"Mirror, Mirror" by Chris Stanley
Beauty tips the key into the palm of her hand and returns the vase to her mum’s dresser. She uses the key to unlock the chest in her mum’s wardrobe and from this she removes an envelope. Inside the envelope there’s a note and a pair of gold and diamond Claddagh studs – the ones the gypsy woman gave to Beauty’s aunt. The note says ‘For Beauty’s 18th birthday.’ Beauty’s not supposed to have them until tomorrow.
Back in her own bedroom, Beauty flicks her eyelashes with mascara. She presses the studs into her ears and admires her reflection, wondering if her aunt looked half as pretty.
‘Breakfast is ready,’ calls her mum.
‘I’m not hungry.’
College is a contrast of bold chat up lines and shy smiles from boys who may never have the courage to speak to her. She examines her face in the lid of her metal pencil case, studies her hair in the toilets between classes and practises looking demure in the changing rooms after hockey.
Back home, after a minimal supper, Beauty is drawn upstairs under the pretence of homework. In front of the mirror, she fusses with her fringe and checks for freckles. She tucks her hair back and is surprised when she sees her ears.
‘You should spend more time in the real world,’ says her mum, lingering in the door.
Her mum returns to her own room, saying ‘You love your reflection.’
Beauty stares at the mirror. She knows she’s wearing the studs but her reflection’s ears are naked. She leans forward and so does her reflection, staring into Beauty’s eyes, whispering, ‘Come closer.’
Beauty jumps up and flees the room, searching the other bedrooms, yelling for her mum, but all she finds are mirrors on every wall. On the landing she sees her grinning face reflected in a dozen wall-mounted stars. She steps back and misses the top step of the stairs. Flying and then falling.
The following morning she is eighteen years old. She sits on the wrong side of her bedroom mirror while her reflection sings ‘Happy birthday to me,’ with an accent that speaks of far off places. She watches her reflection take a cotton pad, blot it with lotion and wipe it across her face, clearing a path through layers of blush. ‘Your aunt was pretty,’ says her reflection. ‘But you really live up to your name.’ She takes another cotton pad, dabs it with coconut oil, and strokes the mascara from her eyelashes, saying ‘It’s so good to be young again.’ Then she ties her hair back with a rubber band, revealing the gold and diamond Claddagh studs in her ears. As she gets up to leave, she says ‘See you around, maybe,’ and Beauty wants to scream but instead she utters a perfectly synchronised ‘See you around, maybe.’
And then she’s gone.