Caitlin Sinead Jennings
At first you think moving will be fresh. It will be an adventure and a cleansing. But then the mirror doesn’t work in your new room. It shows you as you were then, that day. Your parents come to your screams, but they do not understand. There you are, in your pink tank top and cardigan. No, you say, I’m wearing that green shirt. Remember?
Their faces slip from concern to fear. To save them, you take it back. You say you just weren’t seeing right. Your dad shakes his head with eyes to the floor and your mom bites her lip, but they leave.
You decide not to worry them about the other stuff. In your closet, if you reach back too far, your arm draped in clothes, you feel a body. It is breathing. But when you duck to look for legs, between the hemlines of dresses and the tops of your shoes, neatly stored, you only see white wall. The lights flicker on and off at random times. At night, on the hardwood floor, you hear footsteps. They sound like flip-flops slapping against your brain. You are scared, but you manage to take this pile of new fears and place them on the growing heap in your closed chest. It is not bursting quite yet.
You shiver under the sheets for several nights before deciding to sleep on the couch in the living room. In the dark, the blank big screen TV looks so empty. You are careful to get up early, before they see that this is your new habit. Despite how careful you are, how good you are being, one night, after spaghetti and salad with croutons and ranch dressing, your parents fight. You retreat to the only place you can, your room. But the floorboards are not enough to keep out the yells and lashes with words.
You come home the next day to see Lori lying on your bed. She is wearing the same baseball shirt, the same cutoffs. Luckily her hair is clean, not sticky with blood and pressed against the windshield. She is drinking an orange soda, letting the carbonation, sugar, and orange dye slide down her still-intact throat.
You screech and run downstairs. In frantic burbles you try to explain. She is torturing me, your mom says to your dad as her thumb and pointer finger squish her forehead. She is just confused, he says. He is still looking at the ground.
Your dad enters your room. He sits on your navy blue bedspread, across from the mirror still showing your green shirt, even as you wear your comforting white t-shirt with a B-B-Q stain. He explains how the accident happened, as though he was there and you weren’t. You say you understand, because you do. Law-abiding moms in Camrys are no match for drunks in trucks who do not see the color red. But you do blame fate. Without your mom, without Barry, you wouldn’t have been in the intersection at that time. You can’t tell your dad about Barry though.
It happened on the carpool home from choir practice. Your mom said she’d make a quick stop and give Lori and you a treat. You waited, staring across the yogurt shop at your mom and Barry laughing together. Do you think your mom likes him? Like, “likes” him likes him, Lori asked you in her cutoffs as she swirled together the jimmies, hot fudge, and whipped cream. She didn’t mean harm; she was just curious. She did not realize you were disturbed by the expressions on your mom’s face. Expressions of joy whenever his hand glided on her knee.
You stare in the ill-functioning mirror. You gaze at the green shirt with the little pocket in the upper left chest and you stare at the small, bloody scratch on your forehead and the purple bruise forming on your check. Your fingers tell you your forehead is smooth, healed, but the mirror persists in showing the fresh scratch. You decide to just use the hallway mirror from now on.
When the lights start to flicker, you try putting Scotch tape on the rim of the shades to see if that will stop the blinking temporarily. It works. Soon your lampshades are lined with sticky plastic. You name the figure in the closet Joe to make him less scary. Although, to be honest, you are unsure of the being’s gender. You say good morning to Joe before picking out your outfit and you say good night to Joe before putting it back. When the flip-flops start up, instead of pulling the blankets tighter or descending to the living room, you sit up and say, starkly, quit it! The footsteps shuffle to the closet, and your mind shuffles to sleep.
When you see Lori on the bed, you hold the ends of the comforter firmly and say sorry before lifting them into a cascading, rippling wave, dispersing the fragments of Lori into the air, until they settle, invisible, somewhere else. Unless you feel like talking, then you chat, she on your bed, you sitting backwards in your desk chair. When you both are talked out, you say goodbye and ripple the comforter.
CAITLIN SINEAD JENNINGS earned her master’s degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University. Her story “A New Life™ at 30” was shortlisted in the 2012 Writers & Artist Short Story Competition. Her writing has also appeared (or is forthcoming) in The Binnacle, Crunchable, Northern Virginia Magazine, and Piker Press. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband.