Ammonia-based glass cleaners evaporate quickly, giving the impression that the streaks in the glass are disappearing. They’re not disappearing — the paper towels scar the glass, leaving behind a history of each wiping direction, each stroke, each movement of the hand. Some people believe that newspapers are the only choice for cleaning glass, that the ink somehow aids in achieving a streak-free surface, in removing the history from the glass, but it’s all illusion.
Only fire can clean glass. It destroys the chemicals, the oil left behind when you touch the mirror with your fingers, the contamination stuck against the mirror, such as flecks of toothpaste or the hairspray she used each morning.
Her hair was a magic trick. She’d wake up while I was in the bathroom shaving, and her hair would be stray atop her head, her blonde locks gone awry, the slits of her tired eyes adjusting to the morning light. She would hug me, careful not make a mess of the shaving gel clinging to my face, careful not to push her pregnant belly too hard against me. Then, she would shower, the steam covering the mirror, revealing the history of our mornings together — a history etched by my right hand, which would open holes in the steamed glass so that I could finish my shave while the heat of her shower overwhelmed the room.
She’d emerge with her hair dark and wet, sticking to her shoulders in thick ropes. Then I’d get dressed and the bathroom door would close so the magic could begin. Before I left for work, I’d open the door and her hair would be bright and transformed, bouncing as she sculpted the style of the day, her head always tilted, her ear glued to her shoulder as she smiled at me through the mirror. She always took a timeout from her routine to hug me goodbye.
During many of those mornings, we marveled at the life growing inside of her, just saying aloud “We made a baby” time and time again, trying to believe it. We were excited and scared and our minds never truly digested the magnitude. Our friends said we never would, not until we held our son for the first time.
Despite the fear, never once did I think that a doctor was going to tell me that she was gone, that the baby didn’t make it, that it was a rarity, that he was so, so sorry.
I went home to a box of cigars I’d never hand out, an empty house, and clumsy attempts at consolation overloading my voicemail.
When the funeral was over, I didn’t move from the sofa for three days, and when I did, I got into the shower and stayed there until the water ran cold, chasing me out.
She had written in the glass — “Hi Daddy!” probably some morning after I was gone for the day, left there for me to notice during a morning shave with her in the shower, maybe even with our son sleeping in the nursery that was now a museum of fossilized expectations.
I get out of the shower most mornings and see that bathroom mirror. The hairdryer is still in the left bottom drawer of the vanity, but the only sound is that of the showerhead releasing those last few drops of water, and in the mirror, there’s nothing but streaks with the meat of steam on them, revealing the movement of my arm as I frantically wiped away her message months ago, reminding me that the mirror once had her flesh pressed against the surface. I have erased nothing from that glass. The wiping simply buried her words under my efforts to forget her, little jewels of water clinging together to reveal that nothing has died, it has only been rearranged.
Whenever I see a mirror now, I breathe on it. Most of the time, I see the effort to clean it, the trails made by a janitor’s wiping motions, but sometimes I see the curve of partial letters. I never fully uncover the statements in the glass. The heat of my breath against the mirror feels like something a ghost could touch, something she could bend and twist to tell me about life and death and what our son is like.
One night, I will write her a letter in our mirror. I will wet my index finger against my tongue and write until the space is full. I will then punch the glass until pieces fall away from the wall, and break them with my hands and heels and teeth until no bit remains that is big enough to look into and see myself staring back.
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