A really old short. 2004 maybe? There’s a kernel of a good story here, and a few nice moments — but damn this thing is overwritten. Just shut up, younger me, and let the story tell itself.
I tapped at the mirror lightly, and found it solid. I ran my fingers along its edges, decades of dust collecting on the pads of my fingers. They became chalky, and I quickly came to dislike the tactile feel of it. I rubbed my soiled fingers together and the sensation was like a sound running through my bones. A twitch shocked its stilting way up through my spine, and I shuddered. I wiped my fingers on my jeans and tapped at the mirror again, finally finding a loose shard of glass. I pried one end up with my fingernail and pulled it free. A small image of me shined and shifted across it. I narrowed my eyes, trying to spot any differences. There was nothing – a mole under the left eye, a wrinkle across the brow, a few days worth of stubble, a scar – wait, there. The scar. In the mirror, the end beneath my chin forked outward, forming a very faint cross. I pulled the Polaroid from my back pocket and held it next to the mirror. The images of my face – one static, one fluid – were nearly identical but for the scar. The picture scar turned only on one end, hooking off to the left. The mirror scar split into miniature crossroads, mere millimeters across. Satisfied that the shard held a difference, I set it down at my left foot and took a picture. The camera was old, dusty itself. It whirred and clacked like an ancient steamwork machine, the faint rumble of engineering feeling solid and important in my hands. The new Polaroid ejected, filmed white, and picked out the image slowly, finely, sewing up details in threads of color. When it finished, I set it at my right foot, and the older Polaroid I had used for comparison between them. I lined them up carefully, and focused on the crossroads of the scar.
“I see it. I’ve found it. The scar is different; the mirror shows forks at its end where there are none. There. There’s no point to it now, I know you’re there. Come on out, we need to talk.”
I focused intently on the mirror, and waited through the long silence. Dust mites drifted through slashes of sunlight; I could hear them fall. The mirror image focused back, did not falter.
“Here, knock it off, alright?” I said, growing impatient “you know the rules, I’ve found you. Out.”
The mirror self knit its eyebrows in worry, and reluctantly began to climb outwards. His hands grew larger in the reflection, caught its edges, and began hauling his body upwards towards my viewpoint. Something happened with perspective, the dimensions tilted nauseatingly as he worked his way through. A feeling like vertigo gripped me, and I felt the rising surges of a panic attack. I let it go, counted to ten, took a breath. And then he stood before me, the same in every way; the strain of fighting his vertigo showing on his face as clearly as I’m sure it did mine. When we recovered, he spoke first.
“How did you know?”
“Well,” I replied, pulling cigarettes from my pocket, “you’re not exactly the first.”
“How did you ever know?” He seemed tense.
“Vanity. Got a bad haircut in fifth grade, kept looking in the mirror. Obsessing. I memorized every hair of it in anticipation of the shame of showing up to class. I was passing a broken mirror in mom’s hallway when I noticed the part was a full inch lower. I took a picture to make sure, held them together, wondered out loud what the hell was going on and there you go; I found myself popping out of a mirror and asking me just what it was I wanted. Thought I was crazy. Spent two years in a hospital.”
“Jesus…how many have you found?” He asked, eyeballing my pack.
“Want one?” I put the cigarette up to my mouth, held one up for him.
“I…well, I quit actually. A few years back…”
“Huh. I never could get it to stick. Still,” I gestured the open pack towards him, “if there was ever a time…”
He took one from the pack and held it between his lips. I noticed it trembling. As I lit our smokes, I caught a strange sense of déjà vu. Somewhere I had seen this before, this lighting of my own cigarette in a long forgotten storage locker, this striping of shadow and light, this dust falling like distant snow through the lazy nebulas of afternoon sunlight.
“Déjà vu,” we both muttered.
He looked shocked for a moment, before we put it together. Somewhere, right now, another pair of us were doing this same thing. Only with minor differences, of course. His hands shook as he smoked.
“You avoided the question,” he insisted.
“Right you are. How many have I found, was it? Honestly, I don’t even know any more. I did it over and over again after the hospital, just to make sure I wasn’t crazy. Tried showing the doctor, once. You know how that went.”
“God. The blurring.”
“Yeah, anyway, dozens probably. I had a lot of regrets, to start with. Now I’m just fucking bored.”
“Boredom? You would do this out of boredom?” He was smoking furiously now, his pacing carving little rivers of bare floor through the dusty landscapes.
“Boredom can get big. It can get mean. I thought I had it good here, but everything was too ordinary. It’s a good life though: Syl is still with me, I have a decent enough job writing copy for pharmaceutical ads, no kids, beach house, all good stuff. It just doesn’t feel like the one, though. Something is missing here, something I haven’t had yet.”
“Syl…she’s still with you in this life? Is she, uh…is she okay?” I had piqued his interest apparently.
“She’s gone in yours? She was in my original life, too. That doesn’t happen a lot, maybe four or five times out of all the ones I’ve been through. She left?” I exhaled a cloud of smoke through the fog of dust, it swirled symbols in the air.
“No. Dead. Cancer. Took years. God, it took fucking years. Another?” He gestured towards my pocket, and dutifully I offered another cigarette.
“That’s a first,” I said. “Not exactly promising. She’s still with me in this one, very much alive. We’re pretty happy, all told. At least she is, and I keep her that way. So you get something out of this too, see. It’s not all bad.”
“You’d still go, knowing she’s dead in mine? Why?”
“The fuck would I care, honestly? She’s not really my Syl, you know. Mine left. Fucking a doctor in Virginia last I heard. You can have her again, if you want.”
“I don’t think you’d like my life,” I lit his cigarette, and he continued mapping pathways across the floor.
“Then I’ll leave again. So what? I’d like to see for myself. I’ve been in this one six months now, sent this poor bastard to a place where he lost a hand in a rodeo, of all things,” we both laughed, imagining ourselves in rodeos, “I skipped as soon as I found out, myself. I imagine he had to explain how he suddenly grew a new fucking hand back to a few folks there,” the laughter died out, and we smoked in silence for a few minutes.
“Could I leave, too, do you think? If I don’t like it. I didn’t know anything about this stuff until you pulled me off the mirror, then it all just sort of came to me. Do you think I could do it too, now that I know?”
“No, you only know because I know. Once I leave, you’d have to find out for yourself all over again. Speaking of…” I shrugged towards the mirror and the self-photographs, lying absently on the floor like a shrine to narcissism, “I really should get going.”
“So…will I like it here? All of these decisions I never made, I mean…they’re not me, will I know it’s not me? I…Christ this is all a bit much…” he flicked his cigarette into the dark, where it smoldered, burned the dust.
“This one seemed happy enough before I came. You’ll find yourself slotting into everything like you’ve always been here just as soon as I go. These will be your decisions. This will be your life, not just something that could have been,” I stepped towards the mirror, gathering up my photographs and camera.
“And she loves me, here? And she’s…God, she’s healthy?”
“Yeah. It’s all rather homey actually, after the shit you went through I think you’ll do just fine. You’ll probably feel some kind of uplifting as your old life sloughs off onto me, and if it’s anything like when I came here first, you’ll get a whole new sense of gratitude for the things you have. That should be it. I have to be off now. Best to do it quick. Forgive me, but saying goodbye to yourself for the fiftieth time just doesn’t have the same impact as the first,” I raised a hand towards him in farewell, and headed towards the mirror. I reached to slot the shard back into place, and stopped. I turned and threw him the cigarettes. Leave the poor bastard something to remember me by, anyway. He smiled a little, and I snapped the broken shard back into the mirror again.
I must have been spacing out. I shook my head to snap out of it, and looked around the storage locker. What had I come down here for? I thought for a minute, but nothing came to me. I locked the gates behind me and headed back up the stairs. Syl would be home before me tonight, and I found myself suddenly missing her. Things were going so good lately, I don’t know, it’s all just so perfect. I feel like I’ve walked across broken glass to get here, all of a sudden, but heading home to her now seems like the best thing in the world.
Where the hell did I get these cigarettes?