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Broken Mirrors

        Larry ordered me to take a good long look at my reflection and think about my life, but the only broken thing I could see was the mirror. Margaret patted my shoulder and returned to the bathroom, wordless. Eggdrop Soup flicked his tail and curled up in the corner. I pulled the pictures one by one from under the mirror frame. There was the string of photobooth snapshots of me with Clarisse, the crayon drawing of Eggdrop Soup, and an old photograph of Papa. I looked at the pictures and tried to hold back the prickling tears. All the tiny smiles in the warm glow of my lamp only strengthened the currents. I wasn't sure why.

        Mama climbed the rickety stairs and followed the creaking boards to the room I shared with Margaret. She told me, get some sleep, honey, and I said goodnight. She hovered in the doorway.

We'll get everything worked out in the morning, she assured me.

        I eased the pictures back under the frame and pulled a crumpled piece of paper from the pocket of my shorts. I smoothed the receipt, running a finger down the list, one item too short. I fell to silently weeping. Margaret stepped out of the steamy bathroom, wrapped in a pink towel. She crept over to Eggdrop Soup and stroked his dark fur.

        You okay? she asked.

        Not really, I replied.

        She rummaged through her drawers to find a nightgown. I brushed a hand across my damp cheeks and tilted my head up, blinking. She climbed up to the top bunk.

        I love you, she whispered. It's going to be okay.

        I love you too, I murmured.

        I gathered my pajamas and shuffled to the bathroom. The mirror in there wasn't cracked. I looked the same. I stumbled into my pajamas and tugged at my tangled hair with a plastic comb. I walked back to our room without brushing my teeth, pulled the cord on my lamp, and rolled onto the bottom bunk in darkness. I closed my eyes.

        Do you think I'm broken, Margaret? I breathed.

        Of course not, Love, she said gently. You're just different. You have trouble sometimes. So does everybody.

        I sighed. Goodnight, I mumbled, turning over.

        Goodnight, she yawned.

        I was slowly drawn from my heavy sleep as my alarm blared to life. I lay in bed, listening emotionlessly to the wailing noise. Exhaustion pulled at my eyelids and my muscles felt fluid. I began to drift back into slumber. The door slammed open. I jolted awake, tears springing to my eyes as my head collided with the bed above me.

        Get up, Larry snarled, whirling and stamping down the dark hallway.

        I stumbled to my clock, fumbling for the button to cut off the alarm. An empty chasm grew in my stomach. I pulled on my clothes and dragged myself to the kitchen. Mama hummed, poking at scrambled eggs with a spatula. I sat at the counter and rubbed my eyes. Eggdrop Soup leapt silently onto the counter. He brushed past me, purring.

        Good morning, Mama said.

        I was silent. It was not a good morning. It was not a good week. It was not a good year. Mama turned and her smile slipped.

        Larry isn't mad at you, she murmured.

        Yes he is, I said with finality.

        He's just stressed, Mama said. She sighed. He has a lot going on at work and Alicia is on vacation, so he has to take care of Ollie.

        I didn't care that Larry was stressed or that he had work or that Alicia was away. I wanted him to leave me alone. Even though he was Mama’s brother, even though Alicia was nice and I loved spending time with Ollie, I didn’t like Larry living with us.

        I nudged the eggs on my plate. I considered staying home from work. I was likely to be fired if I took any more days off, but I wasn't sure if I cared. I wasn't sure if I cared about anything anymore. I pushed my plate aside and left the house.

        I cried hastily in the car, smudging my eyeliner and bringing blotchy redness to my cheeks. I was glad I worked in the back, unpacking merchandise, where no one could see me. Carla yelled at me when I made a mistake and it was difficult to hold myself together.

        I didn't want to go home and I didn't want to shower. I didn't want to get out of bed and I didn't want to go to work. I hid from Larry while he was home. I read to Ollie and drew more crayon pictures with him, this time of Margaret, Mama, and me. Ollie cried when he wasn't in the picture. I cried too and crumpled it up. Mama sighed and walked away.

        I continued to avoid Larry and spent the weekend alone in my room. Clarisse texted me, asking if we could get together on Tuesday. I lied and said I had to work. I wanted to spend time with her, but I didn't feel like I could.

        Days dawned and faded and I drifted through life in a daze. On Tuesday I hid in my room and Margaret brought me breakfast, hugging me and talking soothingly. I ignored texts from Clarisse. I think she was worried about me. On Friday I shattered a plate in the kitchen and Larry shouted at me. I cried, and Mama dragged Larry into the other room. I heard hushed arguing and knew they were talking about me. On Saturday I tucked a movie theater ticket under the frame of the mirror. I looked into the cracked glass. I turned my head from side to side. I grinned and made funny faces. I felt good.

        On Sunday I spent four months' worth of paychecks on dresses and decorations for my and Margaret's room and a new scratching post for Eggdrop Soup. I sang loudly in the car and waved at pedestrians. I got home and chased Ollie around the house with Eggdrop Soup in tow. Mama laughed at us and vacuumed the family room. I took the vacuum and finished the job for her, moving on to vacuum my and Margaret's room, Ollie's room, Mama's room, and Larry and Alicia's room. I swept the floors and helped Mama with dinner. I rode my bike up the hill and down to the flagpole and back. Everyone went to bed and I stayed awake, cutting up magazines to make a collage. Margaret complained about the light from my lamp, so I turned it off and lay in bed until 3:30 in the morning, when Margaret left for her shift at the hospital. I snatched a few hours of sleep before bolting up and silencing my alarm seconds after it sounded. I dressed and ate and drove to work, unpacking and organizing, diligently and relentlessly. Carla said she might give me a raise. It was a good day. It was a good week. It was a good year.

        Pictures under the mirror frame were added, removed, and replaced. The spiderweb crack in the upper right corner of the mirror remained. On Wednesday I went to the pool with Clarisse, and on Thursday I went back to work. On Friday I stayed late to help Carla finish up and she smiled at me. On Saturday I watched TV with Margaret all day, and on Sunday I didn't want to get up. On Monday I didn't get out of bed when my alarm screeched and stayed home from work. When Larry found out he yelled at me and told me to have another good long look in that mirror. I stood in front of it and struggled to see past the cracks.

©Kaylee Schuler

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