Sly woke up at the firehouse the same way she does every few days, the same way her father had before he passed. She put a few eggs on, pressed her coffee, and scrolled through her phone as she peacefully consumed both at the table. It had been a quiet night and her shift would be over soon, so she enjoyed the last few silent moments before the rest of the night crew woke up or the morning crew rolled in. She finished her solo breakfast and walked slowly to the bathroom, waiting for the coffee to open her eyes and mind.
As she rubbed her eyes and gazed into the mirror to brush her teeth, she felt a shot of adrenaline and a cold chill run down her spine, beating the caffeine to the wake up call. “This can’t be right,” she half-thought, half-mumbled as she stood in shock at the reflection in the mirror.
Sly always had a fascination with mirrors. Not in a narcissistic “stare at the reflection until one starves to death kind of way,” but in the mysterious fact that mirrors were different for her. Her reflection was more than a reflection. It was… different. And it had been her whole life, though it took her years to understand what it all meant.
The first time she noticed was the day she lost her front tooth. Staring into the mirror that morning, she noticed a gap in the bottom row of teeth, her gums looking pink and sensitive and decidedly empty. Surprised, she reached into her mouth with her pointer finger, wiggling gently on the tooth that was still very much there, though not by much. She maneuvered it around a little, and even gave it a tug to be sure.
She called to show her dad, like she always did whenever something was scary or remarkable or funny. When he looked into the mirror, he saw the tooth as it should be and brushed off her “imagination running wild.” But Sly noticed it happen again and again before every subsequent tooth.
One morning before catching the bus, her 7th grade reflection had a black eye and scratches. It was the same day she and Christine argued over Phillip King in the cafeteria. Their words became shouts, became name-calling, became fisticuffs, punches, scratches, and pulling hair. The end result was exactly what she saw in the mirror that morning.
After that incident, she became fully cognizant of the magic that only she could see in the mirror. Her reflection showed her not her present self, but who she’d be at the end of the day. Every so often, she’d try telling her parents or friends, but they never believed her. Frustrated, she stopped trying and just learned to live with her secret.
She learned to study her future self and assess her future mood by the nuances in her face and body. On days when the mirror showed her looking worn and sad, she actively tried to change what might come to pass, but learned every time that she didn’t have that kind of control. And after a while it didn’t matter. The mirror grew on her and just became a part of her life, part of herself.
She’d know the end result of a college date by the gleam in her reflection’s eye or the frustration in its forehead. On Friday morning, she’d see her hangover coming, with its puffy, dark circles around her eyes and the worn look on her face. She couldn’t believe the happiness on her face the morning of her wedding to the love of her life. The same happiness flooded over her face the mornings before her two kids were born. And on those days, she was sure to pack an overnight bag, just in case.
At 40, she finally mastered her most unique trait. knowing well enough to keep the secret to herself, telling no one, not even her husband. They wouldn’t understand the blessing and the burden, she thought – the days of dread, of paranoia, of wondering whether she even had any control of her own life. But she came to appreciate and really value her quiet, unspoken gift.
Some days she studied the mirror hard, in hopes of figuring out what the day held in store; some days, when she wanted to be surprised, she avoided looking in the mirror altogether.
This morning was just an ordinary morning until she stood frozen at the mirror’s reflection. She moved ever so carefully, slowly brushing her teeth in the same manner, eyes locked on where her reflection should be. The mirror was still. She saw nothing but the empty reflection eerily quiet room behind her. She rinsed the toothbrush off, cupped her hands and brought it to her mouth for some water. She splashed her face in the same way. Still, the mirror showed nothing.
Just as she spit the contents of her mouth down the drain, the screech of an alarm sounded throughout the house. She stayed calm, just like her father had taught her.