Shay stepped out of the shower into a steam filled bathroom. More of a closet really, with dirty white wall paper splitting here and there. The mirror was fogged. With a little sigh she ran a finger down the glass to clear a sliver of herself. Whoops, she thought, Momma didn’t like us to leave prints on the mirror. But she didn’t stop, rubbing her palm against the glass to clear the condensation away.
Hm, she frowned. That’s new. A long crack ran off-center, vertically up the mirror. She looked into the two pieces of herself, tracing the crack with her eyes.
In a whirl, she grabbed her makeup and started to smear concealer under her eyes. More and more. Anything to hide the pallor. J comes home today. I’m almost out. Not a good day, she thought as she packed up her makeup.
Shay lived in an old warehouse that someone had made into little rooms. She was lucky because she got a bathroom. She had her mattress, microwave and little table. She piled her clothes against the wall next to his clothes. Her table was strewn with matches, hair ties, and plastic bags of everything from dried peaches to white powders. Not much of a home.
* * *
Mia met her outside in the gray fog. “Last day,” Mia said, pulling out a cigarette.
“Yeah,” Shay stuffed her hands in her hoodie’s pockets. “Yeah.”
“You wanna drive?” Mia dangled the keys in front of Shay.
The two women worked tickets at the fairs that pulled through town from spring to fall. The end of the season was upon them.
And J comes home today, Shay thought.
* * *
“Hey baby,” he was smoking on the bed when she walked in. “I missed you.” He smiled.
“Hi,” she walked up to him. He was thinner than before and seemed a little scuffed. Tough.
She took the cigarette he passed her. They sat in silence together, just two sets of burning lungs, filling the emptiness with smoke.
“I need money.” J crushed his cigarette on the wall.
“What kind of money?” Shay closed her eyes and held her next nicotine breathe for as long as she could. Six. Seven. Eight –
She exhaled. Long.
“Did you get me more?” she asked.
“I will if you get me the cash.”
“You know I don’t have that much.”
“Didn’t you get paid today?”
“I need you to get me more. I’m almost out.”
“I swear I will! Just give me the fucking cash!”
He was tense. She didn’t like to be scared.
“What happened to the money I gave you last time?” Lord, she was too tired to remember how much she hated fear. She was too tired not to resist playing with fire.
“Dammit Shay! I need the money. Just give me the fucking money!” He was standing now.
My cigarette is going to fall, Shay thought watching her hand tremble. It is going to fall and light my bed on fire, and we will burn with this hellhole to the ground. She shook. She shook and she smoked.
Standing, she went to her little table. She almost dropped her special pipe, but she managed to tip the last of the powder in and strike a match underneath it for the slow burning process. She used to snort it. But she could never remember to avoid playing with fire, and breathing it in, lighting it inside her, she couldn’t resist.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry baby,” he said standing way too close behind her.
“This is the last of it. I’m all out now.”
“I know. I know.”
She breathed in that smoke, so much sweeter and calmer than nicotine. She leaned back into him, as he wrapped her up in a concrete shell.
“Look, I got something new. When you’re all done with your skag wanna try it?”
I’m tired. Want to lie down. She relaxed, sinking into the dark as the heroin seeped into her bloodstream.
“No,” she said. Only she might have forgotten to say it out loud.
* * *
“Ahhhhhh,” She murmured when she woke. “Something is wrong with my head.” J didn’t answer. Leaning against a cool wall, Shay smelled stale smoke, and something unfamiliar curling under her nose.
Slowly, as slow as she could, she unglued her eyelids and blinked the fuzz from her vision. She found herself looking up at peeling white walls.
“What? What? Am I…”
All the blood rushed from her head, vertigo punching her in the face as she stood much too quickly. Sheets of water sluiced from her.
“Naked. Why am I in the bath?”
Light flooded the dingy coffin of a room from a tiny window high in the wall.
She stepped up to her mirror. It was a beautiful thing. The only beautiful thing in the whole little room. A gift from…
“What?” She gasped. Her body felt raw, not quite right, not quite hers, but she hardly noticed as she ran her fingers up a new crack in her precious reflection.
Scrambling she dug through the bathroom drawers. “My body is burning,” she announced as if it were an official proclamation. A voice in the back of her head said that she should go back in the water if she was burning, but she shrugged it off until she found what she was looking for. Half smoked Kush. Fumbling with her lighter, she sat against the wall under the little window and breathed in, stale, strong. Fight fire with fire. That’s a song somewhere. She eyed her mirror with its hand carved frame, because, because, He used to carve. Jason.
Everything began to dull. This time she stood slowly, shivering a little. She wanted to dress, but she paused in front of her mirror, tracing the design with her finger, the two cracks. One cutting her in half, the other fragmenting her face.
Why was I in the bath? She wondered absently. She felt good again, steadier. Slow.
Looking hard at her pieced reflection, she saw that her day old makeup had turned her face into a raccoon mask. Ugh. Her eyes bloodshot and…
I have been in a fight, she thought, eyeing her bruised side and arm. When did that happen? When did J leave?
She searched the mirror for answers, finding only reflections and cracks. Is that a…? A handprint. On the mirror.
“No! No.” J knows not to touch my mirror. J is not here.
He has to come back soon. It was much later than Shay had thought, mid afternoon. Shay had slept the day away. He has to come back soon, I’m all out and he needs to clean the mirror.
She sat up slowly. I don’t work till spring, so I can stay here forever and wait for J. She crawled to her mattress and threw on a long sweater before starting to fold her clothes and neaten the piles.
A sweater dropped to the floor in an unsatisfying swish. She’d run out the night before and hadn’t smoked as much of it as she normally did. Jitters crept up her spine. Panic climbed up her shoulder and whispered in her ear. “He will never come back. He took all your money and he’s run away with it.”
“I am going to my mirror now,” she said to the ceiling. Then she crawled to the bathroom, and found her good blue hairbrush. Maybe I will dye my hair again, she thought as she teased the hair by her left ear. My roots are showing. Momma loved my hair and…
The color is no good.
The brush circled to the back of her head and –
“FUCK! Goddammit.” She turned to the mirror and told it as water gathered in the corners of her eyes, “There’s a gash in my head, and now it is bleeding again.”
Stumbling to the bath, the bath she still hadn’t drained since she woke. The water, the water was tinged pink and, and…
Was the water bloody when I woke up?
The mirror started to dance, or wait, the room began to sway. Shay sat heavily on the edge of the tub watching the dying sun dapple her little white bathroom and glimmer on the mirror.
Shay had convinced herself that being an addict wasn’t so bad. Because when you get your stuff everything is good.
But where is J? Maybe he shouldn’t ever come back, because my thighs hurt, Shay thought. And my head is bloody and I need to dye my hair again.
But I need more. He has to come back. She moaned.
There, where she dropped it earlier was her stub of Kush. She grabbed it and stuck it between her lips unlit, breathing old ash.
The mirror sang the story of a sad girl. Hollow eyes, still shrouded in old raccoon apparel. She looked into her eyes. A new crack taunted her. “No!”
The fading light was nice. Warm, almost sparkly. Her hands shook. Some parts of the mirror caught the light perfectly and reflected a nearly blinding beam into the bathroom. It hurt her eyes, but she looked and looked until she swore she was blind. She almost saw a second print next to the first, but then she could see no more.
* * *
Someone knocked on the door. Shay looked up at the ceiling from her prone position on the tile. “Hello? Hi? It’s Mia….I’m just going to come in. You know you should really lock this thing.” The voice came closer then stopped somewhere around Shay’s head.
“Damn girl, you do not look good.”
“I definitely have a fever.”
“Shit. What are we coming off of?”
“Well, I ran out.”
“No shit, girl! You’re gonna start puking soon.”
“You got any skag?”
“I don’t deal in that shit. I’m not gonna give you anything.”
“You’re pathetic. Yeah, I got some Kush.”
Mia dug in her bag and lit up a joint for Shay as the ill girl sat up against the bathtub.
“Why did you stop by anyway?” Shay asked clenching her smoke with unsteady fingers.
“Haven’t seen J in a while. Didn’t think you’d last if he ran off. Looks like I was right. I’ll leave you some of my extra joints. You’ll probably need ‘em. You owe me though.”
“One more favor, now that I already owe you?”
“Hm?” Mia tossed a bag of Kush onto the sink counter.
“Wipe those handprints off the mirror?”
Mia grabbed a damp rag and passed it over the mirror. “I don’t see any prints, but they should be gone now anyways.”
* * *
Vomit coated the toilet and half the floor. It was really just some sick stomach juice, Shay hadn’t eaten in days. I will stay in this little white place forever. Shay pressed her burning head onto the tiles.
The mirror was beginning to look like a spider web with all the cracks running through it. The handprints never left. “Something is hurting my mirror.” No, a little voice hummed in her head, something is hurting you.
Everything is always hurting me, Shay responded. Everything.
Wrong, the voice responded. HE never hurt you.
J hurts me, Shay thought.
I wasn’t talking about J.
* * *
“You used to love baths,” Shay said to Jason’s reflection in the mirror. He was sitting behind her, in the bathtub. He seemed to be missing his color, but the dark tends to leave us in gray. She would recognize him anywhere, so different from J, gentle, clean.
He smiled. His lips, god. Even in the colorless shadows they were red and soft. The color hypnotized her as she ran her tongue over her own lips, dry and scabbed. “You loved carving too. Am I dreaming?” Shay whispered to their reflections. He would hate J, she thought. I hope J doesn’t ever come back.
Night seeped through the window, casting shadows through the room. Shay folded up her legs in front of her and rested her head on her knees. Her eyes transfixed on his in the glass. “You used to love me.”
She started to cry. Head on knees, she closed her eyes to the blurring whirlpool.
* * *
As if from very far away, she heard a door open. Heavy steps fell like earthquakes and she heard a faint cracking noise with every boom. She tried to stand up, but found herself glued to the edge of the bath wading through snot and tears and dried up puke.
“SHAY!?” something bad roared. “SHAY!?” and glass began to fall from a beautifully carved frame as the spider web of cracks let go of its many fragmented pieces.
She sat in a puddle of shards. Some of them lit up under a faint streak of moonlight. Some of them reflected that end of a sad smile. The last of his lips. Shay was in the dark; the slamming pain struck her from behind.
If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual violence or suffering from substance abuse, please visit our Resources section for links to organizations that can help.
Accompanying Photo: “Enjoy Your Problems” by Aliza Abusch-Magder
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