One hundred and thirty-six years it took me to find the one I needed. One hundred and thirty-six years of standing in Tallmand’s shop, watching the days pass and the people change. From my spot in the back of the store, I was ever reflecting on my environment, noting the myriad facets of the objects in it, the way the light shone and scattered through the windows across the many items for sale.
Many people passed me by over those years, taking a peek at themselves in my silvered glass. I didn’t like most of them. They were incomplete, most of them, but not in the way I desired. Not in the way that could set me free.
I glimpsed him through the wide display window as he trundled past the frontage, in the gap between a stately fifties dresser and a horrible late nineteenth-century vase. His shoulders were bowed, his head slumped, his eyes empty as they swept unseeing across my face. He looked utterly broken.
He was perfect.
Look, I called as he left my view.
Several seconds passed before he reappeared. His face was the picture of vague but indifferent interest, confusion and complacency swirling as he puzzled over what had drawn his attention.
Come to me.
He squinted through the window as his eyes focused on me. His head cocked slowly, his lips spreading slightly. His breath frosted the glass as he peered at me.
Come here, I whispered.
He stood there for perhaps half a minute before he shook himself, muttering, his lips too clumsy for me to read. He shook his head and turned to resume his journey.
Come! I fairly shouted.
He twitched and fell against the window, suddenly breathing hard. He looked at me sidelong, the beginnings of fear in his eyes. Still, moments after he steadied himself and left my view again, the bell tinkled him into the store. As he walked past the fifties dresser, he looked around with vague disinterest, as though he expected nothing in the shop could please him. Perhaps he thought no such thing could be found anywhere.
Then he saw me. His eyes went wide and round. Shortly, he was standing in front of me, gazing into my depths.
From here I could get a better look at him. He wore a faded green winter jacket over a plain brown hoodie and an oversized t-shirt advertising The Grateful Dead. His dirt-stained jeans were torn along one thigh, in a way that suggested damage rather than fashion. His face was lined beyond his years, which I guessed to be late twenties. The sparse curtain of brown hair shading his eyes was already showing signs of gray, though his patchy beard was still a rich auburn.
His fingers rose to touch the features I’d noticed, brushing the lines in his forehead, sweeping slowly through his fading hair. His lips parted as he whispered to himself. “Do I really…” he mouthed silently.
It’s not fair, I suggested. Why should time have been so unkind to you?
Sourness pinched his lips, and his nose wrinkled in disgust.
You need to see what you’ve become, if you can ever hope to change.
He sighed, fingering his boxers through the rip on his pants, a stain on the hem of his jacket.
What do you see?
“A bum,” he murmured glumly. “A piece of shit.”
You know what I see? He couldn't really hear me. I had no voice, no way to reach his ears, but he leaned forward anyway. The echoes of my words rippled into his mind, suggestions of meaning. So much potential. You've wasted yourself.
You've hurt so many people.
“I didn't mean to.” A tear budded in his left eye. “I never wanted to hurt anyone.”
Of course you did. I couldn't see inside his mind. I didn't know if I was right before I spoke. But I could read on his face the regret, the self-hatred. I dug in deeper. They never really cared about you. You wanted to make them hurt like they hurt you.
“No.” The tear pushed out and tracked down his cheek, blazing a path for other drops of pain. “They were trying to help me.”
You were only ever a nuisance to them. They're glad you're not around anymore.
“That's not true.” His voice trembled, his fists clenched, his whole body vibrated with frustration and denial.
They won't be satisfied until you're dead!
“No!” he shouted as his fist lanced forward, his knuckles slamming into the center of my face.
A web of cracks shot out from the point of contact. The sharp edges of my splintered glass sliced through the skin of his first two knuckles, carving out drops of his essence.
I had him now.
His face paled. He took a step back.
The man whirled to see the store owner, Tallmand, standing beside him, a rail-thin man with a thin black mustache and thinning hair in a tuxedo. The proprietor held a folded white cloth towards the man.
“You’re bleeding. Please take the kerchief.” Tallmand pressed it over my assailant’s dripping hand, positioning the man’s other hand to hold the cloth in place before letting go.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—I gotta go,” the man stammered.
“Of course, sir. As soon as you’ve paid for your merchandise. You can follow me to the register.”
The man winced with his whole body. “But I don’t want anything!”
“Sir, I’m afraid you’ve broken the mirror. You’ll have to pay for it.”
Tallmand glided away, the poor man following as though dragged, fumbling protests as he went. I let them go. Corey’s blood was seeping into the cracks he’d made, and I had a lot to peer into.
Corey followed the strange man to the front of the store, still apologizing. That mirror must cost a fortune. There was no way he could afford it. Why the hell had he punched it?
The store owner stepped behind the counter and bent down to retrieve a binder, labeled INVENTORY. He opened it and ran his finger down the list of items.
“I’m sorry about the mirror, but I can’t pay for it right now,” Corey insisted. “Give me some time, maybe I can—”
“Ah, here we are,” said the man. “Ten dollars, please.”
“—find enough to—huh?”
“Cash or credit?”
“You’re kidding. That thing’s an antique!”
The man smiled patiently. “Of course it is, sir. That’s my business.”
“But ten bucks!...”
“Would you like me to charge you more?” The man’s eyes twinkled.
“Cash or credit?”
Corey fished in his pocket for a five and some crumpled ones. “There goes my joint,” he sighed under his breath. And just when he could use some mellowing, too. Why had he punched the mirror?
Corey checked the hair was still held in the doorjamb before he turned the knob. That’s what spies did in the movies, and you had to be careful if you were homeless. A desperate person would jack your shit without a second thought.
He kept his gaze lowered as he stepped into the apartment he was squatting in. He knew what he’d see if he looked. Torn red veneer over fading yellow wallpaper. The taped up window in the living room. That leak from the ceiling.
Besides, with all the broken floorboards and rat droppings, he had to watch his step.
His stomach growled, reminding him of the hours since he’d last eaten. He slouched his way towards the bedroom, hoping that his past self had left half a candy bar under the mattress, a weed gummy in the closet shelves, something to take the edge off one way or another. He entered the room and finally looked up to see his reflection.
He flinched. “What the fuck?”
When he’d left, the gray walls had held only faded rock posters from the previous owners. Now there was a mirror on the wall opposite the door. The same mirror from the antique shop? But how could that be? It certainly looked the same, from the twisting silver dragons around the rim to the golden eye and hand-shaped hamsa at the very top.
But this mirror wasn’t broken. He looked down at the raw, scabbing cut on his knuckles. Could it be the same one?
How had it gotten here? And when? He had come here straight from the store. The man at the shop hadn’t taken down an address, not even his name. Corey had been so desperate to get out of there that he hadn’t realized at the time. But now questions swirled in his mind.
I have answers.
Corey started. The voice he heard in his head seemed familiar, but he couldn’t place it. “Who’s there?” He turned to look back out of the bedroom.
Heart pounding, he swiveled back towards the mirror. “The mirror?”
Slowly, Corey walked towards the mirror. “What is happening?” he whispered.
His reflection stared back at him with sunken eyes, the same eyes he always saw these days, in every puddle, every piece of glass. The eyes he’d seen in the shop window.
But were they?
There was something different now. A glimmer he hadn’t seen in a while.
He didn’t feel hopeful. He wasn’t sure he remembered how.
I’ll help you.
You carry a great deal of pain. Self-hatred. Self-doubt. You don’t know if you can go on, or if you should. You need to confront it.
Corey shook his hanging head sadly. “It’s too much,” he mumbled.
I can see into your heart. I know that you have the strength to recover. You just need to see yourself from new angles.