Elizabeth stood in the foyer in front of the long mirror and corrected its slant. She had come home from teaching the Iliad to college freshmen and questioned the worth of analyzing imaginary conflicts. Why didn’t the government provide good-paying factory jobs for students who didn’t want to read? Why did she see her mother’s face staring back out of the mirror, counseling her to persist? Were all mothers crazy? Would her Cordelia think she was crazy?
It was a cheap mirror that her parents bought at Woolworth’s when she went to college; she had kept it these decades. Maybe Cordelia would take it to college in a couple years.
There was a knock on the door. Had Cordelia forgotten her keys again? Elizabeth opened the door. A thin small teenager, Cordelia’s age, held his baseball cap in both hand politely. “Hello, ma’am, my car broke down.” He waved toward the street. “Could I borrow your phone?” She looked over his shoulder at a clunker parked at the curb. He was Cordelia’s height, but his features were bright and twitchy, not like Cordelia’s current languid and disregarding expression. He coughed. Elizabeth wanted to give him a tissue, comb his hair, check his forehead for fever, tell him to study hard, be kind to his parents, not talk back--they loved him and worried about him. She swung the door open.
He put on his cap and she saw that it had covered a knife.
“I don’t have anything.” She opened her hands to show they were empty.
“Of course, you do. Look at this nice neighborhood. Prius in every garage, next to the Lexus.”
The knife gleamed in his hand, the tip shaking.
A teenage girl appeared from behind him. Her eyes glittered, pupils wide, eyes taking in the room, the ceiling, everything. She swivelled her hips and bumped one hip against the boy. Affection? Inspiration? Challenge? He bumped back and smiled.
Elizabeth swallowed hard. Perhaps there was an inch of possibility for her. Maybe she could escape. She just needed to squeeze through. She stood rooted to the floor. Trying not to breathe, not to attract their interest. Let them be focused on each other, and maybe she could escape. She didn’t need much, a sliver of light, a breath of air, a breeze.
She twisted into the long mirror in the hall. One knee buckled. Her shoulder bumped against the hanging mirror. It crashed to the floor. There was a sharp pain.
The mirror shattered on the floor, slivers reflecting her face, her nose on a square fragment, her eyes on small trapezoids. “I’ll pick up the pieces.”
“Leave them,” the girl barked.
Elizabeth knelt down. “Someone might get hurt.” She picked up triangles, squares. She held them in her hand.
“Leave them, I said.”
Elizabeth stepped to the basket in the corner, glass crunching under her sandals. She threw the shards in, but slid one long sliver into her pants pocket.
published 4 June 2016