Her face could be seen by everyone except her. Now everyone was staring, as if something was wrong.
Jenny had gone into the bathroom to start her morning routine and discovered that when she looked in the mirror she could see everything but herself.
The other Jenny, the second Jenny, the Jenny in the mirror who had grown up with her from a child to a woman to depressing middle age – from make-up and hair, to is the jewelry right, to dismay at the arrival of wrinkles and grey – the other Jenny was missing from the mirror; she had just vanished.
Jenny didn’t tell anyone that she could no longer see her reflection of course; she was afraid. On her way to work she noticed glances, stares. On the bus it seemed like everyone was looking at her. She became anxious, almost paranoid. When the bus stopped at her building she ran off as fast as she could, thinking she should have a hat or a hood or a scarf to wrap over her head, all of which where things that she never wore. And as soon as she got to work she went to the bathroom and opened the door with the hope of finding relief at the sight of the other Jenny, thinking, maybe somehow my mirror is broken; but the second Jenny, the reflected Jenny, was nowhere to be found in the office bathroom mirror.
She tried to stay calm. It must be an anomaly in my brain, she told herself. Maybe I’m starting to go blind. But – she noted – she could see everything else clearly. She remembered walking outside at night and seeing something strange in the sky. That was just a dream, she told herself. Maybe this is just a dream too? She slapped the side of her face, but didn’t wake up.
Jenny had never thought of herself as a vain person. She usually only looked in mirrors four or five times a day. But throughout the day at work she found herself with the bizarre condition of not being able to think about anything for more than a few minutes without wanting to run back into the bathroom and check, just to be sure.
Without her reflection, she wondered, did she still exist? People in the office looked at her and spoke to her, so she must still be there. She reminded herself that your reflection in the mirror is an optical illusion and so mirrors shouldn’t be trusted. She worried about how she looked, something that in most cases she truly didn’t care that much about, and something that she normally would have ridiculed herself for doing.
She didn’t talk to anyone, which was unusual, for she was known for being outgoing and chatty. She liked her job and coworkers, but felt the need to withdraw from them. The overhead fluorescent office light was uncomfortable and sitting in her cubicle she found that she was unable to work.
Two of her friends talked in loud whispers; was she sick?
Did she look sick? She looked at her hands, her arms; they looked normal. Holding up her phone to her face, she attempted to tilt it just so, so she might see herself in the black glass, but once again saw nothing.
At home she burrowed into the farthest edge of the couch with her knees up to her chin and watched her favorite movie, which in the past had always given her comfort and yet now only made her feel revulsion and a heated sense of self-loathing that accompanied the thought that anyone who liked the movie must be very stupid. She felt out of place, as if where she was and what she was doing wasn’t right.
She sat on the edge of the couch and put her head in her hands and worried.
Winnifred took instant notice the moment she came home. Jenny was never in her pajamas on the couch watching T.V. with the curtains drawn at 5:30. Something was seriously wrong.
“I don’t want to talk about it!” Jenny yelled as if she had a hard time getting the words out of her mouth. Her wife sat down, dumbstruck and didn’t know what to do. She had been on a business trip for the last two weeks and had expected upon her return home to find Jenny excitedly waiting for her, ready to go out to their favorite restaurant and eager to hear her new stories about the places she’d been and how horrible the flights were. That was the Jenny she knew and loved. Now the Jenny sitting before her didn’t look right.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” Winnifred asked. She measured out her words carefully in a cautious, almost frightened tone.
Jenny wanted to take her into the bathroom and show her the mirror and how she had no reflection. She wanted to communicate, but instead just said softly, “I don’t know.”
In two weeks they had separated, and Jenny had noticed, no – was sure – that people looked at her differently, thought about her differently, when they encountered her as a stranger on the street. Winnifred asked what had happened to her, but never noticed when they shared the bathroom or were in the bedroom together that the mirrors in those rooms didn’t show her reflection and that Jenny wasn’t there. Or had she seen her there? Jenny was so desperate to ask Winnifred if she could see her in the mirror, but the back of her throat closed up whenever she tried to speak of it. Toward the end they were fighting, and words came out of her from somewhere that she didn’t know existed in herself; angry, hateful words directed toward the love of her life. When Winnifred left, Jenny went into the bathroom and stared at the nothingness that was in the mirror and felt damned.
Before she went out every morning, she stood in front of the bathroom mirror and tried to retrieve through sense-memory the right way to brush her hair and how to put earrings in like she was blind, and sometimes she closed her eyes when doing her last minute grooming before leaving the house and just tried directing her fingers to do their job, feeling with acute awareness the handle of the brush or the tiny gold studs in her hand. But she didn’t know how she looked: good, disheveled, tired, old? It bothered her that she could no longer see what everyone else saw. She could see her pants and her blouse, she could see her shoes, she could see her wristwatch; but the face that was hers she could not keep track of and she began to worry that she did not look well, or that every morning she left a trace of strawberry preserves on the corner of her mouth from her breakfast toast, and that despite wiping her face furiously with a napkin that she had missed a crucial and noticeable spot that everyone on the street honed in on.
Tonsie, a coworker and her closest work friend, had stayed away from her for which she was both offended and grateful. But she finally come over late one afternoon and asked Jenny why she left the bathroom if there was anyone in there and then why sometimes she would wait for the last person to leave before going in. The way she said it wasn’t friendly, it wasn’t the old Tonsie, or at least it came to Jenny’s ears that way. Jenny didn’t respond to her question. She could tell from her reaction that Tonsie didn’t care if she had asked something too personal. Tonsie was often rude and too intrusive. She liked making fun of people.
“I don’t know what’s going on with you.” It was both a statement and an accusation, said in a voice that was sharp.
Jenny wanted to keep her face turned away from her. She wasn’t herself anymore. Or at least she was no longer sure that she was. How did she look? She used to think ‘I don’t give a damn what people think of me’. But how did she look? In a bold gesture she asked, “What do you think it looks like is going on with me?”
Tonsie stared at her as if she were studying her, as if she didn’t know her at all. The old Tonsie would have said ‘Let me help you’, but that was the reaction she would have had to the old Jenny, not the Jenny with no reflection, the Jenny who couldn’t be sure that she looked like the old Jenny, and therefore felt like the old Jenny. Jenny didn’t feel like she used to about herself. She still had a face; eyes, ears, mouth, nose. And hair. But she didn’t know who they belonged to, how they were arranged on a daily basis and their condition because she couldn’t see herself; she couldn’t see herself first thing in the morning or the last thing at night. Did she still have the same head, the same shoulders? The other Jenny in the mirror confirmed the status of her existence. Why had she left? Where was she? Jenny could see perfectly fine; it wasn’t the beginning of going blind, it wasn’t that. Mirror Jenny was just gone. Where could she have gone to? Why would her mirror reflection have left her? It was ridiculous. But the truth was Jenny wasn’t Jenny anymore, the person she’d been for forty-eight years. Could her reflection have that much of a hold on her?
The next day, she was fired. She had withdrawn so much from her work colleagues that she was no longer communicating with them and because of that an important project wasn’t finished on its due date. Her boss, who had once liked her and joked around with her, yelled at her with great anger and distain. Hateful looks surrounded her as she packed up her cubicle and left the office for the last time.
Jenny’s neighbor, a woman who she’d lived next to for years, gaped at her in horror when she attempted a pleasant hello as she carried in a cardboard box with her work belongings. She realized as she closed her door and set the box down that the greeting might have come out as gibberish, but she had heard it clearly herself. Her neighbor always returned her hellos. Why didn’t she say hello? Jenny carried a chair from the kitchen table into the bathroom and sat in front of the mirror and sobbed at the absence of her image.
“Come back,” she beckoned softly. “Come back.”
Somewhere she had read that you are older than your reflection in the mirror. How much older? A second? Less? Within the second or less that it took light to bounce back the reflection of herself, the second Jenny, the mirror Jenny seemed to have walked away from the other side of the mirror.
Ridiculous, she thought. But after all this time, possibly true.
If she waited long enough, maybe she would see herself in the glass again. Hours went by and the bathroom became dark. Jenny didn’t turn the light on.
There was no food in the cupboards. The milk was almost gone. She had sat all night in front of the mirror and had fallen asleep in the chair and had woken up with a pain in her neck. After getting up, she gazed hard into the mirror and opened and closed her eyes several times in succession, hoping that something magical would happen. She left her house and decided to walk the several blocks to the store, anticipating the aches in her body would go away if she walked.
ENDING ONE: There was a small park between Jenny’s apartment and the grocery store. Red brick walkway, a dog run, a few trees, ancient benches. The day was grey, and the morning light provided no sun. Jenny was in a foul mood. She wanted to murder someone. She kept her hands shoved to the bottoms of her coat pockets tightened into fists.
She didn’t recognize the woman at first. But as soon as she saw her form in the periphery of her sightline she knew that she knew her.
The woman was dressed in rags and was coming toward her in a shuffling walk. The image of her first launched an assault on all of Jenny’s senses and then Jenny noticed the woman’s coat. It had holes in it and threads coming out of the shoulder seams and the hem. It was the coat that Jenny was wearing. And the woman’s shoes, caked with mud and worn; they were the shoes that Jenny was wearing. The woman continued to come closer and looked up. Her face was lined with sharp creases and cracks, her hair was wild and white, her blue eyes both dimmed by a milky clouds. It was Jenny’s face. The woman was Jenny, wearing Jenny’s same clothes.
Jenny turned and ran. She made it a few steps, her eyes on the red paving stones, when they found a hand held mirror facing upward. She wanted to keep running; her body ordered itself to move, but she had to – she had to bend over and pick up the silver handled mirror.
She didn’t see her reflection, but the woman, the old, wretched, pitiful her shuffled with quick steps behind her into the frame.
Before she could think or move, the old woman shuffled into her body and there in the mirror at last her reflection was: the old woman.
The second Jenny had left her and had jumped ahead of her in their life. Now in body and in the mirror’s reflection the two at last were combined.
Jenny shuffled, her heavy legs throbbing in pain, and screamed.
Jenny sat in the kitchen chair in the bathroom, staring at the mirror. The absence of a reflection taunted her and she felt as if she kept staring at it she would go crazy and yet she could not turn away. She realized she had failed to pay rent. There would be an eviction notice if she didn’t write a check and include a late fee. She had lost her job, she had lost her relationship of over ten years and she was puzzled and slightly dismayed that she felt nothing about it. All she wanted to do it look in the mirror. Once she could see her reflection again, everything would be alright. She was going to sit there until her reflection returned or until they carried her out.
She was waiting for something else as well. What was it? Had she forgotten something? Something was going to happen. Was somebody going to come over? Was a friend going to call her on the phone?
She didn’t look at her watch and didn’t know how long she’d been there. Her bottom started to ache and her legs became sore. There was a pull to the bedroom; to lie down in the comfort of her bed.
The pain in her eye came on instantly. She immediately covered it with her hand. The pain grew and became so great that Jenny cried out and grabbed the sink counter. It felt like someone was stabbing her eye from inside her head. There was something inside of her body attacking her. God! What an insane, intense sensation! She cried out again. A great force was lifting her eyeball up. She got up and stood, smashing her hand over her eye, worried that her eyeball might pop out.
She felt something in the palm of her hand, wet and slippery. After removing her hand, a black, eel-shaped thing fell from her face, down the length of her body, into the bowl of the sink.
Both the front and the back of the creature lengthened and it doubled its mass. Three tiny heads popped out from one end: saucer eyes, no nose, and a mouth full of fangs. The heads made a high pitched scream which pierced Jenny’s eardrums, and forced her to cover her ears. The black thing split apart into three squiggling snakes with monstrous alien heads and then one by one they each slithered down the drain.
Jenny looked down in amazement and realized at the top of her sightline that she saw something else across the sink.
She glanced up and saw her reflection.
Copyright 2018 Lionel T Duncan