He thought it oddly humorous that his life should end in a place like this. Almost like a twist ending to one of the films he loved. As Adam lay on his back, his blood and the last of his life in this world slowly draining out of his body, he could see shards of a broken mirror all around him. At first he thought it was just glass, but It was definitely a mirror.
“It’s all around me now” he thought to himself. He even managed to smile slightly.
Where he was exactly, he didn’t quite know. A junkyard? Or maybe it was a landfill? What he was able to make out around him were a few old TVs, a Volkswagen from the early 1980s, a single green flip flop that must have been the same age as he was and an assortment of newspapers, milk cartons, and pizza boxes. But he wasn’t going to focus on any of that. A small piece of mirror was almost within his grasp.
“If only I could…… REACH” he thought.
But it was nearly impossible to move now. Not even a finger. He figured it was likely that he would not last until the sun set today. How long had he been lying here anyway? A day….. maybe two? How long before anyone would find him? He tried to make sense of it. If he was in a garbage dump, someone would come by. Wouldn’t they? He thought of the garbage collectors that came by his apartment on Wednesdays. As if they would actually be coming by here for some reason. But what day was it when he had left anyways? The more he tried to make sense of anything the more jumbled his thoughts seemed to be getting. So he tried to put it out of his mind entirely.
“Don’t dwell on the negative” his mother always used to tell him, “focus on the positive!”
The only positive now, being the pieces of mirror scattered all around him. One of his earliest memories was the mirror at the top of the hall stairs in his grandmother’s house. While his mother talked with Gram for what seemed like “millions” of hours in the living room below, Adam would climb the stairs, drag the chair from the desk in the spare bedroom out into the hall (I’m soooo strong, he’d think each time!) and then stare at the mirror. As a child he loved the ornate gold painted frame that surrounded it. There was a crown at the top surrounded by what appeared to be trumpets. His grandmother wasn’t partial to decorating with anything fancy, but she apparently made an exception for this one piece. It must have been a present from Santa Claus one year, Adam thought the first time he saw it. Or maybe Grandpa went to Italy or Spain on a spy mission and brought it back for her. Although even as a kid, he knew not many people in this part of Indiana went to Italy or Spain on spy missions or for anything else. It HAD to be Santa Claus then. Even lying here now, the thought made him chuckle out loud.
Each time he came to visit with his mother and then later as he got older and would come by to visit her alone, he always made a point to come upstairs to see the mirror. The bathroom was upstairs so he could make an excuse to go up there. On more than one occasion his grandmother caught him looking and she always had the same response.
“You’re worse than your mother” Gram said. “She could never leave the house without stopping and staring at herself in that thing either”. She would frown at him as she said this, then turn and walk off shaking her head.
Gram didn’t like nonsense and looking at yourself in the mirror for more than a moment was DEFINITELY considered nonsense. Adam was never particularly fond of his visits with Gram as a kid. His mother usually had to drag him kicking and screaming in fact. But the mirror was there. THAT might make it tolerable. As he got older he spent less time looking and touching the intricate carvings on the frame. He realized more and more that what he liked was what he saw reflected back at him.
“You’re so handsome! You could be in PICTURES” Mrs. King would say to him all the time. Adam knew she was being sincere because she wasn’t trying to sell him Girl Scout cookies or fishing bait or anything else when she said it. Sure, she was nearly 70 years old. Sure nobody even called movies “pictures” anymore. But he loved it when she said it nonetheless. He often went out of his way to stop by her store because he knew she would always say something nice to him. He could count on that for sure.
“Go West young man!” Mr. Thompson had said when Adam finally got up the nerve to tell someone he was thinking of leaving. Mr. Thompson had been his father’s best friend from second grade right up until the day the cancer finally killed him nearly thirty five years later. Adam knew he wouldn’t steer him wrong.
“I give you 6 months tops out there” his mother said to him when Adam broke the news to her. He didn’t give her any back talk, just gave her his best “determined” look he could muster.
“You might not miss me but you’re gonna miss my peach cobbler” she said in a sing song voice as Adam loaded his two suitcases into his beat up truck.
Adam liked that even when she was sad his mother knew how to make a joke out of it. It was a skill he would try to duplicate but never could quite perfect as well as her. She might have been all of 90 pounds wet but he knew how strong his mother was. He knew his mother had to have been strong to last nineteen years in Gram’s house before heading off on her own to a big city like Bloomington.
There wasn’t even a small mirror in the tiny boarding house room Adam rented when he first arrived in Los Angeles. Good thing he had made sure to bring a small silver handled one with him. He was not going to take a chance that he wouldn’t have one. Later when he rented a small studio apartment, he found a fairly nice one at the second hand shop down the street. He immediately hung it just beside the front door in the small entryway of his new home.
Wherever he was headed, whether it was off to his job waiting tables at the small Mexican restaurant in Silverlake or to one of the numerous auditions for commercials and television shows, he always glanced one last time before heading out the door. You never get a second chance to make a first impression he had read in a book while in high school. He never forgot that.
“I just don’t know how anyone STAYS out there” Mr. Thompson said to him over the phone one afternoon.
Six months had come and gone and Adam still hadn’t returned to Indiana. Sure it had been tough. Six months and not even close to being in “pictures”. Sure, lots of people telling him he LOOKED like he ought to be (see Mrs. King WAS right!). Sure it had been lonely. Everyone he met seemed to come and go. Say they’d call back and never call. They would say they’d meet up and then not do it. Sure it wasn’t Indiana. Sure he hadn’t found good Peach Cobbler. Adam had never thought of himself as stubborn. Nor did he think he of himself as particularly strong willed. At least he had found that. He would NOT give up so easily. Plus the sunshine made it all bearable. You really can’t beat the weather he told himself each day when he woke up and gazed out the window.
He had walked down to the corner store to get some cereal one morning when he met a girl with the most amazing smile he had ever seen. She said her name was Shawna. She was from Tallahassee, Florida and she was a dancer. After she said the word “dancer” she put both hands in the air and twirled around so quickly it made her sundress fly up in the air a little. She let out a soft giggle.
“My grandfather told me about a great actress named Rita Hayworth,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. “She also started as a dancer and made her way into movies and so can I.”
“Of course you can,” Adam said, and nodded in agreement. He felt like his head was now twirling as fast as Shawna’s skirt had.
“It’s good to meet someone else that is almost as new to town as I am,” Shawna said. She tilted her head slightly as she said it. Adam hoped she was going to twirl around once more. He was mesmerized by everything about her.
“I’m an actor too,” Adam said in the best cocky actor voice he could muster, “I’ve had THREE callbacks for commercials already!”
“You have a sweet face Adam. I am sure you will get a part in a commercial really soon,” she said.
“People always want to buy stuff from a guy with a sweet face because they know a sweet face is a face they can trust,” Shawna said in an assured tone of voice.
Then she smiled a smile so wide and beautiful that Adam felt as if the sun was shining down through the roof of the corner store solely onto him. He believed her instantly. After all, she wasn’t trying to sell him anything.
Shawna’s words kept racing through his head. He could feel his heart beating more and more quickly in his chest. It was thumping so loudly Adam was convinced Shawna could definitely hear it. He was afraid it would make her laugh.
“How would you like to go to a party with me?” Shawna asked. As if she didn’t already know what his answer would be.
As she typed her number into Adam’s phone she spoke enthusiastically about where they would be going later that night. Adam hung on her every word.
“Lots of well-connected types will be there for sure,” she said, “Definitely the kind of people looking for a guy with a sweet face to put in a commercial.”
She would pick him up a little before eleven. Adam was glad she offered to drive since he knew his truck was low on gas and he wouldn’t get his check from his job at the restaurant for two more days. As usual, he was nearly broke.
When Adam returned to his apartment after meeting Shawna, his thoughts no longer were on his truck. While he was showering and the myriad possibilities raced through his mind not a single one of them involved his truck, his job at the restaurant or anything else from his old life in Indiana. He only thought about the possibilities that were open to him and that this party would surely bring. Adam heard the dinging sound of his phone receiving a text. Shawna had arrived outside. As he put on his coat, just as his mother had often done in his grandmother’s house, he took one last look in his mirror before heading out the door, into the cool air of the night and towards all the opportunities awaiting him.
Shawna was dressed to kill. She was wearing a tight black dress that fit her like a glove. Lips painted a deep red. Dark eyeshadow framed her eyelids. Jessica Rabbit had come to life Adam thought.
“The party is a little ways out of the city” Shawna said “But still in a REALLY nice house though.”
Adam was under the impression that “industry types” all lived in the Hollywood Hills. Or Beverly Hills. Or the Palisades. They seemed to be headed further and further East. Adam began to wonder exactly where they were going. Pasadena? East LA? But like any good Midwestern boy would do, he kept these thoughts to himself. He gazed a sign that said ‘Lincoln Heights’, a place he had never heard of before. Almost immediately thereafter, they arrived at an imposing Mediterranean style home perched high atop a hill. Dozens of steps lead up to an ornate front door. Shawna was right. It was a nice house, Adam thought. He often imagined himself living in a house like this.
“See, it’s worth the wait” Shawna said with a wink, “Wait until you see the inside!”
As they entered the house, they immediately stepped into a large open great room that was flanked by a huge fireplace and a grand staircase with wrought iron railing leading to a second floor. As his eyes darted left and right, Adam immediately thought it odd that only a few people seemed to be in attendance. Two middle aged men and two young guys probably the same age as him. They each glanced over at him and Shawna then went back to speaking in a hushed tone. Are these the only guests he thought? But the night was still young, Adam assured himself. A raven haired woman in a green velvet dress walked out of a bathroom. Before she could pass him Adam extended his hand.
“Hello I’m Adam,” he said and he smiled his best movie star smile, “I’m friends with Shawna. I’m an actor also.”
“Yelena” she said with a forced smile as she gently took his hand. Then without another word, she turned and walked away just as quickly as she had entered the room.
Shawna suggested he step out onto a patio to check out the view while she brought them both a glass of wine from the kitchen. Gazing out at the expanse of city before him, Adam thought he could smell the faint scent of smoke in the air.
“It’s wildfire season” Shawna said, as if she had read his mind entirely, and then she sighed softly as she handed him the glass.
Just as when they first met, Shawna smiled at him, but unlike then her smile now didn’t seem as wide or as beautiful. This time her smile seemed a little sad and Adam didn’t feel like the sun was shining only on him. It seemed that dancers, just like sweet faced boys, didn’t always feel like movie stars even though they looked like them. Stupid old people and their stupid old people bullshit, Adam started to think. He quickly realized he wasn’t focusing on the positive anymore.
As Adam drank the wine he could feel himself getting slightly dizzy. He was slightly startled by it as it usually took at least a couple glasses before he could feel anything. His mind unexpectedly turned back to high school and all his classmates. He had never quite been one of the “in” crowd. If only they could see him now. He was at a Hollywood party in a fancy house on a hill. He could hear more voices now. He looked to see if more people had arrived. There was an older man who appeared to be about sixty. He must be a producer Adam thought. He tried walking through the room but clumsily bumped into the sofa. Pain was starting to throb in his head. If only they could see him now. He was wanted by a girl like Shawna. His face was feeling flush. He was on the verge of something great. His “big break” was finally happening to him. He had more guts than any of them ever would. How many of them had ever dared to come to LA? Even those with two parents and all the money they’d ever need. How many of them even dared to leave their little one horse town? The floor seemed to be uneven….wobbly. His legs buckled. And then BLACKNESS.
Exactly what happened next, Adam couldn’t remember fully. He could vaguely recall being dragged across the living room down a long hall and into the bathroom. Then hoisted into the bathtub, where he could only stare at the ceiling. Was he actually laying in ice? Or was it water? Two (maybe three?) voices speaking hurriedly around him. A language he wasn’t familiar with. Was it Russian? Armenian? His whole body feeling numb and frozen…and then pain…..the quick thrust of what must have been a knife. Precise, artful cuts of someone skillful. Then something must have gone terribly wrong. The voices began yelling at one another. He could hear Shawna’s voice, but she was now speaking in the same foreign dialect that the others were. Were they arguing about him?
Anything else that happened, well that was better left forgotten. Given where he found himself now, it most certainly wasn’t something you would want tosee in a movie nor write about on a postcard sent back to Indiana. As he looked into the sky, at the sun that was about to set before him, Adam suddenly felt something surge within him. First the fingers of his right hand began to move. Then as he found himself able to lift his entire arm from the ground, he did the only thing he could think of doing. Almost instinctively, he reached out and grasped a piece of the broken mirror nearest to him and clutched it in his hand. Then, just as quickly as the feeling had come, it left him and his hand fell to the ground beside him. Once again, even here in this horrible place, Adam had surprised himself with his own strength. As he gazed one last time at the small piece of mirror in his hand, happy with what he saw reflected back at him, he smiled. He knew that now he could finally go home.