater, no beach, only a hardware store that smelled of fertilizer and an old quarry we weren’t allowed to swim in.
We stood in the dry heat and dust motes of the attic. Angrybored. I’d invented the attic excursion to “find treasure” after you got mad at me for saying our parents went on vacation without us because they were getting divorced.
Catholics don’t get divorced, you said. But both of us had seen Anna Jean’s mother alone in the church pew on Sundays, side-stacking her knees so people could squeeze by her to get communion.
You flipped the pages of Grandma’s magazine loudly. It was a Ladies’ Home Journal, the same magazine our mom got. Were you reading the advice column, Can This Marriage Be Saved?
Somewhere, maybe, our parents sat on the side of a blue-tiled pool, their bare feet touching each other in the water. Second honeymooning: because the first hadn’t worked? I jammed open the stuck door of a rolltop desk. I said we might find a lost letter from Abraham Lincoln. Or rare coins worth thousands of dollars.
The attic was cleaner than I expected, mustiness overlaid by the smell of raw wood. Did you find the mirror or did I? That silvered mirror, paper backing waterlogged, framed in brass filigree, mossy with verdigris. A lady’s mirror, oval like a cameo, oval like a face. Our faces reflected back in blurred watercolors.
It could be a magic mirror, you said.
We should make a wish, I said. Wasn’t half my life already spent wishing? To be older, to understand all the secrets the world held. To know everything.
I wish I could see the future.
I raised my hand, waiting for the girl in the mirror to wave back, but she didn’t. She put her finger to her lips, and as I leaned in, watching, the mirror picture wavered and changed. Girls climbing under a loose chain-link fence, pushing branches aside. I could see their bare skinned knees.
Wait, I wanted to tell you, look at this. But you’d moved on, found new treasure. Come on, you said. The impatience in your voice reminded me of someone, but I couldn’t remember who.
The mirror called me back. Girls running through woods, to a deep rock chasm. Hair flying wild behind them. One ahead of the other, holding her nose, jumping. Whose white, still face swam from the milky depths of that warped glass?
I looked at the drowned girl. She looked back at me, knowing everything I didn’t.
Kathryn Kulpa has work published in Five South, Flash Frog, Monkeybicycle, and SmokeLong Quarterly and forthcoming in trampset and Moon City Review. Her flash collection, Cooking Tips for the Demon-Haunted, is forthcoming from New Rivers Press in 2023.
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