The Impossible Woman by Spencer Litman

Anna keeps a small mirror in her closet tucked behind a pile of dusty things she inherited or can’t remember buying. When she looks in the glass, it shimmers and ripples like a lake in falling sunlight, materializing a version of her that only exists in this reflection, inside this closet.

She doesn’t tell Jerome about it because he’ll ask why it’s in the closet wrapped in cheesecloth that smells like mildew. It doesn’t belong by the door above a line of key hooks screwed into the drywall where he’ll want to put it, and he won’t understand that some things are for only one person.

In the mirror she looks slim. Her hips stick out only as much as they should. Her skin is smooth, unblemished from acne scars on her cheeks and temples. The woman in the mirror doesn’t swivel back and forth trying to smooth her love-handles against the top of her jeans.

Jerome says they should get a cat since he can’t have children. He’s never had his sperm tested. It’s just something he believes because he had an undescended testicle when he was a toddler. There’s no scar or anything. And they don’t use condoms, so it stands to reason that maybe he can’t.

Anna asks if he’d be willing to see a doctor to be sure.

“No,” he says, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose and chewing on the end of a straw. “I don’t need a doctor to tell me what I can feel. Sometimes you just know things about yourself.”

This is when he goes to WebMD and starts diagnosing himself with infertility. “My body runs too warm, anyway, to be fertile. I’m a human furnace.”

She thought at first this was a roundabout way of telling her he never wants children, a tacit denial of fatherhood and therefore a lasting relationship. But he believes it, she suspects, because knowing the microscopic truth would somehow invalidate his manhood or force him to action. At least this way he is the sole proprietor of a presumed deficiency.

Sometimes when they talk about kids, his eyes get all glassy and he starts looking at the ceiling a lot, sniffling. He does that when he apologizes for the size of his penis, too.

She says no to the cat because he says no children. It’s a circular and comfortable transference of unspoken fears. If he was at least willing to try to have a child, she would get a cat, and she wouldn’t want to leave him.

Anna hasn’t left Jerome because she hates the way she looks, and they’ve been together so long the thought of someone new seeing her naked repulses her. She can’t fathom having to navigate casually getting undressed out of view and sliding under the covers before the next guy has a chance to excuse himself, permanently, from her life. A new boyfriend would see her, not the woman in the mirror, and this is an appraisal she’s unwilling to endure.

Jerome doesn’t ask to have the lights on when they have sex.

He doesn’t question why she locks the door when she takes a shower, even when it makes him late for work in the mornings, when she’s too busy looking in a mirror that does not live in a closet.

Jerome doesn’t tell her she’s beautiful. He doesn’t tell her she’s ugly either, and Anna doesn’t know which would be worse.

When she gets home from work one day, Jerome has the apartment spotless and smelling of bleach.

“I think we need a purge,” he says. “There’s too much junk.”

That word sets her brain humming. To purge means to expel, forcefully, something foreign or unwanted.

She hurries to the closet, and her mirror is still there, sitting neatly on a pile of familiar things arranged by size and no longer coated in dust.

“I didn’t know what to do with your stuff,” he says, leaning on the doorjamb behind her.

He picks up the mirror. The glass vibrates like a wineglass in front of a too-loud speaker. Though imperceptible to Jerome, it cracks, one jagged line running the length of its surface.

“Can we toss this,” he asks.

“It’s fine,” she says. “I haven’t seen this thing in years.” She takes it from him and now there are two reflections. One is the woman she’s envied all those years. The other is the woman she sees too often; the one absent in the closet, reflected in store fronts and sunglasses and windows and bathrooms.

She doesn’t hate Jerome for his intrusion, but she knows this is the end, and she’ll leave without explanation. It will be unbearable now that she cannot see the woman in the mirror without seeing herself. She’ll take her things that are not beautiful, that do not have proper homes atop shelves and tables. Eventually, she’ll swivel in front of any mirror not to hide and diminish but to feel the weightless flit of silk against her skin in dresses she is not embarrassed to wear. And she’ll forget, without referent, the impossible woman.


Spencer is an emerging writer in Phoenix where he lives with his wife and two smaller versions of his wife. He is an intern with Superstition Review and has work forthcoming in Pithead Chapel and Riggwelter Press.