“A mirror scratched reflects no image—
And this is the silence of wisdom.”
– Ernest Hyde (Spoon River Anthology)
The vanity arrived on Tuesday at ten, addressed to Vianna Trellis. She left it inside the entrance while deciding whether to keep it, finally moving it into the bedroom on Friday, pushing it into place across from her and Trey’s bed. It’d been years since she sat in front of the vanity mirror, and its presence left her feeling thrilled, but also uneasy.
Her Aunt Marcie was dead, and the vanity was the first tangible sign of her absence. Vianna’s jaw tightened as images of her aunt’s house, and of memories she’d fought to forget, flashed through her head. She’d been an only child with professional parents who often left her in her aunt’s care. On those nights, after Aunt Marcie went to bed, Vianna would haunt the halls of the endless, creaking house, checking for unlocked doors and picturing ghosts in every shadow. She was ten when she found the vanity—the only piece of furniture in a room papered with yellow rose blooms. Now it sat against her own dark plum walls, creating, in Vianna’s mind, an incoherent contrast.
Trey, her husband of three years, was home for the week. His job kept him out of town half the month, and Vianna was bad at hobbies. She preferred solitude to night life, but too much solitude made her lose track of what was real versus what was in her head.
She stared at him, asleep next to her in bed, then kissed his hair and buried her face in his back, waking him, and he turned, wrapping her up with his whole body and tucking his face in her neck. She sighed. He smelled like clean laundry and morning breath.
When he got up to shower, Vianna went and sat at the vanity. She eyed it as though challenging her reflection. It looked younger than she felt, haloed by a beam of morning light.
Her dreams last night had chased her in and out of sleep and into every hour of the morning. They’d taken her through the vanity mirror and into a mountain forest with Liam—the cute, well-read coworker from the accounting department at work. Liam was quiet, but approachable, and he and Vianna had formed a friendship over bad breakroom coffee and childhood neglect. Over time, they shared more, understood more, and seemed to feel more for each other than either of them would admit.
In her dreams, there’d been a graveyard on a hill, crumbling and forgotten. Flashlights and a bottle of gin. They sat on their coats beneath the trees, talking side by side.
“Tell me the worst thing you’ve ever done,” said Liam.
“I think it’s about to happen.”
“Then it can’t be as bad as you think.”
They leaned into each other and kissed, Liam’s hands in her hair. His hands at her hips. He was hard and she bent down, taking him out, then taking him in her mouth. He moaned and tugged at her hair.
On their bed of coats they moved together, her thighs tensing in rhythm. She rose first, and then a second time—a rush of light spreading from her core to her fingers, toes, scalp. Liam clutched at her back and came. She fell, pressed against him, and they held each other until it got too cold.
Vianna shivered. The bedroom window was cracked and an early autumn breeze blew the curtains into the room. She felt a twinge of guilt, mixed with arousal, and she grabbed her brush to work the dream out from the roots of her thick matted hair. She’d had dozens of crushes, unfulfilled, before she was married. Now she felt that the desire for another man should be hidden, covered and tucked into a cupboard.
Everything in its right place.
Including this vanity at the foot of the bed, opulent and commanding. It already seemed to be adjusting to its surroundings. The mirror’s carved frame rose from the center with intermingling vines making an archway as though into a secret garden—through which she’d entered many times, into her old world of friends and admirers, colors and warmth.
Trey’s phone rang in the bathroom and he turned off the water. Vianna listened at the door. It was his week home, but lately all his calls, even on weekends, were work-related.
Trey came out, avoiding Vianna’s pleading eyes. Please don’t go. For once, please choose me over work. He hugged her without looking up, his bare shoulders speckled with water that Vianna wiped away like tears.
“I’m sorry, Vi,” he said.
She pouted and he promised to make the most of the day they had left together. One whole day before his already-scheduled flight. Vianna watched his arms and shoulders flex as he rummaged through the bedroom closet for a shirt. She liked to watch him dress, and undress. To cook with him and eat on the couch while watching movies. He might be gone more than not, but when he was there he was there, like the way he held her, moved inside of her—absolving the knot of loneliness she felt in his absence.
Trey left the room to start breakfast, and Vianna turned and looked at her face in the mirror, then spoke directly to it.
“I know you’re there,” she whispered like a summons. She could sense the woman watching—present, but hidden, like mountains in fog.
On Monday Vianna walked to her favorite café and sat at a table for two reading Rilke. Though they never made plans for lunch, Liam often joined her. When he arrived they went outside to smoke. He stood close when he talked, cupping his chin between pulls, and Vianna fought the urge to press against him and whisper, “I want you.” She flushed, remembering her dream—how he’d coursed through her bloodstream like a vital nutrient.
She’d decided early on not to tell him she was married, twirling her wedding ring around on her right hand. Hiding it in her purse. She was afraid he’d otherwise lose interest, and this was the most interesting she’d felt in months.
He blew smoke at the sky and asked her about her weekend.
She told him she tried the new restaurant on Church Street.
“With a friend.”
She’d gotten good at verbal redrafting. Replacing we with I, husband with friend.
Liam smiled and cupped his chin.
The forced distance they kept felt like a form of foreplay. There had to be more he wanted to say, but it was better that he didn’t.
Liam checked his phone. “Damn,” he said. “Lunch is never long enough.” He stubbed out his cigarette and flicked it away. “Let’s meet up again—after work for a change.” He raised his eyebrows.
Vianna exhaled, nodded. She felt excited, but guilty, even though she’d done nothing wrong.
She didn’t plan on doing anything wrong either. This was purely a boost to her self-esteem.
That night she ate dinner alone and then sat at the vanity before going to bed. She studied her reflection—her shapely eyebrows, fullish lips, her hair and posture. The mirror flickered and a pale glow outlined her figure. She leaned in, searching for a sign of the mirror woman, and saw her reflection blink. Eyes like precision-cut emeralds locked with Vianna’s muddied hazels.
The woman smiled, then asked, salaciously, “Have you missed me?” She batted her long lashes and brushed a wisp of hair from her face. Vianna’s hands and hair remained still.
She felt a rush of panic and feared that she’d been wrong to keep the vanity. The woman in the mirror, Lorisanna, had been a companion—alluring, however cunning—for most of Vianna’s adolescence. She’d shown young Vianna other versions of life that were always preferable to reality.
“I’m not the same as I was back then,” Vianna said into the mirror. She sat up straighter, her shoulders back. She was curious how or if the woman might be different, but she maintained her guard.
“No?” said Lorisanna, amused. “Let’s see…you’re older, married. You’ve got a career and a house. And yet…you still dream of greener pastures. Am I wrong?” She winked and smoothed her hair.
“I should smash your glass.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” said Lorisanna. “I know what this world means to you. How about a look around? For old time’s sake? You can leave whenever you like.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.” Vianna closed her eyes, her skin flushing with the pleasure of forgotten fantasies.
“At least let me replay your dream from the other night,” said Lorisanna.
Vianna thought about it. It had been a good dream. And it wasn’t like she hadn’t already seen it.
In the room’s dim light, Lorisanna’s eyes went vacant, trance-like, and then her image faded and was replaced by a familiar mountain forest. Vianna’s dream played back like a film—the blankets, the gin. The clothes shed on the ground. But it wasn’t the same. Not quite.
“You’re a fascinating woman,” whispered Liam into her ear as he held her close. “And I’m very much in love with you.” Vianna kissed him, lost in the warmth of his embrace.
The scene faded and Lorisanna returned, winking at Vianna.
“That wasn’t in my dream,” said Vianna.
“I know,” said Lorisanna, “I just thought you’d like that little addition.”
“I told you I’m not the same. I can’t be blamed for dreams.”
“Suit yourself,” said Lorisanna. Then without warning, her emerald eyes vanished, so that Vianna’s eyes, her movements, were again hers alone.
She felt queasy, as though she’d welcomed a demon into her room. She also felt a sting at her elbow that hadn’t been there before and looked down to find a fresh scrape, dotted with blood. She gasped, remembering a rock she’d made contact with in her dream. Lorisanna had powers that Vianna had never fully understood, and if she wasn’t careful, she could get lost again in all those useless fantasies.
Vianna woke at the vanity the next morning, sticky with sweat and mascara. Her mouth was dry. She needed a drink of water. There was a crick in her neck. How long had she been in that position? Lorisanna had occupied her mind throughout the night, and some of the images came back to Vianna now as clearly as though she’d lived them. She felt the rise of panic and went to fill a glass of water in the bathroom. She’d be late for work, but she could still see Liam.
At the café his eyes lit up when he saw her. “I was hoping you’d come.”
Vianna blushed. Was he being suggestive, or was she reading into things?
They went outside to smoke and stood under an overhang as it began to rain—the clouds forming eerie shadows on the pavement.
Their bodies gradually moved closer, seeking warmth.
Liam asked if she had plans for Friday.
Was this how it started? she thought. Affairs and infidelity? Someone just brought it up, and then once it’s brought up, there’s little to stop what comes next?
The rain beat against the café’s stained glass windows. Across the street an old woman with a green umbrella slipped and righted herself.
“No plans,” said Vianna, watching their mingled smoke divide and float behind a dumpster. “You?” She crushed her cigarette with the toe of her boot where it smoldered against the wet cement. Her unspoken intentions with that word—you—made her feel like she was crossing a line.
She imagined Trey learning that she’d gone out with a man while he was away, as though she’d made a one-sided deal that marriage didn’t count in different time zones. She imagined him asking questions, losing trust.
She lit another cigarette and stared at the shadows that splashed at her feet.
On her drive home, Vianna turned off the interstate and took the nearest road up to the mountains. She followed a trail through the fading autumn trees and climbed onto a boulder where she stood surveying the leaf-strewn earth. The clean post-rain air offered little relief. Only two days without Trey and she already felt weakened by the mirror’s influence. A hobby didn’t sound like such a bad idea anymore. She could take up hiking, every day after work until she wore herself out. Eat in the car and sleep on the couch.
She needed to hear Trey’s voice, so she called him late that night.
He answered excitedly—said he’d get to come home on Friday.
“That’s only three days away,” said Vianna.
“Of course. Yeah, that’s great.”
She tried to be excited, but something nagged at her mind. A date she didn’t want to pass up. A date she should’ve never agreed to, but did.
She and Trey exchanged I love yous and hung up.
The vanity mirror flickered from across the bedroom and Lorisanna appeared, as though on cue. It was the first Vianna knew her to appear without the guise of a reflection. Her heart sped up. She felt frozen between flight and curiosity.
“You can still have both men, you know,” Lorisanna said with a grin. “In this world, it doesn’t count as cheating.”
Vianna eyed the scratch in the glass that she’d made as a teenager, and then traced it with her finger.
“I’m here to help you be your whole self, Vianna. Who we are isn’t always socially acceptable.” Lorisanna feigned a kind and reassuring look.
Vianna stepped closer but didn’t sit down.
“I’m here to help you feel alive,” she added. “Introduce new colors into your monochrome world. You deserve more than an absent husband. You deserve to have someone who entices and challenges you.”
Vianna felt the pull of suggestion. Didn’t she deserve to have a present partner? Though how exactly did Liam challenge her, she wondered. On any account, it felt good to be validated, if only by this alter ego.
“I’ve been meaning to ask…” continued Lorisanna. “Have you ever told Trey about me?”
Vianna winced at the use of her husband’s name. She’d never told him, or anyone, for fear he’d think her crazy, and thus no longer desirable. And anyway, he’d never believe such a confession. Some things had to be dealt with on one’s own.
“I see,” said the mirror woman. “Forgive me for upsetting you. Let me make amends.”
Before Vianna could resist, the room went dark.
She sees herself sitting by lamplight at a bar next to a man in a white linen shirt.
“What do you say we get out of here?” he says. “Go to my place and start a fire.”
The cold had come to the northeast and with it Vianna’s desire to escape. She thinks: All I have at home is a cold bed and quiet rooms. This world—the reflected world—is warmer and much more appealing.
She stands and takes Liam’s hand.
The ring of Vianna’s phone entered her dreams, rousing her from the inside out. She rose from the vanity, stiff and lightheaded. What time was it? The curtains were drawn, making the room dark as night. She was naked, but had no memory of undressing.
She slipped a blanket off her bed and wrapped it around her shoulders.
The details of last night were blurred, some missing.
She tried conjuring Lorisanna, and the mirror glowed like a movie screen. A familiar bar. A familiar man and woman, their knees together. His mouth at her ear, her eyes closed.
All of a sudden the scene morphed and Vianna was in Liam’s bed, their clothes on the floor.
Vianna turned away. This must be one of Lorisanna’s tricks. She wouldn’t have gone that far with him. Not that soon.
Though part of her wanted to keep watching. To know what it might be like to sleep with Liam.
But then Lorisanna appeared in the glass, and the reflection was again of Vianna’s bedroom. “Won’t you come back into the mirror?” she said. “You were having such a good time.”
“How long was I out?” Vianna asked with distrust.
“Oh…about two days,” said Lorisanna.
Vianna’s shoulders fell. She fumbled for her phone.
“I tried to send you back earlier but you wouldn’t go.”
Six missed calls. Two different men.
Trey would be home tomorrow. She had to collect herself, get some fresh air.
Her phone rang.
Trey, calling to tell her it would be Sunday now, Monday at the latest when he’d be home. Apologizing profusely, saying, “Vi, I promise I’ll make it up to you.” Saying many nice things that slipped right through her.
Phone off, she slid to the floor and cried into her hands. A thought roused her and she wondered how likely it might be for Trey to have a woman on the side. The opportunity was there, after all, the same as it was for her. Would this make them even, or both despicable?
Vianna went into work the next day, Friday, and sat at her desk for hours, neither clicking nor typing. Avoiding all eye contact and conversation. At home, she sought solace in the vanity. In Liam, who couldn’t get enough of her. They’d spent hours in their dream bed, hours focused on nothing but each other.
“You drive me crazy,” he said, tracing the line of her collar bone with his soft lips.
Crazy, she thought. What a sentiment. Was that good or bad?
Either way, it turned her on and rendered her insatiable—electrifying her to her core. She was desperate for something to shake up her life and this would do just fine.
Her marriage needed repair. Something must be wrong if she could go this far. Was she, by her actions, asking for a divorce? Or did her actions only bring to light what she’d been lacking?
She closed her eyes and waited for the transference into the mirror world. But when she opened them, all she saw was the reflection of her bedroom. Everything in perfect reverse.
Was this Lorisanna’s idea of a joke?
Vianna didn’t feel quite herself, but if she were to be honest, she couldn’t remember the last time that she had.
She heard a noise across the room. A sound like someone in the bathroom.
She wasn’t alone.
A light went off, and for a moment Vianna thought it was Trey. But out of the doorway stepped Liam, damp from the shower, towel-drying his golden hair.
She jumped out of her chair, asked him how he got in. How he could be so bold.
She’d invited him, he said. For the weekend.
Of course. She nodded, eyeing him up and down. This was the other side, and the weekend was hers to do with what she pleased. And this was exactly what she wanted in the moment.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, preparing for what might happen next.
Then she opened her eyes and found herself out on the back porch, pouring gin into moonlit glasses as Liam smiled up at her.
Then a door slammed in the distance and Vianna found herself lying sideways across her bed—her hair disheveled, no one in sight.
Out of nowhere, it seemed, Trey walked through the bedroom door and dropped his suitcase.
Vianna’s thoughts went to Liam. Where had he gone? Back into the bathroom? To the kitchen for a drink? He must get out. She made to move—to find a way to warn him—but Trey wrapped her in his arms, kissing her all over her face. Vianna shied away from his touch, afraid that if he got too close he’d be able to detect Liam’s scent on her skin and notice the bluing bruises from their lovemaking. She didn’t want him to ask how they got there. She hated to lie, but she couldn’t tell the truth.
Which world were they in? she wondered. Was Lorisanna watching? Manipulating?
Or was this Vianna’s ultimate choice? Her heart winning out in the end—her heart choosing the real, despite its snags.
She looked over Trey’s shoulder at the vanity and gasped. He held her at arm’s length and looked at her with concern.
Was she all right? he asked.
Yes, yes, more than all right, she said.
The mirror was cracked, spider-webbed out from the scratch she’d made with a hairbrush so many years ago.
In her altered state, she must’ve thrown the vanity chair into the mirror, as it now lie on its side on the floor, its cushion hanging limply like a tongue from a mouth.
Vianna felt more in tune with this version of the mirror than any previous versions. For she also had chips in places where she used to connect, and scratches that were beyond repair. All these pieces of her separate selves could never again be a seamless fit, and yet she was still herself.
But who in this world, she thought, or perhaps in any other, couldn’t say the same?
Amanda E.K. is a writing instructor and the editor-in-chief of Denver’s Suspect Press magazine. She writes about evangelical purity culture, and she’s working on projects for film and TV with her production team Glass Cactus. Follow her on instagram @amanda.ek.writer and read more about her projects at AmandaEKwriter.com.