I spent the morning doing a rewrite of the story. I almost like it now, but I'm my own worst critic I hope you like the changes and stuff, and thanx for reading.
She sat at the table, smoking an impossibly thin cigarette and talking on her cell phone.
“Whatever” she says in the usual annoyed tone.”I don’t really care. If he can’t have it fixed by 5 pm I’m not paying him. I’m just NOT. Why should I pay him for not living up to my expectations. JEEsus, it’s like I’m still married.” She paused, took a drag of her cigarette, exhaled, and continued. "God NO, not since he gave up visitation rights. We don’t talk. He doesn't even call to check up on the children”
“Mommy,” the small voice from the couch called
“Not now Diana, Mommy’s on the phone” She took a deep drag and continued. “I don’t care. I know he’s unemployed, but at least he could help out a little.
“Mommy” Diana called again.
‘I SAID... I’m on the phone. I’ll be there in a minute.”
“but Mommy. it’s a 'mergency. The baby…”
“Not now.” she barked
Lily sat there staring at the blood pouring from the cut on her tiny hand as Diana picked up the blood stained remains of the broken juice glass. This was one of Lily’s regular ploys for attention.
Diana took her little sister to the bathroom and cleaned the cut on her sister’s hand. She carefully applied the bandage. This wasn't anything new, at the age of nine, Diana had taken care of her little sister’s cuts and scrapes on several occasions. It happened mostly when they spent the weekend with their father, he wasn't particularly good at first aid, paying attention, or staying sober.
Usually Lily faked stomach aches or scraped her knee. This is the first time someone might think she was doing it on purpose. Diana was already in therapy and she was trying to keep Lily from the same fate. It was just an hour of uncomfortable questions that she really didn’t know how to answer
Diana didn't much like her life. Her sister ,Lily, sucked up all the attention in a room and her mother spent most of her time sucking away everything else. The days were mostly filled with Lily’s tantrums and whining and pretending to be sick, anything for a little sympathy. It never came easy. Mommy alternated between yelling at the continual string of workmen who had the chore of constantly trying to live up to unreasonable demands, her ex-husband, her overbearing mother (apparently it's genetic)’ and finally Lily and Diana.
Sitting cross legged on the floor in front of the full length mirror, Diana pondered her struggle. Like most kids, she was in a battle for attention. When the only attention you know is verbal abuse, the whole thing is an exercise in absurdity.
This is the place she goes when her mother finishes with her yelling and finally sends her to the bedroom. This is where she sits when her sister is being rushed to the emergency room after the latest self injury designed to get the pity she has mistakenly identified as love.
Diana likes to watch the reflection in the mirror. She talks to it. She likes the fact that it doesn’t ask questions about feelings or relationships or make her stare at funny looking pictures that pretty much all look like somebody should have thrown them away and tried again.
She often wonders if the girl in the mirror has a similar life. Is her baby sister a pain the ass, is her mother a chain smoker, does her therapist smell like dust. Diana hoped that the girl in the mirror had an opposite life. Maybe she was happy. It was nice to think that maybe,somewhere, someone who looked exactly like her might be happy.
Sometimes, when the house is quiet, she tries to touch her reflection. She sits there, her hand smudging the glass as she closes her eyes and tries to pull the reflection out of the glass or ,when that doesn’t work, she will try to wish herself through the glass to a far away place.
“Diana,”. Her mother shouted. Mommy’s on the phone, bring me my cigarettes.” Janine Marshal had married young. Due to familial complications regarding probate and inheritance, Janine found herself in a position to divorce an alcoholic loser and still afford to raise her children.
She spends most of her time smoking imported cigarettes and having needless construction done to a house too big for the three of them, but too small for her liking.
Diana trudged into the room, avoiding any eye contact. She took a deep breath, rubbed her hands together nervously, and went to the freezer to retrieve a pack of menthol 100’s.
Her mother was talking on the phone about this month's new carpeting that was really only a semi-shade different that last month’s carpeting..
“Mama.” Lily pleaded. “Look what I drew. Mama, look”. She dangled the page of childish multicoloured hieroglyphics in front of her mother's face.
“Not now, baby. I'm on the phone.” Janine said this so often, Lily often thought it was her real name.
“Mama, look. It's a picture of me and you and Diana, and a puppy, can we get a puppy.”
“I said not now, this is an important call.” She continued into the phone. “ sometimes I don't know what the hell these kids want. Where were we? No...I hate the ecru, I want the eggshell ”
Diana opened the pack of smokes the way her mother had taught her. Heaven forbid she would take the time to open the pack on her own. It would mean putting the phone down.
“Mama, look.” Lily said as she balanced her tiny frame on the edge of the chair so she could lean in right to her mother's face.”
Diana felt the hit as the hand smacked Lily across the cheek and knocked her to the floor. It was like an earthquake aftershock or hearing about the death of a loved one on the evening news. She just stood there frozen as she saw her sister hit the ground.
As her sister cried and her mother screamed about how it served Lily right, Diana stood there silently. She wanted to do something, she needed to fix it, but it was too big, too sad, this was more than antibiotic spray and a bandage
Diana short circuited. She wanted to scream, punch, kick, yell, but none of those things left her brain. She stood there frozen and watched her little sister cry. Lily’s cheek began to swell and turn colors.
Diana blinked three time, turned and walked slowly into her room. She locked the door behind her and sat back down in front of the mirror. Her eyes glazed over as she concentrated as hard as she could. Her hand flat at the cold glass as if she were feeling for a heartbeat
Diana opened her eyes and came face to face with her reflection. Looking into the glass, she could see lines and scars on the mirrored face. She ran her fingers on her own skin tracing the scars that only were visible on the other side of the mirror.
The mirror girl sat red faced, crying, and screaming. Diana stared at the image that could have been her, perhaps on some level it was her, scars and all. She had no idea what to do. She had spent so much of her time treating Lily’s cuts and bruises. She had spent all that time trying not to be in her mother’s way. Diana would swallow her own pain in favor of pleasing or protecting other people. That pain was now staring at her. It was written on the face of the girl in the mirror.
Little Diana turned away from the reflection and sat with her back to the mirror.It was the first time she could remember it happening, but she began to weep softly. She didn’t know it the tears were for herself or for the girl in the mirror. She sat and cried for hours. Slowly a tune entered into her head, a song she had never heard before.
Diana began to sing. It was a soft comforting lullaby that she didn't know. Strange and perfect words shakily left her mouth. Her tiny little voice cut through the tears. Diana got to her feet and faced the mirror.
The identical girls moved in unison. Hands pressed together, separated by the glass surface. The Dianas sang and swayed slowly until exhaustion made each girl curl up on each side of the mirror and drift off to sleep.
It was six hours before Janine hung up the phone and discovered Diana’s locked bedroom door. It was eight phone calls and 32 cigarettes later until a locksmith arrived and opened the door to room filled with the usual nine year old girl paraphernalia, dolls, and various stuffed mythical beasts, pretty but dirty clothes waiting to be laundered. All the things you would expect, but no Diana.
They searched the room, the house, the neighborhood. They called the police. They questioned, arrested, and released her estranged and drunken father. Eventually it came down to milk carton photographs and clutching strings of hope.
Janine often sits on the bed coughing and smoking. She dotes on her remaining daughter and never answers her phone. It is a ritual for her. Everyday for 10 years she sits in the room for hours staring and smoking, coughing, and crying.
Lily spends her days avoiding her mother’s attention. She hides her pain by flirting with idiot boys and trying not to cut herself when things don’t work out. She barely remembers life with Diana. All that remain are stories and her mother’s tears.
Sometimes, when she sits and weeps, Janine swears she can hear a small voice singing a melancholy lullaby. A soft song that hangs there invisible and thinner than air.
Janine never looks at the full length mirror that hangs on the bedroom wall. Nobody does, it has become a painful activity. The glass no longer holds a reflection. There are no images at all. Only a single smudged handprint of a nine year old girl hidden among the dust and neglect. A hand print that can never be wiped away.