Our father began saying “Ain’t,” but we didn’t feel trouble yet. He remained gainfully employed by the bank. He changed tires and caulked tubs. He spray-painted our family’s address on the new trash can so it couldn’t be stolen from the curb. These and other demonstrations of practical competence suggested a man well adjusted to America, but one day he came from Sister’s room and forbade mirrors. The next morning, in the downstairs bathroom, I found a small indentation where he had filled in the hanging-screw hole with plaster. Otherwise the wall had been left a blank of red paint.

Our mother kept her compact in her purse, so she did not feel much loss of freedom. She chalked the matter up to male-pattern weirdness. I said maybe he had confused the properties of metal and glass, so he was afraid the mirrors would rust.

“That ain’t the problem,” he said.

But Sister thought I’d cut a nerve. She snuck in my room after dark and told me what else to think. She said he’d hate seeing his reflection rusty with blight. She had hope in her voice. I nodded though I wasn’t sure. I had never been too sure.

When he left we didn’t hang any new mirrors out of something like respect for him. I grew even more confused and quiet. Words bubbled in me but I would have been embarrassed to say them aloud. They made even less sense on paper. So I became a haunter of the house in late nights. Up and down the halls I worried over new zits I could feel but not see because our mother wouldn’t let me borrow her compact, and the pissed but mirrored stalls of our school were many hours away. More than once I ended in Sister’s doorway, studying her light body under the silver moon and feeling wrong with God but needing to see.

Another day got ruined when a girl called me the ocean because my face was full of white caps. “Heads,” I said. “Whiteheads.” But she did not relent. No one relented ever. That night I crawled in beside Sister and unbuttoned her shirt. She smiled. The world turned warmer and worse. The whitehead above my left eye hurt till it popped on her pillow. I didn’t miss him so much no more.

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