why do wall mirrors lie
and tell all the bad guys
that between them and us
there is a fairer kind?
Kayden sat in my room now, in the dark because I didn’t want him to see how it had been decorated. . . at least not yet. I only called it mine because it was the only thing I could call my own. In truth it was both a prison cell and an asylum. I knew that once the doors to my bedroom closed no one would be able to get me out, but at the same time I knew that when I was in here no one would hurt me.
My bedroom was a protective bubble that my mother didn’t dare invade; the bathroom was a different story.
After showing Kayden to my bed, I excused myself.
“It won’t take long,” I promised him. It was a lie. I had been telling a lot of those recently.
“Okay,” he said with what I hoped was another one of his honest smiles on his lips.
On my way to the bathroom, I kept my hands at my sides, aware of the fact that my fingers had started twitching ever so slightly. Muscle memory, I figured. My body was reacting to pain that didn’t exist yet.
My heart pounded so hard in my chest that I could feel each beat course through me like the boom of New Year fireworks. The room spun around me, if there had been light I was sure I wouldn’t be able to see. I tried to steady my breathing, my hand now on the door’s cool handle.
Stepping into the bathroom with the door closed behind me, I flicked the light switch. Immediately, my gaze found the drawings on the white walls first, all shaded in with red permanent marker.
I turned to the basin and turned the tap to hot. I took a deep breath as the water splashed around in the bowl, trying not to drift into one of my many memories of this place.
Steam rose from the ceramic sink as the heat spread through it.
I leaned forward, pressing my palms against the warm porcelain, and waited, my heart pounding painfully behind my ribcage as the temperature rose sharply. I pulled back my hands and the pain shifted to my head.
My vision went dark for a few moments.
I told myself that I was being irrational. My fear just stemmed from my brain telling my body to protect itself. I had done this several times before and I had survived. I will survive again. A little pain was more than worth the compassion I had given tonight.
When I opened my eyes, the basin was brimming with water, steam curling up the liquid’s surface to fog up the mirror above it.
I ran my hand through my blonde hair but quickly averted my gaze when I noticed how bloodshot my eyes were. I turned off the tap, my fingers brushing against the water as I did. I held back a wince as the heat sent tingling pain up my arm. It would do me no good to acknowledge it, not when what was happening next would be much worse.
Both my hands plunged into the water, taking me by surprise. If I didn’t know better I would have thought someone had pushed me.
Take it like a man, I could almost hear my mother say but the pain scattered the memory away. She couldn’t have done it. She wasn’t home and had never entered my room. No one was here.
It was all me.
Clenching my jaw, I bit on my tongue to swallow a scream. I knew that this was nothing compared to what I would have to endure if my mother found out that I had not been punished for whatever she would accuse me of when she got back. Doing this would make everything okay come morning. It would give me a week of peace and Kayden a night of warmth.
Slowly, when I couldn’t take it anymore, I took my hands out. The coolness of the air against my swelling skin made a new kind of pain surge up my nerves. I stumbled back into the wall behind me, not able to regain my footing until it broke my fall. The sweat pouring down my forehead dropped into my eyes, the pain throwing me right on my ass.
Wimp. I looked up and glared at my reflection, my ugly, ugly reflection. Then the world turned red and suddenly I was both angry and in pain. I wanted to cry.
The tears didn’t fall.
I woke up to a million shards of reflective glass scattered around me, the remains of what had been a really good mirror.
My arms rested on my legs, elbows on my knees with my hands dangling in between. I lifted them to my eyes and examined the reddened skin. The burn hurt less than I remembered but it looked bad enough to achieve its purpose.
I turned my hand, surprised to find that I had no blisters like I did the last time.
Had the water not been hot enough? I ran my gaze over my knuckles. They weren’t even bruised from the altercation I assumed I had with the mirror.
I was glad that things weren’t as bad as I had expected. I didn’t have the energy to stand not to talk of treating a severe burn that could get infected.
My mother hated taking me to the hospital; I hated going. We both didn’t like the questions the doctor and nurses asked when they saw my injuries. I didn’t like the stories I had to make up and mom didn’t take well to the suspicious eyes they used to look at us. I didn’t know why she was so worried so much about what they thought. She paid enough in donations to all the hospitals this side of the city for the staff to turn a blind eye to my occasional trips to the ER.
I didn’t know if what I was feeling was just pain or if it was something else. All I knew was that I was suddenly tired, too tired to stand, too tired to keep my eyes open, too tired to call for help.
“What are you doing?”
It took more effort than I expected to raise my head and lift my gaze to Kayden.
“Hi,” I said, the taste of metal overwhelming my senses. It was the painful throb of my tongue that reminded me of what I had done to keep my screams silent. I didn’t dare say anything else, afraid of more pain.
I shifted my attention to the floor tiles, the only piece of white decor not defaced with red felt-tipped pens. I couldn’t understand why he was here. I thought I had locked the door.
Ashamed, I didn’t dare look his way when he crouched down beside me. Did he know I hurt myself on purpose? Did he think it was an accident? I knew it was wishful thinking. If I had an accident, why didn’t I call for help? It was so obvious what I had done.
Kayden knew, he had to.
With a gentle grip, he pulled me up by the wrist. We walked back towards the sink.
My feet moved on their own despite the lack of strength in my body and when he placed my hands beneath the stream of cool water, tears I didn’t know I had been holding back slipped down the corner of my eyes.
“What were you doing?” Kayden repeated his question, his voice filled with concern, and I found that my mind had run out of words. What had I been doing?