My phone buzzed. A text from Eric flashed on the screen, come on, please? my treat. Royal House is the best restaurant in the city. Four stars, or, maybe five stars. How many stars can a restaurant get? It has the max number of stars.
I smiled sadly. Then I sighed and typed back, I’d love to, but you know I can’t.
A moment later, Eric shot me an annoyed emoji, :/, followed by, We can ask for plastic cutlery when we’re there.
No. That’s fucking embarrassing.
They’ll have like 1000 reflective surfaces there, Eric, I texted furiously. Plates, wine glasses, food trays. Thank you for understanding. We can go anywhere else though.
I looked up. The handyman was standing in the hallway, waving me down. I followed him to my bathroom, but stopped at the threshold of the door, staring intently at the light spilling underneath the door frame. A chorus of birds chirped outside, welcoming the morning light.
“Wanna walk me through this job once more?”
“No, thank you.”
He furrowed his brow but didn’t press me. “Uh… okay. Well, here’s the deal,” he cleared his throat of phlegm, “The mirror’s built directly into the wall. Ain’t as simple as takin’ down a painting, y’know?”
“And what’d you say was wrong with it, exactly? Ain’t like mirrors can stop workin’ right, ‘less they’re broken.”
“No, it’s not… I mean, it works fine. I’m just trying to do some, well, rearranging.”
He stared at me, eyebrow cocked, squinting with his good eye. “Rearranging?”
“And that requires you to take down your bathroom mirror?”
“Mhm. Yep. Definitely”
Unmoved by my answers, but realizing he wouldn’t get much more, the handyman replied gruffly, “Well, we can schedule another appointment an’ I can take it down for ya, but it ain’t gonna be cheap an’ I’d need written permission from the owner of the building.”
“Permission? No, no, no, no. He wouldn’t mind, I mean he might, but I always pay rent on-time and he said I can rearrange as much as I’d like…” I gulped nervously, hands wavering.
“This ain’t rearranging, ma’am. This is remodeling. We’d have to do serious, noisy work in your bathroom. Once you take down somethin’ this size you can’t just put ‘er right back up.”
I bowed my head in defeat.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I really am. But I don’t see how we can get this done without goin’ through the proper channels, y’know?”
“A’ight,” he replied with a fake smile. “Well, you got my number if the landlord says we can get started, okay?”
I nodded again, barely holding back tears. He gently pushed his way past me, tipping his brimmed hat. Before leaving my apartment, he stopped abruptly, bag in hand, and glanced at my TV, which had a dusty rug tossed overtop.
“Can I just ask what it is about mirrors that scares you so much? Don’t mean to-“
“Thanks for coming by,” I responded curtly, shutting the door and cutting him off. I heard him mumble ‘psycho,’ under his breath, then stomp down the hallway. I slumped up against the door and slid to the floor, grabbing fistfulls of my hair.
They always asked why. They always had to know. If they did know, they would have wished they’d never asked.
My phone buzzed angrily against the tiled counter. Grabbing it almost immediately, I saw three messages from Eric.
Ugh, fine. Maybe we can do something outside
Would that work?
You there? Why aren’t you responding? 🙁
As I read through the last text, one more popped up, Talk to me, Anna. I’m really worried about you.
I numbly replied, my finger barely grazing the screen, Sorry, I was talking to the maintenance guy. I’m okay.
No, I’m not, I thought, a wave of melancholy washing over me.
Hoping to change the subject and turn the page, I quickly followed up with a more upbeat text, Movie in the park is tonight. Wanna do that?
He gave the message a thumbs up, and I did the same to his response, Meet there at 7?
I responded in the affirmative.
Plopping onto the couch with a bowl of cereal, I opened up my laptop, and typed in ‘DIY bathroom mirror removal.’ There was a YouTube video matching that, so I clicked on it, and leaned back with my breakfast.
As the video loaded, the screen began to glitch, and then, it went dark. For the briefest of moments, in the darkness of the computer screen, I locked eyes with my reflection.
“FUCK!” I screamed loud enough for my neighbors to hear.
I panicked, spilling half my bowl onto my pajamas as I slammed the screen down. Milk missed the laptop by an inch, but the couch cushions weren’t as lucky. I didn’t even bother cleaning it up, breathing heavily with my eyes closed.
Hello. Miss me?
No. Nope. You’re fine, I thought to myself, You didn’t hear that and you barely saw anything.
I regained my bearings, slowed my breathing, and searched for the cause of the dead computer. It didn’t take long to solve that case — the charger wasn’t plugged in. Pushing the charger into an outlet, I forced myself to think of something else, anything else, while I cleaned up the milk and cereal.
You didn’t see it. Baseball. Baseball cards.
You kind of did though, didn’t you?
Baseball diamonds, baseball bats.
You definitely did.
World series. Who won last year? Yankees? Probably. Don’t they always win?
You saw your face and it’s fucking ugly.
Yankees. Babe Ruth. Babe Ruth bars. Candy bars.
Snickers, Milky Way. The Milky Way. Galaxies. Andromeda.
You ugly fucking bitch.
I never watched that show. Or Battlestar Galactica.
You know you saw me. You know you saw that zit.
I wonder if they’re any good? Sci-Fi shows probably don’t have the best budget. Star Trek was a big deal though.
Eric saw that zit and didn’t say anything. He doesn’t actually love you.
Star Trek. Star Wars. Yoda. Speaking backwards, I always thought that was funny.
Eric hates you. He mocks you. He fucks other women.
Luke Skywalker. Skies. Big beautiful blue skies.
Probably Beth, or Melissa. He always thought they were cuter than you, because they are. He doesn’t love you.
Beautiful skies, sun-drenched wild flowers.
Thoughts raced through my head at lightning speed, a toxic conversation between me, myself, and I. Before I even knew what was happening, I had my laptop back open; I couldn’t resist. I looked deeply at my reflection again, staring into twitching pupils.
There was a zit. Huge. Ugly. Pulsating. Then the device booted back up, and the image was gone in a flash.
I felt my face but couldn’t feel anything there. No blemish. No zit.
It’s there, said the voice in my head. You’re lying to yourself, Anna, but I won’t lie to you. It’s there.
I paced in front of the darkened bathroom for almost thirty minutes before I worked up the courage to walk inside, and I stood in front of the mirror for even longer before turning the lights on. As I was bathed in light, I caught another glimpse of my horrid reflection. I gasped and buried my face in my hands, the tears already welling in my eyes
Look at me.
No. No! I don’t look like that. I can’t.
I peeked cautiously between my fingers. There it was. Left cheek.
How had I not seen it before? How long had I been walking around like that? I cursed my name under my breath, disgusted by my ignorance and appearance.
I felt my face. Something that big, that… infected looking… it’d have to hurt, right? But I felt nothing. My face was smooth.
Don’t trust your mind. Trust me.
I walked up to the mirror, leaned in closely. The pimple was red, bright red; like an insect bite, but far worse. Festering. Moving. Utterly disgusting.
I ran to the kitchen, grabbed some lemon juice, applied it to a cotton swab, holding it to my face as I failed to distract myself with some trashy TV. When I returned to the bathroom, and I looked in the mirror, my knees buckled
The zit looked… bigger, somehow.
What? How? My heart was racing, sweat pouring down my forehead.
I roughly squeezed the skin of my cheek, unleashing a torrent of puss and blood. It was painful, burning like it was on fire.
You diseased bitch. Look at you. You think Eric wants to see you like this?
The faucet had been turned, and all my imperfections came flooding out.
And what’s that? A unibrow? You take pride in looking like shit, don’t you?
I felt the space between my eyebrows, it felt smooth, but the reflection didn’t lie. I felt an incredible urge to pluck every misplaced hair, not later, but right away.
See? I show you who you really are.
I blinked away tears and scrambled through my drawers, tossing floss, tampons, cotton swabs and bandages to the floor — but I couldn’t find any tweezers.
I screamed until I was hoarse and stumbled back to my room, the walls of which were bare, a safezone with no mirrors and the curtains always drawn closed. I fumbled around in my drawers, tossing pens, notebooks, and pills onto the rug. After a little bit, I yanked my old diaries from underneath an even older textbook, covered in dust.
I grabbed the tweezers and ran back into the bathroom. But I stopped cold, again, before I even started plucking.
Yes, your nose has always been that crooked. Bent. Hooked. Like a witch.
I pushed my nose against the glass, moved the tip up, down and around.
Want to know why you never noticed? Because you’re as stupid as you are ugly. And without me you’d have never known.
Tears streamed down my face, staining my shirt with salty droplets. Mascara steak my cheeks, I looked disheveled as I felt dumb.
The TV was on, but I was too distracted by my phone to pay it any attention.
Rhinoplasty Options. Prices. Local doctors. Free consulting. Did I really want to get a nose job from a place that offers free consulting? Could I afford not to? I meandered from one thought to the next.
On the TV, swimsuit models pranced, the ‘afters’ who’d supposedly lost hundreds of pounds using diet supplements. A sculpted man, a solid wall of muscle, flashed on the screen next, grinning with perfectly white teeth.
God, they’re beautiful. Look at them. Chiseled. Happy. Perfect.
I looked down. I didn’t look fat, but…
Come back to me. I’ll show you who you are.
I turned sideways in front of the mirror, examining my side profile. It was a miracle my shirt didn’t burst open, belly fat begging to burst through the seams.
You cow. You fat, fucking cow.
I looked down. My shirt was baggy. My stomach was flat when I ran my hand down it.
No. Don’t go there. Don’t you dare. This is how you got fat in the first place. You trick yourself into thinking you’re not. Then you go for another drink, a second slice, another piece of candy from the bowl. Look at you.
My reflection showed the truth, freeing me from the deception of my own sight. I’d gained at least forty or fifty pounds. Maybe more. I teared up.
You knew you shouldn’t have had the ice cream last week. But you did it anyway. You fat bitch.
I shut the lights off, stared at my obese silhouette in the dark, and sobbed silently.
Ambling into the kitchen, I cut a single piece of celery into four parts, and ate one. When I finished puking it up, I tossed the rest and glanced at the fridge.
I grabbed trash bags from beneath the sink, opened the fridge, got on my knees, and scoured the shelves. I picked up a block of cheese, turned it over in my hand.
Trash it. Shredded, cheddar, that old swiss. All of it. Probably moldy anyway.
I tossed it all into a bag. Disposing of it for good.
Milk? What do you need milk for? Coffee, cereal? They’ll make you even fatter.
Into the bag it went.
Apples? Fruit is fattening they say, too much sugar. Stick with veggies. Maybe not even that.
I tossed my apples, the half-empty bag of grapes, the avocados. After a moment’s hesitation, I tossed the carrots too. Trash. Trash.
I blinked back another tear.
Creamer? Ditch it. Orange juice? Pathetic. Out. Leftover take-out. Amazed you didn’t eat it all at once. Gone.
I tossed every fattening, disgusting thing in that fridge until it was empty.
I threw them open, trash bag in hand.
Spaghetti? Do you enjoy buying new and bigger pants every month? Trash it. Eating makes you fat. Soup too. Out.
I scrolled through old photos in bed.
They’re all perfect. Beth. Melissa. Addie. Becca. But not you. Look how ugly you look. Hooked nose. Unibrow. Yellow, crooked teeth. That big, fat gut. That’s why you’re off to the side. They didn’t want you there at all, but they’re too nice to say anything.
I commented on one of my old Facebook photos: ‘delete this please.’ A moment later, Beth wrote back, ‘what? Why? You ok?’
No. I was not.
She would’ve known that if she cared at all. Good memories of Beth were soured, poisoned by my jealousy, which quickly evolved into hate.
When I didn’t respond to her comment, I got a message from her a moment later, Hey, are you sure you’re ok? We miss you.
Liar. Liar! Why would anyone miss you?
I alone tell the truth.
I typed out and deleted three or four different responses before giving up. A moment later, my phone buzzed. I wiped my tears, then checked it. It was Eric, of course.
Uh, wow. That sucks. I was really looking forward to seeing you tonight. You sure?
I didn’t bother to respond; I just rolled over and wept until I fell asleep.
If they can’t tell you the truth, are they really your friends? Be alone with me, here in the deep…
The knife dug deeper. The wound bled freely. Just like the other cuts and scrapes that covered my face and arms.
You deserve the pain. Dig harder.
I did as I was told. But in the mirror, the zit, now one of dozens, went nowhere.
I ran my hand over my face, smearing blood. I still couldn’t feel any pimples, but I could feel the cuts, and see them too.
You hideous, worthless whore. You’ve made it worse. Have you ever done anything else?
Foundation. Concealer. Lots and lots of that. Lipstick, mascara, eyeshadow, primer, powder.
I’d used up a year’s supply in less than a week. Layers and layers of makeup covered my face, but still, it did nothing.
The zits were still clearly visible. The Unibrow? Too big and ugly to conceal, and completely resistant to shaving or plucking. Then there were all the things makeup coudln’t fix, my nose, teeth, or greasy and knotted hair.
I kept applying more makeup, smearing it all over my face. Layers of it crusting over, peeling in patches when it dried.
More. More! Never enough.
Just like you.
I tossed another empty pen on top of ripped out photos of myself, sprawled across my bedroom floor. I uncapped another ballpoint, scribbling over a yearbook photo already smeared with the world ‘ugly’ and an arrow pointing to my face.
You’ve always been this hideous. Unworthy!
I tossed the photo into the trash, it floated listlessly on top of bloodied tissues.
Not enough. Stomp on it.
Rip it. It represents you. It is you. Tear it!
I ripped the photo, over and over, until the biggest piece was hardly a centimeter wide. Screaming. Teeth grit. Crying with rage and vicious hatred. I kicked the pile of torn photos, smacking my toe against something solid, painted jolted up my leg.
Foot throbbing, I plopped into the bed and noticed my old diary in the middle of all the chaos.. I opened it and flipped through, fastidiously reviewing each page. There were sketched, scribbled notes, lists of cute boys, and more. Pages in the history of my life, leading all the way through my teen years.
Shut that. Focus.
In one drawing, a dark figure floated in a mirror, watching me with hateful eyes. I had no memory of the drawing, but somehow, it initiated a flood of nostalgia.
Listen to me and stop looking at that! You fat whore.
Ignoring the increasingly aggressive orders, I kept reading.
‘The mirror is a deceiver, be careful,’ read a poorly written entry.
I said stop, do you hear me?!?!?
‘It’s not you,’ a younger me had scrawled in permanent marker, ‘It’s something else. Something evil.’
Can I be evil if I speak the truth? I won’t say this again, put the book down!
‘It lies, but you don’t have to listen’ another entry was written in bubble letters, glitter lazily glued below.
No! The mirror doesn’t lie. I don’t lie. Your friends do. You do, to yourself. You’re reading lies now.
‘Remember. Please remember! It isn’t you!’ I could see the desperation in my own writing, but, I had no recollection of it.
Anne, you and I are one and the same. Come back to me and see the truth revealed, don’t allow yourself to be fooled by that nonsense.
Shut up. I hadn’t said a word, but it was the loudest thing I’d ever said.
What did you say to me?
I said shut up. I beat you before, didn’t I? I’m starting to remember now.
Beat me? You could never beat me, A distorted laugh swirled around my head.
I flipped to another page in the diary.
‘No mirrors, no monster,’ I’d written, over and over. ‘No mirrors, no monster. No mirrors, no monster…’
A flood of memories came to me, years of covering and breaking mirrors and avoiding all reflective surfaces. I’d done it for so long it had become second nature, an instinct almost, but somehow during all those years, I’d forgotten the genesis of that embarrassing idiosyncrasy.
Do you remember now? You never beat me, you ran from me — from the truth. Coward! You run from me because you know I speak the ugly truths you can’t handle!
You are mine. MINE!
“STOP IT!” I screamed out loud this time, hollering like a wild animal.
No mirrors, no monster. No mirrors no monster. No mirrors, no monster. I was repeating the phrase adnasuem in my head, playing it over and over like bad elevator music.
With a new found resolve, I marched into the living room and hurled my laptop into the TV. Both shattered upon impact, sending thick shards of glass falling to the floor.
Missed me. A taunting voice echoed softly.
I grabbed a screwdriver from the drawer and began to unscrew a brass doorknob. In it, my reflection distorted and transformed, becoming something dark and sinister. This reflection mocked me, sticking out its tongue and contorting is face into unnatural positions.
Keeping myself focused on the task at hand, I managed to remove the doorknob, allowing it to clatter to the floor. As it fell, the door creaked open.
Taking a deep breath, I rose to my feet, grabbed a book, strode confidently into the bathroom, and hit the lights.
My reflection, this demonic imposter, mocked me, continuing to distort into all manner of wicked things. Then, it morphed back into a copy of me, covered in puss-filled zits. It began to apply heavy make-up to its — my — face, and I felt a powerful urge to do the same — but I resisted. Suddenly, it began popping the zits one by one, and it took everything in my power not to follow its lead.
Lifting the book I’d grabbed from my room, I made sure its entirety was captured in the reflection. My reflection ceased its taunts, instead, staring me down with hateful eyes. All of my insecurities looked back at me, radiating with an awful hue.
What… are you?
Do it, it mouthed, words reverberating in my brain.
I screamed and hurled the book into the glass, chipping it slightly. I picked the book up and did it again, and this time, cracks like spiderwebs spilled across the glass; the imposter grinned. The shattered glass only heightened its devilish appearance, sharp teeth revealing themselves behind pursed lips.
With frightening speed, my reflection threw itself forward and pounded its fists on the other side of the glass, mocking my attempts to break it. I stumbled back, startled. Then it barked at me like a dog, drool splattering all over its face.
I shut my eyes and whispered, “No mirrors, no monster. No mirrors, no monster. No mirrors, no monster…”
Finding my strength once again, I hurled the book at the mirror, the spine colliding against the glass with an impactul thud. The mirror splintered, cracked, then shattered into a million shards.
I’m still here, A sing-songy voice cackled in delight.
I collapsed, weeping uncontrollably. All my resolve and determination evaporating like puddles on a sweltering summer day,
You are mine.
Stop it. Please.
Why are you still here? I broke you.
I broke YOU.
“Hello?” Eric’s voice cut through the confusion. I perked up and opened my mouth to speak, to call out, but I couldn’t. I looked down at a broken shard of glass, the imposter was covering my mouth tightly.
Eric let out a yelp, stumbling across the smashed electronics and bags of trash strewn across the kitchen. “Oh, my God,” he shouted, “Anna? Anna!” In a panicked state, I could hear him frantically searching for me.
Look at me, the imposter whispered menacingly. You want him to see you like this?
Hand trembling, I picked up the shard of glass. My distorted reflection stared back, a vicious and mutated mockery of my image. Sporting a toothy smile, it pretended to slash its wrists, laughing as it did.
I felt cold and dead inside, utterly without hope. An overwhelming sense of dread latched onto my soul, draining it of any fight left.
Do it! Pay for your worthlessness in blood, It mimed another slash across my left wrist.
I wanted to obey. I had to.
“Anna!” Eric barged into the bathroom room. “What are you doing?!?!”
I didn’t even realize it, but I’d already extended my wrist outwards.
Remember to whom it is you belong. Obey. Obey!
I raised the shard to my wrist. Pressed the tip of the glass into my skin until it drew blood…
I deserve this. In that moment, that’s all I could think
Do it. End it. End me. Silence me. Silence us both.
I shut my eyes. It was all I wanted.
Erica was shaking me, his caress bringing me out of my stupor. It was like I was sleepwalking, and suddenly jolted awake.
“Oh, my God,” Eric cried, “Your mom told me to check in on you. Oh, my God. Oh, God.”
He didn’t ask about the mess, or the shard at my wrist, or my cuts and scrapes and bruises. He just got down on his knees, hugged me gently, and lovingly kissed my forehead.
I dropped the glass from my shaking hands, letting it clank against the tiled bathroom floor.
Don’t stop, keep going! Focus!
“I thought you were dead,” Eric said with immense relief in his voice, but for some reason, that relief surprised me. He leaned back, looked at the mess. Looked at me. “Let’s get you cleaned up, okay? Come on.”
I didn’t want to move. I just hugged him and cried.
“Hey,” he said. “It’s okay. You’re okay. C’mere.”
He started crying too, just a bit.
No, never again!
You unworthy bitch. Slut! His love isn’t real, it’s fake and hollow.
No, you are.
How dare you defy me. You hear me? Whore! Harlot… worth… less…
Eric squeezed me tighter, and I returned his love in spades.
A buzzing sound echoed for a moment, and then silence.
My phone buzzed. It was Eric. I picked it up.
“Hey, you ready?”
“Yeah, yeah, sorry. Doing makeup, I’ll be right out.”
“Okay. I’m outside! Gotta get Becca in fifteen.”
“I know, I’m coming! Love you!”
“Love you too.”
I hung up and resumed applying my makeup, normal amounts of it, in the recently fixed bathroom mirror, hanging sturdily on the wall
Look at me.
I’m busy. I have to do my makeup.
Look. At. Me. I’m you.
No. You’re not.
On the other side of the mirror, the imposter stuck out its tongue, pulled at its face, and pretend to commit suicide. It had become depressingly desperate, I couldn’t help but chuckle.
I capped my lipstick, blew a kiss, and winked at my reflection “Damn, I look good,”
The imposter’s howls of anger followed me out the front door, dissipating into silence as I hopped into Eric’s car, driving together into the awaiting night.