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Justine had every right to be disturbed, but she almost took my ear off, shouting, “I want a taco, not a pizza.  Can’t I just have a damn taco?”

“Okay, there’s a taco joint,” I said.  “Let me park the car.”  It was going to be a job mollifying my wife in the depths of her despair, which had nothing to do with eating.  She was sick in her soul, in a way only priests and psychiatrists could diagnose.  We had lost any children before they were born.


The taqueria was new to me, but these places in Los Angeles come and go like yesterday’s celebrities.  It was spiffy and very California looking.  Totally un-ethnic.  “Order me a quesadilla.  Chicken, with a side of refritos,” Justine said.  “I’m going to use the bathroom.”


“You’ll have to wait,” I said.  “Some geezer in a yellow sweater just went in.”


“Damn,” she muttered.  “Just one sign that says hombres y muchachas.  Guess that lets them off the hook for transgenders.”


“Wait 90 seconds, hon.  Men only take a minute and a half.  Time stands still for women in bathrooms.”  I knew immediately from her grimace that I’d said the wrong thing.  My humor was a stone that tended to sink our boat.  No jokes allowed in her present frame of mind.  A week earlier, I’d gotten Justine into the hospital for an ectopic pregnancy that had to be aborted.  With it came major surgery.  We both realized now that after three miscarriages we’d never have a child.  No one to carry on our names, DNA and dreams.


I put in our order and asked the counter man if they had another bathroom.  He held up one finger.  “Just one.”  The embroidery on his shirt said his name was Raul.


“Guy went in five or ten minutes ago and hasn’t come out.  Can you see if he’s died or something?  My wife really has to pee.”




“Old man in a raggedy yellow cardigan.”


Raul, a young guy in his twenties stepped back and looked at me in surprise.  His lips formed the words Oh no, but no sound came out.  “Tell the lady,” he said slowly, “tell her it’s okay to go inside.  Just knock.  It’s okay.  Probably.”


“Justine,” I called.  “Go on in.  Just knock first.”


She gave me an odd look and banged once on the door.


“See,” I told the counter guy, “she just got out of the hospital.  Terrible operation.  Muy doloroso.”


“I speak English,” he said pointedly.  “Your quesadillas are here.”  He placed two paper plates on the glass counter.  “The man,” he said hesitantly, “is like a regular.  We can’t do nothing about it.”


Justine came from a large family, with two sisters and a brother.  And a mother who asked us constantly when we were going to have children.  Mom would give me the stink eye as though I wasn’t trying hard enough.  For two weeks, Justine had suffered stomach pain and bleeding until I forced her to see her doctor.


By the third bite of my quesadilla I looked up wondering where Justine was.  The counter man was alternately staring at me and at the bathroom door.  “What!” I demanded.


He nodded toward the can and I jumped up, believing Justine had had a relapse from the surgery.  “Justine!” I shouted and burst in.  The bathroom’s stale air assaulted me with the corrupt scent of death.  A faint fog blurred the outline of the sink, commode and mirror.  Justine was standing statue-like, transfixed by something in the mirror.  The man had gone, but his reflection hadn’t.  Staring back was a…a something that wasn’t human.  It wore a yellow sweater.


The mirror figure lifted a hand — it looked like a hand — and reached through the glass to grasp Justine’s shoulder.  I jumped forward and batted the arm off her, feeling an electric shock numb my body.  Swiveling around, I pushed Justine back to the door.  The figure’s arm flailed through the mirror with tentacle-like fingers, wanting to claw me into its world.  I picked up the nearest weapon, a metal waste basket, and smashed the glass that exploded into shards and a blue flame.


I came out drenched in sweat and sucking fresh air.  “Are you totally crazy?” I shouted at Raul.  “There was a monster in there.”


He motioned me closer while Justine fell into our booth.  “Mister, it was the man in the yellow sweater.  He comes here sometimes to use the bathroom.  He goes in but he never comes out.  Other people go in after him but he is gone.  Or they see him in the mirror, not a reflection.  He is un espiritu to the other world.  Spirit of the devil…or maybe God’s messenger.”


“A spirit?  This is Los Angeles.”


“Better a spirit here than in your dreams.  He sometimes comes back to you in your dreams.”  Raul shrugged.  “Then things happen.”


“Raul, you bastard, I broke your damn mirror.  He won’t come back.”


“I hope so.”


“And we’re never coming back to your taco joint either.”


He nodded.  “You never know what happens with spirits, señor.


We took the freeway over the San Gabriel mountains and back to Pasadena where my sobbing wife fell into bed.  I watched her.  Was she dreaming of the man in the mirror?


But Raul may have been more right than he knew.  Three months later, Justine was pregnant — an impossibility and against all odds, her doctor said.  Inside a year we had a beautiful baby boy.


“Remember the baby shower?” I told her.  “Your mother gave you a yellow onesie.  Looks just like a sweater.”


“Perhaps that was a prophecy and not an omen,” she murmured into our son’s cheek.


#  #  #

Bio:  Walt Giersbach bounces between writing genres, from mystery to humor, speculative fiction to romance with a little historical non-fiction thrown in for good measure.  His work has appeared in print and online in over two dozen publications, including a score of stories in Short-Story.Me.  He's also bounced from Fortune 500 firms to university posts, and from homes in eight states and to a couple of Asian countries.


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