Chapter 4

I get out of the shower, and there it is. My nemesis. That hateful thing. It holds court over the entire bathroom and watches my every move.

Hazel eyes, dark brown hair, thick and short, like a bear’s hide. Pale and speckless cheeks stretched over sad, thin bones. Clean-shaven, smooth skin, not yet dried and hammered by the sun. The once powerful rage of acne has retreated to a few blackheads and scattered pimples stubbornly resisting the dryness of age, on spotted, ghostly shoulders. Progress? Do I look older and wiser? Too soon to tell. Part man, yet still part boy. When will I ever grow up?

He stares back at me. Silent. Resentful.  The mirror is a politician; a lying stranger hired to serve a need—but never does. The mirror has an agenda, hidden behind its silvery curtain, lurking just below the surface, smiling, barely controlling its own laughter. But all I see is what it wants me to see. What it thinks I want to see. What I think I really see.

It serves a secret twisted purpose—the mirror. I’ve learned to hate it, resent its fake smile, it’s mocking eyes. I vow one day to get a new one, but I never do. They are all false confessors anyway, and they weave lies with the truth so cleverly, so artistically, it can be impossible to separate one from the other. Such is the tapestry of life. Believe it all or nothing; what choice is there?

In school they teach that life is binary. Black & white, on and off, good or bad. But in the real world there are many shades of grey, yet somewhere inside the depth of shaded space is an invisible line that once crossed–changes everything. Truth can be bent until it becomes a lie.  Good things can be used for bad ends, and the good gets beaten out of it. Somewhere from good to bad, a line is crossed and binary seems to be the law. Hot to cold, up to down, black to white, hero to criminal. The mirror is where binary meets the infinite palate of life.  Like or don’t like, hot or not, friend or un-friend. Polite society is in perpetual contradiction with it’s Law and Order court systems where guilt is always obvious, set against it’s Siskel and Ebert movie reviews, where everyone gets to choose one side, or the other, and be right no matter which side you’re on.

When I was a kid, the lies didn’t seem so obvious. Of course when I was young, the mirrors didn’t lie either. They revealed the youth I wished were older, the ugly I wished were cute, the skinny I wished were strong, the pitted I wished were smooth, the spotted I wished were not.

Mirrors tell the truth too much and earn a hard reputation. You begin to trust its brutal honesty, agree with its unfair accusations, and then one day you look different. The thing that stares back at you pretends to be you, but you know it’s not. The man you wanted to be is not there, just some impostor pretending to be you—the person you always knew deep down inside you would become.

He is neither rich, nor easy to look at. His body is not swathed in iron and dipped in bronze. There is no crown upon his head, or vengeful sword by his side. His eyes do not shine with the courage of a thousand vanquished fears.

I remember the ugly scrawny little kid I used to be, but the mirror won’t indulge me. My youth is almost gone except for the last fading spots on my nose, or maybe those are lies too, and in its place is this. . .  loveless thing. Don’t look too long and get trapped in its lies. Hypnotized. Changed. Look away. Never stare into the Hydra. Never admit the link. The secret. The truth.

Mirrors are at least kinder than photographs. Pictures suck the fantasy right out of life.

Oh, crap, what time is it?

Dark brown pants, dark brown vest, dull yellow “Shift Leader” name tag. A gold “1” year pin, dark brown tie, dark brown socks; I’m a pauper, not a knight.

The promises made long ago, the ones where they say you can be anything you want are like a rainbows; you see one, you know it’s there, but the more you walk towards it, the more it laughs and says, I am here, come closer, you are not far. But you never arrive, and the rainbow bids you come, like a beautiful dream. I am neither young nor old. I am in the valley in-between. The pit. Purgatory, just like Shane said.

Time to brush my teeth. Careful, don’t get any white specks on the mirror; break it’s spell, provoke it’s wrath. Put the toothbrush down and comb my hair forward. Time to go, can’t be late. Dark peppermint for breakfast again.

God I hate working mornings.  What is it about mirrors these days? The more I begin to look like a man, the less I like it. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? I seem to be stuck right in the middle of a morph, the part where you change from one thing into another, but right smack dab in the middle. I wonder if there’s a word for that. I should look it up. Maybe use it in my next poem or story.

I take a peek out the window and get more bad news. An early rain is misting down. Summer is ending so soon? Didn’t they used to be longer?

I gotta get going.

In the closet by the door I see an umbrella and a clear plastic poncho. First rain—a sprinkle really, but it could get worse; grab them both. The large white box on the floor, the one that holds all the shameful things; it always. . . it’s like every time I see it. . . I hate that we keep it. I hate she hangs on to something so bitter, so humiliating. She needs to move on.  I wonder if she’d miss it, if it were just gone one day.

Mike J Quinn About Mike J Quinn
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