Please enjoy this short story about friendship, loss, and the things that are hardest to hold onto, no matter how many occult hand gestures a young girl knows.
And if you’d like to hear the story read aloud, please enjoy the following video, complete with all the hiccups that come with a YouTube channel’s first video (especially when it was recorded in the kitchen 😄).
If Amanda looks outside her window, she can see the truck parked in front of Nori’s house. It is so big, and its sides so bright and shiny and sharply white, that when she looks, it cuts out everything else and becomes the only thing she can see. She can’t find Nori anywhere. For all she knows, Nori’s family already left, and the truck will pull away like a curtain and show her a house that’s empty, even though from Amanda’s room it will look the same.
So Amanda stops looking outside and instead looks around her room: purple walls; a desk where her English notebook lies open, waiting; and a dresser with a simple rectangular mirror. On the wall across from her bed, Joey Carson from Blue Note Boys smiles at her, saying I’ll never leave you, girl in a way that needs no words. To prove it, he even sits in the same pose that he’s been holding ever since Amanda put up the poster three months ago.
There are certain kinds of magic that Amanda already knows how to use. If she walks away from her phone, then Nori will reply to her message. She wonders if now is the time to try it.
She doesn’t need to. Her phone goes off—the best six seconds of Blue Note Boys’ “Love Underwater.” Nori’s message flashes across the screen: sry I’m here u rdy?
Amanda sends her back a thumbs-up and moves her desk chair in front of her mirror. One of her dads must have tried straightening up her dresser again, but it doesn’t matter. They always seem to put stuff in an adult kind of order that probably couldn’t do any harm—bottles of nail polish grouped together, pens and pencils lined up next to each other like little kids waiting to go out to recess. She’s pretty sure that parents grow up not knowing how magic works.
She stands two tubes of lip balm on either side of a snail shell and rolls a pebble from the playground across a dried oak leaf until it stops next to a bobby pin. A yellow glow fills her mirror and then disappears, as quick as a breath of wind. Once it’s gone, Amanda can see Nori standing in front of her own mirror in her own room in the house across the street.
There are certain kinds of magic that Amanda already knows how to use. Mirror magic is the best.
At least, it usually is. Right now, the bedroom around Nori looks like no room Amanda’s ever been in. The walls are bare, the curtains are missing, and the flower power rug has been rolled up and stood next to a cardboard castle of boxes. For a second, Amanda freezes, thinking that Nori already might be talking to her from the new house. Then she notices the dent beneath the windowsill that the wall acquired during their best match of Rolling Chair Joust Wars. She realizes that she’s looking at Nori’s room, just stripped of everything that made it Nori.
And Nori is smiling.
“Sorry I took so long,” she says, catching her breath. “I had to carry some boxes out to the car. Plus, oh my God, I have to show you what my mom got me.” Amanda watches from one side of the mirror as, on the other, Nori scatters a handful of guitar picks and arranges them in a spiral. “Ready?” Nori asks once the spiral is set. “Catch.”
Amanda raises her hands in time to meet Nori’s phone as it sails through the mirror’s liquid surface. Why Nori always throws the expensive stuff instead of passing it through the mirror, Amanda doesn’t know, but now she’s holding Nori’s phone. On the screen is a series of knobs and levers, along with a few pulsing electrical lines that look like the heart monitors doctors and nurses study on TV shows.
“It’s a sound mixer and synthesizer app,” Nori says. “I can make songs right there on my phone. Plus, I can plug in my guitar and record it in there, too. I just, like, need an adapter. And guess what?” Nori is practically glowing now. “Mom and Dad said I can set up my new room like a recording studio. They’re even going to help me put foam on the walls of my closet so it’s like a little recording booth. Isn’t that frickin’ amazing? I’m going to have my own studio.”
Amanda can’t tell if the reason the room is so bright is because of Nori or because of her window no longer being hidden behind a set of blinds. “Yeah, that’s, wow,” she says, pushing one end of the phone back through the mirror. “That’s really great.”
“Yeah. Thanks. It is.” Nori narrows her eyes as she takes back the phone. “So what did you want to show me?”
Amanda hesitates. Her gaze plays hopscotch across her dresser. “My new nail polish,” she finally says, reaching for the bottle of Turquoise Dream. “The glitter pearls look really awesome.”
Nori leans forward and squints while Amanda holds up her left hand. “Yeah. Nice.”
“I’d let you borrow it,” says Amanda, “but you’re moving, so…”
Nori frowns. “Well, we can always pass it through after they get my dresser set up.” A thumping sound from Nori’s side rattles the window’s frame. “Hey, can you wait here a minute?” she asks, running off to the side before Amanda can answer.
All of the boxes in Nori’s bedroom are marked with her handwriting— s‘s made with sharp angles, a star radiating above each lower-case i. Amanda takes a deep breath and closes her eyes. She touches each fingertip to her thumb in a specific order and moves coins and buttons across her dresser, until she feels they’re in the exact places where hours of practice have told her they need to be. She hadn’t lied about wanting to show Nori her new nail polish. She had just wanted to do it a different way.
The mirror feels cool and sticky, like Jell-O, when Amanda presses her palm against it. It allows her hand to sink right through.
Amanda opens her eyes. She’s in. If she wants, she can grab a marker and add her own handwriting below Nori’s on the nearest box. She thinks about doing it, leaving Nori a message to discover when she unpacks, or about taking Nori’s phone from the dresser and changing the background to something funny.
On the screen of Nori’s phone, the lights and lines of the synthesizer app still pulse away, probably in time to a song that Amanda can’t hear. She’s never seen anything quite like it; it makes Nori’s phone look like a device from the spaceship movies that Papa Drew likes to watch. The second she hears footsteps stomping toward Nori’s room, she pulls her hand back through the mirror.
“I have to go move some more stuff,” Nori says, stepping through the bedroom doorway. “You want to come over and help?”
Amanda looks away. “I’ve got to go clean the basement with my dads.”
“Come on, you can do that later!”
“I said I would. I was going to do it before, but I was waiting for you to text.”
“Then go do that for a while, and then come over,” says Nori, rolling her eyes. “Just make sure you come over before we go, okay?”
“Fine,” Amanda says as they both sweep their hands across their dressers, closing their secret window.
There’s so much work to be done in the basement that Amanda doesn’t know how the dads think they’re going to get it all finished in one day. Papa Terry is making room in the storage shed, so Papa Drew has stayed inside to start sorting boxes. “Honey, don’t you want to go spend some time with Nori?” he asks when Amanda comes down the creaky wooden stairs.
“Nori has to help her family pack.” She walks past him and settles herself in a corner, beside boxes of her old clothes.
Papa Drew says nothing for a while. He works and lets Amanda work; he shuffles up and down the stairs, sometimes shouting stuff to Papa Terry from the kitchen window. He goes away for what, in a quiet, dusty basement, feels like a long time.
Then he returns and places his hand on Amanda’s shoulder. Amanda doesn’t look at him; she’s too busy trying to fold her old Brownie uniform just right. “Honey,” he says, “would you mind taking some of these old boxes up to the curb for me?”
“Okay,” she says, shoving the uniform into a bag.
The boxes, marked with boring labels like “Nightstand Drawer” and “Bedroom Shelf,” are a challenge. Papa Drew has smashed them so they lay flat, but they’re large, and against the springtime wind they catch like wings. Amanda can’t see beyond them until she has them wedged between the mailbox and the garbage can. It’s only when they’re in place that she looks up, hears the bright moving truck start across the street, and sees it start to pull away. She watches as Nori’s parents’ SUV backs down the driveway, with Nori in the back seat, her stare being pulled along by the giant truck ahead.
Dinner that night at Amanda’s house is Polish sausage and tater tots, her favorite. She eats about half of it before asking to go upstairs. Under the blanket of evening, her mirror looks dim, even though there’s still some sunlight left and the streetlights have just come on. There was one box she saw unsealed in Nori’s room earlier, marked “Nori’s Dresser – DO NOT TOUCH,” star above the i. Remembering it now, Amanda wonders if what happens with parents isn’t that they grow up without magic, but that they pack it in a box and bury it in the basement. Do her parents have friends that they filed away? A marker, a rubberband, a tube of lip gloss on her dresser. Amanda waits to see if the only face crying in the mirror is going to be her own.