House of mirrors

The girl walked toward the house of mirrors at dusk through the carnival’s aria and the sweet scent of popped corn and cotton candy. Little boys ran all around her. They ran toward her and then past, just dodging her, like those birds she remembered from downtown San Francisco. Those birds that would fly low and dive at your head, pulling up right at the last moment, and you could tell who the tourists were because, like her, when the birds came diving downward the tourists would duck or put their arms up in defense while the veterans of the city would just keep walking or standing in place. They didn’t allow the kamikaze birds to startle them, and it was the same at the carnival only instead of birds it was boys, boys racing each other through the crowd or boys chasing the girls with dirty feet and the lights of the carnival popped on with a thud and then a resounding electric hum, steady and monotonous, like blood in the vein of something horrible.

The pregnant girl walked toward the house of mirrors, alone. I’ll never get used to the stares, she thought. Fiendish laughter played on a recorded loop from the small speaker above the entrance, and she thought, The men stare and the women stare, each of them for different reasons, and the children stare, probably in wonder of how a person so young could have a belly so big.

Through the arched entrance made up like a gothic preservation and plunged suddenly into darkness, the girl took a right at the dead end of the narrow hall, suddenly surrounded by herself ad infinitum in the pulsing white light. Everywhere, the self. That same laughter from the entrance was amplified in the corridor of mirrors and she panicked briefly and began walking, looking past herself and through herself and around herself to discern a break in the labyrinth, to try and find a way through.

*

He sat on the bench eating a hot dog when he heard the cry for help. It sounded like someone was calling for a doctor so he dropped his hot dog on the asphalt and ran over to his little girl in line at the carousel. He grabbed her firmly by the wrist and pulled her and said, Someone needs our help, honey. They jogged to the house of mirrors and an old woman standing by the entrance yelling for someone to help her. I’m a doctor, the man told her.

There’s a woman in there, the old woman said, pointing to the gaping entrance of the house of mirrors. I think she’s having a baby.

Call the paramedics, the doctor told her, and pulled his little girl into the house of mirrors with him, met immediately by anguished screams and darkness. Hello? he said, and turned right at the end of the hall whereupon a room of seemingly infinite size and depth reflected back to him beneath the blinking strobe lights his own image, his right arm at his side connected umbilically to his daughter, whose face was scrunched into a tiny ball of worry or confusion, and he looked down to her as the screams from the woman in labor swelled as did some maniacal cackle of laughter from the speaker system, he looked down to his little girl, the real little girl at his side and not one of her million facsimiles patterned all about him and he said, Don’t be afraid.

He led them to a break in the mirror wall where they turned left, then right, then left again with the woman’s screams taunting them in the labyrinth and they finally found her lying upon a pile of someone’s clothes on the filthy ground. There was amniotic fluid and a great deal of blood. A woman kneeled next to her, holding her hand.

Hello, he told them. I’m a doctor. The woman in labor didn’t look like a woman at all but just a girl, fifteen or maybe sixteen, just a few years older than his own daughter. What’s your name? he asked the girl in labor. She screamed with pain and he looked down and saw the dark matted crown of the baby’s head peeking out from between her legs.

This baby is coming out right now, he said. You’re going to have to push, miss.

This is an abbreviated chapter.

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