The mirror that clung lopsided on the slowly aging walls of Grandmother's house always made me uncomfortable to pass by. It lit the hallway with an eerie wave of guilt and secrecy. Wrapped in a thick frame of stained oak and precise carvings, the mirror's slightly-dusty glass was forever decorated with a crack that ran down the center of it like a river. Perhaps it was the crack that made me uneasy, or the fact that Grandmother only remembered to dust half the glass whenever she did. No one ever questioned why she never remembered to run a cloth over the other half, but at the same time, no one offered to do it for her. Grandmother's mirror was hers; she made it clear the first time I was old enough to understand the meaning of words. Whenever we held a family gathering at her house, I would occasionally watch family members meander down the hall. Their eyes would never meet the glass, but their facial expressions or body language never showed any signs relating to the effect of the mirror. No one ever asked Grandmother about it either - it seemed everyone knew the story for themselves, but they would never bring it up.
A few months before Grandmother had passed, I was watching her knit feebly with weak hands a loose scarf as she calmly rocked back in her chair and look at me. "You like looking at the mirror in the hall," she said nonchalantly. She didn't lift her hazel eyes from her work in her lap. "You're the only one who ever does it anymore. I've been wondering who to give it to when I pass; I think it'd be best with you." This was the only time she had ever questioned me about the mirror, and though it was certainly an uncomfortable topic to talk about, she made no shift in body language that she was surprised at herself for bringing it up.
Grandmother knew I wasn't one to socialize. I wasn't a shy person; whenever I do try to converse with someone, something switches in my head and my brain is flooded in a sea of feelings and words. The times that I would talk would be for little things, simple conversations. Nothing about myself or how I'm feeling or anything personal. It's not something my family has ever been worried about; they don't even know that's why I can't talk to many people. Only Grandmother knew, and I never told her about it. No one ever questioned Grandmother and I wasn't going to be the first to talk to her about my constant mental floods or the mirror on her wall.
And for some reason, Grandmother could tell that I was different around the mirror. No doubt it was the way my body language changed when I peered into it, or the way I acted after I had walked past it. But I still never talked to her about it. I would never tell my grandmother about a mirror, a piece of decoration hanging on her wall, that gives me the creeps. It was never important enough to me to tell her my feelings about it, even though I couldn't mentally.
Months later, I moved out of the small town where the rest of my family lived to a neighboring town not far out. Within that same month, Grandmother passed away and I inherited the mirror. In the beginning, I was very hesitant to let it rest on my apartment wall in my own hallway. Voices in my head made me realize the mirror was the only thing I had ever gotten from her, aside from small dogs and clothing from my childhood days. This was what I had left of her and walking past the mirror, though I had no other choice, was a tradition I set for myself at her house. I hung it upon two slowly-rusting nails, slightly crooked, in the hallway so that whenever I left the apartment or entered it, I would walk past it. The mirror leaked an aging, dusty smell into the hallway, and though my nose wanted me to put in an air freshener, I let it be. I cleaned only the left side of the cracked glass, just as she had.
I peered into the mirror and realized I had grown closer to Grandmother through the mirror than I had when she was around.
The mirror sat on its two rusty nails for weeks. Gradually, it settled into its new resting place, shedding its mysterious waves throughout the entire hallway. The more it grew comfortable on the wall, the harder it was for me to walk past and forget it was there. When it hung in Grandmother's house, I would always look into it, only showing the left side of my face rather than the entire thing. As a child, I was too afraid to let the crack run down the center of my reflection, splitting me apart. I never liked the idea, and, having been a child, it nearly scared me to death. Even today, I still look into it but only my left side would appear in the reflection.
One lazy afternoon, I was sitting comfortably at the small breakfast bar that kept the kitchen from leaking into the living room space. It was a peaceful morning; I'd woken up to the daily battle in my head of going back to sleep or facing reality like everyone else. On my walk into the kitchen, I checked the mirror, wiping the left side of the glass down and leaving the right side in its usual case of dust. As far as work, I'd gotten little done. Among my fellow colleagues, I was described as a "infinitely gushing waterfall of creativity", though I disagreed passionately. Being a writer, I constantly found my waterfall being blocked by the angry beaver dam of Writers Block, an evil creature who built a thick wall between my imagination and paper and pen. In these cases, I'd tell myself that coffee would help though it never did.
However, just as my creativity was shoving and forcing its way through the beaver dam, there was a knock at my door; nothing too heavy, nothing too light. It was the kind of undefinable knock that makes you question whether it's an old friend or someone questionable. But for some reason, I felt inclined to answer it.
I have never felt inclined to answer the door in my life, not like this. Normally, I knew who was at the door - I could tell who it was; Mom, Grandmother, Dad. Otherwise, whether it was because I wasn't able to communicate fluently or because I was too lazy, I wouldn't answer the door, someone else would.
Squinting through the little peephole, I saw a man whom I couldn't recognize. He was dressed formally; nicely-ironed button-down shirt, wrinkle-free pants - a pair of black converse. That was questionable. As far as facial features go, he had blue eyes and faint smile. In my head, all I could hear was "Open it! Open it!" as if the voices in my head knew something I didn't. Slowly I opened it, as to not come off as eager as the voices were.
"Amanda Woods? May I please speak with you?" he asked. His question came off rather firmly, with a hint of old-friendliness, even though I'd never seen him in my life. Nonetheless, I invited him inside and offered him coffee. I figured it'd be the best thing to do rather than to show I was questioning him silently. He sat comfortably at the breakfast bar and watched me as I poured coffee into the mug. I leaned against the beam that hugged the breakfast bar and stood between the kitchen and the hallway, my back to the mirror.
He smiled softly, looking down at his coffee, and said, "I can tell you're trying not to show that you're wondering who I am." Within that moment, I felt myself straighten up as if on command. "I doubt you'll remember me, but I'm Collin Adkins. When we were younger, my grandfather was your grandmother's neighbor. They were best friends in high school."
Immediately, I stiffened. I was calm, to say the least, on the outside, but screaming on the inside. Had I really just let a stranger into my house? Who enters a household, reads your body language, comments on it and then pretends everything's good as new and says they were your grandmother's neighbor's grandson? There were probably people in the world that did that, but I'm sure it was less awkward for them as it was for me. Whether my grandmother knew this boy or not, I didn't and I certainly wasn't going to start to today.
He gazed at me as I stood there, thinking. Moments passed where nothing was being said - he just looked at me. Starting to feel slightly uncomfortable, I felt like he was waiting for me to say something, and just as the voices in my head began to quarrel once again about what to say, he rescued me. "I see you inherited the mirror?" Collin glanced at the mirror, long enough to make me turn to look at it too. He stood up and moved towards me, leaning on the beam. "Your grandmother was very particular about the mirror. I've watched her dust it sometimes; I didn't think the tradition would carry on." There was a short pause before he asked, "Do you still look in it?"
Now, now I had to answer. This was a question, for me and no one else. The voices returned, some screaming, "Yes, yes I do!", the others quarreling and fighting about how questionable he was and why he was the way he was. I tried to tune the voices out as I whispered feebly, "I-I do." It was as if I was trying to catch my balance while standing on the top of a mountain with wind racing cars through my hair. Steadying myself, I added, "I try to do it everyday."
I moved slowly towards it, only showing the left side of my face, just as I normally did. After seeing it, I clutched my jacket zipper and stood there, looking at the metal piece. I could feel Collin looking at me; why did he do that so much? I can't say it bothered me, but it was certainly different. When I was in high school, it seemed all the girls overreacted when they caught a guy staring at them. In reality, they could have simply just zoned out, I had told them. They never listened though, but I certainly wasn't going to let their fever strike me. Nor would I. At this point, I wasn't even sure why I jumped back to high school days.
"I remember looking at you through the window next to the flower boxes," he said softly. I knew exactly where he was talking about; it had been the only window that looked straight into the house and far enough that you could see the mirror in the hallway. I kept looking down - thinking about that window made me realize. It was the window that shed rays of light on Grandmother while she was knitting...talking....
He kept going. "You were about four or so; you stumbled a little." A short laugh, enough to make me feel a little more comfortable. "You stood on your toes, trying to look in the mirror. You only looked at the left side of your face - another tradition I didn't think you'd continue with."
I looked back in the mirror. He'd moved closer, just enough so that he was filling up the little space between my face and the crack. He'd brought too many thoughts about Grandmother back that I didn't want to think about. The glass I was looking at only showed tears, grief. Collin and me.
This was wordy, I'm sorry. I may or may not have gotten really sidetracked.
"Being a writer, I constantly found my waterfall being blocked by the angry beaver dam of Writers Block, an evil creature who built a thick wall between my imagination and paper and pen." The story of all my English papers