Bookcase Short Stories


(c) Arike van de Water 2007-2009


See a street. On the right the houses are plain, honey bricks stacked in squares and rectangles of walls. On the left the houses are piles of rubble. Honey bricks broken, thrown around and pulverised. Cobbles divide the neat from the messy, the order from the chaos. The peace from the war. A girl is standing in the street.

Smell the girl. She was in a bar last night. The smoke hangs from her hair and the stained beer comes from her clothes. She might have had perfume on once, but the dust from the rubble blankets it. She sleeps in a tree. She used to live in one of the houses, but they are gone now. So is her family.

Hear the city. Far away a train gurgles in its tunnel, next to the river. Honks of cars, talking. Life on the right. It drowns out the quiet crumble of stone you might have heard from the left. Three months ago, the noise came from the left. Sinister sirens, bawling and blaring at the explosions that flattened the houses with a WHOOF of non-sound.

Feel the pain. The girl is barely fourteen. She might have been the customer of a professional make-up artist, the way her face looked. Her skirt, edged with black lace, stopped halfway down her thigh. The goosebumps stand out on her arms. Her shoes are made for a shop window, not to walk in. Her hair is half her own and half a wig, a disguise that weighs her down. She has black bruises beneath her eyes. She didn’t sleep. She was in a bar last night.

Taste the hope on the wind. It doesn’t come from the left, where the gipsy enclave lies, dead. It doesn’t come from the right, where the hedonism is exchanged for monotomy as fast as night for day. It blows from up ahead, where a vision of red silk and blond curls plants her feet on the ground. She’s smiling down at the girl.

Make a step. The girl follows the woman inside. Up the stairs, into a sitting room heady with red. She’s been here before, but she doesn’t know the mirror. It’s gilded, like too many things on the dressers and the tables. The smell of roses, or something of $5 from the local store which is supposed to smell like roses, wafts around the girl’s head and oozes up her nostrils. Her skirt crackles under her fingertips when she grabs it. She walks up to the mirror.

Watch the mirror. It doesn’t reflect what you think it does, or what it should. It shows what it likes. When the girl approaches it, she sees herself, her face freshly washed and her clothes changed. A normal girl. A smiling girl. She staggers back into the folds of red. Fat hands, all gilded in the mirror, grip her shoulders and keep her up.

Inhale the scent. Cheap-de-Roses loses its power amongst the lavender lotion and rosemary shampoo. The woman pushes the girl forward, towards the mirror again. The girl holds up her own hands, with its fake nails painted pink. Her mirror image has clipped nails.

Listen to the conversation. “What does this mirror reflect?” “Truth and lies.” “How? Why?” “Because.” “Why show this to me?” “You need to see, to remember.” “Remember what I never was?” “What you can be.” “How?” “Just step on through.”

Touch the glass. It’s cold, but when you lean against it, there’s give. Then, nothing at all. The girl stumbles and walks into the world. She turns back. A gilded hand waves goodbye before the mirror turns to reflect the truth. A normal girl.

Bite hair and nails. When the girl tries the strands of her curls, they only taste of herself, not the chemical tang of plastic. Her nails are foul with dirt from playing in a field all day. Under her left thumb is a bit of sticky residue from a toffee.