I stumble out of “Pete’s Blue Bird Bar and Grill,” where I’ve had my usual nightly meal along with two pitchers of beer. Swaying slightly on the sidewalk, I light a cigarette. A cool wind whips around me. I shiver and flip up my collar. I exhale a stream of smoke into a starless sky, for they are hidden behind a wall of rain clouds. “I think I’d better hurry home to my empty apartment before it rains on my empty life.” I chuckle. Raising my finger, I pronounce, “But first, to the package store for my favorite nighttime sleepy medicine, Smirnoff’s eighty-proof!”
My pint safely secured in my jacket pocket, I take a shortcut across the open field, forgetting that the carnival has pitched its tents there. It’s now closed for the evening. High-stepping through the weeds and tall grass, I rest beside a raised platform. Leaning against it, I reach into my jacket and remove the vodka. A streak of lightning strikes close by, and the booming thunder buckles my knees. The heavens open and, in seconds, I’m soaked in the deluge of rain. I need a place to hide from the downpour. Blurry eyed from the vodka and the rain, I read “Hall of Mirrors.” “Thank God!” I slip-slide up the steps and open the rickety door. I crouch down with my hands on my knees and fight to catch my breath. I notice there’s no light, so I leave the door open.
I lean against the wall to take a pull off of my bottle. Rain drips from my face. The next flash of lightning illuminates the room, and I see my reflection in the mirror opposite me. I laugh at how I look, an unkempt mess dripping rainwater. I offer the bottle in a salute to myself and take another slug. The next big flash reveals me alongside some kid. Mouth agape, I stare. Another flash immediately follows the first and displays just the kid but, this time, I know who he is. He’s me. I recognize my clothes. They’re the same clothes I wore on the day of the accident.
I was twelve and we were on some kind of a trip. Ma told me to watch my four-year-old brother, Timmy, while she checked us into the motel. We walked by the pool where I thought I saw something under the hedge. Without thinking, I let go of Timmy’s hand and went to investigate. It was a women’s watch, a nice one too. I turned to show Timmy, but he was nowhere to be seen. I swear it was less than thirty seconds. I called his name and saw a fully dressed man emerge from the water. He’s dragging something to the side of the pool. I can tell you he made a heroic effort. But Timmy was already dead. He had hit his head and sunk to the bottom.
Ma never forgave me, and her heart turned cold toward me. I tried not to let it get to me because it was an accident, but I’ve lived with the guilt. The image in the mirror fades with the rolling thunder as I curse my mother and take another drink. The wind blows the door shut with a bang.
“Son of a bitch!” Plunged into total darkness, I begin to feel for the door handle. There isn’t one. Sweating, I search for the lighter in my pocket. When I flick on the flame, I gasp and slam against the wall. Dozens of reflections, each with a twisted and terrified face, stare back at me. My trembling fingers drop the lighter. “Damn, damn, damn!”
I drop to my knees, and I feel around in the dark until, at last, I feel the hot metal top. Now that I have the lighter, I’m afraid to light it. I’m scared of what I might see next. My heart pounds as I spin the little wheel to spark the flame. A different face appears in the mirror. It’s Cindy Norstrum, a girl I liked in high school. I was a senior, and she was a sophomore. We were parking behind the football field when I started making advances she didn’t like. I ignored her protest and had my way with her. She lay there weeping. I laughed and threatened that I would claim she was more than willing if she told anybody. Would she want to be considered easy? I later learned she became a prostitute working the docks and died from an overdose of heroin. The image reverts back to me, kneeling on the floor crying.
“I’m sorry, Cindy, you were such a nice girl. I’m so sorry I did that to you.” Wiping the tears with my sleeve I wonder, “What the hell is going on here? Why am I remembering all these horrible memories? Why? I got to get out of here now!” Rivers of sweat run down my face while my heart pounds like a trip hammer. I struggle to stand, but my legs are all rubbery. I figure there must be another door at the end of the maze. I just have to make it through.
I place my hand on the mirrors and hold my lighter before my face. I edge my way forward. It’s hard to see with the light bouncing off the mirrors and flashing all around. I continue to creep forward but the maze confuses my senses and I fall to the floor, hitting my head. I struggle to sit up and become aware of something wet running down my face. Its blood. I hold my vodka bottle up and see that it almost empty. “What the hell.” I groan. I tip the bottle back and finish it off. I toss it into the darkness and hear the sound of glass shattering. I smile a sad smile and chuckle. A shiver runs up my spine when I hear someone chuckle back! Blinking my blurry eyes, I see the projection of Lamont Jones in the next mirror.
Lamont was my cellmate in prison. The reason I was in jail is because one night in a drunken stupor, I smashed a liquor store window to steal the booze on display. When the shop owner rushed at me, I hit him on the side of his head with a bottle and nearly killed him. I was sentenced to five years in jail for aggravated assault. Lamont was big and powerful and sexually abused me two or three times a month until my sentence was reduced. I was released after three years served.
This last memory is too much for me to bear. “No more! I can take no more!” The last mirror lights up on its own, revealing a man lying in the gutter. Wiping blood and tears from my eyes, I look closer. The man in the ditch is me, and standing next to me is a sobbing woman. The car next to us has a broken headlight and a crumpled front fender. I’m dead. A scream erupts from the pit of my stomach. I throw my arms in front of my face and race headlong through the remaining mirrors. I smash through the back door and fall to the ground. Staggering to my feet, I race away from this evil place. I run pell-mell out onto a gravel road. Oncoming headlights blind me. I scream.
Inside the Hall of Mirrors, the broken shards of glass reassemble themselves, and the blood is absorbed into the floorboards and disappears. All has returned to normal as the Hall of Mirrors awaits its next visitor.