This story is by Grace and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
She stared at me. I stared right back.
I rinsed my hands of the syrupy pink soap when she did. When she wrinkled her nose, so did I. I didn’t blame her – she was breathing a breath of piss, shit and worse. The heavy iron gallop of trains pounded into ceiling. Skinny pale lights become shaking, flickering shades of faded blues and fluorescent greens. Shadows, sharp and black, cast themselves starkly on the grey walls. Together we eye them, a deep fear of darkness stirring in only one of us. My eyebrows rise when hers do at the letter ‘L’ roughly scratched out of a door sign so it reads ‘Pubic Toilets’. We both push the door, and disappear through it.
Yet, I do not leave with her.
I can laugh, walk, talk and cry. I have eyes that are green, grey, brown and blue. In an instant, I will know your greatest fears and flaws. But I cannot leave this cell of grime and grey tiles. Trapped, I am forced to wear wrinkled masks or doughy skirts of fat. Everyday sullied and contorted into ugliness, because of them. Because of you.
Because I am a reflection, a flat wisp trapped in a mirror. At least, most of the time.
For occasionally, there comes…an opportunity.
I hear them before they come in. Their laughter is high, mellow and moist – young. The door of my grey cage is opened and I almost sigh with content as I slip on two pairs of creamy long legs and polished pink nails. When the first girl walks in, I hesitate in my rising breath of glory. At first, all is well. Her hair tumbles down her back in beautiful dark curls, complimenting the sliver of fabric wrapped around her that only just covers what needs to be covered. She lets me pull my hand through it, ecstasy brimming as I feel the strands of the silky black sea that has been poured onto my scalp.
But the wave crashes when she looks at her own face. My nose is too wide for her cheeks, and her lips are too shallow for my dimples. My colours turn grey and ashen. I am plain, because I am only what she lets me be.
I feel myself pull back in nothingness while she pulls me alongside her, a limp puppet on strings. A reflection of the mundane is even lower than the mundane itself. It cannot even say that it’s plainness is its own. Because of her, I am colourless.
Until she walks in.
Carving her face onto my own, it is like I am breathing for the first time. She bleeds colour back into me, bleaching the grime from my bones, turning my grey tiles silver. I pull forwards to face her, savouring and sucking on her image for more. I wanted more. I take care sculpting the slimness of her jaw, the strength of her gaze. Her lips are full, blossoming against her pale skin like a bloody magnolia. Golden locks frame her face. With cheekbones that are high and mighty, she gazes at me like a queen would her equal. For I am her equal. I am a queen. So, I stand tall and proud against my stained mirror. And when her friend looks down at her phone, I raise my hand against it. Raise it when she doesn’t. The golden queen freezes.
She’s seen me.