by Erik Gustafson
photo by DpressedSoul
The priest conducting the ceremony looked like an ancient, gray-haired leprechaun. The crash of thunder accented his closing prayer. Connie had been watching the black clouds roll in during the service, worrying that the rain would come before they were done.
Fat blobs of rain smacked onto the canvas funeral tent as people offered sympathy or shared a memory, then popped open umbrella and scurried back to their cars. After a few minutes, most everyone had departed.
“Time to say goodbye to Grandpa, Rachel.”
Rachel, wearing an identical black dress as her mother, looked at the shiny coffin covered in streaming beads of water and waved. The portly pastor held the umbrella as the trio rushed back to his limousine.
Later that evening, her mom walked past the hallway and noticed Rachel sitting on the hallway carpet at the far end playing with some dolls. She shivered and felt the sting of fresh tears in her eyes. Her daughter was on the same spot were Connie had found her father less a week ago, sprawled on the floor in front of the antique mirror. More correctly, Rachel had found him—Connie was responding to her daughter’s screams.
She watched her haggard reflection. “How about we play somewhere else, sweetie?”
“But I like it here, mom.” She sat one of the dolls on the marble shelf below the mirror. “And Grandpa likes it when I play with him.”
Connie covered her mouth to muffle her anguish. The space felt colder than the rest of the house now and she hated being over here. It made her sad. “Nope, come on, let’s see what’s on TV.”
The two sat in the living room in front of the flickering screen. Rachel was still playing with her dolls, but Connie was playing reruns of time spent with her father in her head.
No dad and now no grandfather, you’re a lucky kid.
Rachel left the room before Connie noticed. “Where are you going, honey?”
“Just the bathroom, mommy.”
After awhile, Connie started to wonder what was taking her so long. “You okay in there?”
There was no answer, so she went to investigate. As she entered the hallway, she froze. Rachel was inches from the giant, ornate mirror absolutely still. In the dim lighting, their images were faint and almost blended into the reflections of the walls. The imperfections on the old mirror looked like slivers of gold.
“What are you doing?”
“Talking to grandpa.” Her tiny voice was barely audible.
“Honey, Grandpa is gone now, remember what I told you?” She put her hand on her daughter’s shoulder, watching their reflections. “He’s not with us anymore.”
“He said you wouldn’t understand.”
Goosebumps raced up her arms. “Rachel, you found him right here where he fell down and that’s why you think he is still here.”
She put her small palms on the heavy mirror. “But the grandpa in the mirror didn’t fall down, mommy.”
Connie’s heart was pounding, as if the wind had been knocked out of her. She grabbed her daughter’s wrist, dragging her back to the living room. Rachel started crying but staggered behind her mom.
The next morning, she was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, cleaning her teeth and smiling as she worked the toothbrush. She paused and cocked her head toward the hall, her mouth a frothy light blue. “What, Grandpa?”
“Break the mirror.”
She spit into the sink and rinsed her mouth, rushing out of the bathroom.
Rachel stared into the ancient mirror to try to locate the source of the voice, but couldn’t see anyone. The voice asked again and she was certain it was her grandfather that time.
She slapped the tall mirror with both hands and it swayed and groaned. Feeling guilty for hitting the mirror, the little girl looked around for her mother.
She backed away, keeping her eyes on the mirror.
Her grandpa appeared next to her reflection; smiling and waving. Rachel looked to her left but no one was next to her. She gazed back at the mirror and he was in there, dressed in a white t-shirt and blue jeans—exactly like the day she had come running around the corner and found him on the floor.
“Rachel, what did I tell you about playing in the hallway?”
Rachel blinked and her grandpa vanished.
“You’re gonna be late for school, hurry up.”
Rachel grabbed her backpack and skipped down the hall to the kitchen.
“Break the mirror.”
She screeched to a halt and pivoted. Her grandpa was back, waving from the mirror. She looked around to make sure he wasn’t standing next to her.
“Time to get in the car,” Connie said.
Instead, Rachel picked up a candy dish on the kitchen island, skittering the colorful pieces of candy across the floor.
She bolted down the hallway, lead crystal dish balanced over her shoulder like a shot put. When she was nearly to the mirror, she chucked the heavy bowl. Black cracks splintered out in all directions.
Unable to stop herself, Rachel slammed into the mirror.
It rocked wildly, dropping a huge sheet of glass from the top, as if it were guillotine blade. It barely missed her, exploding on the floor. Shards of glass were raining down from the frame.
The next few moments were surreal for Connie and played out in slow motion. She ran to save her daughter, transfixed by a vision of her father standing in the one remaining jagged piece of silvery glass.
He stepped out of the mirror and his feet crunched over the broken fragments. He smiled, kneeling down to help his granddaughter to her feet. She was crying and splattered in dots of her own blood, but looked up at her grandpa and returned the smile anyway.
As the reunited family embraced, Connie felt her father’s grip tighten and realized that there was a foul stench drifting out of his mouth. She struggled to pull away, but his hug held fast.
Erik Gustafson says: “I spent 20 years serving in the United States Air Force, and have had the fortune to live all over the world, including Iceland, Germany, and in a tent for a year in Saudi Arabia. Now I help people with intellectual disabilities reach their full potential. I also teach psychology classes at a community college.”