Box of Mirrors
Avital Gad-Cykman

On the way back from the mirrored walls and angry-teacher-of-ballet class, she takes the long way around the park because of the monster. It grows from a tree and hangs to the ground and bites and chews with large teeth the children it grabs in its sticky fingertips. Ever since she saw it, she hasn't felt safe in the park on her own or even with the two slender sisters who dance with her. It will definitely eat her first.

It isn't very big, the monster, at least not from afar, but it doesn't have any geometric shape, or a familiar shape or anything. Its outline resembles the contour of a half-filled plastic garbage bag and it has thick, gray skin, a dark mouth the size of a baby's head and mean eyes. Of course she told Mother, but Mother told Father, and they told a friend, and everyone said she had a lot of imagination.

She offers to take a ballet class on the other side of the park, closer to home, but Mother insists on this one because the teacher is licensed by the French Academy and is the best in town; she performs miracles. And the girl, no doubt, needs miracles. The sisters go there too because their parents are from South Africa, and people from South Africa are keen on quality. Mother says this is why so many of them make something of themselves.

The girl bends forward in class and raises one leg. In front of the mirror, she looks herself in the eye and feels her uneven body line. The teacher's reflection points its manicured index finger upwards and the girl tries but her back curves, her belly sticks out and her sustaining leg threatens to collapse. She wonders if the teacher will work her wonder on someone like herself, one of the less favored pupils. Behind her, the slender sisters each stretch one arm forward and a graceful leg backward. If she were as light as they or had the teacher's powers, she might trick the monster. Perhaps she should try anyway.

She passes the trees that surround the park then tries to cross it the way she used to, as if it's nothing. If the two sisters hadn't mentioned a shapeless creature and made her aware of the monster, she wouldn't have become terrified and crossing would have been easy, so why not pretend she knows nothing? But her mouth and throat are so dry, she is so parched she runs out of the park to find a tub of water. When she cries with frustration and says she doesn't want to dance any longer, her mother says gruffly that it's because she isn't a good enough dancer yet.

In her mother's perfume bottle (called Chanel 5), she mixes pepper with alcohol to spray the monster if it attacks her. After the ballet, however, she has a fight with the sister who called her 'fat'. The girl knows she's too fat, although Father says she is beautiful and just a little round, and Mother says that slimming down only takes exercise. When the sister says the word, the girl feels fatter than ever. She pulls the sister's hair and sprays her with pepper and alcohol, not in the eyes but in her stupid flat belly. Then she runs all the way around the park. The spray is gone, the monster is waiting, and the other sister is chasing her.

She invites the slender sisters to her birthday party, anyway, and they show up, pretty as ever. They join the circle of the girl's friends and watch as a magician puts a rabbit in a box, makes it disappear, and brings it back. Afterwards, when the girl blows out the candles, she wishes to quit ballet and learn magic instead. She knows the box isn't really magic—it's simply a box of mirrors—but she wants one of her own. She knows the monster will slip into it, face reflections of its ugly fat self, stop eating, and vanish.

This miracle she covets.

Born and raised in Israel, Avital Gad-Cykman now lives in Brazil. LIFE IN, LIFE OUT, a collection of her flash fiction, is out from Matter Press.

Detail of art on main page courtesy of Steve Loya.

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