In her reflection in the bathroom mirror, Ashley searched for her mother. She surveyed her face, looking for features she knew weren’t there. Her tired eyes remained the wrong shade, her nose too small, her cheekbones unrefined. Despite her efforts to fabricate similarities between them, her reflection refused to change. Her older sisters, with their towering height, tight blonde curls, and clear blue eyes, were their mother’s spitting image, a feat Ashley had desired her entire life. Having just turned thirty, they had a little over a decade before they’d live longer than mom ever had, and even then they’ll still see themselves in each other. Soon Ashely wouldn’t even look like herself. “You and me,” her mom used to tell her, “we’re the same on the inside, deep down where it matters most.” It used to comfort her; now she laughed at the irony.
Her sisters had never understood why she still used the worn out curlers, why she spent every night meticulously rolling and pinning her light brown hair, why she started every day carefully taking them out. How could they? They’d never had to manufacture curls. They hadn’t spent mornings and nights with Mom, learning how best to put them in, making a game of removing them. She always copied her mother’s movements, perfecting the art of altering her appearance. Sometimes Ashley could look in the mirror and still see her. She always looked older than Ashley did, and she wondered whether she’d ever grow older than her mother’s reflection. For now, she stared at her mother’s youthful expression, her face filled with ease and joy. She was always smiling in these visions; that’s how Ashley knew she was from before.
There was a post-it note on the mirror, a reminder of the fitting later today. As she removed the first curler from her head, she inspected it for hair. Nothing. They’d remain useful another day. She knew the inevitable was coming, that one morning she’d pull one out with a perfectly curled lock still attached, but not knowing when was slowly driving her insane. She ran the curler through her shaking hands. She stared at the post-it. She wondered why her mother had never worn a wig. Had she known, as Ashley recently learned, that despite looking right, it would feel all wrong? Was that why she wore caps those last few months? Or had she simply run out of time?
She replaced the curler in her hand with the pill bottle sitting by the sink just below the post-it. She wasn’t sure what this one did, just knew she had to take it. Her life had become a list of requirements. She had to take this pill now, had to take another one at night. She couldn’t eat out, couldn’t keep flowers in her house, couldn’t stop her boss from putting her on paid leave. She couldn’t even live on her own anymore like every other 28 year old woman she knew, because the chemicals running through her body would render her helpless and reliant on whichever one of her sisters happened to be spending the night. She knew the drill, had seen it first-hand nearly ten years ago, but no one had mentioned her life would belong to the list instead of her.
It was empty. She relied on that hairspray to hold everything together, always refilled when it reached the halfway point. Yet here she was, a full head of curls that were destined to fall apart. It was only a matter of time before they collapsed. She looked in the mirror. Her mother was next to her reflection, but she wasn’t smiling. She was pale and bald and powerless, and for the first time when Ashley looked at her mother’s reflection she saw herself. She screamed and threw the bottle at the mirror, leaving a crack branching out in every direction. She was furious: at herself, for forgetting to buy another bottle; at her mother, for never warning her about how debilitating this would be; at the mutation in her body, for taking over every aspect of her life. She was especially mad at her never-curly-enough hair for dragging out its inevitable disappearance. She was done. She reached for a pair of scissors, put her curls in a messy ponytail, and with one chop watched as they dropped to the floor. She looked back at her reflection – finally her mother’s spitting image.