Holly Smith was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois and moved from the United States to pursue her Master’s in Writing at NUIG. Prior to coming to NUIG, she worked at the University of Chicago Press as an editorial associate for the political science, law, and economics lists as well as a bookseller at a local independent bookstore. In 2014, she earned her BA in history, with a minor in statistics, at Swarthmore College.
By Holly Smith
The soft orange glow of my dimming bathroom light was a comfort to me when I first moved into my new apartment. It rounded out the sharp edges of my mirror and made all the cold, sterile metal and porcelain look comforting. When it mixed with the steam from my hot showers, the room seemed beautifully otherworldly. I never thought the eeriness would make me feel afraid though; I felt perfectly safe amidst the steam and calm incandescence.
One night, I was sitting in bed, holding my soft blanket to my chest, trying to wind down before going to sleep. I had long ago stopped closing my bathroom door. I was alone in my little en suite bedroom, there was no need for privacy. I looked up and instead of coming eye to eye with my own face, as I normally did, I found myself looking at the silhouetted profile of a hooded woman.
Her face was marked in the gathered steam on my mirror, almost as if I had smudged her into being myself. But I had not. I knew I hadn’t rubbed away the steam, I never did. I preferred to look at myself as a blurred reflection, finding my fuzzy form a calmer thing to look on than my own face. It was more comforting to imagine that perhaps I would look beautiful were it not for the blur, than to be confronted with a sharp, vivid reminder that I was not.
At first the woman stayed still, perhaps observing me as I observed her, staring at the starer. Then, I felt drawn to her.
She was just a smudge, surely. I must have misremembered. I must have, this one time, wiped away the steam. Haunted silhouettes don’t live in mirrors or anywhere else, I told myself. I would approach and be reassured of this. No need to ruin my sleep over a mirror I’d smudged.
Her singular eye was foggy and I couldn’t break my gaze from it. It drew me to her. It was just my curiosity that tugged me onwards, I whispered to myself.
I walked closer until I was in front of the mirror, staring into her one foggy eye.
Before I realized it, I could feel part of myself leaving my body. The silhouette drank me in through her small, cruel lips and yet I didn’t object. I just kept staring at her, waiting, emptying. The longer I stayed there, motionless, looking at the distorted face, the more of me was gone.
I felt myself clutching the sink underneath my mirror and, almost in shock, looked down at my hands that were supporting me. I had nearly forgotten there was more of me beyond my face. I stared at my small, freckled hands. I thought briefly of how I had always liked my freckles and how they dotted their way across my soft skin. I remembered how my friends used to joke that you could play connect the dots with them and how, one time, they did. This memory drew a small smile from me.
The pleasant memory evaporated like the leftover steam from my shower as I recalled the ghastly face that had drawn me to my bathroom. I snapped my eyes back to the mirror.
The woman was gone.
Or, at least, her profile had been smeared. There was no longer a semblance of an illusory, hooded figure lingering in my mirror with thirsty lips. Most of the mirror had been wiped clean.
Her one, foggy eye remained, staring. I wiped it away, trying to erase the memory of the evening with it. But the memory lingered longer than I would have wished.
Now, I sleep with the door to my bathroom closed and take care when I stare into the mirror, lest the haunted woman return and steal what’s left.
For The Galway Review 7, (Printed Edition)