Mirror Face

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December 22, 2022 by The Citron Review

by Kim Magowan


Josie disinvites Cora to Thanksgiving—that’s how Cora finds out Amy is visiting San Francisco. “Sorry, Mom,” Josie says.

When Cora asks her directly, “So Amy will be in town?” Josie first says, “I can neither confirm nor deny,” then sighs. “Obviously!”

Later, Josie sends Cora an email. “Thanks for understanding. My relationship with Amy is fragile too, you know. And I want to see the kids. I haven’t seen my niece and nephew in over a year.”

Well, Cora has never seen them! She types that, then deletes it.

Josie has inserted, she sees, that Thank you emoji, the two hands flattened together. For the first time. Cora realizes the icon depicts hands clasped in prayer.

She wants to say so many angry things, but now that she is down to one daughter—a daughter who keeps saying, like an automaton, whenever she brings up Amy, “Mom, I refuse to get in the middle”—Cora treads lightly. Emoji, not words. She sends Josie the sad face; she sends the breaking heart.

Her friend Ruth tells her, “Approach Amy directly. Don’t make Josie be your messenger.” From the way Ruth says this—more severe than sympathetic, looking Cora right in the eye—Cora understands that Ruth, who has known her forever, is alluding to the way Cora supposedly “used” the girls after she and David split up. Cora wept in front of them; she called David’s girlfriend “that bimbo”; she told them meeting Lauren would be an act of betrayal. Well, she was in pain! Was she supposed to hide her feelings from her own kids? Lie to them?

Everyone’s answer to that appears to be “Yes.”

“Email Amy directly,” Ruth orders her.

Doesn’t Ruth understand she’s tried? Every so often, Cora will cast another message into the ether—recently, a link about a woman who knits sweaters for her cats. The cat wriggled in her lap as she pushed its front legs through the little, bunchy sleeves. Cora thought Amy might find it amusing. Her emails don’t bounce back, so she doesn’t know if Amy reads them, or deletes them without reading them, or if Amy has blocked her. Apparently you can block people, and they never know.

Well, it’s not like she doesn’t know; it’s not like Amy employs any subtlety about getting her message across. Her silence is perfectly legible. Screw you. Angry face. Cora’s grandchildren are five and four now; she’s never met them. She only knows what they look like because when she goes to Josie’s, she snoops. The holiday cards are right on Josie’s coffee table, in a stack.

“Amy,” Cora types. Just typing that word—she needs to take a break, take a breath, wash her hands with her favorite lemon soap. It’s been a while since she’s tried to send anything more to Amy than silly links. Cats leaping away from cucumbers placed on the floor nearby because, apparently, the cats thought the cucumbers were snakes. Cora thought that might make Amy laugh.

Washing her hands, Cora looks at her face in the mirror and purses her lips. She never noticed she did this before the girls, years ago, pointed it out. “Mom’s mirror face,” Amy called it, laughing. There’s another face Cora apparently makes when she sips water; they called that one “Mom’s drinking face.” Of course Cora never sees her drinking face. She sees her mirror face all the time, when she looks at herself, but until the girls pointed it out, she thought that was just the way she looked. A little arranged: maybe that’s how we all confront ourselves.


Kim Magowan is the author of the short story collection How Far I’ve Come (2022); the novel The Light Source (2019); and the short story collection Undoing (2018). Her fiction has been published in The Gettysburg Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, and many other journals. Her stories have been selected for Best Small Fictions and Wigleaf’s Top 50. She is the Editor-in-Chief and Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapel. kimmagowan.com




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