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Hall of Mirrors David C. Card


David C. Card

Bobby Smiles was throwing stones against the wall at the recluse, almost secluded section of the schoolyard, where a hop-scotch pitch drawn in chalk lay on the pavement, surrounded by rocks and bushes and flowers. The bricks of the buildings and the surface of the pavement had been darkened by rain. Frost rested on the grass-bed. It was the coldest day of the year, the first day of winter, but still Bobby’s pink knees peered under the hem of grey trouser shorts; he’d worn full length trousers for school once or twice, but found them restricting and uncomfortable—and plus, sportsman wore shorts, he thought, and life was his sport.

Out of the corner of his eye, Bobby saw Hailey Myers and the gang looking his way from across the yard. This didn’t bother him though. Let them stare if they want to.

He glanced at his wrist watch: break-time was almost over. Before making his way to the cloakrooms, he gathered the lucky stones he’d picked up one weekend while fishing with his dad and pocketed them. He was about to head for the stone-steps, but didn’t, when he was sure he heard footsteps behind him. And voices echoed around him. Something told him to turn, and when he did turn the gang were crowded round him like wolves.

Hailey Myers stood ahead of the gang, twisting a lock of sand hair around her fingers like twine. She smiled and said:

“Could your mother not afford full length pants, huh?”

“She could,” Bobby replied, “it’s just I like to show off my calves.”

The gang sniggered. Hailey didn’t.

“You talk pretty snappy for a shy boy,” she said.

“Who ever said I was a shy boy?”

“You’ve never spoke a word to nobody since you got here.”

“You’ve never spoke a word to me neither.”

“Well then,” she said, “maybe we won’t bother next time.”

She turned and walked back to her side of the yard. The gang, of mostly boys, followed the queen like bees.

“He’s kinda funny,” a voice came. “Yeah,” another voice came.

It was the first time Bobby had spoken to a girl his own age, with his previous school being an all boys elementary. And it wasn’t just any girl, either. Sometimes Bobby would throw his stones a little extra hard against the hop-scotch wall at break-times, so that they’d ricochet and land in the rockery behind him, and through the bushes he’d watch everyone crowd around Hailey and laugh at her jokes and tell her how fit she was and ask her how much her new posh purse and jacket cost. He never understood it.

That evening, Bobby mentioned this to his mother. She replied, “The world’s a hall of mirrors, Bobby,” then smiled and kissed him on the cheekbone. He didn’t entirely understand what she meant by this, she always talked in riddles, but somehow it seemed to encapsulate the experience perfectly.

The next morning, Bobby woke early, as usual, knocking at his parents’ bedroom door in his Wellington boots.

“Hurry, dad,” he said. “The weather said rain’s due by lunch.”

Both parents were awake then and were sat-up in bed.

“I wonder if Bobby sleeps with his fishing gear on,” Bobby’s father said to Bobby’s mother.

She smiled and said, “You two be careful down there. You know how excited he gets.”

* * *

The lakeside could have been Bobby’s and his father’s on Saturday mornings. Not a person could be seen, not a whisper could be heard. Trees overhead surrounded and shaded them like umbrellas. They sat inches from the lake on two wooden picnic chairs, admiring the still waters and white sun between hills. Bobby’s father held the fishing rod in both hands on his lap, while Bobby sat near, taking the view in like air.

“Have you ever been to Scotland, dad?” Bobby asked.


“I’ve heard the waters are full of fish.”

“Ah, I see. Once or twice, never to fish though, would love to.”

“So would I,” Bobby said.

The silence they shared at the lakes was as loud as any conversation. His father once said he’d never felt so pressured to break the silence with words, he’d always try to think of the next thing to say. “That’s funny,” Bobby replied, “it’s the opposite, to me.” His father remembered that morning as clearly as the day Bobby was born.

“So what do you think mum meant when she said ‘the world’s a hall of mirrors’?” Bobby asked.

“Well,” his father replied, “what do you think she meant, son?”

“I don’t know dad, that maybe people act like something they’re not? Is that what mum meant?”

His father hesitated answering, keeping his gaze fixed on the water.

“Maybe,” he said. “In a way that’s what she meant.”

“Is it bad to be like that?”

Bobby’s father placed the fishing rod on the yellow grass by his side. He turned his chair to face Bobby, leaning closer until their eyes were level height. “Listen,” he began, “don’t let anyone change who you are, you hear me?”

“They won’t, dad.”

“Good lad.”

That night Bobby had the dream. He was flying, swimming through the air. He was searching for something. He stopped when he reached the school gates, tried to open them, but couldn’t. Inside the gates, Hailey and her friends stood with their backs to Bobby. Bobby yelled out, “let me in, let me in!” He shook the gates, he rattled the chains, he kicked the bolts, but it was no use. He glanced at his palms: blood covered them. When he looked back through the gates, Hailey had disappeared. But he could hear her, still. She was giggling, clapping her hands, and she was calling for Bobby. He was sure of it. He shook the gates. To his surprise, they opened. He walked into the empty yard where His Hailey once stood. She called again, “Bobby, Bobby!” He started toward the football field. He was running. He was crying. He looked at his palms again and blood dripped from them now, landing in large red spots on the pavement. He clenched his fists to stop the bleeding, and the yard and the school gave way to his bed and his room. It was only when a string of morning sun beamed through a crack in the curtains stinging his eyes Bobby fully awoke. He checked his palms, he had to be sure: no cuts, no blood.

“Aren’t you going to take advantage of the sunshine, Bobby?” his mother asked at the breakfast table.

“I don’t really feel like it,” Bobby replied, tearing the crust of his toast off with his fingertips. He didn’t really feel like doing anything at all that day.

It was empty in the back streets of the square the next morning. Winter rain tore through fog, swamping cracks in the pavement, forming tiny pools and rivers, all of which in time would share the rippled reflection of Bobby’s black shoe soles as he skipped and leapt over them, careful not soak his socks. Bobby hadn’t seen a day so foggy. It reminded him of the old silver romance movies his mother would watch on Sunday afternoons; the ones where the star always gets the girl in the end.

He arrived early for school that morning. Ricky and Mickey were throwing stones against the hop-scotch wall. They never usually did. The fog in the air had vanished as if blown clear by the blistering winds; Bobby struggled to stay on his feet. He fastened his jacket’s fur collar up to his eyebrows and tucked his hands inside the pockets. Every now and then he glanced over at Ricky and Mickey.

Ricky and Mickey were Hailey’s best friends, and both chief players of the weekend football matches. Ricky was Devonshire Secondary’s top goal scorer, and Mickey hadn’t let in a dozen goals all season.

“Look, there he is,” Ricky said in that gritty voice of his, which sounded as if he needed to clear his throat every time he spoke.

“It’s alright,” Bobby yelled. “You guys can play, it’s alright.”

“No, Bobby, Bobby, I wanna ask you somethun’. Come here!”

Bobby waited for a moment to see whether Ricky or Mickey would shout over what they wanted. They didn’t.

“What is it?” Bobby yelled.

They didn’t reply.

Crowds of children littered his path to the hop-scotch wall. He slowly made his way through the crowd, looking both ways as if he were crossing traffic.

“You wanna play with us?” Mickey asked.

Mickey was a head taller than Ricky; Bobby had to raise his head to look him in the eye. He had a big brown birthmark that clung to his cheekbone. Bobby thought it almost greeted you before he did.

“The game’s kind of only a one player game,” Bobby replied.

“So how exactly do you play this game?” Mickey asked.

Hailey’s voice tore through the wind: “what you guys doing talking to bare-legs?”

It was Ricky who answered: “we were just playing stones and asked Bobby if he wanted to.”

“We don’t play stones,” Hailey replied. “Why don’t you come play with us, Bobby?”

“I’m alright where I am,” he said, just as the bell tolled for registration and the stampede of children began.

“I’ll see you in class, Bob,” Ricky said.

“Yeah, see ya,” Mickey said.

Hailey hadn’t stopped looking at Bobby since she arrived. Her arms were crossed. Her bent left knee bobbed up and down.

“Anyway,” Hailey began, “I thought you didn’t talk to us?”

“I never said that.”

Bobby turned and headed for the steps, but was pulled back by Hailey.

“Don’t walk away from me,” she said.

“Get your hands off me,” he said.

Hailey’s face filled red as she released her grip. Her eyes wondered aimlessly around the yard. Bobby felt bad; he didn’t exactly know why. He wanted to say something, but didn’t. He turned and made his way to the stairs.

Bobby wondered if that was the first time Hailey had been refused before; he couldn’t stop seeing her defeated face in his head. By lunch, the hop-scotch wall was free, and although stones were being thrown and points were being accumulated, it was merely idle activity for a restless mind:

What if Hailey was to be refused in front of the whole school, he thought. How would she feel if I refused her then?

Bobby wondered whether he could live with himself if he did.

But if I didn’t refuse her, there is no going back. Bobby didn’t want to be misunderstood by his classmates.

Hailey and the gang were over by the football posts, as usual. Bobby sat on the concrete with his back against the hop-scotch wall. Hailey was dancing, her skirt flaring high above her knees as she spun. Ricky and Mickey and the other boys stopped their game of football and crowded round her. If only for a moment Bobby wished he were there with them, and maybe catch a glimpse of Hailey’s underwear when no one was looking.

Bobby didn’t mind being one of the gang for Hailey, but the ashamed look on his mother’s face when she said those poetic, riddled words echoed deep inside him; it reminded him of the time in church when Reverent Hope mentioned Satan. His mother wrapped her palms over his ears, exclaiming that never should she have her son’s conscience scorched by such words. He and his mother never returned to church after that Sunday, but on that day, Bobby learned everything he needed to learn about church and god and religion. To Bobby, it was mother who was his god, his guardian of evil, the family their religion, the house they live in their church. That it was them against the world; a world of Judases and tempters that have, “lost their way,” as mother once put it. Bobby knew that his mother could have used much less poetic, riddled words to describe her opinion of today’s generation, but for Mary Elizabeth Smiles, to swear in front of her only child would scorch him no less than to hear the word Satan spoke in church.

After last class, Hailey stopped Bobby in the hallway. “I seen you staring at me, lunch time,” she said.

“I was watching the boys play football,” Bobby said quickly, his gaze on everything in the hall but Hailey.

Bobby stood nearest to the window. Hailey stood with her back to the hallway and the marching parade of children.

Bobby headed for the stairs, but was stopped by Hailey’s outstretched arm as it struck his chest. She planted her palm on the window-sill, pinning him in.

“Wait until everyone’s gone,” Hailey whispered promisingly.

For the first time their eyes met and stuck there like flies in a web. Although he wanted to, Bobby couldn’t move now if he tried.

“What you waiting for?” Bobby asked, noticing the silence of the empty hallway.

“I’ll bet you wanna kiss me right now, don’t you?” Hailey asked. Bobby could feel her thigh brush against his groin as she leant closer, cheek to cheek, chest to chest. “I’ll bet you liked seeing me dance?” she whispered.

“Yes,” he said.

The warmth of her breath against his neck ignited a flame in his chest. His body felt numb; he had to look down to see Hailey’s fingers caress his stomach. The cold, moist pressure of her lips on his neck sealed the fact that he was no longer in control of himself. He closed his eyes, willing the growing sensation in his groin to subside. But the more he willed, the more intense it became, and he felt himself stiffen against Hailey’s stocking’d thigh.

Hailey drew away laughing, and skipped down the hallway.

In his mind’s eye Bobby saw himself standing by the window overlooking the green grass of the football field and pastel white of the goal posts like watercolour paintings. He could see Hailey and Ricky and Mickey pointing and laughing. It was like looking into a mirror.

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