The Disappearing Act

The Word: MIRROR

Finally, the guests left. The old men, the cousins, the rabbi. The aunts and uncles. “Come stay with us, Amy,” said her cousin Sylvie. “You shouldn’t be by yourself now.” Would they never leave? One after another. Her mother and her new husband, Bennie. Her sister Tensi. Out out out! she wanted to scream, like Macbeth’s wife. But she didn’t, she sat during the endless shiva, she listened to the prayers, finally watched them pack up the cole slaw and the cold cuts, and stack them in the refrigerator. Enough!

“Please, I just need to be alone. Believe me, if I need help, I’ll be over,” she reassured her mother, and Tensi, and Mark’s buddies’ wives. “I’ll call. Yes, I promise.”

Then, at last, they were gone.

A houseful of well wishers, all that food. The last thing she wanted, a tongue sandwich.

The little house was so strange. In the bedroom, she almost stepped on a bowl of water, tucked by the foot of the bed. Something grainy on the floor of the bathroom, salt? She sat on the bed and looked at the sheet covering the mirror over their dresser. The bedroom set they’d bought when they moved into this little house, their own little house. The sweet gum in the front yard was bigger than the house itself. Her mother wanted them to cut it down, in case it fell in a strong wind or an earthquake. Her mother, always worried about the wrong thing.

She sat on the edge of the neatly made bed, with its quilted satin cover, where the coats had recently been piled. She was sure she looked a holy mess, but the cousins had covered the mirrors. It was such a ridiculous superstition. Sylvie said it was so the soul of the dead wouldn’t get caught behind the mirror. But the rabbi said it was so she could better concentrate on her loss, to underline that it was a time for sorrow and inward reflection. Like she needed some sort of reminder.

She kicked off her low heeled pumps and curled up on the bed that they were still making payments on. This house, this bed. They had been married eighteen months. They were going to wait to have children. Would it have been better to have had one who would now be an orphan? Or better this way, that she had no trace of him at all?

She turned onto her other side, trying to find a more comfortable spot. She couldn’t breathe, lying on either side. She took off her dress, unhooked her bra, wrapped herself in the satin. Her hands smelled of pickle, and mustard, though she had not eaten anything. She would wash them, but she didn’t want to get up.

The sheet spread across the mirror. How many times that mirror had seen them making love? It was good it was covered. She didn’t want to see herself lying here alone, she wanted to imagine he was lying next to her, on the dead pillow he liked, all squishy and rumpled. She put the pillow over her face. His smell. Stale. He’d been up in San Francisco, a sales meeting. He’d been driving a rented car. they said he had a stroke. How could he have had a stroke? He was only twenty five.

She thought of the way old people put their heads in plastic bags and tied a knot. Eighteen months. She knew she would somehow make it through the rest of the day–she didn’t know how, but it was only logical, unless she stopped breathing, night would come, and then she would somehow live through that as well. It was the way she got through her migraines. If you waited, the time passed, a minute, five minutes and so on. You breathed in and out. You lay in the dark and waited for the time to pass.

It was like a magician’s trick. Like someone had put a silk scarf over him and had made him disappear. Perhaps he was behind the mirror She wished someone would put that scarf over her too, and they could be together behind the mirror, in the magician’s dressing room, having a drink out of a pint bottle of rum, with the rabbit and the doves.

Part of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

Next week’s word is: HAND

7 Responses to “The Disappearing Act”

  1. azarin Says:

    Dear Janet, Your writing took my breath away…and threw me behind that mirror where nobody stood. Brillinat, brilliant piece.

  2. caroljeangavin Says:


    Yours is amazing. Really lovely.

    I’m leaving mine. I swear I finished it over a week ago. Well…

    “Cate? Cate?”
    The voice started calling her name as soon as she walked past the church. She thought it was her conscience. But it got louder as she bore into downtown. She stopped off for a coffee, something with a lot of espresso.
    She drank it in a corner table with her cheek pressed against a cold window, but still, “Cate? Cate,” in a hissing whisper, like someone was trying to get her attention through twenty plate glass windows. She scribbled in the condensation, “What?”
    The voice gained strength as she passed by the pool hall. It was too early for any but the usual suspects, the retired police officers and former high school principals turned hustlers, brushing up and bragging while bending over the pool tables in ridiculous angles for men with beer bellies. Oscar, her childhood mailman looked up and smiled a sad half smile of affectionate recognition.
    “Cate!” It was definitely a voice. Not her imagination, not some hallucination because she hadn’t really slept for two days, but an actual man’s voice, pancake syrup thick, a voice born to croon. It started singing “Strangers in the Night.”
    It wasn’t easy for her to breathe. Her nose stung. Her heart was too big and it was growing, pushing against her chest and rising up.
    No one could blame her for leaving. She couldn’t sit there anymore. On that hard pew. Listening. Quietly praying for a soul, when she still remembered what his kiss felt like when he hadn’t shaved for three days, when the house still smelled like him, even in unexpected places like the refrigerator or the trunk of the car or her side of the closet.
    But three women in black dresses were walking up the street, just two short blocks from catching up with her and pummeling her with hugs and shoulders to cry on and all that shit and Clare just ran down this small alley and hopped into a tiny shop she had never seen before.
    It smelled like silver and old wood and dust and the kind of fading musk that clings to old fur coats. She caught glimpses of herself as she walked past a case of ancient cutlery. She walked past rows and rows of mirrors, she tried only to glance at the edges of their frames but she could not duck them. She was everywhere she looked.
    “Clare,” the voice softened again and curled into her ear.
    Her hair was crazy and her skin was pale and her eyes were small.
    A tiny voice peeped from behind the mirrors like an inconvenient mouse. “Excuse me,” it said.
    “I’m sorry.” Clare backed up and then turned around, but the store was so cluttered she couldn’t even see where the door was anymore. She bumped into a mannequin. Its orange and black boa shivered and its tangerine cloche hat slipped off of its bald plastic head and landed on her shoe.
    Clare picked it up and offered it to the tiny woman who had emerged from the forest of mirrors. “I’m so sorry.”
    “No worries.” The tiny woman giggled. “Try it on.”
    Clare slipped it on and slowly turned around.
    The voice, Nick’s voice began singing about love at first sight, and she began twirling, spinning carefully, orchestrating all the reflected Clare’s into one warm dance. A wall of clocks behind her ticked and tocked and eventually she’d have to face the three women out there, and the pool hall full of people sad for her, and the house, but for now, for one long last moment, in that tangerine hat, with her love, invisible around her, she was going to be ablaze.

    • caroljeangavin Says:

      My goodness. I just realized her name changed from Cate to Clare. 🙂 How embarrasing. And I was just complaining about people who didn’t proof-read their stories before they sent them places.

  3. This truly captures the sadness of shiva. Thank you, for writing this.

  4. Overall, this read quite fantastically. I don’t know if it’s overly presumptuous to offer constructive criticism, but I gather that even if my comments are of little interest to you personally, it certainly can’t hurt my own writing to work through your text a bit.

    I really enjoy your ability to speak from the third person while using first-person-esque descriptions – for example, “Something grainy on the floor of the bathroom, salt?”. There is something very honest about the apparent uncertainty, about not needing to supply absolute truth. I also enjoy that the narrative reminds me of a lyric-essay at points, without ever becoming too vague or abstract.
    However, I felt the line “The little house was so strange.” was a bit lazy. “Strange” just feels like such an empty signifier in this context. I feel like it isn’t the home that is strange, but the way the home feels, the way that objects can acquire new meanings when the context changes.

    Also, I found this shift in pronouns a bit jarring:
    “It was the way she got through her migraines. If you waited, the time passed, a minute, five minutes and so on. You breathed in and out. You lay in the dark and waited for the time to pass.”
    That being said, it was only jarring rhetorically. Thematically, I actually think this juxtaposition could enhance the text, because it suggests the universality of her process.

    Finally, to end on a positive note, I am most attached to these lines: “It was like a magician’s trick. Like someone had put a silk scarf over him and had made him disappear.”

    I always find your use of metaphor inspiring.

  5. I imagine if I lost my husband I’d feel much the same . . . There are so many small things attached to a relationship, like the history behind the furniture, that make each story unique . . . and yet the overall humanity of the story transcends the differences. Thank god we can relate.

    Ladaisi Blog

  6. This is really beautiful. How did you create a character that I feel like I KNOW in less than two pages of writing? Jealous, but appreciative.

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