This is my seventh public submission for Creativity Boot Camp. The medium I'm working with is still the same: Short Story, Fiction. Thanks for sticking with me!
As a little girl, she would stare into the mirror just to see the reflection of the room behind herself. It became like a magical other-world. Somewhere backwards and different. A place she'd never been to, and one that she could never enter. She'd turn around, and the room would be the same as it always was -- rumpled bed against the wall, paper-strewn desk under the window, closet open and messy -- but as long as she studied the mirror, the room felt exotic. She could imagine it taking on different qualities. Brighter, more open, cleaner...better.
When her parents were fighting -- as they did incessantly and loudly towards her pre-teen days -- the room beyond the mirror was a refuge. An imagined sanctuary. After the divorce, she sometimes wanted so badly to go there, that she'd rearrange the furniture in her room to make it fit the reflection she'd seen. But then...the reflection was always opposite, somehow. Always unattainable.
But as an adult, she'd stopped noticing the possibility of magic in a room's reflection. She focused instead on what she could actually control. She kept her bed perfectly made, even remaining still in sleep so as not to disturb the tucks of the sheets. She knew where each pillow should lay in relation to the next, and how far back to tie the curtains to make them seem inviting instead of repressive. She didn't allow a mess to be made without immediately righting it; she would not mar the room's facade with a tossed off sock or bra. It just wouldn't have made sense, and her world had to make sense.
Knowing there were things outside of her control made her skin crawl with nerves. So she ignored those things, instead focusing only on her own small locus of power: her home. It was only when she stepped outside of her home, that she became aware of unpredictable patterns and messy surroundings.
A tree with a dead, dangling branch stood down the block from her house, and she never passed it without a shake of her head for the sadness of that disorderliness.
This outward calm led people to believe she was hard-hearted. Cold and severe. Which was not the case at all, she thought. It was just hard for her to emit a placid exterior when everything around her was choppy and disorderly. Life was choppy and disorderly. So her self-titled 'serenity' came across, instead, as severity.
When she closed her eyes in the midst of a mess of noise and upheaval -- maybe in a child-filled restaurant or an angry boardroom strewn with old takeout cartons -- she pictured one thing to bring her nervous jitters under control: water. Something undisturbed and even. Cool and predictable and glassy. Smooth. She pictured herself dipping one foot, one tip of one toe, into the water's smooth surface, and being so slow and deliberate that she didn't make even one, tiny ripple. The dark, shiny water would simply accept her as part of its calm being. They were one. This imagery usually served as her lifeline in the chaos of the world outside her own home.
Except, she was finding that over the past several months, she sometimes -- sometimes -- saw herself lifting a toe out of the water, just to see the drops of water splash back down. She wanted to drag her foot across the surface of the water, just to see a wave emanate outward. She wanted to have an effect. This desire to disturb something so pristine and lovely frightened her, even while it excited her.
After work one evening, while the sky outside her barely opened window was turning purple and violet, she drew a bath to wash off the day's imperfections. To soak them in a body of calm, smooth water. There was a fluffy, gray bathmat beside the tub, a single, scentless candle on the sink, and the silence of her house surrounding her. She closed her eyes and saw a mirrored-reflection of what her world would look like from a different angle. She saw beads of moisture on her brow, but they were attractive and clingy, not misplaced or sweaty. She saw a hand draped over the side of the bathtub, dripping a stream of water onto the bathmat, and the drops as they seeped into the mat turned it a lovely, dark charcoal. She heard a child's laughter from a few doors down, and where it normally would have made her wish she'd put on a CD to drown out the irregular noise, tonight, it made her smile.
In the reflection of the mirror in her mind, she liked what she saw. A few tiny imperfections in her own home. The smooth water of her imagination was disturbed.
Sitting up in the bathtub, she suddenly wanted to hear more children's laughter. She wanted to see a sticky, messy child and she wanted to laugh with him. She wanted to roll around on her perfectly made bed, pillows strewn and smashed, tickling that little, laughing boy.
She laced her fingers together, lifted her elbows out, and plunged her flat palms down into the water. A massive splash of water gushed over the edges of the tub, making waves that soaked the entire bath mat to a deep, inky gray. Again, she forced her hands through the water's clear surface, laughing at the warmth of a splash that landed in the middle of her face.
She let out a great sigh, releasing herself to the choppiness of the water around her. After a few minutes, she stood up and saw herself in the steamy mirror over the sink, and flashed a brilliant smile. Not to the room or any hope of its perfectly smooth surface, but only to herself.
Wrapping a towel around her pink skin, she marched to her bedroom, where she threw the window open entirely. More laughter and squealing floated on a breeze from down the street. She breathed the air in as if she could inhale that unpredictable giddiness.
Outside, her lawn needed to be mowed, and her flowerbeds needed to be weeded. Inside, her curtains were being blown from their assigned resting places. Water was dripping down her legs onto the bare floor below.
And she didn't even notice.