The mirror was lying to her; it was always lying to her.
Katie Jenkins had woken up at her usual 7am, even though it was the second week of the school summer holidays, sat up in bed and stared straight into the liar opposite her hanging on the wall.
It was a liar because what she saw in it was not Katie. At least not the Katie she thought she was. This faux Katie looking back at her was pretty, even with morning hair, her eyes seemed bright, and the wry smile on her lips added to her beauty. She looked like a girl who could make boys drool and fall all over her with nothing more than a split-second glance in their direction. The real Katie, as she believed herself to be, was at her best awkward looking, with stringy red hair, skin that was far too pale, and couldn’t even get a boy to give her the time of day. Katie had as of yet not found anyone who agreed with her description of herself, but she was right and they were wrong, and nothing they said could sway her opinion.
With about an hour until her mother clocked off from her nightshift at the nearby warehouse, earning just over £8 an hour picking stock orders for a nationwide supermarket chain, Katie slumped out of bed, slid her bare feet into her pink fluffy bunny slippers, and went for a shower so she could begin to kill another boring day until her final year of high school started in the beginning of September.
Once she was dressed, Katie walked around her quiet home, trying to build up the courage to enter the one room of the house she had not been in for just over a month – her late grandmother’s bedroom.
It had just been the three of them living in the house all together for the past two years, Katie, her mother and her grandmother; and Katie had loved it. When her mother worked, Katie and her grandmother would talk until midnight on school days and until the early hours of the morning on weekends. They talked about anything and everything, though their favourite subject was Tarot cards.
‘I have read the cards of Royalty and commoners, alike,’ Katie’s grandmother would tell her. ‘It is a gift that not all possess.’
Katie’s grandmother would take out the set of Tarot cards she kept in the decorative locked box that lived in the top draw of the cabinet, which she had brought with her when she moved in with her daughter and granddaughter. It was a beautiful antique, well loved, but also well used, with old papers filed in every draw, along with envelopes, parcel tape, a river of paperclips and a rubber band ball the size of an orange. The cabinet held glass-fronted display shelves where porcelain figurines stood for all to see, and behind two small wooden doors hid a couple of liquor bottles and a collection of shot glasses away from everyone’s eyes. After opening the box and uncovering the cards from the silk wrapping she kept them in, Katie’s grandmother would then tell the young girl’s fortune.
The two of them kept this activity a secret. Katie knew her mother would never have allowed it. Before her grandmother moved in with them, when Katie’s parents were still together, she heard the occasional phrases pass her mother’s lips that didn’t quite match with the kind, little, grey-haired old woman who would gave her bags full of sweets whenever she came to visit, make funny faces at Katie when her mother wasn’t looking, and telling her really dirty jokes when her mother was out of ear-shot. Now, however, it all made sense, but Katie didn’t care what her mother thought.
Katie didn’t really believe everything her grandmother predicted, though pretended that she did as to not hurt the old woman’s feelings. When things did appear to have come true she told her grandmother at the earliest opportunity, which always brought the phrase from the old woman: ‘See, the cards are never wrong.’
It was just over four months ago, on her fifteenth birthday, that Katie’s grandmother suggested teaching the girl how to read the cards for herself. This was even more fun. Katie picked it up very quickly, and enjoyed reading her own cards and seeing her predictions coming true.
What started to worry Katie in the last couple of months before her grandmother’s death was the frequency of which her predictions turned out to be correct, and how accurate they were. No longer were most of them vague descriptions which could have fitted almost anyone at anytime, these ones were precise and could only be relevant to her. The cards were speaking to Katie, and it scared her.
‘You have a gift,’ her grandmother would reassure her. ‘There is something about you that is special, don’t be afraid of it, grasp it, relish in it.’
It wasn’t long, however, before she could no longer get the chance to try and relish her ‘gift’. Her grandmother was dying, and her descent was sudden and fast. Within three weeks she went from always having a smile on her face, to being drawn and tired. The final three days Katie’s grandmother had to spend in the hospital.
Katie remembered getting the call at school that her grandmother’s time was almost up. She was in the middle of English when Mrs Parker, the deputy head, came into the classroom and asked Katie to accompany her to the school office.
‘Your mother is on her way here,’ Mrs Parker said as they walked the corridors of the school, but Katie wasn’t really listening.
Sitting outside the office, Katie watched the clock opposite tick by slowly. The sounds of the school were muffled to her. The cries of the children as they played outside during break, the ring of the telephone and the chatter of the teachers coming from the staff room felt as if they were travelling through imaginary cotton wool that was stuffed in her ears.
Mrs Parker held her hand the entire time until Katie’s mother arrived, then with a small smile to Katie, left them to it and disappeared down the corridor.
On the drive up to the hospital, Katie thought about what state her grandmother would be in when they arrived. She pictured nurses rushing around, a heart monitors beeping, and numerous tubes either pumping things in or taking things out. The images continued as they got there and began the long walk from the main hospital doors to the Ward where her grandmother was.
As they reached the large double doors for the right Ward, Katie’s mother took hold of her hand.
‘Are you going to be all right?’ she asked.
‘Yeah, mum. I’ll be fine.’
Katie could hear her own words but didn’t believe them.
They walked through the doors and stopped at the nurses’ station. The nurse behind the desk pointed them in the direction of a private room just before the main part of the Ward, which was where Katie’s grandmother had been moved to, just as a doctor walked out, and seeing the pair of them, signalled that he wanted a word.
‘Go and wash your hands,’ said Katie’s mother as the doctor got to them, indicting the basin on the opposite wall with the sign “PLEASE WASH YOUR HANDS” over it. ‘I’ll be over after I’ve talked to the doctor.’
Katie nodded and did as she was told.
She looked over at her mother and the doctor, trying to lip read their conversation, but not getting anywhere. Dropping the paper towels she was drying her hands on in the bin next to the sink, Katie walked down the corridor towards the room the nurse had pointed to, and after bracing herself for the worst, looking inside at her grandmother.
It came as a shock to Katie how plain the room was. Instead of beeping machines and tubes everywhere, there was just her grandmother lying in bed, with one tube from a saline drip stand going in, and the smallest of hints of one going out to a small bag barely visible by the side of the bed.
‘Katie?’ her grandmother rasped. She was in a slightly seated position and could see Katie standing in the doorway.
‘I’m here, Gran,’ Katie replied as she walked towards the bed. ‘It’s me.’
Katie smiled but it felt false on her face. Taking the old woman’s hand, the one without the tube going into it, she sat down in the chair next to the bed.
‘What is it, Gran?’
‘I don’t want you to be scared.’
‘I’m not scared, just worried about you.’
Katie wasn’t going to say the last part but it came out before she could stop herself.
‘There’s no need to worry, I know I’m going to a better place.’
‘Yeah, you’ll be well again in a few days and then you’ll be back at home with me and mum.’
‘No dear,’ said Katie’s grandmother, shaking her head slightly. ‘I won’t be making it home, the doctors have already told me that, and I’m ready for it. I just need to tell you something before I go.’
‘What do you want to tell me?’
‘Everything I have has been split between you and your mother; it’s all in my Will, there’s a copy of it in the top draw of my cabinet. There is, however, one thing I left out of my will: the Tarot cards. Those are for you, and I am giving them to you now, face to face. The key to the box is in the jewellery box on top of my bedside table. You are so special, Katie. So special and you don’t even know it.’
She gave Katie a weak smile before slowly closing her eyes.
Katie heard her mother and the doctor approach the room, so she lightly kissed her grandmother’s hand and stood up next to the bed as they entered. She could see her mother’s eyes were red, a sign that she was about to cry.
‘I’ll leave you two alone for a few moments,’ said the doctor as the mother and daughter embraced.
‘I’m so sorry, Katie,’ her mother said as the tears began to fall. ‘I know you two were close, closer than me and her ever were. I wish you had had a chance to say goodbye to her properly, but the doctor said she passed away about five minutes before we got here.’
Katie’s breath caught in her chest. For a second she didn’t think she had heard her mother correctly. She knew the past few minutes she had spent in this room with her grandmother, having a conversation, were real, but from what her mother was telling her they couldn’t have been.
Feeling her legs start to tremble underneath her, Katie’s mother slumped down in the chair behind Katie. Her grief had overtook her, and Katie could do nothing but put her arm around her mother’s shoulder and look down at the still body of her grandmother.
I’m not going to cry, she thought. I’m not going to cry, I need to be strong, for mum.
Katie didn’t cry then, nor on the way home, but that night, alone in her bed, her tears failed to stop until the sun came up.