Every morning, I see my family at breakfast. We eat cereal with milk from the local dairy. We drink orange juice that I squeeze in the morning before my parents wake up. I can always hear ants crawling in the corners of our kitchen. Every morning, when I put on my shoes and stand at the bottom of the stairs, I see ants crawl over my shoes. I try to kick them off but it’s useless. All over the house, there are ants. In my bed too, and in my closet when the light is off and I can’t see. In the shower, I watch the ceiling in case one is going to fall on my head. I live with my family of four. We all live together under the Shenandoah mountains in the middle of a green basin.
In the hallway, there is a tall mirror, gilded with gold. It stands out from the wood paneling of the rest of the house, from the china that my mother inherited from my father’s mother, from the lamps Dad made in the woodshop out back. It doesn’t belong and I don’t like it, but I pass it every day. When I run down the stairs and hook a right, lassoing my fingers around the curled edge of the bannister — I turn and it’s there. Every morning on the way to school, I stand in front of the mirror before leaving the house. Every morning I look different.
On some days, I’m tall and lanky, waifish and thin-faced. Being tall means nothing. I will never grow up and my knees will always be knobby. On some days, I am big and strong. I can stomp and the ground shakes, and the weight of me is enough to make a solid reverberation on the ground, and when I walk down the street, people pay attention. On some days, my voice is larger than anything else. I can scream and scream and scream until the whole world doesn’t have a choice but to listen and when I try to do anything, I can do it. I don’t see this in the mirror, but it knows, and I do too. And on some days, I’m a normal size. My hair is a normal color. My eyes are normal. My mouth is normal. Nothing about me stands out at all, and even just looking at myself, I’m bored.
The ants form lines along the walls, and sometimes when I catch them in their parade, I follow them to the crack behind the gilded mirror. I see them pile in, one after another, into what must be the pantry, or some odd shell of an open space. I wonder if I might burrow in behind them. I wonder if I could have my dad’s tools. The ants are behind the mirror when I’m looking in, and I imagine the house is like an interrogation room, where ants look at you and you answer questions from within a mirrored room.
My brother, Samuel, started his own furniture business. I told him to look at the mirror once, and asked him about our ant problem. He said it was my own ant problem if I was scared of ants. I asked him to look closer. He just admired the mirror’s craftsmanship. Samuel is often absorbed in his work. He’s good at running his woodworking business because he doesn’t doubt who he is or what he likes. Sometimes I think he’s hiding something about himself, deep in his personal abyss, but it’s hard to tell whether he knows of that abyss himself or whether he just doesn’t have one and lives more simply than I can even imagine. I could never say this to him because I wouldn’t know how, but I wish he could see into the mirror so that he could see how malleable he is. But it seems that he doesn’t see what I see, so when I watch him, I try to think of words that might bring to life the duality of him, like the mirror does for me.
Sometimes I stay outside and help my brothers sand down the wood or lacquer it up, and sometimes I run the power tools. Of all the things I like to do in the woodshop, I love slicing wood with the table saw the most. It’s simple, and as I control the machine, I am predictable, I chop where I’m told to. The wood falls in fat blocks. When I pick them up they feel heavy and meaningful in my hands, even though they’re just bits of nothing to be used as support. I try to chuck them as far as I can to see if my strength is as much as I think.
After coming in from the woodshop, I feel good. My reflection is not so clear since I’m covered in wood dust. I don’t look odd to myself even though there’s grime on my cheeks. Those moments are few, when I can look into the gilded mirror and agree.
The mirror’s reflection haunts only me. It eats away at me. I’m reminded of it in every shiny dish, every piece of glass. If you walked into my house, you would see a very normal looking girl, on the couch with her brothers, in the woodshop, with the chickens, in her room, “working on her projects,” as her mother likes to say. But what there really is is just me. I’m there, wearing whatever the mirror wants me to wear. Being whatever the mirror wants me to be.
The only way to understand me is to listen to the scratching bugs itching to tear down the walls of this century-old house. They are tiny, aimless, and somehow, searching.
Katya Abazajian is a fiction writer and non-profit policy advocate living in Washington, DC. As a multi-ethnic first generation American, her writing focuses on themes of identity and mental health, sometimes through a lens of magical realism. She has previously been published in "When Women Waken" and "IRIS", a Seattle zine about female/femme relationships.