The Distorted Mirror and the Shield in My Head

Submitted into Contest #180 in response to: Write a story that hinges on the outcome of a coin flip.... view prompt



This story contains sensitive content

TRIGGER WARNING: This story contains themes of suicide and mental health.

This coin will determine if I live or die. 

I never thought it would get so bad, the endless rush of thoughts telling me, You’re a bad person. Nobody likes you. You’re revolting. Why would you think like that? I have bad thoughts, and they’re going to kill me. They chip away at the imagined shield in my head until the shield breaks and it all comes cascading in, and by then I feel it’s too late to turn around. I feel a pang of nervousness every time I think these thoughts, and when the shield breaks it feels like a gong is pounding in my chest and I’m irredeemable. I want to curl up against the wall and disappear. Why am I this way? Why am I such a horrible person? The shield is broken, shattered into shrapnel that seem to stab the inside of my head. I can’t fix it now.

I sit on the back steps of the bar, a coin in my hand, one of the few coins I have left to my name. But if this coin lands face-up, I won’t have to worry about that anymore. I won’t have to worry about anything anymore. I balance the coin on my thumb. 

I feel all the time that I could never live a normal life like this. It would always be the same, and there wouldn’t be an escape or a way to fix it. I’ve tried everything in my power, and nothing works. Nothing can make the thoughts go away. I’m not drunk, even though I was only in the bar a few minutes ago. I never get drunk anymore; it only makes it worse. For me it magnifies the stress, not takes it away. That’s something only oydeynil can do, but oydeynil is too expensive and makes me sick. I rarely smoke any. 

I sigh. I haven’t really thought about what I would do if the coin decides I live. Just continue on the way I am? I flick my thumb upwards, and the copper soars up, above my head, spinning and catching the glint of the orange streetlights near the alley I’m facing. I watch it go, and it seems to make its arc in slow motion. Then, footsteps, and a shadow falls over me. The next second a gloved hand reaches out and the coin is no longer in the air. 

I look up, startled. The thief seems just as surprised as me, and says, “Miriam?”

I stare, trying to make out who they are. Their face is cast into shadow. I just want it to be over with. Never mind how they know me. Rob me, stab me, shoot me, I honestly don’t care. Take one more thing off my never-ending list.

“It’s Angela.”

“Angela!” I say in surprise.

“Yes.” She sits down beside me. “It’s been a couple months. How are you?”

This simple question makes me feel like my heart has been yanked out of my chest. She is silent as she stares at me, waiting for me to answer. I never do. I take off my glasses and set them on the steps between us, then put my head in my hands.

I feel her hand touch my back. She stays that way until I look up and rub my eyes, but the tears don’t stop. Since I’m not wearing my glasses, everything behind her looks hazy and out of focus, making it seem like she’s the only thing that exists. 

She’s looking at me patiently. Does she still expect me to answer? “I’m sorry,” I tell her between sobs. 

“Why are you sorry?” she asks.

I can’t read her face if I can’t see her through my tears, and I rub my eyes again. I see sadness. And worry.

“I don’t know.” I cry harder.

She doesn’t try to stop me, or tell me that everything will be okay, even though that’s what I want most out of anything. I want someone to tell me that no matter what happens, I’ll  be alright. But after what I was about to do, was prepared to do with the switchblade in my pocket, could that ever really be true?

I try to get control of myself. My throat burns and my nose is running. I wipe it on my sleeve and sit, elbows resting on my knees, staring at nothing. Completely aware that Angela is there but not having the slightest idea what to say to her.

Who starts crying when someone asks them how they are?

“Miriam,” Angela says, finally breaking the silence. I look at her. I can see her clearly now: she’s smiling. But gently enough so that the smile is almost sad, like she might start crying too. “What were you doing?”

The question catches me off guard. I had expected a “What’s wrong?” or maybe an “Are you okay?” 

“I just left the bar.”

“But I thought you don’t drink.”

“Well, I did today.”


Of course. Of course she could tell I was lying.

“What’s going on?” she asks.

“I was going to…” I toss the knife lamely into the space between us.

“Oh, Miriam. A coin? You were going to let the universe decide your fate?”

I am silent. Shameful, but somehow defiant.

“Don’t do it. Please, don’t do it.” I stare at my feet. “Look at me. Look. You’re worth too much. Please.” I see streaks of black running down her face when I look up.

I cross my arms over my chest. 

“I need you. The world needs you.”

“I don’t want that.” Now I’m crying again. “I want to do nothing. I want to be happy again.”

“You can be. You can be happy again. Please.”

I doubt that. I stand up and pick up the knife. “I have to go, it-”

She notices. “No. Look at me. Look at me. Miriam. Don’t do it. I love you. Love yourself. You’re not a bad person.” This last sentence hits me like a train. “Listen.

I did. I listen to our crying, almost silent. To the sounds of the bar: distant voices, clinks of glass. To the splash of footsteps through the streets filled with puddles. Puddles are like mirrors: you can look in and see a monster. Or you can see yourself. I listen to the sound of the knife as it hits the ground. 

I see Angela’s arms wrap around me, pulling me up from the pit and setting me back towards the bright grassy meadow, the happy times. I cry into her shoulder, loud, racking sobs that seem to cost me all of my being. Maybe it was never about a shield.

I’m not alone. 

It’s a while before I let go. She holds out her hand. Shut tightly in her palm, all this time, was the coin. Face-down. “You’re not a bad person.”

January 14, 2023 03:36

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Wendy Kaminski
04:33 Jan 14, 2023

Heartbreaking and beautiful. Excellent lines in this - my favorite: "Puddles are like mirrors: you can look in and see a monster." That's an awesome line. The whole story was just great - thank you for sharing it!


Natalie Schmitt
18:19 Jan 14, 2023

Thank you!


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