by Jan Kaneen

We stare too long at our nowadays face—at our jowls and wrinkles and dry frizzy hair, and the frown lines between our unkempt eyebrows that make us look like we’re always cross, when like Alice, we slip through the looking glass. We’re still in the bathroom washing away our secret tears but we’re on the other side now, in the looking-glass bathroom where looking-glass us has just washed her hands and is going outside with a satisfied smile on her springtime face. She walks past us with clear perfect skin and lustrous hair that glints and glisters where it catches the light, and she leaves behind her the faintest whiff of yesterday’s violets.

Looking-glass us can’t see us-us which we’re glad of because we know how harshly she’d judge. She’d think we’d let ourselves go, most like, and she definitely wouldn’t be able to see beyond the prism of her own beauty. It’s not her fault. It’s all she’s ever been valued for, and all she’s ever been actually. There’s nothing of the Russian doll about her, not yet.

We follow her into the looking-glass kitchen where looking-glass Steve is putting an arm around her looking-glass waist as he raises a toast to the gathered throng.  

‘To my beautiful wife,’ he chimes, chinking a kiss onto her glossy lips. ‘Everything I could ever wish for in a life partner and mother of my children.’

We catch the unguarded sparkle in her shiny eyes and our insides shrivel. She’s totally transparent, open and exposed—just frangible underbelly—she has no layers at all. She’s years away from being don’t-react-to-anything-he-does us, or throw-yourself-into-building-your-own-business us and decades away from being writer us, so she has no coping mechanisms, no coping mechanisms at all. We want to scream into her face so she starts to adapt but she’s oblivious to our existence and even if she wasn’t, she’s not ready to listen, though she’s been round the loop enough times surely to start seeing that round the corner from each perfect-wife moment, there’s a dry-broken-whore moment; a deluded-ugly-bitch moment; an overindulgent-with-the spoilt-brat-children moment, waiting for every party to end.

We can’t bear to watch—not even from the safety of numbers, not even from the safety of years. We dash to the bathroom and clamber back into all our futures, and there we are—hard mouth, insightful eyes, knowing double-chin forged from years of self-preservation, and laughter lines that came much later, once we’d understood his need to control and undermine doesn’t come from a powerful place, or reality even, but is a reflection of the fact that it’s him, not us, that is broken.

We wash away the last of our nowadays tears and force our lips into a bulletproof smile, wishing he could see what we see—that one day, around the corner from this tears-are-not-real-but-a-way-of-trying-to-control-him moment, there’ll be a soulmate-who-he-can’t-live-without moment, an he-loves-me-more-than-life-itself moment, shining like diamonds just beyond his field of perception. One day.

In 2020, Jan Kaneen’s writing won the Segora Short Story Prize, Flash 500, came second in Fountain Magazine’s essay competition, third in the Bath Flash Fiction Prize and was shortlisted in the Dinesh Alirajah Award and Aesthetica’s Creative Writing Prize as well as being selected as one of the Best British and Irish Flash Fictions. Her debut memoir-in-flash, The Naming of Bones is forthcoming from Retreat West Books, April 22nd 2021.