MINCHIATE: XVII Prudence

The Snake

Muriel gazed at herself in the mirror and searched for the young girl she had seen all her life, but found only the baggy-eyed crone she had become. She breathed a shaky sigh as tears threatened to well up and burst like geysers out of her already red and puffy eyes.

“Ugly,” The Snake whispered.

She knew The Snake well; it lived inside her and told her harsh truths. It was relentless and cruel and slithered around her synapses in a slow meander that never stopped.

Muriel wondered when The Snake had wormed itself into her mind.

“I was never like this,” she whispered, afraid to speak up lest The Snake hissed again.

Muriel closed her eyes and pictured Mom, the one genuine memory she had of her: a hug, given when she was just a child. Although Muriel sometimes thought it might be only a dream. When The Snake first took up residence in her mind, the memory of Muriel’s long-dead mother was strong enough to clamp down on it and silence its forked tongue. But now, it was often powerless against the petty, demeaning words The Snake whispered.

“Ugly,” The Snake said again, “he’ll leave you because you’re ugly.”

And the tears welled up and spilled over Muriel’s closed eyelids, wetting her eyelashes so they clumped together into a salty mess.

“He won’t,” Muriel challenged The Snake, but deep inside she knew it only spoke the truth.

He no longer cared. He no longer loved her. She did nothing right; she was such a klutz, such a weirdo. The Snake was on a roll, and its venomous words slithered all over Muriel’s mind until it filled with the poison-green thoughts of despair and worthlessness. It also defiled Mom’s memory; Muriel tried to cling to it as it burned away like an old film on fire.

“Stop it!” She cried and opened her eyes.

The bathroom was green, and Muriel, for an instant, believed the toxin had oozed out of her and tainted the bathroom, her sanctuary. The last place where she could be herself, where she could cheer herself, and enjoy the peace and warmth of a cleansing bath. Here she could escape her body and her mind and hold on to Mom’s memory, just as long as she never looked in the mirror.

Tonight, Muriel had dawdled too long, and the steam had peeled itself off the glass before she finished dressing and was ready to leave her sanctuary. It had taken one glance, and now the bathroom glowed toxic green.

Muriel rubbed her eyes and opened them again. The green veil dissipated, and as her eyes adjusted, she spotted a blurry figure in the mirror gazing back at her.

“Ugly,” The Snake jeered again as the image in the glass sharpened.

“Why are you here?” Muriel asked The Snake, “Where did you come from?”

“You need me,” The Snake replied, “you made me.”

“Lie!” The reflection in the mirror screamed and startled Muriel, who placed her hand across your mouth, astonished by what she beheld. 

The reflection glared back with Muriel’s girlish face and fiery eyes. It was the image she searched for every time she dared peek in the mirror. Now here she was, that young, graceful girl with bouncy curls and bright eyes, scowling at her. Her eyes blazed with fury, and Muriel was thunderstruck that the image she sought for so long would glare back at her in wrath; the past angry at the present.

“He brought The Snake,” The Reflection fixed its scorching gaze on Muriel, “he planted it in your brain with his boorishness and his belittling comments and deeds.”

As Muriel stared into those seething pupils, realization broke through the toxic green fog in her mind, and the same spark of ire that burned in The Reflection’s eyes kindled in Muriel’s chest and rose to her cheeks, then flowed down to her toes until her whole body, her whole self was ablaze with wrath and indignation.

The Reflection raised its hand, though Muriel stood motionless, transfixed, as all his actions, comments and jokes replayed in her mind. It reached its arm out towards Muriel and broke through the smooth barrier of the glass as its fingers neared Muriel’s forehead.

The Snake hissed and bared its hideous poison-filled fangs. It lunged towards The Reflection, but The Reflection grabbed it, ripped it out of Muriel’s brain and dashed it against the medicine cabinet. The door sprang open, and the contents spilled onto the vanity. Muriel gazed at the mess with stunned eyes. All the little instruments and lotions she used to make herself presentable to him, to please him, lay scattered on the white granite countertop. 

A disgusted sneer crept up Muriel’s lips, and a low growl escaped her throat. She flung open the bathroom door. The steamy poison, neutralized by the anger-fire that flared inside her, seeped into the hall. Muriel paid it no mind. She put on her shoes, grabbed her purse, and walked out the front door. All she took from that house was Mom’s memory, now shining brighter than ever.

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