In those strange times, she began a new religion, based entirely on the birds she could see from her window. The window was her tight view on the world, although it was no smaller than it had been. The world stretched beyond it, although it was no larger. The birds were messengers, chirping disaster and singing a warning.
Memory: When she was a child her aunt had set her and her brother to picking up plums in the backyard for two dollars a bag, which had seemed like a good idea. But the plums were sticky, oozing juice, and the bees were all over them. Sometimes now she woke to the feel of the bees on her skin, something you couldn’t see or wash away.
She counted things instead of praying, for what good could praying do now. Her cupboards received her daily worship in silence, each can, each bottle of water a testament to the future. She didn’t rend her garments, but instead wore the same shirt three days in a row, letting her hair hang about her face, uncombed.
There was no room now for song, but she had come to understood time travel, for she was living in the present as if it were the past. Each day added another layer to the history that was accumulating under her feet.
Memory: The man who had once come through their back gate, saluting her where she sat on the back steps, nine years old, her hair in a ragged braid. “Just passing through,” he said to the dog who for some reason didn’t bark. He plucked a small red tomato from one of the plants climbing poles in the center of the yard and put it in his pocket. “Be seeing you,” he said. The dog laid his head back down on his outstretched paws and the two of them watched the man sidle through the gap in the hedge, from which a little cloud of butterflies flew out, small and pale blue. She understood then that anyone might come in, through a gate or a door. Or anything.
When she was little, she had believed she could see her soul on the inside of her eyelids — a reflection of it anyway, an irregular oval shape, pale and glowing.
Now, when she was getting ready to go to sleep, she went into her room and stood in front of her paneled mirror, reflecting three of her, like the tryptich of a holy saint. She stared into the mirror, and imagined that her image came forward through the glass to stand before her, almost close enough to touch. In the morning she decided that she had had a vision, although she didn’t know what it meant.
Memory: At her aunt’s funeral, a stranger had come up to her and said, “You look like your aunt, bless her dead soul.” This was many years ago now. Her aunt had died as they say in the fullness of time, of a respectable disease of old age.
Standing behind her screen door, she told her neighbor about the strange behavior of her reflection. He laughed and said he’d like to have two of himself because he never got everything done in a day. Thus it was, she said to herself, when something significant and holy happened in the real world. That night she stood before the mirror again. This time her reflection didn’t seem interested in a closer contact. Instead it turned and walked away into the room that was the double of the one in which she stood. Her reflection walked for a long time, becoming smaller and smaller until it was impossible to tell in the failing light if it disappeared or if it found at the end of the room a door which was too small to see.
The next morning was when she decided that she ought to start a new religion, but she had the sense not to tell anyone about it. There would be no sacrifices, no penitence. Prayer would be optional.
Memory: A man she had gone on a date with had told her he couldn’t distinguish between blue and yellow. To him they looked like different shades of green. His blonde wife (who was dead), to him, he said, she had green hair. I see her at night sometimes, he said. This was when the dead were more singular, she believed.
If she became convinced that a species of beings lived on the other side of her mirror, did that mean that she had to do something about it? Was it only her mirror, or all mirrors? When she combed her hair, she felt the bone of her skull under the skin. All the news of the world, the numbers, the statistics, the earnest recitations of who had done what to whom, came down to this, that you lived in a cage of your bones.
Mary Grimm, whose stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Antioch Review, and the Mississippi Review, among other places, is currently, working on a historical novel set in 1930s Cleveland and teaching fiction writing at Case Western Reserve University.