Posted by: Kathryn Hulick | September 15, 2012

A Shattered Mirror

Shattered Mirror

She is a ghost half-seen through a shattered mirror. An echo of something better forgotten. She has my name, Monica, but she’s not me.

How many lies lead to truth? The first one you tell is so small, so perfect. It falls from your mouth and bounces through the world like a single pebble skipping across a lake. Plunk, down it goes, and no one will ever, ever find it.

Chuck Reed, the assistant manager, asked if I had a boyfriend, and I said “yes.” One word, one simple syllable. I didn’t like the sparkling look in his eyes when he asked. Like he already knew I was not fit for long term commitment. Like he thought I might be good for something quick and easy.

“His name is Lance,” I said.

Chuck shrugged and went back to checking off shipments on the computer. His ring finger flashed gold. Married? Not a chance. I heard the girls at the register whispering about divorce and custody and girlfriends on the side. Not for me.

He was wrong about quick and easy but right about commitment. I want to turn my music up loud and dance without anyone watching. I want to find my bathroom exactly how I left it, and I’ll never let someone else use my toothbrush. I want to visit antique shops and used book stores and stay exactly as long as it takes, not a moment longer or shorter.

“Lance,” or anyone like Lance, does not factor into any of these things. He could be a knight in shining armor riding a glorious white horse, and I’d give him the finger. Honestly.

The lie could have been forgotten. I know I forgot about it in about two seconds. Chuck frowned at the computer, and I stacked cans of soup on the shelves, making sure to face the labels all the same way.

But someone else heard me say it. The girl Sasha who’s mildly retarded, or something. She works the register like a Jedi master, but still can’t tie her shoes without help. She must have heard me, because she asked about it that evening when I was heading out the door.

“Monica! Hi!” She waved a hand in my face. Too close for comfort. Her eyes sparkled, so different from Chuck’s. The exact opposite of sketchy. “How is Lance? Is he hot? I bet he’s hot. You are so lucky!”

“Yeah, he’s hot. I guess.” I couldn’t tell her I made it up because Chuck’s an asshole. She loves Chuck. She loves everyone. She was looking at me like I was her best friend. What was I supposed to do?

The next day, all the register girls knew, and they all had theories. He was a stoner, a doctor, a college drop-out, an Olympic medalist.

I told them in a quiet, serious whisper that he was a career criminal. Big time robberies, gambling, mob stuff, you know. Why? It was half a joke, but also so Chuck would leave me alone. A guy who cheats won’t think twice about going after a girl with a boyfriend. but a girl with a boyfriend in the mob? Chuck’s a big wuss.

“Don’t tell Sasha,” I said. “She thinks he’s a cab driver.”

The girls all nodded. They protect Sasha like her personal pack of attack dogs. Last week this jerk in a business suit ordered Sasha to count his change again, and the girls all dove in to tell him off. Chuck wasn’t happy, but some of the customers cheered.

After that, I noticed them giving me sideways glances, muttering behind my back. Janessa, the smart one, knew I was joking or lying or something, and she kept rolling her eyes and shaking her head at me.

I was ready to tell her, at least, that it was all fake, but then he came in the store.

Lance himself. The made-up career criminal with ties to the mob. He wore a black leather jacket with studs and scuffed boots. He had a blond goatee and a shaved head. A tattoo of a dragon curled around his left ear down to his neck.

He knew me. “Hey, Monica! What’s up?”

If it took me a moment too long to figure out where I knew him from, the girls didn’t notice. Janessa turned white as a sheet and the other girls huddled behind her. Even Chuck stared.

“Hey, hi.” I grabbed his arm and pulled my former classmate from community college into the baking aisle.

“Zach?” I said, not sure I remembered his name.

“Yeah. What’s with the stealth show?”

“Nothing. Um. It would be great to catch up sometime. Just… not while I’m working. Chuck – the manager – he’s a total dick about this stuff. Coffee?”

I expected him to say yeah, shrug, and I’d never see him again. Thugs don’t drink coffee, right? Wrong.

“Right on. I’ll text you.” He had his phone out, new contact added, waiting for my number.

I gave it to him.

The mirror started to crack.

Photo: Mikhail Evstafiev (Mikhail Evstafiev) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons
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