A MAN IN THE MIRROR
That woman in the owl-eye glasses leads a life of secrecy and ritual. In the morning before she leaves for work, and in the evening before she goes to sleep, she always spends two hours staring into the mirror by her front door: four hours total, each and every day, without fail. For years this has been her habit, though not, as you might suspect, because she loves her own reflection. Her nose roosts too low on her face, for one thing. Her chin is too broad and bony. And her freckles, once her best feature, have gone gray along with her hair. No, when she addresses the mirror, she does so at an angle, gazing not at
herself but past
herself. Some years ago, on her way out the door, she was adjusting the pendant on her necklace when a sudden glassiness of motion caught her eye. At first she mistook it for a flaw in the mirror’s silver. Then the flaw startled her by roping its arms over its head and opening its mouth in a helpless yawn, so recognizably human and yet so obviously immaterial that she knew at once that it—that he
—was a ghost.
Every day since then, as if by appointment, she has watched the ghost’s comings and goings. Only in the small Venetian mirror by the front door does she see him, and even then only occasionally, when his activities happen to intersect with the living room, the hallway, or the outermost edge of her kitchen. Now and then he behaves with what seems to be affection toward what seem to be people, knitting his fingers around as if tying a ribbon in someone’s hair, for instance, or rocking back and forth as if embracing someone from behind. From this she has judged that he has a wife and daughter, though they have never, as he has, taken shape in the silver. Once, nearly a decade ago, upon a rainy April eight a.m., he approached the mirror to inspect his teeth. He was channeling a fingernail between his incisors when he accidentally met her eyes. For a few seconds, as his face did something curious, her knees locked and her toes began to tingle. Her heart seemed to beat at the same lazy pace as the world. She realized she was in love. Ever since then, she has been waiting for it to happen again.
On the first Saturday of each month, the woman in the owl-eye glasses puts on her best silk blouse and her pressed denim skirt and heads out for lunch with her friend the manicurist, who works in a little shop across the street. Last week, over burgers and fries, she almost told her about the ghost. Instead, though, she confessed a different secret altogether: how she fantasizes, and often, about erasing the past fifty years of her life and starting over again, awakening as she used to be, a skinny girl with red hair and freckles, whose decisions had not yet been made, whose rituals had not yet been established, and who could never imagine that fifty years later, in her loneliness and disappointment, she would long to trade her life away. “Are you,” her friend asked in a voice of almost unbearable sympathy, “seeing someone?”
Copyright © 2020 by Kevin Brockmeier. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.