We are both in front of the mirror. “See how the insides of my thighs jiggle,” she says.
“They look fine to me.”
Upstairs her stepdad is yelling: Julie come finish your chores!
“I did them already!” she yells back.
Her stepdad comes downstairs, large, hairy, covered in car grease. “You better do them right before your mom gets home,” he says. “I don’t care if you have people over.” He sees us preening in the mirror. “You both look like assholes,” he says.
“Thanks a lot.”
“And you look fat.” He laughs and heads into his off-limits garage of Playboy calendars and power tools. And turn down that fucking black music!
“God, I hate him,” Julie flips him off behind his back. “I can’t believe my mother has sex with him.” She turns up the radio even louder, where Kool & the Gang are celebrating good times.“They want to send me to the hospital,” she says. “My mom caught me barfing and she freaked out.”
I’d been in the hospital earlier that year after my parents found me swallowing a bottle of Tylenol. Four weeks from Thanksgiving to Christmas, and Julie had been my only visitor. “At least they don’t yell at you there,” I say, finally.
“Yeah.” Julie’s mirror is decorated with little Post It notes: You can do it! You are beautiful. Don’t believe them.
We stand staring at our doppelganger selves over there, one dark, one blond. The other selves looked tired, strangled in the threshold between woman and child like half-filled balloons.
Julie Elizabeth you get your ass up here! an unkind female voice now yells.
“Jesus, don’t they even pretend to like you when you have company over?”
“You aren’t really company.”
Julie goddamn it now!
Julie opens her mouth to respond and then swallows it. She reaches out a fingertip and touches herself touching herself in her dead grandma’s antique mirror, the wooden frame carved with flowers and peacocks. It probably weighs as much as both of us put together.
“I know it sounds dumb,” she says, “but sometimes I pretend I can go through it, like those kids in Narnia.”
She stands up. “I’m. Fucking. Coming!” she yells.
Then she walks into the mirror and disappears.
It’s been 30 years, but every morning on my way to work I still scrutinize all the people on the train. Sometimes I check their eyes, knowing one of these days I’ll see you. You’ll be unrecognizable but I’ll know the eyes. They’ll tell me: I made it.
Nancy Stohlman is the author of Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities (finalist for a 2019 Colorado Book Award), The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories, the flash novels The Monster Opera and Searching for Suzi, and three anthologies of flash fiction including Fast Forward: The Mix Tape. She is the creator of The Fbomb Flash Fiction Reading Series, the creator of FlashNano in November, and her fiction has been included in the W.W. Norton anthology New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction and the 2019 Best Small Fictions. She lives in Denver and teaches at the University of Colorado Boulder and leads flash fiction workshops around the world. Find out more at www.nancystohlman.com