Michelle found our flat on Realestate.com after Schoolies and we moved in on the 15th of January. On the 18th she bought the mirror from the Vinnies down the road. It was a big and gaudy thing that she kept in our living room. Old-fashioned, oak frame, full length and a little ripple in the glass at the bottom left hand corner.
I could see the mirror from the hallway when I went to bed at night. I couldn’t look at it in the dark, the way it caught the shadows was so creepy, but I couldn’t put my back to it either.
We’d been best friends since we were little. I remember when she moved in next door; my parents and I went over to meet them.
Mum invited them to use our pool while theirs was being built and when they came round I watched her perform bombs and pin drops in the deep end. She could dive too, like an Olympian or a goddess even. We were the same age but she seemed so much more accomplished than I was. I’d given up on diving after hitting my head on the first try.
I remember Michelle coming over to me with a bold smile. She took me from the step, where I sat with my arms around my knees, and taught me to dive. She had a way of speaking to me and listening to me that made me feel important and interesting. I learned over the years that that was a talent she could equally apply to anyone. I wasn’t anyone. I was the one she trusted, the one she could tell her secrets to and would always be there. I was the one who understood her.
When we were sixteen we went to our first party with the whole year invited. It was our first with alcohol too, but our parents didn’t know that. When I got there I found Michelle with our friends, Sandy and Kate, and I remember her just staring at me. I finally understood that saying, you know, to stare daggers at someone. After an awkward second or two she slapped on an artificial smile.
“That’s my dress,” she said, laughing. I looked down at the tight, Aztec print thing I had on. She sniffed, “The one I bought for my birthday party. The one I told you about.” She walked away, Sandy and Kate trailing after to comfort her. Their pointy heels sunk into the grass as they went.
I tried to call my parents to take me home but they didn’t answer. They’d gone to a movie and their phones were off. I found some girls from geography class and hung out with them. Later, Sandy came looking for me. Michelle had thrown up and locked herself in the bathroom. She was refusing to speak to anyone but me.
I pushed past the angry queue of drunk classmates and removed Michelle to an unoccupied bedroom. She instantly collapsed onto the bed, one patent pump slipping off her foot to the floor. I lay down next to her. There were tear stains down her cheeks and it was the first time I’d ever thought she looked ugly.
“I love you, Jess,” she said, “You’re my best friend.” I told her she was mine and she nodded, “It’s you and me, Jess, always just you and me.” I agreed.
She started crying again and held my hand, “Sometimes I’m just so sad and I don’t know why.”
I laughed and she shot me a hurt look.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I just… I thought I was the only one.”
We didn’t talk about what was said that night again. Maybe she was too drunk to remember but I always thought she did. And she knew, as I did, that we now shared an even deeper bond than we had before.
Michelle became so much vainer after we moved in together. I would see her looking at herself in the mirror while we watched TV and so I would look as well in case there was something there (sometimes it almost seemed as if there was). She would position herself for conversations so she could look over my shoulder at her reflection.
“Are you even listening?” I asked Michelle once, moving my head to block her view. She pursed her lips and tried to look around me, “I can hear you without looking at you.”
One day, when Michelle was out, I decided to examine the mirror to see what it was that obsessed her so much. The frame was carved with clusters of grapes at the centre of each side and vines twisted all the way around. There were hundreds of tiny chips and dents in the wood. The glass was smooth and cold except for the warped spot in the bottom left hand corner. Running my hand over it I felt a warmth emanate from the little patch. I got down on my knees to look closer. It was rough to the touch and in it my reflection became blurred and unrecognisable. Something was moving…
Suddenly Michelle came home and turned on the light. She looked between me and the mirror then turned sharply and went to her room. I’d been staring at the dim silver impression of myself, not even noticing the sun had set.
A few days later we had people round from uni for dinner.
The meal was over and everyone was drinking in the living room. I was concerned about what the combination of red wine and white carpet might do to our eight hundred dollar bond but Michelle didn’t seem worried, so I tried not to be. Trent, infatuated with Michelle, asked what her costume was for a party we were all going to next week.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, waving a hand dismissively, “Jess has a good one.” She pointed at me.
“Joan of Arc,” I said. I had already bought a plastic sword and breastplate from the kids dress up section in Crazy Clarkes. Trent smiled and nodded but turned back to Michelle.
“Come on?” he pressed.
She reclined regally on the couch watching her reflection, “I shall go as Lady Godiva… I have everything but the horse.”
Everyone laughed, I doubted they knew who Lady Godiva was. I knew. I was the one who told Michelle about her in the first place. Everyone loved her that night. I could see it in their eyes. Their eyes, reflecting her back at herself just like the mirror.
After they left and Michelle went to bed I tidied the living room. The mirror caught the light from the street lamps outside and glowed like the full moon. I put down the wine glasses I was holding and went to it. There was something… special about it. Looking at myself in its crystalline surface, I liked what I saw.
It was an accident. I was annoyed, frustrated sure, but not angry. Not vindictive. I’d complained to my mother but she said it was normal.
“That’s just what it’s like when you move in with someone. You have to get used to each other.”
But I wasn’t getting used to it and then it happened. The day before the party I came home and saw her teetering in front of the mirror. She had just finished curling her hair so it fell in perfect goddess waves and was midway through applying lipstick. L’Oreal number 375, Deep Raspberry. Mine.
I saw her. I walked up behind her and pushed… I watched her face in the reflection. Her upper lip was like a dark pink bow pulled tight but her bottom lip was pale, still awaiting colour.
Our eyes met. She faltered and she fell. The waiting mirror consumed her, all but the lipstick which left a bright smudge where it fell. Michelle was gone. All that was left was the lipstick, the mirror and myself.
Of course you wouldn’t believe me.
After that the party became a sort of memorial. Everyone scrapped the costumes, they thought it was disrespectful or some crap, and spent the whole night talking about how great she was. I left early.
I have the mirror now. Michelle’s parents left it for me when they packed up her things. They said she’d want me to have it… to remember her by. I’m glad I won’t have to see them again. Their faces were uncomfortable to look at.
The police investigation is wrapping up. They have no leads—how could they? Eventually she’ll just be another missing girl.
Previously Published at Phantasmagoria Magazine