Literary Fiction Strange

A Day Without Mirrors

By Holly Lyn Walrath
488 words · 2-minute reading time
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From the author: A feminist retelling of the classic story, The Picture of Dorian Gray.


Outside, the summer heat is insidious, begging to be let in at each crack and peephole of the charming old mansion.

Inside, the beautiful young woman walks from room to room, breaking each of the mirrors in the house, one by one. She grips the hammer with a feverish turmoil. She refuses to look down at the shattered fragments, to see the speckled beauty of her face within their depths. Finally, when the last mirror lies in slivers at her feet, she climbs the stairs, where the attic door is locked with a skeleton key. Inside the mist of the garret she can see the square of cloth in the corner, the easel with its face turned away, draped in red fabric.

Her calves tremble as she edges her way across the attic crossbeams. Her hair, red as a robin’s breast and waist-deep in curls, sweeps through a cobweb and comes away gray. How long has it been since she has looked upon the painting? Three years? Five?

She shudders to remember its cruel gaze, how it had seemed to laugh at her, how the blood had already begun to stain its fingers, how the wrinkles had begun to form around its punishing eyes.

She remembers the day it was painted. She had slept until noon in the white-downed bed of the artist, and they had sipped pink champagne out of crystal and nibbled ripe strawberries. The artist had insisted on her nudity, and in turn had stripped off her own paint-splattered apron while she worked. Stillness.

In that moment, the painter and her muse were one. Without thinking, the words had tumbled out of the girl’s strawberry-red mouth, “I wish I could stay in this moment forever.”

How could she have known that her true self would remain locked away for the rest of her life? How could she know that years later, when she brought the painter to her garret, so that they could both look upon the memory of their love-making, that the painting would instead betray her?

And what else was to be done but plunge the sharp point of the knife into her lover’s chest, to watch the blood soak her paint-soaked apron?

And later, when the young man had wanted to marry her, had she killed him too, in his suicide?

And the others, the long line of lovers, male and female, had she murdered them as well?

She reaches for the red fabric swathing the portrait and lets it fall. For a long moment, the beautiful young woman stands still in the light from the attic window. A glint of white catches her eye – a hand mirror, propped on the windowsill. She cups it in her arms like a child, staring deep into her own eyes, and then beyond, into the eyes of the demon in the painting. She kisses the cool glass of the mirror and lets it fall. 

This story originally appeared in Condensed to Flash: World Classics.


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