Life in the Mirror

The apartment seemed as if it was made just for me. I had a bed and two shelves. The apartment lacked bed and shelves but had everything else – tables, chairs, a sofa. My bed was exactly 1.6 meters in width – and the tiny bedroom a perfect match.

There were two things I didn’t like. The first, of course, was the lack of a dedicated bathroom. The shower cabin was in the kitchen and the toilet in a small room off the balcony. The second thing I didn’t like was the mirror in the bedroom.

It’s not that I don’t like mirrors. But in a room just barely big enough for the bed, with walls to all sides, there was something disturbing in having one of the walls as just one large mirror. It felt misplaced and odd like a lone, smiling stranger standing in the middle of a desert road.

The first night I was tired from the move, every muscle in my body seemed to be aching and my body was still sticky and sweating even after two showers and four hours since the last box. Still I first lay awake for two or three hours, rolling from one side to the other and hoping for the salvation of sleep.

When sleep came, rather than a salvation, it turned out to be a horror movie instead. In a pitch black imageless dream I felt myself being pulled apart, squeezed into tiny space, and pulled apart again, over and over again. The dream felt as if it lasted for hours on end. Nothing woke me, nothing in my dream could save me from the darkness stretching and compressing my being in an orchestra of pains I never felt before.

When I woke up in the morning, rolling slowly over to the side, I felt better about the mirror. It felt less threatening and more welcoming. I smiled at my disheveled hair and at my crazy looking eyes. The mirror sat like me, one arm on the bed, the other scratching the head. But my mirror image didn’t smile.

In a fraction of a second the world returned to normal. I don’t know if I blinked or not, but in that moment my mirror image smiled again.

At night my mirror image behaved normally. I experimented with quick or slow movements, unexpected facial expressions – but all was normal. I taped postcards over part of the mirror.

That night the nightmares came back. They were the same as before, painful darkness with a surreal pulling and stretching and pressing that made my mouth taste like iron. But they felt easier, calmer even. They also didn’t seem to last as long.

In the morning I opened my eyes and saw that my mirror image had already opened his. He blinked twice when I didn’t. My face must have been filled with shock, his spoke of contempt or exhaustion.

It took longer this time, nearly half a minute. That’s when, with one snap that was so sudden that I felt as if I actually heard a snapping sound, my mirror image returned to normal. It mirrored me perfectly, without fault, no matter what things I tried.

That evening I spent an hour taping more postcards and even posters on that mirror.

It didn’t help.

The nightmares were less intense. They felt softer the way a ride on a rollercoaster becomes less exciting and threatening the more often you ride it. You learn the bumps and sudden turns, you learn the feeling of something ripping your skin in seventy different directions and the sudden compressions of an elephant stepping on your chest, and somehow it becomes more like a chore than a torture.

In the morning the postcards were ripped down. He was there for nearly ten minutes. I tried to take a picture of him but the reflection that the camera recorded look just like I had looked. While, when I took the picture, he wasn’t even standing in front of me anymore. He was walking through the apartment, randomly appearing reflected in the TV, the corridor window and then in the bathroom mirror. I watched from the side as he brushed his teeth. And then, somehow, he saw me.

It was in just a flash, his eyes were on the sink, he spat his toothpaste out, and he looked at the mirror. There was shock on his face. His eyes opened wide and his mouth even wider and he stepped back and scrambled out of the frame.

I searched for him for about two minutes. Once I saw him glancing through the bedroom mirror.

The snap left a high-pitched ringing in my ears. He was back. He was back to being me. He reflected everything I did.

That night I tried to stay awake. I had taped most of the mirror shut but I sat in a place where I could see my own reflection.

I stared at myself for hours. I felt tiredness but I would swear my life that I didn’t fall asleep. Just, from one moment to the other, I was suddenly back in my nightmare.

It was still a nightmare, I felt the cold sweat and the pain. But it seemed less intense, less strong, as if whoever had pulled me apart had stopped trying.

When I woke up he was already there. He was screaming and slamming his fists from the inside against the mirror. I sat outside the bedroom with a knife in my hand. I watched him, watched his lips. He seemed to be screaming “let me in.”

For more than half an hour I sat and he screamed and scratched and clawed and threw things against the inside of the glass.

The snap left a sickening pain in my ears. I felt nauseous for nearly a minute. My heart was beating fast. And he was back to being me.

That night I slept at a friend’s place. I told Jack there was a rat in my apartment that didn’t let me sleep. He just nodded, showed me the couch and gave me a fresh bedsheet. We had beer. I asked whether he ever heard horror stories about mirrors. He told me about his version of Bloody Mary.

“And you?” Jack asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Do you think mirror images can act on their own?”

He laughed. That was it. He just laughed.

In the morning Jack made me call the landlord about the ‘rat infestation.’ The landlord denied it all but promised to bring me traps the same evening.

That meant I had to go back.

The landlord came. I stuffed the traps in a corner and got fresh clothes to change into while at Jack’s place. It was just getting dark outside.

I just stepped into the bedroom to open the built-in wardrobe. It cannot have been longer than a minute. I even avoided looking at the mirror.

Still the deep darkness took me. I felt myself falling on the bed and before my body hit the mattress it was already there.

This time it was smooth, easy. I still felt the pulling and stretching and pushing but the pain seemed somehow distant and numb.

I screamed involuntarily when I woke up. My mirror image was bleeding on both his hands. His fingers were covered in open cuts and his fingernails seemed to be torn off. His knees looked blue and purple and so did his forehead.

His eyes were red with tears. He kept hitting and scratching at the glass. And he kep screaming, without even the faintest tone.

“Let me in,” he screamed. “Let me back.”

I looked at him for nearly an hour. I brushed my teeth while he was there and clawed towards what must have been from his perspective my face.

He was still there when I left, hitting against the glass.

I saw him in the car mirrors and in puddles below my feet. Even in the bright reflections in the underground’s windows.

I was so focused on seeing him that I barely noticed anything else just the bare minimujm to cross the road in safety and to find my way to the large beige building that held our offices.

I tried to play it calm. I tried not to let anyone notice.

Jack was already at work. He came over to my desk.

“You okay?”

“I guess so.”

Something seemed wrong with the computer mouse. It was weirdly placed when I came, but when I tried to use it someone had reversed the buttons. Jack watched me struggle.

“What’s wrong?”

“The mouse is acting weird.”

Jack watched me for a moment, then he frowned.

“Since when are you left handed?”

I was holding the mouth in my right hand.

“I’m not,” I said.

“Then why don’t you switch to your right?”

In confusion I looked at my hands. The mouse was in my right.

“But I…”

I don’t know how I didn’t notice the keyboard before that. Or the calendar. Or that my desktop wallpaper and even the icons were reversed vertically.

It’s been six months now. I even moved to another apartment but it didn’t help.

It’s surprisingly easy to get used to reading mirror writing. But I still use the mouth with my right – left? – hand and I still type slowly and with many mistakes.

Before I moved I tried to sit for days at a time in front of that mirror.

My mirror image too gave up on scratching and hitting. He copied me and sometimes I copied him. We are acting now as if we are one, and often we do the same things instantaneously, like real mirror images would.

On pictures it all looks normal. We tried a few experiments but all failed. It seems impossible to show him to anybody else.

But I still see him. Both of us found the same, mirrored, new place. Every day we sit opposite each other and try to talk but the conversation. We became good at lip reading but our conversations are unpleasant and boring. We know all the same things, all the same jokes and spontaneous ideas.

It seems we are stuck this way. With all of you the wrong way around.

I wonder why. And I wonder if there are others like me. Others that use the wrong hand.

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