“Here is a list of fearful things: The jaws of sharks, the vultures’ wings, the rabid bite of the dogs of war, the voice of one who went before. But most of all, the mirror’s gaze, which counts us out our numbered days.” - Clive Barker
Mornings were so very different from the nights. In the light of day, Judith’s mother was radiant and full of life, a reflection of their sweet fanciful existence. Their life was a fairytale of lively playfulness, imagination and a deep abiding love.
“Come on, Judith,” Amanda would call out to her daughter. “It’s time to rise and shine.”
Her mommy did not work during the day like other mommies. They would play and picnic in the nearby park often. After eating a small meal on a thick quilt laid upon the ground, they would lie down staring up at the clouds. “That one looks like a horse!” Judith squealed with delight.
“It’s running wild and free with the breeze,” her mommy added. “Imagine riding on that pony’s back and you could go anywhere in the world. Where would you go, Judith?”
“Somewhere where we can ride real ponies,” Judith spoke in a hushed dreamy voice. “We could live in a big house… me and you… and daddy.”
“Daddy?” Amanda looked over at her daughter, surprised.
“Oh, yes!” Judith smiled and closed her eyes for a moment. “Daddies are special. Emily Richardson says her daddy takes her places where real animals do tricks, they eat spun cotton on a stick and he puts her on his shoulders so she can see everything! Little girls get stepped on and pushed around, but on a daddy’s shoulders you are bigger than everyone else.”
“Yes, I suppose you are right about that Judith. But you won’t be little forever.” Amanda looked over at her daughter, eyes now staring back up at the clouds. No, she won’t be little forever, she thought to herself.
“Look mommy!” Judith pointed to the cloud. “The pony’s neck has grown longer. Now it’s a giraffe! Now it can see over all the other clouds.”
Giggles erupted, yet Amanda feared she was watching her daughter getting bigger right before her eyes. Where does the time go? she wondered as she reached over and tickled Judith to hear her sweet innocent laughter before it was too late. Too late? She thought, is it already too late?
Nights were different. The shadows frightened Judith as warm sunshine gave way to a chilling darkness. Long gone were the ponies in the sky and the dreams of faraway places, if only…
No, now laughter was replaced with sounds Judith could not put a name to, but she sensed the evil. Somehow, dreams were whisked away and now nightmares stood on the other side of the doorway.
Go to sleep, sweet baby girl. I am right here with you. Sleep. Sleep.
“Oh, baby, you feel so good. That’s it darlin’.” Mommy’s voice.
She could hear her mother down the hall whispering to someone. “Yeah, that’s good – let it go, baby!”
There was a long throaty moan that did not sound like her Mommy. “Fuuuck, yes!”
She recognized those low deeper voices. They always visited Mommy at night after Judith had been tucked into bed; her mommy’s friends.
These were the night sounds. Whispers, breathing, more whispers and then that low guttural noise, like a rabid animal. The sound of something banging hard against the wall, a steady rhythm that slowly grew louder and faster as the voices blended – his the sound of a grunting beast; hers high and pleading. The intensity of that sound seemed to rise into a maddening howl. Then the sound of his triumph under heavy sighs while her mommy whimpered and gasped, finally falling into total silence.
It wasn’t long afterwards she would hear Mommy saying good night to her friend and closing the door, turning the lock – click… safe.
Mommy’s footsteps led her down the hall toward Judith’s room. She would open the door, enter and tip-toe to the side of her bed where she would kiss her fingertips and then, ever so gently, touch it to her daughter’s forehead. Judith pretended to be fast asleep, but she always listened; always knew. Then the arguments would begin with that awful woman.
Judith didn’t know who Mommy was talking to in her room but the woman was so mean and said such despicable things.
“You are nothing more than a worn out silk bag for men to deposit their filth and loose change.”
Mommy was always crying when the woman spoke to her. “I am trying to do my best, please try to understand. I have a young daughter to feed and I get no help from anyone. ANYONE!”
“Don’t raise your voice to me, Amanda!” The other woman knew her mother’s name. She called her mommy by her name! Judith listened.
“You are a slut, Amanda. Men use you and you accept their money for lying on your back and playing their game. That makes you nothing more than a common whore.”
Mommy would try to muffle her cries but Judith could still hear them.
Finally, she would hear the shower. The sound of the water would tell her it was safe again and she could close her eyes and fall into sweet dreams.
But that night, Judith listened until she was sure Mommy was under the spray of water and decided to see who the hateful woman was in Mommy’s room.
Judith tiptoed past the bathroom and into her mother’s room to look around. The room always smelled like perfume and dirty socks, the furniture was old, large and ominous. The wood was dark and dirty with odd patterns of a lighter inlaid wood that would create scary faces in the grain.
Against one wall was the vanity, with a set of drawers on both ends and a big scooped out center area where Mommy would sometimes rest her feet while brushing her hair. In front of the vanity was a matching bench with a red velvet padded seat that was still very soft and cushy.
Then there was the mirror! Judith recalled it had turned an amber sort of shade around the edges of the glass and the ‘wrinkled’ lines crisscrossing in the center showed its weathered age and gave it an eerie appearance. The mirror was big enough to reflect the length of your entire silhouette when standing.
Judith was sure the red velvet coverlet that Mommy used to protect the mirror was part of some old curtains that once matched the vanity seat. She was always careful to cover the mirror when she wasn’t using it to brush her hair or put on her makeup.
There was no one in the room. Judith shuffled quietly to the other end of the apartment, tiptoeing past the bathroom door and her own bedroom before coming to where the hall branched to the left into the kitchen or right, into the living room.
The aroma of spices from the kitchen mingled with the musty antiques that lined the walls of the living room. The rooms were empty of life. No one was there.
Judith knew she still had to be here because Mommy had already closed the door for the night and turned the lock.
She crept back to her mother’s room and that’s when she noticed the red velvet coverlet that hung over the mirror moved ever so slightly. Perhaps it was just a delayed response from the air shifting as Judith entered. The one thing Judith feared more than her mommy’s late-night visitors was that damned vanity mirror. She could feel it watching her… waiting.
She walked over and sat down on the vanity seat in front of the covered mirror and felt the plush silkiness of the red velvet cushion against the back of her thighs as she scooted herself forward. Slowly and carefully, she reached her hand up...
Judith quickly withdrew and spun around to see her mommy standing naked in the doorway, water dripping from her hair and an expression of drowned terror. Her face was pale and Judith could see her bottom lip tremble as she tried to compose and cover herself with the sheet from the bed. Mommy wrapped the sheet around her slender frame and tucked it in at the top to secure it. Then she held her hand out to summon Judith.
“Judith, please honey, come to bed. Step away from the mirror and let’s go tuck you in, shall we?” Her voice was incredibly shaky and her eyes never even blinked. Judith did not like seeing her mommy so unsettled.
Judith obediently stood up and walked over to her mother and took her hand. Together they walked back to her bedroom where she took to her bed without speaking a word. Her mommy tucked the covers up around her chin and then kissed her forehead with her now pallid lips. They were soft and warm, and her mommy smelled so clean.
“I’m sorry if I frightened you baby.” Her mother whispered to her. “I heard footsteps… and, well… when I came to check on you, it startled me – that’s all. Then her mommy kissed her forehead again and wiped her hand gently over her cheek moving her hair away from her face.
“I love you, Judith.” She said as she closed the bedroom door.
It’s okay now, Judith, let me sing you to sleep.
Her singing always relaxed Judith into a deep and peaceful slumber.