October 10th
The Mirror
by caroline ulwick

I shut the door to the backstage bathroom and latch it. I stand and stare at my reflection in the mirror. My reflection stares back. She’s wearing a sapphire-blue satin gown with a small red and white name tag - “ABBY!” - with her dark hair pinned in perfect curler-set coils, her cheeks smooth and fine, dappled with red. She’s beautiful. She looks nothing like me.

“Hey girl - no rush but I really have to pee,” comes Regina’s nasal voice through the door. I frown in the mirror; my reflection frowns back at me. I touch up my lipstick and re-emerge into the dark backstage of the Virginia Beach Conference Center.

Regina is waiting outside. I’ve known Regina my whole life - we go to the same school, we were in the same Brownie troop, we even drive the same Volvo. But everything she does exudes effortless charm - kids at school adore her, she sold the most cookies in Girl Scouts. She even looks better driving a station wagon. Her talent is singing like Renee Flemming.

I hate Regina.

“Ugh, love that color on you,” Regina says and she flits into the bathroom, trailing her yellow chiffon dress. She looks like a Disney princess. I catch my own face in the mirror as Regina shuts the door; my reflection’s eyebrows are raised.

Pamela is wrapping up her act - her Miss Teen Virginia talent is reciting the first 300 digits of Pi. People say it’s not a talent, but I like Pamela, and I give her credit - reciting Pi is really boring, so it’s impressive.

The crowd applauds politely as Pamela comes offstage; she looks bewildered. She made it to 314 digits today and she is spent.

“Great job, Pamela!” I whisper.

“Yes girl! You friggin' KILLED it!” Regina chirps, rushing past me to throw her arms around Pamela’s neck. Pamela flushes and mutely retreats to the wings. Regina pulls out a compact mirror, and I see my own reflection in the corner. My reflection looks at me, and puts a finger to her lips, miming “shhh.” My hands are at my sides.

“Take a picture, it’ll last longer,” Regina says coyly, smirking at me and snapping the mirror shut.

“Wait, did you see that?” I ask. The image of my own eyes fills my head - well, not quite my eyes.

“Huh? I was just kidding, I didn’t actually think you were staring or anything,” she says absently; she’s busy pinning back a flyaway.

“Nevermind,” I mutter. She thinks she’s so much better than me because my talent is doing Color Guard and I want to go to Duke University.

“Girls, get ready! They’ll be bringing you out soon for the awards,” the stage manager hisses at us, waving us over to the side. I walk over and line up behind Pamela.

“Oh, your bra strap is showing!” Regina says, appearing on my left side; before I can say anything, she tucks it easily into place under my dress. “I hate gowns, they’re so finicky,” she says, flashing me a conspiratorial smile. My face burns with anger - how dare she help me.

Forget about her, I tell myself. The judges always love Color Guard. They’ve picked Color Guard performers the past five years. I will win.

I fold my arms across my chest and turn away from her. I catch sight of my reflection in a stage mirror near the wings. My reflection stares back at me. She lithely unfolds her arms; I look down, but my arms are still crossed. As I look back up, my reflection slips a knife out from the folds of her satin gown, then puts one finger over her lips. She slides the knife back into her dress, lifts a foot into the air, and stomps it to the ground.

“Ow! What the hell?!” Regina shrieks, whirling on me.

I’m so startled I almost trip over myself. “Regina, I don’t know what-”

“Get away from me, cunt!” she shrieks. I am frozen, wordless.

“Girls, that’s your cue!” the stage manager cuts in, waving us to go out on stage. Pamela goes out first. Regina marches out after. I follow her.

We all walk out on stage, smiling and waving. The crowd claps.

“Let’s have a round of applause for all our finalists!” the emcee says with a wide smile. He’s wearing black pants and a gold tuxedo jacket. The crowd claps.

“And now, for the main event…” he says, pulling an envelope out of his jacket.

“The second runner-up is...Miss Pamela Atkins!”

Pamela looks relieved. She grabs her third place bouquet and waves, a genuine smile on her face.

“And the winner of Miss Teen Virginia 2009 is...Regina Shotkin!”

I stop hearing anything. I watch Regina’s face fold into an easy smile, like she knew this would happen, that this was the only eventuality possible. It was easy.

As the emcee approaches me, I see the runner-up crown on a pillow in his arms: silver, no jewels, polished to a sheen.

In the gleaming silver I see my reflection. She’s smiling. She nods, and pulls the knife out, looking at Regina.

I reach towards my reflection, and her hand, clutching the blade, reaches out.

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