Reflection
A Short Story by Doug Dean
Written using the suggestion "Mirror"
Originally featured on 09-05-2007
As part of our series "Alternative Universals"

I sip from my plastic iced coffee cup and pull open the door. It makes no noise. The only light inside comes through the windows that make up the store front. There is a small glass counter with empty shelves. As I walk deeper into the store, I look at the many smudges on the many mirrors lining the walls. I need to do a better job cleaning if I expect to sell any of them.

I don’t intend to sell any of them soon.

Some are full length, some short and rectangular. The full length mirrors are my concern today.

I put down my cup down on the counter. Condensation drips down, quickly forming a ring. I take a deep breath. Then walk back and turn the latch on the deadbolt.

A few seconds later, I’m standing in front of a long full length mirror halfway back down the single aisle leading to the back of the store. I’m looking into the mirror and looking back at me is my reflection. I look myself up and down. I look at my wrinkled brown slacks. I look at my white button down shirt. I look at my gut hanging over the front of my belt—my lovehandles hanging over the sides.

Then I look at my face. I look at my chubby pink cheeks and my dwarfish nose. My brown sloppy hair falling down over my ears. My double chin.

I decide what name I’m going to say. Last time, I said Bruno. Bruno was my college roommate. He was a nice guy from an Italian family. Apparently he’s married now to a Swedish girl. We reminisced for a while about college and party adventures and then the subject turned to family life. He works as an engineer and his wife stays home. He told me that he used to be bored at work and looked forward to going home to see her. He told me that now he is still bored at work but finds reasons to stay. He told me that this makes him feel like a prisoner. Eventually, I was bored and felt like a prisoner of his life. It’s funny how heavy it feels to discuss life with someone who feels trapped. How eventually you feel trapped in the conversation.

“Jillian” I say.

I still look at my reflection. It didn’t work. There are rules to it. I figured out one rule is that they can’t be someone that I still know socially. It doesn’t work if I’ve seen them recently.

Another rule is that they can’t be someone I’ve dated or even slept with. It also can’t be members of my immediate family.

I’ve never dated or slept with Jillian and she’s not in my immediate family. I’m not sure why that didn’t work.

“Roger.”

I wait. I watch. I focus. I watch as my gut grows to twice its size. My pink cheeks turn pasty white. My brown slacks become sweat pants and my shirt becomes a Brooklyn Dodgers tee.

The frame! I hadn’t thought of the frame. Bruno while feeling trapped in his life was slender enough to step through the wood frame without a struggle. Roger on the other hand is much wider than the three feet of width this mirror provides.

He wraps his fingers around the wood and the front of his gut hangs as he tries to push himself out. I’ll have to help him. As he struggles to squeeze his spherical body through, I put my hand out to grab the back of his shirt.

Fuck! Electricity! Fire! I feel it all in the bones of my fingers.

I fall backwards and hear shattering. I turn my head left and on my left shoulder are reflective shards. It happened as soon as I tried to put my hand past the threshold — into the mirror. Another rule!

I look up and Roger has turned sideways and is sucking in his gut, trying to narrow himself.

He reaches out and I stand up. I grab his hand and pull. I lean back and pull with all my weight. I hear the frame creaking. I wonder would happen if—Crack! The side of the frame snaps.

Roger is gone. His grip which held all of my weight is gone too and I tumble back onto the broken glass. Some of it digs into my back. I stand and turn. I look into another mirror to see how much glass I’ve got in me.

There are two thin pieces sticking out just above my kidneys. I grab a rag and put it around my hand. Then I pull them out slowly. I don’t want to break any glass off inside.

My white shirt is now littered down the back with splotches and a red stream heading towards my waist.

It hurts but I have to continue. I still don’t know all the rules. One of the rules could be that this will only work today. Maybe it will only work before sundown. I don’t know. And I can’t risk losing this chance.

Okay, so it worked with Roger except he wasn’t able to fit through. It worked with Bruno. Jillian didn’t work.

I don’t fully understand how it works but I might as well quit fucking around. I walk over to another mirror.

I say the name of the man who wrecked my life as a kid. I say the name of the man whom I’ve hated since I was nine. I say the name of the man that broke up my parent’s marriage. I say the name of the man I blame for my dad becoming an alcoholic.

“Jacob.”

I watch my gut disappears. I watch as my hair becomes gray and then disappears on the top. I watch as my face turns from pink and flabby to tan and thin. I watch as my scowl becomes a wretched smile. The one I used to throw darts at in my clubhouse.

He steps forward. His boot heels clack on the linoleum. I don’t step back and we’re nose to nose.

“Hello Dave.” His breath hits my face. The smell of whiskey and Mexican rice.

My face is hot. The back of my eyes sting. Just below my heart, something is squirming.

I hit him hard on the side of his head. He staggers but his eyes focus on me for a split second before I hit him again. It sends him to the floor.

I’m kicking. I think of when Jacob was kicking my father. I think of getting the call from the police about the accident. I think of when my father wheeling around in his chair. I’m kicking hard.

Thighs, ribs, chest, face. He’s shaking. I stop.

Then I hear him laughing.

“Looks like you weren’t a faggot after all Dave.”

I kick him again and he laughs more. I stop.

I’m breathing hard. Sweating. He’s still lying there. I inch back and sit on a crate.

“What’s a matter, Dave? Pussy got your tongue?” More laughter. But he’s right. Funny how you can imagine all the things you’d say to someone you hate and then be caught speechless.

“Are you still alive? I don’t know if that’s one of the rules.”

“Yeah, I’m still kickin’ round. Tough shit.”

I say, “You don’t look so tough there on the floor,” but it’s a lie.

He sits up. For all my kicks and punches, he hasn’t got a mark on him.

“How’s yer pa?” He’s grinning.

“Dead.”

“Oh. Well…my condolences. He was alright. Couldn’t fight worth a lick — you must’ve got that from me. But still, he was alright.”

I nod sarcastically. “Fuck you.”

He nods. “Yep. Fuck me.”

I don’t feel what I thought I would. I feel better about cursing him than kicking him. Perhaps I’m more comfortable with the cursing. I’ve been practicing that part for fifteen years.

“Yer ma asks about you. I always tell her that there’s no point in it. But she still asks people.”

“That’s nice. She’s still alive too then?” His face changes. He looks hurt for the first time since he walked through the mirror.

“You know, Dave, I’d take you a lot more seriously if I didn’t know what I know.”

“Oh yeah, what’s that?”

“Fer one. You’re no different than me.”

I snicker. His eyes get wide.

“I’m serious, Dave. I know all about that home you wrecked not too long before yer daddy’s accident.”

I think about eating four nights a week at Denny’s. I think of pulling into the Motel 6 across the street from Denny’s. I think of the picking up the phone and hearing Crystal’s husband say, “you’re a dead man.”

“You don’t know shit Jacob.”

“Yep. Maybe I don’t. But I bet you’ve convinced yourself that I’m the first fella your ma let into her bed after yer pa.”

“You are.” He snickers. I think of waking up in the middle of night after a bad dream. I think of walking across the hall to go into their room. The doorknob not turning. The strange truck in the driveway.

“And I bet you’ve convinced yourself that your daddy didn’t drink until then either. Hell, why do think she got away with it?”

“He wasn’t a drunk. Not ‘til you came in and took his family.” More snickering. I think of the camping trip where he threw up all over the tent. I think of the phone waking me up late at night. I think of my mother driving to pick him up. The nights that it didn’t ring and he didn’t come home.

I’m kicking again. This time I’m kicking every thing but Jacob. I’m kicking the crates and boxes. I throw a lamp and shatter a mirror. I look at Jacob. He shakes his head sympathetically.

“Shut up Jacob. You think that you can turn this around? Just because I’m not perfect and my pa wasn’t perfect that you didn’t wreck our family? That you beating him in front of his wife and only son didn’t take away any pride he had left?”

“Nope. I know what I did. That’s cause I know who I am.” Jacob nods at me. “What about you? Hell, you think you’d be able to do so good on these questions? If that waitress’s little girl — what was her name, oh Jillian. If Jillian came and found you? Do you know what happened to her pa?”

I reach and grab Jacob’s shirt and pull him off the ground. I’m holding him close to me. I smell the whiskey and Mexican rice in the back of my throat.

I look into his eyes and they seem to soften. Maybe they weren’t that hard before. “Fuck you.”

I let go of him and he walks backward. He steps back through the mirror. He grins. I nod. And then gray hair becomes brown. My gut reappears. Gradually his grin becomes my frown. His stare is my own.

Before Jacob completely disappears from the glass in front of me, I walk to the counter. I pull the lid off the bottle of Jack Daniels and pour some into my plastic cup. I finish the last bite of my burrito from this morning and head for the door.

I don’t have to check my phone to know that there are at least two messages from my wife. I’m running out of excuses for why I can’t come home and give her a break from watching our daughter.

I stand and look at the storefront. I hear the air behind me being pushed aside by passing minivans and the screaming of children.

Read More By Doug Dean

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