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Fantasy Funny Romance

“What’s wrong with me? Do I even exist?”

Selma gazed at her reflection in the medicine cabinet mirror. Her irises contracted as she peered into her pupils.

“Anybody home?”

She chuckled. ‘Of course, I exist. I blink; therefore, I am…’ But somedays she struggled to own that even to herself.

Remembering her college biology class, ‘I’m alive. I move and breathe. God knows I excrete…

It is one thing to choose anonymity. Quite another to feel ignored. Even a dismissal requires recognition of the banished. No unicorn ever felt dismissed. But for Selma the brush-off would feel like a promotion.

‘Am I stuck up? Unwilling to share my rarified air with the hoi polloi?’

Looking for signs of egotism, Selma scanned her one bedroom no view apartment. Her wardrobe of muted colors and sensible shoes hardly shouted, ‘Look at me!’

Vanity didn’t motivate Selma to glance at every reflective surface. She didn’t primp or fix her hair. Never wearing it, she didn’t worry about smudged makeup. If anything, she underplayed her appearance. She’d accuse a shrinking violet of pompous grandiosity. In each reflection she saw herself, just as expected. She’d know that face anywhere. Even if no one else did.

Selma wanted confirmation of her existence. Some days she fretted whether she would disappear, evaporate or fade away entirely without notice. She knew that if she fell over in a forest, no one would hear her.

‘So, pinch yourself,’ would be someone’s logical advice to such ‘silliness.’ That wouldn’t do. No question she’d feel a pinch, a subjective response to momentary, self-generated discomfort. It would prove nothing. What drove Selma was desire for the affirmation of objective reality.

What, if anything, knew she existed? The universe might not care, but is it too big to mail her an emoji heart?

An infinity of phenomenon constantly dance through the cosmos all at once. Mountains grow. Blood pumps through the veins of every living thing. Tides ebb and flow. Does anything take note of Selma? A dust mote, could it see, would have a unique perspective while drifting through the day. Would it notice Selma?

Maybe not. But co-workers should.

She was productive at work. Her position bore a modicum of importance. Not everyone could do it. But she felt unrecognized. No one knew her. A non-entity, she received no morning greetings in the corridor outside her office. Company emails arrived to her in-box addressed not to her, but to her department, of which she was the sole employee.  

Did necessary work get accomplished with no human intervention? Who, exactly, did she work for? She knew AI was a thing now. But did she work for AI? And not AI for her?

Selma entered the common area for a coffee.

Two employees, Cyril and Luke, stood talking and laughing as they did every morning.

Cyril said, “I couldn’t believe it.” He paused to laugh. “Johnson took the pass and then just set the ball down and walked off.”

“You’re kidding! The crowd must have gone nuts.”

“He’s done. Must be sick. I’m surprised someone didn’t pop him.”

As Selma poured her coffee, Luke reached past her for a donut. She almost dropped the pot. No ‘excuse me.’ No ‘good morning.’ No acknowledgement at all. Resisting temptation, she didn’t bite his arm as it brushed across her face. She could have wiped her nose on him. ‘Such self-control… good girl…’

Their behavior, far from unusual, was typical and not isolated to these two. They enjoyed a lively conversation about some sports incident. Selma didn’t expect a toast (or a donut) in her honor, nor to take part. But she wasn’t ‘in the way.’ Civility doesn’t hurt.

At lunch, she went for a walk to clear her head. She stopped to look at a beautiful leaf lying on the sidewalk. It was perfect. Though a breezy day, the leaf lay trembling, as if awaiting Selma’s arrival.

‘What exactly brought me to this place and time? Does that leaf, mean anything beyond its existence?’

She walked past a store with a display of mirrors in the show window. Selma glanced at her reflection in the full-length mirror. She stopped and stared. ‘Is this a joke?’ She turned to see if anyone had seen.

‘My reflection waved at me. I didn’t wave at it.’ As she stared at herself, the reflection mimed a kiss to her. Flustered, Selma rushed on. ‘I may be neurotic, but I’ve never hallucinated…’

She ended her day unproductively. The mirror incident disturbed her more than Luke’s rudeness. At least he was predictable. But the mirror! No one had ever blown a kiss at her. She wouldn’t do it herself.

She had to investigate. Feigning indifference, she strolled by the store and paused before the mysterious mirror. Again, like sharing a secret, her reflection made a little wave.

‘Alright mirror. What do you think of this?’

She buttoned her coat out of kilter. Her reflection looked down with a sad face. Selma fixed the buttons. The reflection gave her a quick thumbs up.

‘What!’

Each minimal gesture would be overlooked had she blinked or been distracted. Or dismissed as a figment of imagination. Dismissed? ‘Am I dismissing myself?’

Selma strode into the store and asked to see the mirror. The saleswoman had a clerk place it on the floor for closer inspection. Looking behind it and feeling around the frame revealed nothing unusual.

“Does it plug in? Or use batteries?”

The saleswoman’s eyes shifted to the clerk, who shrugged.

She said, “It’s a mirror, Miss. It reflects light. Doesn’t need power to run.”

Selma nodded. “Of course. Just checking. So, it has no memory chip, or…?”

“No…”

“I see. Hidden costs and all that. You know…”

“It’s a fine mirror. It’s our best mirror.”

“But it’s just a mirror. Why so expensive? I mean…”

“I can show you another, if you wish.”

I want that mirror!’ Bargaining had never been in Selma’s skillset. “Oh hell…”

She paid for the mirror. The clerk assisted in loading it into her backseat. It was a squeeze, but together, they made it fit. Once secured, she thanked him and offered him a five dollar tip. He looked at the bill as if it had materialized from thin air.

“What’s this?”

“A tip.”

“I don’t think so.” They looked at each other. He offered her the money back but she wouldn’t take it. Neither knew what to do. “Tell you what, let me help you unload this clunky thing.”

“You mean you’d come to my apartment?”

“Or… I didn’t mean to be… Uhm, hi, I’m Hugo.” He offered his hand to shake. “I’m offering to help with the mirror. You know, like… it’s my job?”

Selma noticed her simmering paranoia… in a good way. But decided her anxiety was unnecessary. ‘How many serial killers work as clerks in mirror stores?

“What? Right now? You’d do that?”

He smiled. “That’s what I do.”

“Okay. Sure. That would be a big help.”

Hugo walked into the store and came out holding the store van’s keys.

“I’ll follow you.”

Selma drove home. Hugo brought a dolly so hauling it into the apartment was a breeze. He apologized for not offering to deliver it before they’d put it in her car.

After minor rearrangement of her bedroom, he placed it so she could see herself in full.

He nodded. “So, that’s it?”

Selma sighed. “That’s perfect. Thank you. Now will you accept my tip?”

“I guess I have to.” They laughed. “But let me ask you… May I use it to buy you a coffee?”

Selma balked but tried to cover. “I don’t know. Is that…?”

“That’s okay. Took a chance… But it’s just coffee.” She hesitated. “Honestly, how many serial killers do you think clerk in mirror stores?”

“Can you answer that?”

“Anecdotally, I would have to say – none.”

Selma laughed. “Tomorrow? After work?”

“You want to meet someplace?”

“Sure. The place on the corner, near your store.” Selma went there often.

He nodded. “See you there. 5:15?”

Hugo left.

‘This will be fun… I think…’

She stood before her new mirror. Smiling, she made a little wave. The reflection responded as all mirrors do, but nothing more. She made a thumbs up which reflected back exactly.

“Damn…” She fell back onto the bed. “Really, Sel, what did you expect? No bells. No whistles. It’s a freakin’ mirror!”

Streetlights brightening the dusky streets shone onto her ceiling. Selma forced herself up. She made a simple dinner and went to bed early.

The next morning, she prepared for work. The mirror stood where Hugo placed it. Selma hated it. She wanted to cover it with a sheet or drag it out to the street.

‘What a waste. I have a giant mirror. Whoopie-doo!’

About to leave, she glanced at her reflection and stopped. Frowning, the reflection shook its head.

Selma said, “What? Now? I’m running late.”

With an expression saying, ‘Suit yourself,’ the reflection made the tiniest shrug. Selma changed her jacket. The mirror did not respond. She brushed her hair back. The reflection barely nodded. Frustrated, Selma bit a nail. The reflection stared and seemed to lean forward.

“What…? Lipstick? You’re kidding, right?”

The reflection seemed to sigh at the obvious.

In her closet, Selma rummaged in a storage box for makeup. Any makeup. She found an old lipstick and applied it sparingly.

The reflection smiled. It nodded, as if to say, “Yes, and…?”

Selma stopped resisting. She lined her eyes and applied the faintest blush. It had been a long time.

The reflection smiled the sweetest Mona Lisa smile.

‘Like riding a bicycle…’

Work felt like a different place. Men and women greeted her and asked Selma’s opinions on various issues, some work related.

‘You mean to tell me that a dab of lip gloss makes all the difference? Can you say ‘superficial’?’

Selma felt unreal. That she wasn’t being herself. Despite her doubts about the new persona, she touched up her makeup before meeting Hugo. ‘The mirror wants me to.’

She stood in the doorway of ‘In Beans We Trust’ a block from her work. A multitude of people staring at laptops made her think she stayed at work.

Hugo waved her over. They smiled as she sat.

“Hi! You look great.”

“Just a little lip gloss.”

“I don’t mean that. You looked great yesterday too.”

‘What? I did?’

“Oh, well… thanks. You look nice too.”

Hugo looked around. “Look, I know this is unconventional. Yes, it’s only coffee, but I never thought someone like you would meet someone like me.”

“Meaning?”

“Well, I’m just a store clerk. You’re some executive type.”

“Earth to Hugo. A little secret? I’m actually just a person. Hardly an executive. A better dressed drone, perhaps. No one even knows me.”

“Their loss… What would you like?”

“Keep it simple. A cappuccino.”

Hugo went to the counter. He came back smiling as he placed the cups on the table.

He sat and raised his coffee. “Cheers…”

Selma matched his gesture and sipped. It smelled good. She dabbed foam from her mouth.

A moment became two when neither knew what to say next.

Hugo chuckled. She raised her brow.

“I remembered when you came into the store yesterday.”

“Yes?”

“Some things you said… You have a rare quality. Not everyone can laugh at themselves.”

“You think?”

“Yeah… Some of your questions… ‘Does it plug in? Does it have a memory?’ My boss couldn’t figure you out. I loved it.”

This caught her completely off guard. “To be honest, uhm, I felt out of my depth.” He smiled. “But you’re right. I hadn’t thought of that. It is funny.”

She looked at him over her cup. ‘He knows me better than I know myself.’

She put her cup down and leaned in. “It’s a skill I’ve gained from a lifetime spent looking in mirrors.”

November 23, 2023 23:20

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8 comments

Roger Scypion
07:30 Dec 05, 2023

Witty and well written.

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John K Adams
14:48 Dec 05, 2023

Thank you, Roger. Those are among my favorite words.

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Michał Przywara
21:35 Dec 01, 2023

Very enjoyable, and funny too :) Selma has a great self-deprecating voice, even if her loneliness is quite crushing. But a lot of people hide behind humour, don't they? “She knew that if she fell over in a forest, no one would hear her.” :) “Or dismissed as a figment of imagination. Dismissed? ‘Am I dismissing myself?’” :) It has a happy ending. Perhaps the mirror finally showed her what was there, instead of what she thought was there, and it opened a door for her. And then Hugo saw her for herself too. (Also, the tip scene is great!)...

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John K Adams
17:13 Dec 02, 2023

Michal, thank you for reading and commenting. I'm always glad to see my efforts resonate with readers.

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Chris Pye
10:46 Dec 01, 2023

I liked your story, John, very much, especially the way your protagonist's sort-of-existential crisis at the beginning quietly morphs into the simple story. I was left guessing as to the 'mechanism', was it real, was she hallucinating etc. The dialogue was well done too. The one thing I found difficult was actually visualising both her and Hugo. There's a lot of inner world but I wanted to see them as physical people more, a bit more description. For example, 'The clerk assisted in loading it into her backseat'; then not too long after he'...

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John K Adams
15:02 Dec 01, 2023

Chris, Thanks for reading and for your comments. You make some good points. I'll see what I can do to address them.

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Mary Bendickson
03:16 Nov 24, 2023

Finally feeling reflected.

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John K Adams
05:35 Nov 24, 2023

Thanks, Mary!

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