Elizabeth’s hand mirror is an antique. Elegant, iron-wrought snakes twist their way around the glass, forming a circle to frame it. The handle ends in a pommel shaped like an eye, complete with a slit-shaped pupil. The pommel stone could be jade or it could merely be colored glass — Elizabeth doesn’t know, and she’s never cared enough about material things to tell the difference.
But she cares about the mirror. In the evenings, when Elizabeth leaves the dining room, she hurries up the stairs to her bedroom, where she can cradle the mirror in her hands without anyone catching sight.
She stares into the glass but doesn’t see her own reflection. A locket full of blonde human hair lays heavy against her chest, burning into her ribcage. Elizabeth holds her breath until the glass fogs over, until a nebulous shape appears.
Until Frances stares back at her, smiling her crooked smile.
Elizabeth’s heart stutters in her chest when she sees that smile. She runs her fingers over the cold glass. If she concentrates hard enough, she can convince herself it’s warm and soft, like Frances’s skin would be.
Unbuttoning her blouse, Elizabeth lays the mirror flat against her bare chest. The iron snakes dig into her breasts, but the glass itself is flat against her skin, cool and soothing to the touch. In time, Elizabeth’s body heat warms it up.
She imagines she can feel Frances’s lips through the glass, soft and gentle against her breasts. Frances’s lips are nothing like James’s. The pain she causes Elizabeth is never overwhelming; her teeth nip, leaving pleasurable little bruises but never breaking the skin, never forcing a cry out from Elizabeth’s throat.
And if Frances has a scent — if anything can break the barrier of the glass to reach Elizabeth’s nose — it isn’t the sort of scent James carried with him, of sour cheese and sardines and sex. Frances brings with her a smell of aging parchment, of earth and dried hay and an ancient lake, all faint enough they may have been carried over by the wind.
Elizabeth clutches the mirror close to her and can almost feel Frances’s tongue against her skin, warm and wet, but rough like a cat’s — or like a rattlesnake’s. She must be careful not to break the glass; she wouldn’t mind the cuts, would certainly relish the slice of an edge against her skin, but it would destroy her to lose Frances again.
She’s wet between her legs. With James, there was never really any slickness. Sex between the two of them was dry and full of friction. It wasn’t love-making with James until both of them were grunting in pain.
Carefully, Elizabeth removes the mirror from her chest. Her breath is coming fast, and she stares at Frances from hooded eyes. Does she imagine the flush on Frances’s cheeks? The glint of amusement, excitement, something in her eyes? Through the mirror, Frances’s hair is mussed, dark strands breaking free from her pins.
They lock eyes and come to a silent understanding.
Elizabeth slides the mirror down between her legs, glass side up so that she can see Frances’s face no matter what. She arches her back and tilts her hips up, and for a moment she sees Frances’s eyes flicker down to Elizabeth’s thighs, to the peculiar red mark they’ve both become so familiar with.
With careful hands, trembling from anticipation, Elizabeth slides the handle of the mirror inside her. She feels the bulb of the eye-shaped pommel stone stretching her folds apart. The ridges of snakes along the handle press against her, and she feels simultaneously surrounded and all-encompassing.
Frances stares up at her from the glass between her legs. The mirror is framed by Elizabeth’s bare thighs, flushed a rosy pink. Her lips part as she looks down at Frances, a sense of something almost like euphoria rising within her.
She moves her hips with the handle of the mirror deep inside her, with Frances’s eyes boring into her own, with a crooked smile on Frances’s lips and a matching one on Elizabeth’s. She starts laughing almost without realizing it, unconcerned should anyone hear.
Let them come, she decides, touching the little gold chain around her neck.
Let them see.
They can’t take Frances away from her anymore.