'Mirror' by Yutong Yang



I didn’t see the blood moon that night by the lake. But I remember seeing stars.


Legend has it that the crimson orb was a beautiful Goddess of Rage who cursed those who’d see her real face. My late father and his friends could tell stories that would truly send shivers down my spine; yet dad was always the soothing presence who could ensure my good night’s sleep. Still, I would never dare to dream of myself as blessed with good fortune. Dreams, the sanctuary of the mind where when all is wrong with the world, we can escape to our own little corner where nothing may harm us. But who can escape fate?


In a tiny town where little goes on, people talk. They talked when my father married out of his league. They talked when a drunkard spilled wine all over my father, preventing his arrival to the hospital in time to witness my birth. They talked when the dashing, well-to-do gentleman from my mother’s youth returned. Yet they talked the loudest when my father’s black horse galloped back to our house with an empty saddle.


Now, there have been rumours going on about what exactly happened on that fateful afternoon. Men who had flown to my father’s rescue said the horse was frightened and threw him off. They claimed my father had quarreled with mother, got drunk in a bar, and in a fit of rage, whipped the horse too hard.


None of this was true.


For one thing, my father never gets drunk. He might indulge in a healthy glass of wine or two at the dinner table, but that was as far as he’d go. And I don’t know what my parents quarreled about that morning, but it’s not difficult to guess what set him off.


Ever since the mysterious gentleman arrived in town, mother had... changed. She left the house more often and new silk dresses were stockpiling her wardrobe. Our family accounts were clear, no signs of extravagant spending, yet they came from somewhere.


That morning, mother received a note, then peeked at my father, then the clock, then... my father noticed and went to sit in the living room, blocking the way to the front door. Half an hour later, she rose with a defiant expression. My father raised his eyebrows.


“Chan, go upstairs, will you? Your mother and I need to talk.”


I opened my mouth, but my protests were stifled by the look on my father’s face; I could recognise a brewing storm. Twenty minutes later, I heard a scream, the door banging open and shut; more yelling, and the door banging open and shut again. Then, all was silent. The living room was empty when I crept back downstairs.


And my father never came back. Mother’s mysterious friend took care of the funeral, and one month later, I had a new father. My mourning did not last for long. Mother and her new beau sent me off to boarding school the first chance they got, while they went off on their honeymoon. Life would never be the same again.


*


As the new girl in town, I was easy prey for the locals who saw it only fitting to gang up on me. Why not? After all, I was different.


Science was the new God in this foreign land, and myths were dismissed as made up stories to intimidate illiterate little girls. When the Astronomy teacher announced the time of the next blood moon, I could hear the girls whispering excitedly. When class ended, I had already packed my things, and was preparing to leave unnoticed, but they were quicker.


*


That evening, when I went to the lake, where we were supposed to watch the blood moon rise, no one was there. It took me a full hour to climb to the top of that hill. More time passed as I wandered and wondered. A chilly wind was blowing, and I could hear low calls in the trees. Maybe it was some lonesome fox spirit, or maybe it was just a hooting owl. My original pathway was obscured by a layered gloom. When I turned back the other way, I saw a girl standing in the bushes. I couldn’t make out her features in the darkness, but I could tell she had yellow skin and a uniform, just like me. I thought hard, but could not remember another Asian student at our school. She broke the silence.


“Are you here to watch the blood moon?”


“Yeah, but who are you?”


“Oh, I’m Juan, from Mrs. Smith’s Language Arts class. Are you studying Astronomy?”


Little by little, I gathered she was attending all the classes I wanted to but didn’t. I filled up on STEM courses to please Mother, but she was studying Social Science. I wonder when I think about it now, but back then it didn’t seem strange that she looked so much like me, and seemed to know so much about me.


“You came up here to spite those girls, didn’t you? But you’re not supposed to watch the blood moon.” I nodded.


“Come on, you can sit next to me. I’ll cover your eyes with my hands. Tomorrow, you can tell them you were here all the time. And if they don’t believe you, I’ll stand up for you.”


I remembered falling into blissful oblivion. The stars shone brilliantly over that lake on the hill... but I never saw the blood moon.


After that, I only saw the other girl once or twice in the corridor. She would smile and wave; I couldn’t tell if the gesture was friendly or flippant.


*


After my adventure up on that hill, I have taken to gazing in the mirror for hours on end. The girls laughed at my antique one, so I picked one up from the thrift store just around the corner. This habit escalated into an obsession, though, and soon I caught myself stealing glances at my own reflection in the middle of a fascinating lesson.


You may ask what’s there to see, right? Isn’t it just me?


No, it’s not me. It’s me in the mirror. It’s the same person, but changed.


And oftentimes when I stay up all night, dabbing away the stray tear streaks, and tugging at the corners of the mouth to make my reflection look happier, Juan would come sit on my bay window. She was always there when I needed someone to talk to, like when I got full marks on my Math quiz and was accused of cheating, or when mother “advised” me against traveling back for the winter break. Usually, she just listened. But some nights she stayed, and covered my eyes with her soothing hands.


Soon it was the only way I could fall asleep.


*


“Please, don’t leave me too.”


The two of us stand facing each other. In the dying light, heavy make-up looks a mess. The dim red halo softens the edges of our yellowing features, as tears roll down our cheeks—mascara tears that cut long matching scars on our faces, deeper ones through our hearts. What’s she saying? My entire life flashes back to me, as I see the sparkle fade from her eyes. Doesn’t she understand? But when I beg for a way out, she only shakes her head ever so slowly.


I decide I won’t let the last person in my world walk away and leave it empty, leave me empty. I want to keep the sparkle in her eyes... the stars in the sky. So I apply my carving knife and draw the blinds on the world.


Outside, the moon has just begun to rise.





Hello 大家好 (๑╹◡╹)ノ” I am Yutong Yang (楊語彤) (she/她), a high school senior. Born and raised in the seaside boomtown of Shenzhen, China, the voyager in me enjoys venturing into the unknown. I am ¼ of 360° of Opera®, and my words appear in Ogma Magazine, Paper Crane Journal, and Hallowzine. Intrigued by intersections between music, race and ethnicity, and queer and feminist theory, I serve on World Ocean Day’s Youth Advisory Council and Bow Seat’s Future Blue Youth Council advocating for our oceans, hoping to bridge languages and cultures while engaging in creative advocacy. You can find me on Instagram @luoshuifufei, or Still Here with my chosen family.

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