Her name was first spoken in hushed tones among children all over America… Children of all races and classes told of the hideous demon conjured by chanting her name before a mirror in a pitch-dark room. And when she crashes through the glass, she mutilates children before killing them. — from “Myths Over Miami” by Lynda Edwards
“Yeah, B.” It was my daughter Erin, aka “the B.” She was nine at the time.
“Can you come into the bathroom with me?”
“You need to talk about something?” Odd habit in our family: one person sits on the edge of the tub and chats up the person on the commode. A gift from my wife’s side.
“No…I’m scared to go in there.”
“Why? It’s the middle of the day.”
“I know, but…Daddy, just come in with me.”
“Not ’til you tell me what you’re afraid of.”
She hesitated — then said, “The mirror.”
“What about the mirror?”
She leaned in and whispered, wide-eyed: “Bloody Mary.”
I knew just what she meant. I was a kid too, you know.
“Desirée at school says if you turn off the lights and turn around three times in front of the mirror with your eyes closed and say Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, then open your eyes — a woman all covered in blood will be looking at you from in the mirror!”
A quiver-chill went through me. I was a kid again. I remembered exactly how it felt to hear such things whispered by a true believer. Their wide-eyed conviction went straight through me. But in my day, Bloody Mary didn’t just look at you — she came crashing through the glass, shrieking, and strangled you. I decided not to share that.
“So just go in, leave the light on, and don’t spin around or say the name.” This was hopelessly lame, and I knew it. Do I really know the rules? What if she comes anyway? Once the concept is in your head, why, the very thought of Bloody Mary might conjure her up. She might appear just because she knows I know! And she knows I know she knows I know!
“Fine,” I said. “I’ll go with you. But you know what I’m gonna do.”
We went eye to eye. “Sweetie, tell me the truth. Do you think Bloody Mary is real, or just a story?”
She looked away. “Just a story.”
“So why be afraid of a story?” Again, so lame! Yes, it’s just a story — but ultimately, in our human hearts and reptile brains, standing in the dark, such a rational defense is toothless.
Her forehead puckered into a plead. “I know she’s just a story, but…what if she comes anyway?”
See? I remember.
I walked into the bathroom and pulled the curtains across the window. Erin followed, timidly, cupping her hand by her eyes to avoid the mirror. “You don’t have to come in if you don’t want to,” I said. She sat on the lid of the toilet, whimpering.
I shut the door and turned out the lights. Nooooohohohoho, she began to moan with fourth-grade melodrama.
I stepped solemnly to the mirror and began to turn. Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary! I pulled my hands from my eyes. “See?” I knocked on the mirror. “Helloooooo! Hey lady! Look B, nobody’s home!”
Erin peeled her hands from her eyes and squealed with delight. “I’m gonna do it!”
She walked slowly to the mirror, trembling with anticipation. Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary…Bloody Mary! She peeked through her fingers.
“Eeeeeheeheeheehee!” she laughed, jumping up and down.
But if you think she was cured — if you think Daddy’s words were really enough to slay the dragon — then you were never a kid. Maybe we said her name too fast, you see, or too slow, or or or maybe we didn’t believe in her enough. Maybe she just can’t be tricked by a skeptical dad into showing herself. Erin didn’t say any of these things, but I know she was thinking them.
Sure enough, by the next day, she was recruiting bodyguards to the bathroom again.
I didn’t try to talk her out of it. To paraphrase Swift, it’s hard to reason someone out of something they weren’t reasoned into in the first place. And it’s fun for a while to believe such a thing is possible.
There’s also an inescapable fact: for all my brave talk, when I pulled my own hands from my eyes in that darkened bathroom and saw the mirror, my rational self dove behind me, just for a fraction of a second, as my little boy heart raced at the question that never completely goes away:
What if she comes anyway?
DALE McGOWAN is the author of Raising Freethinkers. He lives in Atlanta.