I will never forget the day I saw the impossible.
Pete and Julie had just moved in to a new house and I was exhausted with the effort of carrying his stuff. I took some liberties, a personal tour around his house while he tried to unpack his stacks of boxes. I was jealous. The place was spacious and pretty, Victorian I think, each room more elaborate than the last. The kitchen was enormous, the bedrooms were tall and spacious enough to fit a four poster bed with ease and the garden seemed to go on forever. It wasn’t a country house any more, the city had grown and squeezed in around it, but it still proudly towered over the nearby buildings, a beacon of elegance in a functional world.
The only part I didn’t like at all was the living room. There was a comfortable settee, a couple of arm chairs and even a chaise longue by the tall sash windows, the wallpaper was light and delicately patterned, the television tucked into an unobtrusive corner and the log fire was clearly in full working order. But there were two huge bookshelves carved from pitch black wood flanking that awful mirror.
It was huge, easily six feet across and four feet high and the frame it was in was so charred it must have been damaged by a catastrophic fire. It seemed to leer at at the room, it must have warped somehow, perhaps in the heat, because everything in that reflection was off. There were no right angles, little distortions as you moved and sometimes when you thought you hadn’t. I could barely take my eyes off it at first, it was so strange and out of place. It felt like all of my vision was taken up by a stranger, darker world. I looked at my own reflection, saw that my face was ever so slightly uneven, saw my breath mist over my reflection’s mouth, I looked into my eyes. I looked at the rippling surface as my reflection followed me. I saw my reflection blink.
I walked away shaking my head. I was convinced, convinced, that I had seen it, but I needed coffee after my exertion and in the rippling madness of that uneven surface I could have seen anything. For the rest of that day I was quiet, not quite dazed but not quite willing to speak. I sat on his sofa, drank my tea and stared, dream like, into the distance. I kept hearing things, quiet things, the scuff of a shoe against carpet or the clink of a glass from the next room. It was only later that I found out they had spent hours in the bedroom upstairs unaware that I was still there. It creeped me out a bit when I slipped into sleep and dreamed of seeing myself standing over me, looking down, looking angry.
I bade them farewell and went home, expecting the promised few pints with Pete in a week or so when he had settled in. It was nice to have him in the city, back somewhere he could live rather than his failed attempt at survival in the countryside. I went back to work, got back on with my life, and dreamed of myself standing over me, a little further away each night. I didn’t sleep well, seeing hatred in my own eyes every time I went to bed.
I met up with Pete on a Friday, he was late to the pub and when he got there he didn’t seem to even recognise me. He was distant and withdrawn, daydreaming his way through the crowd. It was worrying, even when he was stuck in the middle of nowhere on the farm he singularly failed to renovate he was always full of life. We sat in a corner on some comfy chairs, sipping through the thick head of our stout, waiting to see who would speak first.
It was me, I asked him how he was finding the new house. He replied that it was okay and said nothing more. He looked uncomfortable, as if he wanted conversation to flow as seamlessly as it always used to but he could no longer find the words. We didn’t know about each other any more, we had been too long apart.
It didn’t upset me for long, I figured out how to draw him out of himself and the answer, as always, was alcohol. Good God how we drank, like our lives depended on it, like we were eighteen again and had no cause to fear the morning after. First the words stuttered and then tumbled from us, first questions, then nostalgia, then filthy jokes, then philosophy. As we stumbled back to Pete’s new house to crack open his whiskey and scarf down our kebabs he paused in front of a naked mannequin in a dark shop window.
‘D’you ever wonder about them?’
He looked at me, then looked back at the mannequin and chuckled.
‘No, no… reflections. It’s not right, you know? They’re not right.’
I had no idea what he was talking about, I just stood still and furrowed my brow.
‘It’s not what you look like. It’s really not. It’s flipped over, you think you look like that but you don’t, you’re the other way around and you don’t even know it. If you see a photo or a bit of film with you in it then that’s what you look like. Mirrors and dark glass? That’s not you, that’s something else.’
I think I was laughing then, I felt chilli sauce stream down my thumb and on to my sleeve. Pete wasn’t laughing though, he was staring at the mannequin, looking angry and getting more furious. He hurled his food at the window, smearing it with grease and whispered; ‘it’s not me.’
We sat in Pete’s front room and I tried to keep my food off his furniture. I was sobering up a bit by now and that damned mirror was right opposite. They’d put a couple of candles on the mantelpiece on either side and filled the bookshelves but it hadn’t helped. It still dominated the room and loomed over everything. If you spent too long looking at it you could almost feel you were inside a shimmering, wobbling world.
Pete kept looking at it. I couldn’t figure out what he was so fascinated by, I was doing everything I could to keep my gaze away. He was babbling, relaxed all of a sudden in a way he hadn’t been all night. It felt like I had him back then, my old friend, just as he had been years ago. I sipped my whiskey and listened to him speak, talking about glimmering things and reflections, about the false self image we all have, how a reflection is like you but not you. It was dull after a while but he kept talking. I let the words wash over me and drifted off in the face of that rippling, warped reflection.
The dreams I had were terrifying. Every time I exhaled my breath misted in the air in front of me. I was disoriented, trying to find my way home but everything was backwards and nothing I touched would move. I couldn’t open the doors and all their handles were on the wrong side and finally I slumped back on the settee I had found so comfortable. I blinked and I saw Pete standing over me with another me standing next to him. I felt myself standing up, facing my double and looking into its eyes, seeing my reflection there ad infinitum. When he moved I would move, where he looked I would look and as my double capered I could not help but imitate his movements. I was the puppet of an angry thing. As it leaned in closer, as we both grinned, I saw my breath mist on his face.
I spent the first part of the next morning cleaning chilli sauce out of Pete’s antique carpet. Pete didn’t really seem to mind. He didn’t seem to be anything really, he barely registered my presence. I blamed the hangover. I wish I could still blame the hangover.
I didn’t like spending time under that mirror, it was too big. Too out of place. Too damaged. I was taking my time with the scrubbing though, it was an expensive carpet and I felt bad about spilling my food all over it. Plus I was feeling quite delicate, we really had drunk like there was no tomorrow.
Then Pete and Julie came in. They ignored me completely, making a beeline for the mantelpiece and gazing into that monstrous mirror. They stood stock still, holding hands and smiling at their own distorted images. As the winter dawn shone its light on that warped surface I saw them reach out. I saw that the barrier wasn’t there, understood that maybe it had never been there. I heard the grinding of glass on glass as twisted doppelgängers began to climb into the real world and Pete and Julie fell out of it. I saw my reflection walking closer, reaching up towards me.
I ran for my life.
I never went back to that house, maybe I should have. I wanted to stay as far from that damned mirror as possible, as far from all that weirdness as I could. I saw him once though, at a supermarket picking up his groceries with a heavily pregnant Julie in tow. I tried to think of something to say to them, to apologise for running away or just to convince myself I’d made it all up. I could hear them speaking, nattering away about the best groceries to buy, the best offers, the best schools in the area. I backed away, hid, and as they clasped their hands together I heard the shriek of glass against glass.