Fun House

The first time I see my dead twin sister, I think it is because I am high. But, I reason, I only took a small drag from Bryan’s blunt. The taste of weed coats the inside of my cheeks. As I examine the face that looks almost like mine in the funhouse mirror, I tongue the cut in my mouth where I bit down too hard on a stick of cinnamon-flavored gum.

I am at a deadend, surrounded by mirrors on all sides. I blink, and then once again it is only me looking back. I open my mouth to see if the mossy weed residue is real. The fleshy white line of my healing skin is crumpled and bright within dull pink cushions. My tongue probes it. I realize that Bryan, who has only been my manager for a week, is probably watching me on the cameras. I should stop.

One of the lightbulbs has gone out. I should probably question whether Bryan should be sending me up on a ladder after giving me weed. But it’s better than making small talk with him at the front desk, and, besides, I’ve always liked changing light bulbs.

Guess it’s a good thing the ceilings aren’t any higher, my mom said to me the last time I stretched up on our mini ladder to reach the burnt-out bulb that held on for weeks before flickering out in the center of our apartment’s popcorn ceiling. Its twin still burned brightly, and I had to remind myself to turn off the switch before fitting in a new bulb. The brighter light just made the bad so much worse: dust-covered books, yellowing walls, cracked tile full of caked-in dirt.

Here, I have a full-sized ladder that is so heavy I can only lift it for a few steps at a time for fear of toppling over into one of the mirrors. The one rule: Don’t break a mirror. If any break, they have to shut down the funhouse until it gets fixed. The House of Mirrors is a series of halls and deadends, sort of like a corn maze, but creepier. I imagine smashing a mirror into sharp glittering tears and hear the twinkling of broken glass. The sound echoes through the hall though nothing has broken. When Bryan interviewed me for the job, he warned me that the mirrors would play tricks on me, make me imagine things that weren’t there, and asked if I was up for it. Of course, I said.

It only took me a day to memorize the route through the maze. When I follow the mirrored halls out to the front, I’m convinced it should be later but the clock hands have barely moved.

Fixed, I tell Bryan.

I’m closing early tonight, he says. I can tell he’s waiting for me to ask why. Celebrating my girlfriend’s graduation, he says.

I nod, offer my congrats.

You can tell her in person, he says. No, thanks, I say.

One of these days you’re coming out, Bryan says. This city is shit without any alcohol.

Sorry. I’m not that interested in getting drunk with my boss, I say. We had this conversation my second day here, which is how I know he won’t take anything I say seriously.

But you’ll get high with me? His teeth are improbably shiny as he grins.

You didn’t have any cigarettes, I say. My mom never notices when I steal her emergency cigarettes, not even when I have to replace them. I think about the patients whose homes she spends more time in than her own. Many of them have cancer. I tell myself I’m too young to think about that yet. My wounds still heal as if there was never damage in the first place. I imagine the skin flaps in my cheek knitting back together.

You’d go for me if I was single, Reese, Bryan says.

What? I ask. I didn’t mishear him but am hoping he’ll feel ashamed if he has to repeat himself. I am 16 and he is 23.

But when he does repeat himself, he grins again. You’re dangerous jailbait, he says and tucks a too-short piece of hair behind his ear, a tick I’ve noticed anytime he says something inappropriate. As if he’s nervous someone other than me might hear.

Fuck off, Bryan, I say.

He tells me a real boss would’ve fired me for mouthing off. Fire me, please, I think to myself.

Summer has only just started, and I am so fucking bored.

The second time I see my dead twin sister is a week later. Bryan has left for the afternoon to check on the escape room in the other strip mall across the street—aptly called Escape Orlando—but this excuse is usually code for getting high. I am picking up trash near the influencer mirror, where I saw my twin last. I nicknamed that mirror after my first two days on the job. Unlike others in the funhouse, this mirror distorts you in a favorable way, making you appear taller and thinner. I’ve watched groups of girls taking photos of themselves on the security cameras. I wonder if they know I can see them.

I straighten up, trash in hand, and she’s here again. The condensation of a discarded iced coffee is slick like sweat on my palm, and she’s staring at me. Same eyes as mine, the slight catlike upturn at the corner. But she’s taller, thinner, hair still long, almost down to her hip bones. She blinks when I blink. On her elongated form, her eyes look even more feline. I cock my head, testing. But she doesn’t move.

Hi, I say. She doesn’t answer. She looks like an alien version of me, no freckles across her face from the summer sun, no healing scab on her chin from a picked pimple. Hair unbleached and healthy. As if the world hasn’t touched her. She looks like someone I could’ve been.

I blink and she’s gone. The scab on my chin stands out red and angry and peeling at the corner like old wallpaper.

It is quiet today, as it has been most days. It is still early in the summer, or the amusement park season, as Bryan calls it. The House of Mirrors is not an amusement park, but the stand-in for people who can’t afford tickets to Universal or Disney. Mostly teenagers who sneak in alcohol, mixed into big 7-11 slushie cups. Sometimes local college kids, like Bryan’s girlfriend. On occasion, a family of tourists gullible enough to believe the brochures at their hotel calling this the premiere mirror funhouse in central Florida. In their optimism they always forget to put on sunscreen. So many sunburnt noses. The tourists take the longest to go through the funhouse, not because the maze is particularly difficult but because they want to soak up every inch of manufactured happiness.

I start reading Shakespeare to my dead twin sister, hoping one of these days she’ll speak to me. We studied Lady Macbeth in my freshman year lit class, I say. Hamlet is on my summer reading list. So far, I like it better.

She just looks at me.

You could be Ophelia, I tell her. If you were here, I could braid flowers into your hair. I touch my hair, chopped short by my own hand, dry and brittle from a botched platinum dye-job. But we’re not in England, so you don’t get to be classy, sorry. No lake and lily pads. It’d have to be the Everglades. Swamp Ophelia. I dogear my page and look at her. She’s sitting, cross-legged like me. I wish she would talk to me. Do you think mom had a name for you? I ask.

She nods.

It is not beautiful here. People think of Florida and they think sunshine and palm trees and beaches with blue water and beautiful people. But it rains a lot in the summer and it’s gray more than people think and the palm trees are not very fun when you’re a kid because you can’t climb them. If you try, you end up with scraped knees and bruised elbows and, occasionally, a head broken in half. I think everyone is mean because everyone wants to leave.

But then, I wonder if they do. Because otherwise how would my mom have a job, taking care of all of them, the old and sick and lonely, all of us who’ve stayed.

I start trying to guess her name. Sometimes, I can’t close the funhouse for lunch but after the last guest has left I sneak to my sister’s mirror, which is how I’ve started to think of it. I only let myself ask her one name a day. I worry if I get it right she might leave. Though I’ve imagined her so many times throughout my childhood, this is the first I’ve ever really seen her. I don’t want her to go.

So what’s the deal? Bryan asks me.

I am behind the front desk picking at a bleeding cuticle. What? The whole loner shtick, he says.

I could ask the same of you, I finally say.

He snorts as if I’ve caught him by surprise. Then he tucks that piece of hair behind his ear. I’m not a loner.

Ok. I return to my fingernail bed, which has started to ooze a mixture of blood and pus when I push on it. It hurts but not enough to make me stop.

Go get a fucking bandage, Bryan says.

I look up at him and stick my finger in my mouth. At that moment, a group of girls from my high school walk in. I pull my finger out of my mouth and wipe it on my shorts as quickly as I can. They are clutching styrofoam cups, the contents of which have already started to stain the soft in-between of their lips. Their pin-straight hair has started to frizz in the humidity.

Jaclyn, the tallest and the blondest, comes up to me. Four tickets, she says. I take her card.

Thanks, Reese, she says. It’s the only acknowledgement she knows who I am. And then: She looks at Bryan, looks at her friends, and they laugh as they walk through the entrance to the mirrors.

At school, Bryan has a reputation. He used to be hot. But he dropped out, started taking summer classes to get his GED, dropped out of those, too. Before he started dating his current girlfriend, he would show up at high school parties and fuck virgins. One time he told me that he used to lifeguard but that you can’t get high and keep track of little kids. I thought he was making it up. He didn’t seem strong enough to be a lifeguard.

I don’t know how he got this job. But I do know that Jaclyn and her friends will leave and tell everyone that “Reese is fucking Bryan.” Not that it matters to any of them, but I’m a virgin.

I’ve told myself I can start having sex when I get out of this town and people don’t know who I am. But Jaclyn will spread the rumor anyway and who would really be surprised? It makes perfect sense, the school weirdo fucking the dropout.

It was fourth grade when I told the class my fun fact. After, they all gaped at me, silent fish. I heard a rushing in my ears, as if I were underwater too. I looked at their eyes, big and round and disbelieving. The teacher, flustered, told me to go to my seat. I let my long hair out from behind my ears so it could curtain around my face and block everyone out. She’s so weird. It came through the cracks of my hair and burrowed into my ears. I stopped listening to the barbed whispers and thought about what I had said. It was the truth; my mother told me.

When I was in my mom’s stomach, I ate my twin sister.

By the time I started high school, I was used to it. Being the class weirdo. It doesn’t strike me as particularly original, which is probably why it doesn’t bother me. Not that much, at least.

I used to smoke cigarettes on my lunch breaks, but since my dead twin sister started to visit me, I’ve stopped. She wouldn’t want me to smoke. I think she would’ve been older. There’s something in her eyes, like she can see out of every mirror, all the time, even when I don’t know she’s there. So far, I haven’t seen her anywhere else. I always look. The chipped mirror in our bathroom. The reflective glass on the bus. The still water of the pond near the funhouse.

You’d be the twin everyone likes, I tell her. I am sitting in front of her mirror, eating peanut butter and jelly on stale bread. I still peel the crust off, though I know I’m too old to do so.

My mom never cut it off for me. I wonder if my twin would eat it, were she here. And then I wonder if my mom would be different if my twin were here.

She smiles. Shakes her head. Points at me. You’d be the favorite. She’s never spoken to me and I’m beginning to think she never will. When I hugged her so tight in my mother’s stomach that she vanished, I must’ve taken her voice, too.

I wish you were here. I don’t say it out loud but I can tell she heard me in the same way I can hear her.

What are you doing? It is not my sister who asks this. Bryan. His keys are in his hand and he doesn’t look happy. Having lunch, I say.

Why was the door locked?

I needed a moment.

What the fuck are you doing?

Meditating. I stand, pick up the remnants of my lunch, and turn my back to my twin.

You were staring at yourself. You always laugh at girls who sit in front of this mirror. His anger fades into a sneer. He comes up to me. I notice his eyes are unfocused as his sour breath clouds my face. I don’t know if he’s been drinking or is high or both. A scoff. You pretend to be different but you’re the same as every other girl, he says.

I don’t answer. I don’t move. In the mirror behind his back, I see my sister watching me.

It’s the first time I’ve seen her outside her mirror. And as Bryan pushes my body against cool glass and his lips into mine, I wonder why she’s stayed hidden for so long when she was there all this time. I lock eyes with her. She looks angry. I feel her burn inside me.

After I slap Bryan, he looks surprised. I expect anger but he doesn’t react. It takes two tries to push him away.

I’m going home, I say.


I whip around to look at him, not sure what I’m going to say, but he’s cowering. He’s staring at something behind me, fear in his eyes that can’t possibly be caused by me. It takes me only a moment before I realize what he’s looking at. Who he’s looking at. I turn my head. I see my sister, still in the mirror behind me, and she is glowing. He sees her, too.

Summer is ending. It has been a week since I’ve been back to the funhouse. Which means it’s been a week since I’ve seen my sister. When I arrive for what will be my last shift, Bryan is sitting at the cash register. He won’t meet my eyes. Good, I think.

Lightbulb’s out again, he says, staring at his phone. Make sure you put the right wattage in this time. I don’t remind him that last time he got the bulb for me.

I am tired but the ladder feels lighter than usual, as if someone else were helping me carry it. I feel in control. Maybe that confidence is why, as I climb down the ladder, I slip. I clutch the burnt lightbulb and feel the glass, still warm, crunch in my fist. My heel catches on one of the ladder steps and my leg goes through the empty space. My elbow hits the mirror directly behind me. My sister’s mirror, I realize. Then my tailbone and head hit the floor. I hear the music of broken glass.

My fall is loud enough that Bryan comes rushing, but not as fast as he should, to see if I’m ok. He whistles when he sees the damage.


I am still lying on the floor, a pain pulsing in my elbow. I look down and see a red flower blooming from the crevice in my skin. I stand up and watch blood drop to the floor in petals. I turn to see what Bryan sees.

I’ve seen a broken mirror before, but this is different. The sharp edges are like shiny teeth, opening into a black unending throat. When I get up, brittle glass splinters beneath my feet. For the last time, I look into the mirror, the little of it that is intact. I search for the shine of my sister’s dark brown hair, the eyes with wisdom far greater than mine. I look for her pale skin, never tanned in the Florida sun. I stand there until I feel blood run down each of my fingers. I stand there until I hear Bryan walk away, calling back to me to clean up the blood and the glass. I listen for a voice I know I will never hear. And I look for her. Just once more. But the only person staring back through the shards is me.  

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