My heartbeat rocks inside my breast like the countdown of a mine. I scrub at the silver plate with fervor, my bottom lip caught between my teeth. The scabs around my fingernails have reopened begun to bleed, lining my nails with crimson. My elbows stick out at strange angles when I lean into the damp rag and use the heel of my palm for extra force. A few more rubs, and I hold the plate up.
A dark smudge is barely discernible between freckles of corrosion- a familiar sight. My shoulders drop. I replace the plate in my lap and flip the rag over to the cleaner side to resume my scrubbing. I can’t be away much longer or someone will notice.
Bang, bang, bang.
The stall door shudders in its hinges. “What are you doing in there?” Vinny’s voice is unmistakable, rumbling like subway cars. He pounds on the door a few more times.
I set the plate in the toilet’s water tank behind the pump, tuck the rag into my back pocket, and slip out into the bathroom where I find myself chest-to-chest with grease-stained cotton. My eyes crawl upwards, taking in the mountainous figure that is Vincent Marchiano, well-earned ripples of fat and all.
I begin to sidestep my way towards the door leading back into the restaurant, but his hand snaps around my wrist faster than you would expect for someone who loses his breath flipping burgers. He glances past me into the stall, and realization crosses his features.
“You were polishing again.”
I glare absently at the blank wall facing the stalls.
Vinny groans. “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t. You’re gonna get me into some serious trouble with this weird…” he gestures vaguely with his hands, ”obsession you got. I gotta let you go. Say sorry to yer mum for me.”
There is no leniency in his face, not this time. I pull away, but he clears his throat. “Uh, look, kid. I get it. It eats at me sometimes too. You just gotta let it go like the rest of us do.” I shrug my arm out of his grip and stumble away.
Seconds later, I step out into brisk air and let the flood of people swallow me. As we pass, most strangers glance my way once, then twice. I ignore them and push ahead. I don’t know where I want to go, but it’s not home. Impulsively, I break from the crowd and slip down a partially hidden stairwell into the subway.
The crowd is thinner down here, and the air damp. My sneakers tap a serenade across the cement floor as I skirt the platform towards a flickering sign that shows various routes around the city. I try to focus, but the lines blur. Again, I can only make out a dark shadow watching me.
My eyes follow the frame of the sign. In the corner is a tear in the niteline- a dull film sealed over the reflective surface- and it wouldn’t be hard at all to peel it away. My fingers twitch. I glance around and meet the eyes of a man uniformed in grey, partially hidden in shadows. I move along.
On the subway, I take a seat beside a mother and child. The boy’s eyes grow at the sight of me, and the woman pulls him away before he can say anything. I look down at my hands, covered in soft, even skin. I’ve often tried to translate them into a face all my own. It would be pretty, with freckles like my aunt’s and a nose like that girl who smokes outside Vinny’s diner on Sundays. In fact, it would be gorgeous beyond comparison.
These thoughts turn the air bitter. I glower and force my eyes away from my entwined fingers. On the seat beside me a newspaper with the words “Woman Found With Camera; Gets 25-Life.” typed in the bottom left corner. I look up again, and a man across from me turns away with flushed cheeks.
I can’t stand it anymore- I know what I need to do. The subway halts and I stand abruptly. I slip through the doors and hurry back to rejoin the crowd.
Her name is simply The Witch. She lives on the corner of Oenothera Street and Narcissus Drive. I can see the smoke drifting out of her alley from here. She’s known for peddling drugs and evading cops and dealing out wishes like playing cards. I’ve heard only the truly desperate visit her. This will be my first.
I turn the corner and find myself trapped in a greyish cloud. My head swims. I continue forwards with a hand tethering me to the red brick wall.
”Witch?” My breath sends a ripple through the air.
The voice beckons me further into the smog. I look back and see the wall disappear from underneath my fingers. I step forwards.
“What can I do for you?” A warm breath tickles my ear and I spin. The Witch is there, garbed in a black hooded cloak that makes it difficult to see anything above her nose. Her laugh is dark. It pulls the corners of her lips towards her wind-bruised cheeks. I can’t help but lean into her.
“I need a wish. I need a mirror.” I say that word with a virginity that comes from only ever forming it soundlessly.
She hums and steps closer so I can see into her hood. “Are you prepared for whatever you might see?”
In her fourgerite eyes I find that same dark smudge. I nod.
Without further hesitation, she reaches into her robe and pulls out a small luminous circle- the moon, I think at first. She holds it up to my face.
My lips part, breath halts, blood freezes, mind glitches.
Uneven skin is plastered across too-large bones. Cheeks ripple and gleam. Flat nose, small eyes, dull pink gums where the lips should be.
I scream. I’m hideous.