“Give me something more I can work with, ladies.”
Mirrors glint at Hedy from every angle, each holding a reflection of herself.
Not exactly herself. There wouldn’t be any point if they just showed her own tired eyes, though she knows many people think that’s all they’re for. Silly little Hedy, the actress who always wants to be studying herself.
As though everyone else isn’t studying her whenever she’s in public. As though every little hitch in her step or falter in her smile isn’t something for people to comment on and speculate about.
A Hedwig wearing a high feathered hat shakes her head. “If they won’t accept the simple frequency-hopping, why do you think they’ll accept anything more complex?”
Hedy closes her eyes, stopping her molars from grinding together. “Then let’s make it less complex. She’s counting on us, and I don’t want to let her down.”
“Sometimes it’s not a matter of letting her down. Sometimes it’s just the world proving it’s stronger than you are.” The woman saying this wears black still, as she has every time Hedy dials her in. She is in mourning, after all, her mother lost beneath the waves after a Nazi U-boat attack sank the ship that was supposed to bring her safely to her daughter’s arms.
That isn’t going to be Hedy’s mother’s fate.
“Think on it. I’m going to check on some of the others.” Hedy reaches for the dial in front of her, carefully twisting it before allowing the complicated set of relays to do their work.
Rainbows dance over the mirrors, and the faces vanish beneath the shine. When the spectrum resolves into silver-backed images again, every mirror holds something new.
Some show empty stretches of hall or heath. Hedy refuses to allow her eyes to linger on the growing gaps. How many alternate versions of herself have died now? There have always been holes in the net of Hedys that she can contact. She determined early on that some of the girls who told Mandl no—who didn’t fall for his charm and his money—died before Hedy ever had a chance to speak with them.
Did Mandl kill them? He’s certainly enough of a controlling bastard that Hedy could believe it, especially in worlds that aren’t quite her world. She’ll never know, though, only guess.
As the Nazis continued their climb to power, more and more Hedys vanished. Now there are very few Hedys left on the frequency that resonates with the decision to stay in Austria.
Two fewer, now. Hedy swallows, pulling her notebook to her and recording the empty mirrors.
“You still haven’t succeeded, then.” The Hedy who speaks follows up her words with a long pull from a cigarette in a black holder.
“I haven’t, though I intend to watch even after I have.” Hedy studies the woman. She is Mandl’s doll; her only bit of rebellion her unwillingness to stop speaking to Hedy when Hedy’s face appears in the nearest reflective surface.
“She’s just a mother, you know.”
“She’s my mother.” Hedy deepens her voice, projecting surety as though she were in front of the camera. “And I’ll keep her safe.”
“Mothers can’t even keep their children safe.” The woman with Hedy’s face and half of Hedy’s life shakes her head, her free hand moving out of sight. Is she pregnant, like Hedy is? It’s impossible to tell from this angle. “What makes you think children can keep their mothers safe?”
“I have to try.” Hedy attempts to make eye contact with the not-her in the mirror. “Tell me, is there going to be another large bombardment soon? I can have Mother try to get somewhere safer—”
“We all know what happens here doesn’t have to mirror what happens there.” Another draw on the cigarette is followed with, “But yes. Another blitz is coming soon.”
There follows a quick, perfunctory explanation of what Hedwig knows. Hedy jots it down, using her unique shorthand to make sure she can keep up.
“Thank you.” Hedy once more tries to make eye contact with her double.
“Don’t thank me.” Hedwig blows smoke against the mirror’s surface. “Just keep hoping. I like it, even if it feels wrong to see my face with that sparkle still in my eyes.”
Hedy doesn’t say goodbye. She just changes the channel, scrolling through batch after batch of lives that aren’t her own. She learned long ago how far afield she can roam while still having a chance of getting useful data.
When she’s done, she spends a few minutes staring at her notepad, willing the information to come together into some sort of plan. The frequency hopper had been their best chance, and the military refused to even try it. What does a woman know of war, after all, besides how to die in it?
Pressing a hand against her eyes, Hedy closes the notebook. She’ll look at it again tomorrow.
John greets her with a smile when she emerges. “How’s my beautiful girl?”
“Tired. Worried about my mother.”
“She’ll be all right.” John projects certainty.
She isn’t all right in twenty-nine mirrors; her fate is unknown in thirty-three. But John barely understands the frequency-hopping; Hedy won’t even try to explain what she has done beyond that. “I hope so.”
John stands, gathering her into his arms and singing to her as though she were a child.
For a few minutes, Hedy simply rests against him, glad to be held tight in one world, one body, one bit of history.
When the war’s over, when her mother’s safe, when the empty mirrors stop multiplying—then she can worry about what it means.
About what being Hedy means.
Until then, she is a wife and a mother and a well-loved child.
That’s enough for most of the world, so surely it will be enough for her, too?
Jamie Perrault is an agender veterinarian working in the Midwest. They’re very happily married to a wonderful genderqueer spouse, and the mother of twins. In their scant free time they like hiking, reading, playing the clarinet, and watching tokusatsu
The Things Reflections Say by Jamie Perrault is the winner of the Apparition Literary Magazine June Flash Fiction Challenge, which was based on the historical badass for June: Hedy Lamarr