By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: This morning you bought a stunning old mirror from a little old lady at a flea market. You hung it over your dresser as soon as you got home. Now, as you’re getting ready for bed, you catch a movement in the mirror, though it can’t possibly be your reflection. Someone or something is watching you, waiting.
What. A. Day.
That was the only thought circling through my head as I pulled back the comforter and fluffed a pillow. Today was the first Saturday in probably a hundred years—okay, maybe three weeks—that I’d actually been able to make any headway on the boxes. At about two I quit and went out for a sandwich.
I was still feeling my way around town, so after lunch it didn’t surprise me when I took the wrong street back. Before turning around, though, a sign caught my eye. “Flea market” it read.
When’s the last time I went to a flea market? I wondered.
I sat in the car at the four-way stop, thinking about it. Maybe in my old town? Back when… A honking sound made me shake out of my reverie, and I pulled forward. After a few more cross streets, I saw the flea market in full swing.
This one was outdoors, which made sense. Even though fall had been settling in overnight, the daytime temperatures were still nice enough to enjoy the sun. People were probably trying to take advantage of the warmer temperatures before winter came and they had to scuttle inside like bugs.
I parked the car in the field where the grass had been flattened by who-knows-how-many cars through the years and followed the sounds of the crowd. Most of the people in the stalls smiled at me, and I smiled back. I appreciated that none of them were pushy about me buying stuff. It encouraged me to do a little browsing.
The last stall farthest away from the car was being run by a little old lady surrounded by odds and ends of furniture. Unlike other stalls, this didn’t look like anything she’d made. In fact, I got the weird feeling that this was her own personal furniture. Not that I was anyone to judge; in fact, I’d done almost the same thing two months earlier. But I’d sold my stuff online and to friends. I didn’t sit around and wait for strangers to poke and prod through my things.
She didn’t smile at me. Instead she tilted her head and studied me as I moved through the pieces. I could see her out of my peripheral vision and even feel her eyes on my back as I opened the drawer of a nightstand and placed a hand on a dresser. A rocking chair held a needlework pillow, but it almost…repelled me from sitting down. I turned away from it almost immediately.
A mirror placed on an easel caught my eye. It was edged in silver plating in a pretty leaf-like pattern. The silver edge had faded in some spots, but it looked to be in good condition. I hadn’t really thought about purchasing more furniture, but it occurred to me that the mirror would make a nice addition to my new bedroom.
New bedroom. New start. Maybe a new look for myself? I’d thought about doing something, like changing my hair color, but I hadn’t been able to decide. Maybe seeing myself every day would make me commit to something.
I went to the little old lady in her faded pink cardigan.
“How much is the mirror?” I asked.
She narrowed her eyes in consideration of me yet again. I didn’t get it. I was in basic clothes—jeans and a red flannel shirt; brown hair back in a ponytail; no makeup; no jewelry (although my thumb kept rubbing my ring finger.) What was there to figure out?
“Ten dollars,” she said.
I nodded, pulled out the cash, and paid her.
“Do you think someone can help me with this?” I asked. “My car is all the way on the other side of the lot.”
She waved me away. “You don’t need help. You can do this all by yourself.”
With that she pulled her cardigan closed and left the booth.
I didn’t know what to say to that and took a moment to watch the people milling around, trying to judge whether I could trust any of them to help me carry the mirror. In the end, I just grabbed it and carried it back to the car. It took four stops along the way for a break, but I made it from the booth to the parking field. As I pressed the button my key fob, satisfaction zipped through me.
The lady was right; I did it by myself.
By the time I got home, the day had begun to meld into evening. I dragged the mirror inside and wedged it between the sofa and the coffee table so it wouldn’t fall. Then I went in search of my stud finder. I managed to find it and then the stud in the wall where I could hang the mirror.
Dampness lined my armpits as I wrestled with the mirror and maneuvered it into the bedroom. I hung it and then went back to the boxes. Every single one unpacked meant a little more permanence in this new life of mine and a small disconnection with the old life.
I’m not going to lie, by the end of the day my body ached. The movers had placed most of my heaviest furniture, but I still hauled boxes of books and other necessities all around the small house I’d purchased with my settlement. I pushed smaller furniture around to see how things looked in different places, and by the time I heated up a can of soup for my dinner and devoured it with some saltines I really just wanted my bed more than anything else.
As I sat on the bed now, movement flickered in the corner of my eye.
My head jerked toward the windows, but I’d already closed the curtains earlier that evening. The lamps on my nightstand were shining bright, so that would prevent me from seeing anything outside. And anyway, I’d enabled the alarm. Let someone try, I thought. I’d be ready. I’d learned how to.
Then—and I swear I’m not making this up—a scarf fluttered in the mirror.
I held my breath, because I’d seen that scarf. I knew I had. But where?
After thinking about it for a few minutes, I remembered. The little old lady from the flea market. She’d worn the cardigan. And a scarf.
It was a breezy scarf, meant as an accessory and not for warmth. I remembered making a note of it, because the irony of the pairing struck me. She wore the sweater to stay warm, but she had to look all made up with the scarf.
It fluttered again, and then a pair of hands snatched it. Seconds later, the little old lady materialized in the mirror. She fought with the scarf for a moment and wrapped it around her neck again.
“There we are,” she murmured. Then she looked at me. “And there you are. I told you so.”
My heart pounded, but I couldn’t resist. “Told me so what?”
“That you could handle this yourself,” she said. She glanced around her as if surveying my room. “This is a sweet little space. Are you new here?”
I nodded in an automatic response and then clapped my hand over my mouth. What did this mean? Was she dead? Was I?
“We’re going to get along just fine, you and I,” she said, crossing her arms in a comfortable manner. “Now, don’t you worry, I won’t be spying on you if you have any…um…gentleman callers, but I will be checking in on you from time to time.”
She waved a hand like she had earlier in the day. “Too late to get into all that tonight. You keep unpacking, and when the time is right we’ll talk all about it.”
I blinked, and she was gone. I turned off the lights and burrowed into the bed. What had I just gotten myself into?