Espejos / Ojos

Yellow door final

Espejos / Ojos

R. M. Sandoval

 

 

Before the bad dreams started, Luna had never been afraid of her reflection. Her teachers sometimes asked her mom if she was insecure, but she wasn’t at all— “You’re too shy, mija,” her mom would chide her after the parent-teacher meetings—she just liked to be quiet so she could observe. Luna was actually quite confident for an 11-year-old girl. She liked her thin frame, one that gave her the joking family nickname gordita, and she liked her face: tan skin, almond eyes, Montezuma nose. (She had once seen a painting of Montezuma at her abuela’s house, and ever since then she had thought of her own nose approvingly as one that matched.)

She started to have bad dreams about mirrors around the time that her dad left. One day he was there, and the next day he wasn’t, with no explanation. Well, he left a note, but her mom read it, crumpled it, then locked herself in her room praying all day. Luna fell asleep that night to the sound of her mom muttering and her 5-year-old brother Thiago sniffling in the dark. She felt sad, too: sad and confused; she just didn’t feel moved to tears. She was sure that it was all a big mistake, and that her dad would have to come back soon. That night, she dreamt about mirror worlds—that she would wake up, go to the bathroom mirror, touch the glass and the glass would bend, and she’d melt through it, falling into a world that was just like this one, but just one little thing was off about it, and that one detail, whatever it was, made her sick to her stomach.

After the first night, Luna went into the bathroom while looking at the floor and brushed her thick black hair with only the tugging of knots as her guide. She wasn’t afraid of seeing her own face, which would have been like seeing a friend; rather, she was afraid of everything else that was reflected. How could she be sure that everything was reflecting back, y’know, correctly? What if you looked in the mirror and saw something weird? Something missing?

What if something that you were sure was there, that you thought would always be there, suddenly disappeared? 

The mirrors at Willy’s townhouse were even worse. 

They had to leave their house because their mom couldn’t pay the rent by herself with her money from cleaning houses. So they lived with their abuela for a month, and then one day, Luna and Thiago came home from school to find their mom throwing clothes in suitcases and rushing them into the car. She said she had found an answer to her prayers, a gift from a guardian angel. 

The guardian angel had brought them Willy—whose real name was Wojak, but he insisted on being called Willy, or even Dad, which was too weird for Luna, given that her and her little brother Thiago had only just met him a few weeks ago. Willy was a high school ROTC teacher, which was like make-believe military school, and he’d noticed Luna’s mom serving lasagna in the high school cafeteria. She hadn’t been there before. Luna’s mom took the lunch lady job because she was trying to pick up extra work on top of her house cleaning so she could save up for a deposit on a new place to live. And then, according to Luna’s mom, she found more than a paycheck—she found love at first sight! After only a couple of dates, Willy invited Luna’s mom to move into his place with her children, and she had a gut feeling that, yes, this was it; this was a gift from God.

After her mom moved them into this place, taking up with this strange Polish man whom they had never met before, Luna’s dreams became more threatening. Pulsating lamps, trees breaking windows. She put off sleep as long as she could, laying stock still on the air mattress crammed into Willy’s office, while Thiago dozed next to her, curled around his beat-up LA Dodgers teddy bear. She didn’t want to slip into another dream about melting through the mirror, or seeing something in the mirror that shouldn’t be there. An extra pair of eyes. A hand encircling her neck.

 

One week after they moved into Willy’s house, Luna locked herself in the downstairs bathroom, the one that she shared with Thiago, and made a list in her Hello Kitty diary.

In gold gel pen, she printed across the top of a pastel pink page:

Reasons Why I Hate This House (and Willy)

She nibbled on the pen cap and considered.

Well, first of all, it was too yellow. 

Every time she flipped a light switch, Luna had to squint to adjust to the dim tungsten. This happened frequently because Luna’s new stepdad owned the townhouse and paid all the utility bills—which he told them sternly in an opening speech as they stepped over the threshold and removed their shoes, the very first time they ever met this guy. 

“I work very hard for my money, and I don’t like to waste it. You will have to turn off the lights every time you exit a room. Even if you only leave for a second. Turn it off, then turn it back on if you re-enter the room, and only if you really need it.” Every word was crisp. (It was intentional. Willy prided himself on his lack of an accent.)

Flipping the light switches on and off was annoying, but it was really the yellowness that bothered her. The color suffused everything in the house. Not butter yellow, or daffodil yellow, but jaundice yellow, algae yellow, the yellow of decay and rot.

The place looked as if not a single thing had changed since the 1980s.  Yellowing walls, yellowing venetian blinds. Even the tap water seemed to have a yellow sheen to it, as did the shampoo bottles, which looked like they had been there for at least 20 years.

Luna was mystified by that detail. She put her diary on the bathroom counter, got up from the toilet, and examined the bottles in the tub more closely. No, these weren’t retro designs. They were ancient bottles of shampoo, stamped with copyright dates (© 1984, © 1986), way older than her and maybe even close to her mom’s age. It wasn’t out of the question; Mom was a teen mom, so… 

She didn’t want to use these musty bottles of shampoo on her first night there, but they were the only things available. Willy didn’t believe in buying new things.

“He’s very smart,” Luna’s mom said that first night, as she drove their minivan full of boxes through the dark desert. The only other light came from passing cars. “He’s practical, rational. He knows all these neat ways to save money.”

Luna’s mom praised Willy the whole drive; talking so fast, with a smile so wide, catching their eyes in the rearview mirror. She sounds like a radio commercial, Luna thought. She avoided her mom’s gaze and tried to count the Joshua trees along the highway instead, her eyes straining in the pitch black darkness. Maybe they’re guardians, ushering us to a more comfortable life…

Luna frowned. Her mom had promised they were going somewhere great. Well, here it was. Luna sat back down on the toilet, picked up her diary and wrote:

– Lights are too yellow

– Walls look gross

– Everything is too old

– Too quiet

– Willy is

She stopped there. She wasn’t sure what word she could use to describe him. Practical, rational, those words that her mom used for him? No, that wasn’t it. There was something else about him. He seemed to match the house. It was almost like he had not changed in a very long time. People change, Luna thought. She knew that she changed. The proof was even there in her diary—her handwriting changed, her favorite colors changed, she learned new things every year. Thiago had changed. Her mom had changed, and she wasn’t sure if she liked it.

But Luna didn’t know if Willy had ever changed. It was like he was a frozen person, stuck in his own rules and routines, doing the same thing day after day, year after year.

Something about that freaked her out.

“Luna!” her mom banged on the bathroom door. “Your little brother needs to use the bathroom. Get out of there! Vete!

Startled, Luna slammed her diary into a drawer, flushed the toilet, splashed her hands in the sink, flipped the switch. She rushed out without looking directly at the mirror, only allowing herself a peripheral glance of the whites of her eyes, floating through the dark.

 

Saturday. Luna and Thiago were allowed to watch cartoons. Willy was watching with them, so they didn’t feel like laughing as much as they usually did. Then the whimsical sounds of Tom and Jerry were interrupted—garage door, keys jingling, sneakers scuffing, lock unlatching. Luna’s mom came in with a sigh and a big box of groceries. Willy’s hand popped up from the couch and beckoned to her.

“Let me see your receipts,” Willy said. Luna’s mom rummaged in her purse and handed them over. One from Costco, one from Walmart. Willy adjusted his glasses and pored over the receipts, sometimes muttering to himself, sometimes raising his voice: 

“What is this? 

Why did you buy this? 

Do you think we need this? 

Do you like to waste money?

Do you think our paychecks can really cover this?”

Luna caught her mother’s eye, and her mom smiled at her. Her mom’s cheeks were red, and the smile looked strange. What was that? Luna wondered. Was her mom feeling embarrassed, nervous? Or was she blushing with happiness, with the love for Willy and all the ways he’s going to save us money?

There was evidence of Willy’s frugality everywhere: single-ply toilet paper, last-day food that had been stamped in red by the supermarket, jelly jars used to collect stray change, cardboard boxes filled with crushed aluminum cans. Her mom thought all these things were neat. Luna found them tacky, weird, embarrassing. Willy made more money than her parents ever did. Why doesn’t he want to have a comfortable life? Why does he insist on living like he just came off the boat?

Even worse was the lack of objects. Ooh, that’s another thing about the house I should write down, Luna thought. She let her gaze drift over the walls of each downstairs room and noted that there were no decorations, no paintings, no signs of life. Each room had only the barest essentials: a dilapidated couch, a secondhand TV in a wooden casing. There were no stacks of CDs like there used to be when they still lived with Dad. Not Willy. Their real dad. 

Dad, the same one who ruffled their hair and danced with them—and yes, the same one who just walked out, left them all in the middle of the night. Luna still had a hard time believing these weren’t two different men. It didn’t seem possible. He must have made a mistake. And what if he comes back? Luna’s heart ached, thinking of him coming back to the old house, seeing the “For Rentsign and the yard with big indents where their lawn chairs used to be.

 

“I miss the old house,” Luna said that night, poking around her microwave mac and cheese TV dinner.

“Que dices, mija?”

“I miss our stuff,” Luna said. She locked her focus on her macaroni, trying to ignore Willy’s piercing glare. “I miss our real dad.”

“Hey. He’s not your real dad. I’m your dad now,” Willy said to Luna, pointing his fork at her. “Would a real dad just walk out on you guys like that? Leaving your mother hopeless and stranded?”

Silence, punctuated by forks scraping against cardboard.

“Willy’s right,” Luna’s mom said, with a long exhale, like she had been holding her breath. “You know, kids, if I didn’t find Willy when I did,” she said, reaching out to hold his white hand, “I don’t know where we’d be right now.”

“We’d be at Abuela’s house,” Luna said, sulking.

“I like Abuela’s house!” Thiago piped up.

“We all like Abuela,” Luna’s mom acknowledged. “But we…I mean, it’s not nice to be a burden on her. I’m glad that we only had to stay with her for—what was it, a month? It’s amazing that I found Willy so fast. He was brought to me by my guardian angel. You answered all my prayers.” Luna’s mom kissed Willy’s hand, and Luna could see tears glistening at the end of her mom’s eyelashes.

Luna’s stomach turned. She wondered what kind of angel would have brought them to Willy’s house, with its many eyes.

 

Luna and Thiago were not used to having a lot of rules imposed on them, as the kids were naturally quiet, subdued; their dad used to say they were as sweet as pan dulces swirled with brown sugar. As they got older, Luna and Thiago used their parents’ perception of them to their advantage.  They would simply do whatever they wanted, and their mom would just let them, exhausted from her work cleaning houses. Their dad would come home in the early hours after his night shift at the warehouse, and he would say, oh, what sweet children we have, que simpaticos, que dulce, and kiss their cheeks smeared with syrup, their hair still gritty from the previous day’s adventures. They were wild, and they were loved.

All her parents’ friends had been people just like them, custodians and construction workers, people who worked hard and liked to relax at the end of the day with cold cervezas. At their old neighborhood, they’d all gather at one house or another, blast cumbia and old rancheras, and the kids would all run around in the tall dry grass and go to bed whenever they felt like it, usually sometime after an uncle busted out the second tequila bottle.

But this guy Willy wasn’t like any grown-up Luna had ever known. When Willy smiled, his smile didn’t reach the crinkles of his eyes. It was hollow, an imitation. He didn’t dance. He didn’t drink. (He only drank cold cans of Coca-Cola, which the kids were not allowed to touch.) He didn’t relax. He was constantly standing over your shoulder, cracking his knuckles with a disgusting snap, crackle, pop. He didn’t know the neighbors and dissuaded Luna’s family from talking to them too. 

One of the only things Luna knew about Willy was that he had left Poland for the United States when he was a teenager, determined to join the US military. It was the only passion he ever had in his life. Only a few months into his service, he was discharged from the Air Force after a piece of shrapnel flew into his right eye. Now he taught ROTC at the local high school (make-believe military, Luna thought) and talked about the students as if he was a real general and they were real soldiers who reported to him. He talked about everyone like that. Everyone was a subordinate, especially those living under his roof.

Willy’s list of rules made Luna’s skin itch.

“No running. 

No yelling. 

Clean up after yourselves. 

Take my plate. 

Do the dishes. 

Take out the trash. 

Scrub the baseboards. 

Scrub the toilets. 

You must be in your bedroom and silent when the clock reads 8:00 p.m. 

You must wake up at 6:30 a.m. and be present for breakfast before 6:45 a.m., or else you will miss school. 

You are not allowed to miss school. 

I expect to see this place looking spotless. 

I will do inspections. 

If I find a spot of dust, you will have to go back and clean the whole room over again.

There is only ONE place that you cannot clean, and that is the master bedroom. 

You are not allowed to go upstairs. 

Not ever. 

I will know.”

He barked all of these rules like a drill sergeant. The last one was repeated the most often, enunciated the most crisply, with Willy’s eyes bugged out big and round and serious.

You are not allowed to go upstairs. Not ever. I will know.

Willy’s townhouse had a strange layout. The only room upstairs was the master bedroom. There was no hallway, no other outlet, not even a landing, just a set of stairs that went straight up from the middle of the living room into the bedroom where Willy and Luna’s mom slept. The door was always shut. The kids had no idea what it looked like, and Willy swore that he would know if they even took a step on the first stair.

Even a single stair? How would he know? That’s so stupid, Luna thought. Still, she never did it. The stairway that led to the upstairs bedroom was the darkest, yellowest spot in the whole house; dark amber yellow, dehydrated-piss yellow, with shadows like an undersea monster cave, a deep vignetting that made Luna feel sick every time she even glanced at it.

She moved around the house as if she had blinders on—straight from her bedroom to the bathroom, from the bathroom to the kitchen, from the kitchen to the living room—to watch TV with her brother after dinner, something like Jeopardy, or even The Simpsons if they had finished their homework.

At 8:00 p.m. on the dot, every night, like clockwork, Willy would point at the kids’ bedroom. Luna would give her mom a hug, Thiago would give her a kiss goodnight, then the kids would each, begrudgingly, under Willy’s stern glare, shake Willy’s hand goodnight.

Then Luna and Thiago would lie awake in the dark, listening to their mom and Willy watching Friends in the living room, tensing whenever they heard Willy’s staccato laugh. Then at 8:29 p.m., the moment the credits rolled and the closing gag was over, the ancient TV would be turned off, and the kids could hear their mom and Willy walk up the stairs to the master bedroom. 

After 8:30 p.m., the entire house was silent. 

Sometimes the desert wind rattled the thin windowpane in their bedroom, and Luna wondered if the windows upstairs were rattling too, and if her mom still remembered the magic spell they invented when Luna was little to keep bad dreams from coming.

Sal, malos sueños

no agarres a los pequeños

somos pequeños, no somos sabrosos

¡vete, vete!

¡uno, dos, veinte!

 

Luna was losing a lot of sleep. On Sunday, when she came out for breakfast, her mother said, “Dios mio, Luna, you look terrible. Are you OK? Are you sick?” Luna said yes, she felt terrible, she just wanted to go back to bed. Her mom said, “Sure, mija. How about we go shopping today and you stay home and rest,” with a tender look that Luna missed seeing. “If you feel better when we come home, we can go get pizza.” Pizza! Willy would really let them get pizza? She didn’t want to push her luck, so she didn’t say anything, just finished her cereal and shuffled back to bed, intending to read all afternoon. It wasn’t long before she drifted off into a long morning nap.

When Luna woke up, sweaty and disoriented, she wanted one thing more than anything in the world: a single sip of ice-cold Coca-Cola. Just the thought of it satisfied her down to her bones.

She opened the fridge and there she saw it—a single can, already opened.

Naughty children are not allowed to have Coca Cola. This is my drink.

Willy’s words echoed in Luna’s head as she reached for the tempting red can that dripped with condensation. 

Luna hesitated, then felt a surge of bravery. She brought the can closer to her face, slowly pressed her lips against the sharp aluminum opening, and took a small sip. Oh, what bliss—warm feelings and fond memories, the taste of pizza parties, sleepovers, barbecues with her real dad at the grill. She pressed the edge to her lips again and took another long, slow sip, savoring the sticky sweetness, not caring that it was Willy’s open can from two nights ago and long since flat.

She put the can back exactly where it was, closed the fridge door and paused, listening to the hum of the fluorescent kitchen lights. Was anyone around? Did anyone see that? She waited, tensed, expecting the hum of the garage door and keys jingling at any moment. 

No. Not a sound. She was alone, enveloped in stillness.

Luna smiled. She savored the lingering taste of Coke, sweet and metallic, and dug her toes into the solitude of the empty house. She walked back to her bedroom and paused in the doorframe, looking at Willy’s model airplanes.

Back at their old house, Luna and Thiago had their own rooms, each decorated with makeshift wallpaper made from their own paintings, drawings, and magazine clippings. Here, they had to share a small bedroom, which was completely bare. Willy didn’t allow anything on the walls because it affected the townhouse’s “resale value,” whatever that meant. The only sign of any personality in the whole house was right there on Willy’s old desk: his model airplanes. “Not toys,” Willy had reproached them, “expensive models.” They were forbidden to touch them.

But how would he know? Luna wondered. He couldn’t possibly know what she did if he was not in the house. She was all alone. There were no eyes to watch her… unless the walls of the townhouse were alive. Luna stiffened at the thought. Her eyes searched the yellowing walls. 

What has this house seen? Why doesn’t Willy want decorations on the walls? She allowed her fingertips to float up to the cheap paint and gingerly brush against it.

Does Willy own the house, or is it a part of him?

She recoiled at the thought, her hand springing away from the wall as quickly as if it was on fire.

Luna let out a long slow exhale. She was being silly. No one was home. Her mom and Willy and her brother would all be coming home in an hour, at least. Willy couldn’t possibly know what she did. He pretended to be all-knowing, but that was just because…because he sucks, she thought. Haha! Yes, that’s all there was to it. That dude sucks.

Luna eyed the model airplanes with resentment. What kind of guy cares more about model planes than children? Especially the children of the woman that he “loves?”

Luna found that concept disgusting. Not love itself. But whatever was going on between her mom and her stepdad—and actually, now that she thought about it, whatever was going on between her mom and her dad, who she couldn’t remember ever kissing or hugging or even dressing up together—that couldn’t possibly be love. A convenient arrangement, maybe. Something about finances and bills. She didn’t have the words for it but was sure that adults knew more about it than she did. She hoped that she would never experience this strange love that looked nothing like movies or fairy tales.

The model planes just sat there, stupidly. Luna reached out and twirled a propeller. She looked more closely at the model, which had a hundred tiny intricate little parts. And for what? Luna thought. Why did Willy make these planes? Who were they for?

If they were just for himself, Willy couldn’t possibly have been as smart as her mom said he was.

 

Luna got up from the desk with a new burst of energy. She wanted to write in her diary: about planes, her thoughts about love, how she felt about Coca-Cola. She poked around the spartan bedroom, then remembered where she had it last.

She went into the bathroom (eyes down), opened the bathroom drawer, and opened up her diary to the last page she was writing on.

Across the page with the incomplete list of the faults of the house, there was a message written in thick black ink, in a handwriting she had never seen before:

KEEP OUT

STOP WRITING IN THE BATHROOM

YOU HAVE NO SECRETS HERE

Luna felt her stomach drop low, and her mouth became dry and hot. 

She threw the diary, as hard as she could, against the wall. It left a pink mark against the chipped yellowing paint, like a skinned knee.

Her hands trembling, she picked it up again, wanting to hide it, but having no idea where. 

The garage door opened. Keys jangled. Her parents were home.

No. Willy and her mom were home. And Thiago too—she could hear him babbling about pizza toppings: “Pineapple, pepperoni…”

Luna turned off all the lights, ran into her bedroom, then curled up underneath her blanket on her air mattress, clutching her diary against her heart. She held her breath and listened: rustling, walking, taking off shoes, mom snapping at Thiago to stop running around, Willy saying something in a low serious voice, Thiago whining, mom saying something softly, silence, the click of the TV turning on, mom sighing, people walking across the hallway, the fridge opening and closing.

Then just the sound of the TV family: joke, laughter, joke, laughter, punchline, clapping.

“Luna,” Willy called from the kitchen. “Come here.”

Luna held her breath. She didn’t want to go out there, but she also didn’t want to be yelled at.

“Luna,” Willy said, louder.

“Luna,” her mom said, “Dad needs you.”

Luna sprung up from the bed, opened the door, marched out to the kitchen.

“If Dad needs me, why isn’t he here?”

Willy grabbed her by the back of her neck.

“What did you say, smartass?”

Luna looked into Willy’s wide eyes, the black irises dark as a bottomless well, and faltered.

“Nothing. Let me go. What do you want?”

Willy loosened his grip, but kept his palm on the back of her neck.

“Why did you drink my Coke?”

Luna started to feel like a cat cornered by a dog, like her hair was bristling from end to end, like she should hiss, like she had no way out.

“I didn’t drink your Coke,” she said.

Willy smacked her neck. Luna’s mom stood up from the couch where she was sitting with Thiago, about to say something. Willy silenced her with a single glare.

“This is what we did, back where I grew up,” he said to Luna, to her mom, to Thiago, an announcement to the whole house. “This was how I was raised. You never hit children, but you have to hit liars, or else they never learn.”

“I’m not lying,” Luna protested.

Smack. 

“I know you are. I have eyes everywhere,” he said.

Luna looked up at the yellow lights, the yellow walls, looking for eyes in the plywood.

“I know what kind of person you are. That’s why I laid a trap. That can of Coke in the fridge was set up to test you, and you failed. I placed a single hair across the opening. That hair is not here anymore… It couldn’t have moved unless you drank it. Now you know: I see everything, I know everything. Luna is a sneaky girl. Luna is a liar.” Willy hit every consonant hard, crisp: sneaky girl, liar.

Luna looked at Thiago, who stared at his feet, and her mom, who looked wildly between Willy and Luna, as if she couldn’t decide who she cared about more, Luna or this crazy stranger who she had met barely more than a month ago.

“No! Let me go!”

“Go to your room,” her mother finally said. She had taken a step forward, but got no closer than that. She didn’t remove Willy’s hands from Luna’s neck. Luna had to wiggle out of his grasp herself. She ran to her room and hid under the covers, trembling under the thin comforter.

“You’re grounded,” her stepfather shouted from the living room. “Forget about going out with us tonight. You’re going to stay here and think about what you’ve done. Don’t even think about turning on the TV. I will know.”

 

Another reason why Luna hated the house: it had eyes, it had traps. Willy had many faces, so who knew how many faces the house had. Maybe he had a control center. Maybe there was a camera in every room, and he watched her, secretly, all the time.

If he knew all her secrets, she had to know his. 

She had to see what was in the master bedroom.

 

Luna waited until they had been gone for at least 15 minutes. She just stared at the digital clock, watching the red lines transform from one number to another.

Then she got up, listened to the house. Total silence. She double-checked the locks, went into each room and turned on the lights, left all the lights on, opened all the doors, peeked into the garage; yes, it was empty, it was just her, for an hour at least.

Luna turned back to take in the house, bathed in the harsh tungsten light coming from every room. Luna had never seen it lit up like this. It seemed more alive. She hesitated, unsure if she should turn off the lights again. It was almost too much light, disquieting, like a bad dream— 

No. Leave them on. Why does Willy always want the lights off?

More deliberately now, Luna went into each room downstairs, starting with her bedroom. She took off all the covers from the mattresses and sifted through the small piles of books and toys in boxes. Nothing here, just small pangs of memories with every object she touched. My dad used to read that to me. My brother and I used to play that together. We used to love watching that movie but there’s no VHS player here. I used to write in that diary until…

She stopped at the little pink diary, wondering if she should open it again. The threat flashed across her mind again, “KEEP OUT, YOU HAVE NO SECRETS,” and she dropped it as if it had bitten her.

She glanced at the model planes. She picked each one up, more roughly than before, shaking them, listening. Nothing.

Next room—bathroom—she opened every drawer.

Nothing.

Next room—kitchen.

She stood in the middle of the spotless kitchen. She knew every inch of this kitchen by now. It was her task to clean it. She had scrubbed the floors, the fridge, the sink, dusted the pantry. Pointless, she thought. It can never be clean enough. 

She knew there was one place she had to look. She was just biding time.

She went to the bottom of the stairs, the ones that went straight up to the bedroom.

The bedroom had a sign: “KEEP OUT.” Thick letters, written in Sharpie on an old envelope.

It reminded her of the message in her diary.

Luna scowled. Willy! He was snooping and he found my diary. The only thing rotten about this house is him. And he’s got secrets, bad secrets…

The thought propelled her, like a steam engine, up the stairs, one at a time, her gaze fixed on Willy’s handwriting, secrets, bad secrets, bad, bad, bad secrets, bad bad secrets…

‘Til at last she was at the top.

 

Luna turned the handle. The only sound she heard was her heartbeat, which seemed to have migrated up between her ears. She pushed it open, slowly. Flipped the light switch.

The bedroom that Willy and her mom shared was not too different than the rest of the house. Yellow walls, yellow lights, a big bed, a dusty oscillating fan in the corner, a small pile of clothes at the foot of the bed. Although, now that her eyes adjusted to the light, she realized that there were things in this room that she hadn’t seen before, which was a small, startling realization. For instance, the bed took up most of the room, large and extravagant, which made her wonder why she and her little brother had to share an air mattress. And the pile of clothes! Willy had smacked them on the back of the neck every time he saw a single sock on the floor downstairs. Luna inched forward, and she also noted the TV. Hey, how come that TV looks so nice. Maybe this was his control center after all—the big brains of the operation.

Luna realized that her hands and feet were tingling, like all her blood had rushed up to her head, cutting off the circulation in her extremities. She willed her head to turn to the right, then to the left, and saw someone staring back at her.

Oh God! Two big floating white eyeballs, a mouth half-open in terror—it was Luna herself, reflected in the closet; the doors were two huge mirrored panels. Her heart was pounding. This was it. She had made it this far. No more secrets.

Luna locked eye contact with her reflection, not letting herself out of her sight. She moved forward, pushing the heavy mirrored doors open. The bedroom light was so dim, she could barely see what was inside. Trembling, she reached out til her fingertips grazed fabric, then she felt each of the shirts and military jackets hanging there. At first she was careful, touching each one like testing the eggs at the grocery store, but her anxiety pushed her forward with the hum of the repetitive thought: secrets, secrets, bad secrets, you have no secrets, keep out. She grew more frantic, pulling clothes off hangers, feeling the walls, rummaging on the floor, looking for something, she didn’t know what, something bad.

At last, her fingertips hit a small box. Luna brought the box out of the closet, closer to the painfully yellow floor lamp. It was locked. Oh! But there must be a key somewhere. She ran back to the closet, searching along the floor. 

And at that very moment, with her nails digging into the carpet, the sound of the garage door opening, keys jangling, soft voices, her mother, Thiago, Willy.

Oh no. Oh no no no. Luna struggled with the clothes, pulling a few back up onto the closet bar, but she was shaking so much that she knew she couldn’t get them all up in time. She shoved everything back in. Maybe it could have been, oh, I don’t know, a small earthquake or something. She would get another week of detention—who cares, as long as she got out of there—then the closet door snagged on something. She bent down to fix it, and there it was, glinting in the yellow light: a small key.

She knew. This was it, the time to do it. She was already in trouble, so who cares—keep out—she had to, she just had to—you have no secrets. She gathered the box into her arms, pushed the little key into the lock, and opened the box, her eyes straining to see its contents.

Photos, strange photos… one of a woman, one of a little boy, then one of the woman and the kid and Willy all together. Writing on the back: “All of us, 1984,” “Love you Daddy, 1982.” What was this? A newspaper clipping: “Two dead in house fire.” A photo of the townhouse, the top of it black and destroyed. Phrases underlined: “electrical fire,” “hairdryer,” “minor in critical condition” …

In a state of shock, Luna looked around the room, and noticed, dumbly, that it was actually less yellow than the rest of the house, the paint slightly fresher; but the light was more dim, terribly so, as if the person who lived here never wanted to see any of the details of this room, and preferred to stumble through only by touch. How odd, then, that the closet was a mirror, reflecting back so little; Luna looked right into it, without flinching, and saw her face; she noticed that she had been crying, although she hadn’t realized it;  she saw her hands grasped tightly around the box, and then she saw the second pair of hands, sliding around her shoulders, grabbing the box, encircling her neck.

“Where are youuuu?”

The voice—a little boy’s. Playful.

The hands around her neck—big, white, hairy. 

Willy’s hands.

“I told you to never come up here,” he said softly.

His hands squeezed, and Luna wanted to scream, but she was frozen, hypnotized by the dusky image in the closet mirror. Yes, that was her face, that was her nose, her eyes, that was her, Luna, and that was Willy, mom’s guardian angel. 

He’s wrapped around me, and I can’t breathe

“Dad!”

In the doorframe, a small silhouette. Willy turned, startled, his eyes wide with fear, and screamed a deep-from-the-gut scream, incomprehensible, nearly inhuman. He barreled onto the shadow, seized with an animalistic urge to fight the ghost. Willy’s arms flailed and pushed, Luna heard a wail and a terrible crash, and she knew without a doubt that Willy had just knocked Thiago down the stairs.

“Thiago!” Luna heard her mother scream at the foot of the stairs.

Willy had collapsed, racked with sobs. Luna was not thinking anymore—she just sprinted, tossing aside the box, leaping over the ruins of a man, bounding down the stairs to join her mother and little brother. 

Her mom was examining Thiago from all angles, as he just repeated, weakly, “My arm, mama, my arm.” His arm was bent, and she touched it gently, kissing his forehead. Luna grabbed her mom by the shoulders, and her mom looked into her eyes. At that moment, Luna saw herself reflected in her mother’s eyes, not just the little reflection in the pupils, but also the shape, the color, the way they filled with tears. After all these months of avoiding mirrors, she was suddenly looking right at one. Luna gathered all her energy into one quiet, urgent request, which came out of her like a pistol shot:

“Let’s go. Now, mama.”

In one fluid movement, Luna grabbed the keys, her mom grabbed Thiago, and they scrambled into the car. Luna’s mom peeled out of the garage, her foot pressed against the pedal. As they drove across the desert, back to their abuela’s house or God knows where, Luna watched the Joshua trees flying by the window. She tried to see them as just trees, but all she could think about was Willy, running down the driveway with his arms outstretched.

Story by R. M. Sandoval

R. M. Sandoval is a Latinx writer based in Los Angeles.

Illustration By Heather Parr
Heather Parr is a printmaker and illustrator based in Brighton, UK. She uses a variety of different techniques, including linocut and wood engraving, often in combination with painting. Her work is inspired by myths and legends, folklore, ghost stories, gothic horror and Fortean topics. Heather lives with her partner and young daughter and when she’s not making haunted pictures she works for a nature conservation charity.