This is a ‘this would scare me’ warning! (I don’t like things that stick around in the dark in the back of your mind, waiting for an unguarded moment at four am.)
Tammy dabbed her eye with the handkerchief, keeping her other eye, the good one, firmly on the mirror. There wasn’t much light, and the reflections of her face, her body, the pile of used handkerchiefs on the counter, all came back shadowed, stripped of the details that made them real. Her eye caught on the white of the handkerchief as she pulled it away. Blood had soaked through the edge she was using, seeping inward to stain the whole cloth.
Tammy pressed it back up to her left eye and applied pressure, heart thumping, right eye going back to the mirror.
Had her gaze flickered away for long enough?
Had something gotten out?
Her reflection looked the same as ever. Messy blond hair falling in not quite matted locks over her shoulders and down her back. One red-rimmed blue eye looking blankly out of her almost-tanned face. Exhaustion hanging heavy under the eye, around her lips. Scabs and scars, black marks in the dark, from years of bad sleep and nervous picking. Fancy blouse, so bright white it caught her eye and made her start.
It puffed out a little, at the sleeves, casting spider web shadows across the reflection of her wrist.
Behind her, the dark blue turned grey of the bathroom wall. She was sitting in a tall folding chair she’d brought in. She would have used the toilet, but she had to crane her neck to see the mirror from there. And that would have gotten quite uncomfortable after the first hour.
Tammy counted the dim shadows, cast by diluted moonlight seeping through the frosted window. They were the same, in the same places, including the tricky one under the faucet that she could only see when she was sitting up straight.
She filled her chest with air, listening as her heart danced like a particularly heavy club song. Then she let it out. She counted the seconds as her breath hissed through her teeth, trying to push them out for as long as possible.
Tammy caught her own eye in her reflection, lost count, and refocused on her chin. She didn’t like being stared at. It was intensely unnerving. Especially when the person doing the staring was her. Whenever she looked back, she was still staring. Tammy felt her lips try for a small smile. It didn’t help with the fatigue.
Marvin would get home soon. He had to. She’d been doing this for ages. Her last handkerchief was getting wet under her fingers. Tammy kept her eye focused on her reflection’s chin and pulled the cloth down, slowly.
Her left lid was glued together by crusted, drying blood. Without looking, Tammy peeled the cloth apart and folded until a part that felt dry to her fingers was on top. She raised it back to her eye.
This time, her gaze didn’t waver from her chin. Much better.
Just to be sure, Tammy counted the shadows again.
Her feet began to bounce up and down on the chair bar. Not enough to make a noise, but enough to feel. Tammy tried breathing again, but didn’t bother stopping her legs. How long had he been gone? It must have been hours. It felt like hours.
Tammy fumbled into her pocked with her right hand, pinning her eyes to the shadow under the faucet. In a moment she’d found her cell-phone. It was stuck in her pocket. She straightened up some more, stretched out her leg, and dragged it out with two thin fingers.
The shadow didn’t move the whole time.
Tammy settled back into the seat and faced her cellphone to the mirror. Then she woke it up.
The light, a bright blue, made her blink. But only for a moment. It seared into her right eye.
Backwards, in the mirror, the phone displayed the time. Tammy flipped it in her head. Three forty seven. He’d been gone for three hours and twenty two minutes. Tammy frowned and put the phone on the counter with a sharp click.
Even at this time of night, it did not take three hours and twenty two minutes to find antibiotic ointment and whole milk. Something had gone wrong.
Tammy bit her lip, watching the movement in the mirror.
Then, because she had blinked, she counted shadows.
She was up to sixteen when the shadow of the shower curtain twitched. Tammy flicked her gaze to that corner of the mirror, heart pounding, and stared.
It wasn’t moving. She’d been imagining it.
Tammy stared at it a moment longer, and then began the count again. The ones in the corners were still when she passed over them. The one under the faucet was still in place.
But she was short one.
Tammy counted again.
A piece of the cob-web pattern below her wrist was missing.
Moonlight white cloth lay over moonlight white flesh, with no shadow in between. Empty. A sandwich with no filling.
Her heart was co-entering the old-time musical song and dance competition with her lungs, they’d picked a Fred Astiare piece, and they were winning. Tammy stared at it, hoping she was wrong, mistaken somehow. She moved her wrist. The shadows slid along it like water. But the empty spot stayed where it was.
Tammy sprang up, eyes still on the mirror, and slammed the bathroom light switch. The lamp made its familiar humming noise and flickered on. Tammy’s right eye slammed shut, startled by the light. She pulled out her phone and flicked it on by feel, hoping that would help.
But it was too late.
The overhead bathroom light flickered, and then with a whining whimper, like a kitten dying in the dark, went out.
Her eyes lept back open, the left one ripping free of crusted blood. There was no light coming from her cell-phone. She tapped the button again, eyes searching the shadows of the small room with frantic speed.
The phone still didn’t turn on.
Was the moon growing darker?
No, no, she was just imagining that.
The shadows by the shower, those had grown longer.
The whole room smelled of blood. Tammy’s eyes flickered to where she’d left the cloth she’d been pressing against her eye. It was by the mirror, dark in the moonlight. Her eyes were empty black holes.
The moon was growing darker.
Behind her, the lock clicked shut.