Read Eyes in the Mirror Online
Authors: Julia Mayer
Finally I decided to ask. I had been thinking about switching places for days, and I needed to know what Samara would think about it.
“Samara, let's switch places.” We were sitting in our respective bedrooms. It was funny that Samara looked brighter than me for the first time. My mom had asked me to keep the lights off when I didn't need them because of the winter electricity bills, and Samara had the light in her closet on. The right half of her face was lit up by the closet light, and her left half was silhouetted against a long red dress.
She dismissed the idea of switching immediately, but as I pushed her to think about it more seriously, I could see her getting excited. A lot of me wanted to see what Samara's life was really like. I was curious who she talked to when I wasn't there and what she did with her time. But at least a small, very selfish part of me wanted to see what she could figure out about Jamie and what he thought of me. Where things were going with him.
“I'm afraid of walking into the mirror. I'm afraid that I'm going to screw up your life.”
“I'll help you come through,” I promised, “and as far as screwing up my life, there are three people I care about. You, my motherâ”
“And Jamie,” she finished for me.
“Right, and you'll know, Jamie will know, and my mother is my mother. There is nothing you could do to make her not like me. She loves me unconditionally.”
“From what you've told me, Jamie does too.” There was that smile again, but it faded after a moment. “I wish I had two people in my life like that.”
“Samara, I'm sure you do. You just don't see it. I'm sure it's there. You have at least one,” I said, smiling at her. “So does that mean you'll do it? We'll switch lives?”
She gave it a moment of thought. “Yes, let's do it.”
“Okay, meet me here tomorrow morning and we'll switch. I mean, we already know everything there is to know about each other, but in case there's a problem, we'll just check in all day. We'll just meet every hour on the hour. Okay?”
Samara nodded and blew me a kiss good night.
The next morning I got ready for the switch between worlds, feeling sure that I had forgotten something. I tried to dress how I imagined Samara might be dressed so people wouldn't be able to tell it was me. I wondered as I pulled a dark green shirt over my head what it would be like to pretend to be Samara. And how Samara would do at pretending to be me. I believed what I had told her the night before, though, that there wasn't really anything she could screw up so badly that I couldn't undo it. The people I cared about would be with me regardless of any mistakes Samara made.
I met Samara at the bedroom mirrors. She was already there when I got there. She asked me to hold her hand while she walked through, but I wasn't sure if she would have the same amazing experience I had the first time if I was anchoring her, so I insisted she walk through herself.
“You don't need my help. Just breathe and step in, and you'll be okay.” I watched as she took a deep breath and closed her eyes tightly. She took a step forward and was replaced for a moment by my soulless reflection.
I stepped in as well and tried to call to her as I walked through: “Open your eyes. It's beautiful. You don't want to miss this.”
I didn't know if she could hear me or not, but I figured it was worth a shot. I felt my whole body start tingling in a way it had never done before. I stepped out of the mirror into Samara's bedroom and turned to see her standing on my faded blue carpet.
Samara already looked happier. Her cheeks were flushed and bright. There was a sparkle in her green eyesâ¦she didn't look like Samara. She looked likeâ¦me. We had taken each other's bodies.
Samara looked down at her hands and then back up at me. “Oh, my God,” she whispered. “We did it. I'm really here. We're really here. Anything I should knowâany last-minute tips?” I tried to think of anything she needed to know, but I could already hear my mom calling her in the background.
“Lorna? Where are you?”
“Who's Lorna?” Samara asked me.
“I am. I mean, you are. That's my real name. When I was little, my dad used to call me Lorna Doone, like the cookie. It caught at school, and at some point I just became Doone, then Dee. But Mom still uses Lorna. She doesn't like using a name that my dad gave me. Now go. She's calling you. We'll check in about an hour from now. Good luck, SamaraâI mean Dee!”
We left the mirror at the same time, but I could feel concern mounting in the back of my mind that I'd forgotten something. I had left everything for school. I'd cleaned my room. I'd left notes about what was in my bag. We had talked about where to sit in classes and what to say to my mom. But something was bothering meâ¦
I looked at Samara's room in the light for the first time and took a deep breath. Whatever I had forgotten, there was nothing I could do about it now. The only time I had been in Samara's room was the night I'd spent convincing her to talk to me. I had been too preoccupied then to see anything. Now I had nothing else to do. I was alone in her room; I had the time to explore and to find out as much about Samara as I could. It was like looking at Samara's life in a bottle. I took in the colors, the textures, the things.
She had a soft beige carpet and light blue walls with a dark blue border on the top and bottom. Her gray desk took up most of a wall and was cluttered with papers, notebooks, open pens, and stretched-out hair ties. I found a picture of her and her mother on the table next to her bed. Her mom looked just like Samara. And really similar to what my mom had looked like when I was younger. Samara must have been six or seven, and her mom was smiling. In a way her mom looked happy, but she had bags under her eyes and was obviously worn out.
Samara had another cabinet that matched her gray desk. I opened the door. The cabinet was split in half by a vertical board. On one side was an assortment of lipsticks, blushes, nail polishes, hair bands, and cotton balls. On the other side was a clutter of things. I sat cross-legged in front of the cabinet and began taking everything out.
The first layer of stuff included a mirror, seven handles to razorsâwhich seemed like bizarre keepsakes, a flower, and a ticket to a school dance. Behind that, there were a few empty dime bags, a bowl, and a picture of her kissing a guy I didn't recognize and holding a bottle of coconut rum. I guess I wasn't surprised. I knew Samara had a wild side. I was just glad she was moving away from that now. I thought I was fine with it, but I couldn't imagine seeing Samara acting like that.
There was a history test she had gotten an A- on dated the same day as the picture. When I took those out, I found a sketchbook full of drawings of floor-length dresses, a picture of Samara when she was about eleven sitting on a tire swing in her backyard, and a small boy's baseball cap. Behind those was a nearly complete set of
The Baby-Sitter's Club
books and two small, gorgeous porcelain dolls.
The last thing in the cabinet was a sign that must have been written by Samara when she was really young that said, “No matter how mad you get, never disappoint Mommy and Daddy and don't ever make them cry.” I looked at the sign for a moment and wondered when was the last time Samara had seen it.
I turned from the sign and saw a clock on Samara's bedside table. I had to get to school. I stood up and walked out of Samara's room.
There was no answer. I hadn't expected one, but I had hoped that there would be. I took a deep breath, rolled up my sleeves, and prepared to leave the house. This wouldn't be my first time at Samara's school, but it would be my first time trying to
Samara. What if I wasn't able to do it? Or what if I was and it just showed me that Samara's life was really terrible? Or that it was wonderful?
I pulled out a little hand mirror and looked at my reflection. Samara wasn't there, but I noticed that her hair was straightened and in a ponytail. I went into the bathroom, pulled the ponytail out, and threw my head under the sink. I flipped it back, and as I wrapped a towel around my hair, trying to dry it as quickly as possible, I noticed a scar on Samara's arm.
Without thinking, I ran the fingers of my other hand over it and then up my arm, and I found another one.
My heartbeat pushed up a notch. I pulled my shirt off over my head. Samara's arms were covered with scars, new and old. Some of them were still welts that hadn't even scarred over yet. Those were from the last few days, maybe even the last twenty-four hours. Between new and old scars, it seemed like half the skin of her shoulder had been peeled off. I stared at the rough patches of skin and caressed the scars with my fingers. I looked at my hands touching the scars in the mirror and realized my cheeks were streaked with mascara-y tears.
Samara in Dee's World
When I was in science in eighth grade, I learned that there are colors that we can't see because of their wavelengths. They're brighter and of a completely different type than the colors we usually see. Like if you shined a black light or an ultraviolet light on everything for a second. But those colors were in addition to the colors I see every day. I saw them, all of those colors, when I walked through the mirror.
By the time I stepped out into Dee's world, she was already on my side of the mirror. We stared at each other for a moment, I think both realizing that we had taken each other's bodies and wondering if we had just done something really, really dumb.
We tried to give each other last-minute tips, but Dee's tips scared me more than comforted me because, as it turned out, I hadn't even known Dee's real name before we switched. I immediately began wondering what else I didn't know about her. And what else she didn't know about me. But I could hear Dee's mom calling me, and I knew I didn't have time to really worry about it right then. I had to go be Dee. Or Lorna.
“Turn off your light on the way out of the room,” she called to me. I walked into the kitchen and stopped dead in my tracks.
“Ms. Herwitz?” I blurted out before regaining my composure.
She looked at me strangely for a moment, and I was afraid she would remember where the name was from or when people had called her that. But I recovered.
“Sorryâ¦I had a weird dream last night. Anyway. Good morningâ” I felt the name choke in my throat. I hadn't said it in so long that it hurt coming out. “Good morning, Mom.” She perked up and smiled, placing a bowl of cereal in front of me before cutting up a banana into some yogurt for herself.
“Anything special going on at school today?” she asked me.
“Ummâ¦” I didn't want to lie to her. “Not that I know of?”
“Sweetheart, don't bring your voice up at the end of your sentences. It gives you less conviction when you talk.”
Conviction was the last thing I had right then but I nodded, not wanting to risk accidentally asking another question when I responded to her. We sat in silence for a few minutes while Dee's mom read the paper and I poked at my cereal. I wasn't very hungry. I tried to think of something to say, something that would start a conversation with her, just to hear her voice. This was Dee's mom, but it was my mom's reflection too. This was the woman my mom saw when she looked in the mirror. But all I could come up with was, “Anything special going on at work today?”
She laughed. Her smile was so beautiful. “One of the things about being a nurse is that you really don't know if there's anything special going on until it starts.”
I smiled, thinking it must be an exciting job. I had forgotten she was a nurse. I still thought of her as an English teacher. I looked at the faded tablecloth and wondered what it was like to work for a doctor you could never afford to go to.
“You don't seem like yourself,” she said, looking over the paper at me for a moment. “Is anything wrong?”
“No,” I said, and I meant it. I was sitting at breakfast with Mom, havingâor trying to haveâa full meal before I left for school. Dee's mom knew her well enough to realize that I wasn't acting like Dee's self. I sat thinking about Dee's mom and about my mom. I wondered if they were similar or if they were exact opposites, like me and Dee. There were so many questions I wanted to ask my own mother, but I couldn't. This could be the closest I would getâ¦
“Tell me again, Mom, what were you like as a teenager? You grew up here, didn't you? Was the neighborhood still the same?”
“Lorna, you've heard these stories a hundred times,” she said, looking up at me. “Why are you asking again now?”
“I just like picturing you as a kidâ¦like me.”
She looked, folded her arms, furrowed her eyebrow, and licked her lips. “Well,” she said, “I was a lot like you in high school. I loved high school, just like you do.”
I hate high school
. “I contributed to the lit magazine, but I wasn't assistant editor, like you.”
I get out of school as quickly as possible, no after-school activities
. “I was really close to my mom,” she said with a smile, but all I could think was
I don't have a mom
. “I used to love horses when I was little. I wanted to learn to ride, to compete.” I saw the past in her eyes. I saw her watching horses gallop around a park nearby.
“But you know how things are. Never happened. Maybe as a retirement present to myself.” She smiled at me. “Finish up. Come on, you've got to get going soon.”
I took a deep breath. There was one question I hadn't been able to ask Dee, and more than anything I wanted to know the answer. “Mom?”
“Hmm?” she said absentmindedly.
“Someone did a story about her parents for the lit mag, and it made me wonderâ¦I mean, I couldn't rememberâ¦how did you and Dad meet?”
She put the paper down next to her and sighed, brushing her hand along her cheek. She turned away, and I couldn't tell if I saw a tear in her eye. I'm sure I imagined it because when she turned back, it wasn't there.
“Not now, Lorna. I don't know why you're asking all of these questions all of a sudden. I'll tell you that story again another time, okay? Just get ready for school. You're going to be late.”
“Yeah,” I said, stumbling over my words, “I'm sorry. I didn't mean toâ¦”
“That's okay. This just isn't the time.”
I got up quickly. I hadn't meant to upset her. I cleared the table and grabbed Dee's bag from her room. She had left it right next to the bed for me, fully packed for the day. On my way out the door, Dee's mom stopped me to give me a kiss.
“Have a good day, sweetheart.”
“Thanks,” I felt it stick in my throat again, “Mom.”
Dee's neighborhood was just as easy to navigate as she'd said it would be. It was a lot like my neighborhood, the epicenter of a couple of different suburbs. The local high school was within walking distance from her house, and like mine, it was fed by middle schools in a couple of other neighborhoods.
When I walked out the door, I ran directly into a steady stream of students. I walked with them down the street, trying to make landmarks for myself so I could find my way home at the end of the day. I followed the crowd toward the school, accidentally taking a detour with older kids who were dropping off siblings at elementary and middle schools.
When I was about to walk through the building, I heard someone call, “Dee!” I took a deep breath and smiled as I turned to watch a girl in a deep pink velour tracksuit run toward me.
“Hey, sweetie,” I said, leaning in for an air kiss and doing my best to look as carefree as Dee would have been at seeing this girl.
The girl seemed to catch the eye of someone behind me and hurried up a little. “Sorry to bug you. I just wanted to check if you finished looking over the pieces for âThe Brick Bard.' I want to start getting it laid out this afternoon.”
I stared into my bag emptily for a moment, silently wondering if I would be able to recognize what she was talking about.
“Umm, I'm not sure if I rememberedâ¦” I trailed off because there was a Post-it sticking up from a CD with “LitMagâfor Kelly” written on it.
“Sure, here you go,” I said, pulling it out and desperately hoping she was Kelly. I felt the tension build in my back for a second. But when she smiled and took it, I felt myself relax again.
“Thanks a million,” she said, and bounced away toward a group of girls who looked exactly like her, plus or minus the color of the velour.
I couldn't believe I had pulled it off. I'd had practice pretending to be a happy-go-lucky girl, but never like this. But that girl had no idea that I wasn't Dee; as far as she was concerned, I was the one who'd edited those stories or poems or whatever was on that CD I'd given her.
I looked up at the clock behind the entrance and realized that it was time for my first check-in with the real Dee. I slipped into a bathroom stall and pulled out a hand mirror. Hopefully anyone who overheard would just think I was talking on my phone. When I looked in the mirror, Dee was already there.
“What are these about, Samara?” she asked, pulling back my sleeves. She had found the cuts. I had been so wrapped up in thinking about myself being Dee, looking like her, acting like her, that I'd forgotten that she had become me too.
“What are these? How long have you been doing this? Ever since we've been friends? Since before that? I can't believe you kept this from me.”
“It'sâ¦” I sputtered, and Dee finally made eye contact with me. What was I going to say it wasâa hobby? “It's an addiction. I couldn't help it. It started a long time ago. And once I startedâ¦”
Dee sounded angry, but her eyes looked like she had been crying. “You know what, Samara? I can't deal with this right now. We have to keep pretending to be each other. We can talk about this when we both get home tonight, okay? But, well, no, never mind. Tonight.”
I nodded, too stunned and ashamed to say anything. I noticed that Dee had changed how I wore my hair. She always wore hers in curls, and today mine was down and curly too. It fell better on her than it ever had on me. She had forgotten to put on my makeup too. Before I could ask her about it, she had put away the pocket mirror and my real reflection, two-dimensional and with empty eyes, was back.
I got full force into Dee's life as soon as I started going to her classes. School was almost fun when so many people wanted to sit with me and talk to me. I followed Dee's instructions and sat in the third row, second seat from the left in every class.
A girl I didn't know sat down next to me in the first class. “Hey,” she said.
I smiled. “Hi. How ya doin'?” I asked, finding it easier to ask the questions than to answer them.
“Good. Lot of work last night so I'm, ughâ¦” she leaned her head back, “â¦exhausted. I don't know how you do lit mag too.”
“It's not so bad,” I said, really meaning it. Being Dee wasn't bad at all.
I raised my hand in two of my morning classes, which I would never have done in my own school. And another two times, I got called on out of nowhere. I didn't flinch. I answered.
I checked in with Dee again before lunch. “I just realized what I forgot,” she said, and I could hear the urgency in her voice.
“What? What is it?” I asked. But she was cut off. I guess someone else was coming because she disappeared and was replaced by the girl with empty eyes looking back at me. I sighed and went into the lunchroom. I was really curious what Dee had forgotten, but I was feeling great and figured I would be able to handle it, whatever it was. I
I turned and was on my way into the cafeteria when Kelly, the girl in the pink tracksuit, called me over to tell me Jamie was looking for me. I began looking around for him, but then I felt a hand on my back and someone whispered, “Follow me.” I followed Jamie out one of the back doors of the school. We walked without talking but I was so grateful to be with someone who knew who I was that I appreciated the break from thinking about who I wasn't.
He was attractive, but in a quiet way. Some people are attractive in that way where you can't tear your eyes off them as they walk down the street, and some people, like Jamie, are just nice to look at. He had olive-colored skin and freckles. Most of his freckles were on the right side of his face, so he looked like his head was constantly cocked a little to the side even though it wasn't.
He brought me to a park a few blocks from the school, and I wondered if we were allowed to leave school during lunch. I doubted that Dee's school had open lunch, but I didn't think Jamie would purposely use the fact that it was me instead of Dee to get her into trouble. I noticed that it was starting to get chilly. The seasons were just changing so the weather had that crisp feel without actually feeling cold yet.
We sat down on the ground in the park and I looked at Jamie, wondering what he had brought me here for, if there was something Dee had wanted him to tell me outside of school. I looked into his eyes, and for a moment I couldn't put my finger on what was wrong.
“Jamie, are you stoned? Isn't it a little early?”
“A little. But everything is really clear,” he said, closing his eyes and shaking his head backward. His hair fell just so, dropping back to exactly the same place every time he shook his head, so it seemed a little bit silly to keep doing it. He sat down next to me on the ground, saying, “Look, Dee, I knowâ”
“Wait a minuteâ” I tried to cut him off.
“No, just let me say this first.”
“No, don't. Just please let me.” He put his hands on my cheeks and leaned toward me. And he kissed me. I had never been kissed like that before. Not with that kind of love or even with that kind of passion. He really cared about me; he loved me. I felt myself sinking into him, sinking into the kiss, and I had to remind myself that the feeling was not for me. He didn't love
People don't love
. I pulled back from him.
“Dee, I'mâ¦I'm sorry. I didn'tâ¦”
“No, it'sâ¦Jamie, I'm not Dee.” I looked around and lowered my voice. “I'm Samara. Dee said she told you we were switching for the day.”
“Oh, shit. Shit. Fuck.” He pulled his knees up to his chest and ran his fingers through his hair. He squeezed his eyes shut tightly and rubbed one hand over his face, while he tapped his knee with his other thumb.
I put my hand on his knee. “I'm sorry. You didn't let me tell you. And, I mean, I thought you knew. Dee told meâ¦she told me that she'd told you.”