Saltwater droplets stained the floor, and a tired head drooped towards the owner’s chest. A tiny slip of paper fluttered to the ground, landing next to a shard of broken glass and an old, metal handle. A sharp gasp from the trembling mouth and a twitch of the eyelids was followed by the inevitable flight of the hands to the face and the release of a saltwater fountain.
Just then, the door creaked open and long, ghastly shadows crossed the room. But the weeping young woman noticed nothing. Her ears were deafened by the shouts of her thoughts; her eyes blinded by tears. Her senses were dull—numbed by hurt, drunk with sorrow—and she did not know anyone was there.
The shadows began to dance in timed, clumsy movements, and two bare feet made little, if any, noise in the carpeted room. Two large, brown eyes focused on a finger-masked face and the thin frame of the girl clad in a fair dress, so elegant. A hand, so very large in contrast to her own, came down gently on her shoulder. Aware for the first time of a presence in the room, she looked up into the face of her brother.
Paralyzed by semi-unemotional male instincts, he was unsure of what to say. Looking around, he noticed the broken mirror lying in pieces and a thousand splinters on the floor.
“Did you break this, LiAnna?” he said, picking up the larger pieces. She nodded, her eyes red and swollen; her shoulders slumped. As he reached for the handle, the slip of paper caught his eye. In his hand it felt damp; a ragged page torn from some teenage girl’s diary, with a piece of tape affixed to the upper margin.
The words scrawled across its surface sent a tremor of anger down his spine. Suppressing his protective rage, he turned to his sister with horror.
“Where did you get this?”
“The neighbourhood girls,” she replied. “They stuck it on my back before class this morning, I guess. I found it on my vest when I got home.”
The young man of twenty years wondered what he could do to comfort his little sister. The broken mirror said it all. His heart trembled at the thought of LiAnna’s easily wounded spirit, crushed by the cruel words that now burned in his memory.
“I’m ugly, I look like a boy and I sound like one too. Pinch me.”
Why? It was a question Jodel could not answer. Why. His eyes wandered to the girl with the strong limbs, thick braids and piercing eyes. Her dark, unthreaded eyebrows were oblong and straight, in contrast with her round, soft face. A boy? He couldn’t see it. She was unique, but quite obviously feminine. Her voice was unusually deep, one must admit—like the soothing purrs of a mature feline, but in no wise reminiscent of a male’s firmer vocals. He guessed, rightly so, that there were more than facts behind the girls’ heartless action.
“This is cruel. But, why did you break the mirror, sis?”
LiAnna’s sad eyes rose and met his own.
“Because they’re right, Jodel. I’m not much of a girl.”
“And you take that as a fact, so quickly,” he sighed.
“No. No, it’s not so fast,” the girl replied. “This is just my confirmation.”
“Confirmation … of what?
“What I already know to be true. No one has had the guts to say it openly, I guess, before now. But I knew. I knew I was different. I felt it when so often on the telephone the caller could not decide whether I was female or male. I could tell from the wide gulf between the glowing feminine descriptions given to the other girls of the family and my one monotonous distinction as “technical expert” and “handywoman” that I’d might as well have been born a boy.”
“I had never realized,” her brother began. “No—no finish your thought, dear.”
“When I’ve styled my hair and arranged my clothes, I’m sure I see a girl in the mirror. But by the time the day comes to an end, that picture is always erased. The rest of the world sees someone different.”
Jodel was quiet, his face grave with anxious concern. The image of a broken mirror, its thousands of splinters and few larger shards twinkling on a soft bed of fibers white, tortured his mind. They were more than the physical outcome of gravity, force and the laws of physics. No, it all meant more. They were a sign of trouble; the dark clouds before the storm, the icy silence before death, the shot that sounds before the war.
Something had to be done, for the broken mirror spoke of a broken resolve, broken strength, a broken dream, and a broken heart—all of which would be just a slight bit easier to mend than the shattered glass. A slight—only a slight. A young, handsome face aged rather quickly that night. The delicate balance of life had always been there, but he had never seen it so clearly as he did then. A small, perceived slight, continued over time, grows into a mountain that tips the scales.
And the scales were obviously tipped for LiAnna.
Jodel sat beside her on the bed, his eyes gazing deep in her own.
“LiAnna, you’re a wonderful girl, and you neither look nor sound like the vast majority of boys. Should I meet one with your features and voice, I should be more inclined to think he was a girlish sort! You’ve been blessed with a deep, yet feminine, voice—one that is easy on the ears and has a depth that commands a bit more respect.”
A glimmer of hope shone in the girl’s large eyes.
“Do you really think so, Jo?”
“I know so,” he replied. “And you know, that note is a confirmation, all right. Not a confirmation that you’re ugly, but that those girls are jealous—and woefully immature about it. You’re a gem, LiLi. A rare one, yes, but still, a precious gem.”
The girl was silent for a moment, then she threw her arms around her brother’s neck. The clock ticked along with their heartbeats, and the breezes from an open window blew on the two fleecy heads. Minutes later, long eerie shadows danced once again across the room, and the two bare feet moved noiselessly on the carpet.
A large hand reached into a plastic bucket, and came out with two matching pieces of broken glass. The girl watched as he linked the shards at the points where they had cracked, then added another, and a fourth. He continued the puzzle until every large piece had been matched on the floor, and the mirror began to look like a mirror again.
Jodel stared at the glass, then smiled and looked up at his sister.
“That’s your heart,” he whispered. “We’ll mend it as best we can—together.”
LiAnna smiled back, with a tiny nod. The door creaked open, and long, ghastly shadows crossed the room. But the young woman noticed nothing. Her ears were deafened by the echo of her brother’s voice; her eyes were blinded by tears of joy. Her senses were shaper, revived by love, made sober with truth.
A tiny slip of paper lurched and fluttered once again—but this time, it landed in a garbage can.