This is a short story of almost 1900 words. It is fictional.
Margot had made it back to her tiny flat with less stress than was usual for her. Walking from home to the shop avoiding every reflective surface was not as easy as you might think. Shop windows, bus and car windscreens, even the polished plastic on some hoardings, any of these could supply a sufficient reflection. She didn’t hear the sniggering, or see the smirks about her dishevelled appearance. Decades without the use of a mirror meant that any vanity about her looks had ceased to concern her. She placed the ready meal in the microwave, the glass door of which was obscured by the tape she had applied when she first arrived. When the sound of a bell indicated that her dinner was ready, she put the hot container on a tray, picked up a fork, and carried it through to her chair.
She had been sixteen years old, the first time. Trying on a coat in the town’s only department store, she was admiring the fit in the full-length mirror. Her first ever wage packet was in her bag, and she had resolved to spend some of it on herself, before handing over most of the rest to her mum. The man had appeared in the mirror standing close behind her, smartly-dressed, with a flower in the lapel of his suit. He smiled, and Margot smiled back. “Looks great”, he said, “I would take it, it suits you.”
She thought he must work there. He looked about forty, and his clean-shaven face was appealing, in an older man kind of way.”I don’t know”, she replied, turning to face him.
But he wasn’t there. The space behind her was empty.
When she turned back to face the mirror, he was there again, still smiling. “Just pick up your bag, and walk out the front”, he suggested. “Nobody will notice.” Inclining his head in the direction of the entrance, he whispered, “Go on- now.” Margot picked up her bag as instructed and walked casually through the shop, and out onto the street. She felt no fear, no apprehension. She was happy.
She made it to the corner before the female store detective caught up with her. Grabbing her arm roughly, the severe woman barked, “Hold on there young lady, you haven’t paid for that.” Margot twisted her body, catching sight of her reflection in the window of a wool shop. He was next to her in the window. He adjusted his tie, then said, “Kick her, kick her hard.” She kicked out at the woman’s shins, taking her by surprise. As the grip was released, she heard him say, “Now run.” Back at home, she went quickly to her room, hanging the coat up in her wardrobe. When mum got home, there were loud voices outside. Her mum was soon at her bedroom door. “Come downstairs, Margot, the police want to talk to you”. Mum looked resigned, and made no protest when the store detective identified her, or when the two policemen took her away to the car. She had been recognised easily. It was a small town, and many people knew Margot. When she got to the police station, dad was there. He went with her into the small room, his face a picture of rage, unable to even look at his daughter.
The two policemen came in, and asked her to tell them in her words what had happened. On the wall behind them, a large mirror took up half of the space, and Margot could see the backs of their heads reflected in it, as well as her own face, and her dad’s. Just behind her was the smiling man. He was tidying his shirt cuffs, lining the shiny cufflinks up against the crisp white cotton. He lowered his head, whispering right into her ear, “Pick up the pen, and stab him with it. ” It was no longer a suggestion, more like a command. Margot snatched up the ballpoint from the desk in front of her. She was fast, too fast for the surprised policemen, or her dad. She drove the cheap ballpoint into the neck of the nearest man, and she even had time to withdraw it, and to stab again, before his partner and her dad overpowered her.
Nobody believed her story of course. “What man, what mirror?” They looked at each other, and looked back at her, sitting in handcuffs in the court, during her hearing. The judge ruled that she was not fit to be sent for trial, and committed her to an asylum instead. Mum and dad washed their hands of her. Not their fault what had happened, they had always done their best with her, after all. The doctors were kind at first. They brought mirrors, and made her look into them. “You see” they insisted, “There’s nobody there but us two.” But he was there, smiling, occasionally winking, sometimes putting a finger to his lips. “Shush”, he would say, “Not time yet.” They tried her with tablets, group sessions, and aversion therapy. This last treatment involved sitting for hours in front of a large mirror, as the man gazed back at her. She was supposed to deny his presence, but she refused, adamant that she could still see him. When she turned eighteen, she was moved into the adult wing, and life got a whole lot harder. Stronger medicine, poured down a tube into her throat if she refused to take it. More denials brought a series of electric shock therapies that almost drove her out of her mind. Very soon, she was in a daze much of the time, shuffling around the corridors, sleeping most of the day.
Then a new attendant came to work there. She was a tough-looking woman, and wore a white dress. She seemed to like the young girl a lot, and was kind to her. She brought chocolate to the room, and didn’t turn around the plastic mirror, like the others did, leaving the reflective side to the wall, as requested. One afternoon, Margot asked what her name was. “You can call me Nurse, girly, that’s it” was the curt reply. The next morning, the nurse came into the room again, before breakfast. “I can make life good for you here. All you have to do is be nice to me.” As she spoke, she stroked Margot’s hair, letting her hand slide down to the girl’s breasts. ” I will come and see you tomorrow night, so make sure that you’re friendly.” She licked her lips as she said this, and then walked out, without looking back. Margot stared at the wall. She would need help to deal with this situation, she was certain of that.
The next night, after lock-up, her trembling hands reached up to the mirror above the small sink. She turned it around, and immediately saw the familiar face beside her own. He spoke quickly, going over everything in minute detail, making her repeat it over and over, until she didn’t forget anything. When they key turned in the lock, Margot was standing by the bed, wearing nothing but her cotton pants. The nurse came in, locked the door behind her, and smiled. “You are keen, girly” she mumbled with satisfaction. “Don’t worry, I will make sure that you enjoy this as much as I’m going to.” The older woman sat on the bed, removing the soft white shoes she wore, before leaning forward to start unbuttoning her starched dress. Margot reached behind the solitary chair, where her own dress was rolled into a tight length. She grabbed the ends, and wrapped the dress around the nurse’s neck. Leaping onto the bed, she placed a knee into the woman’s back, and heaved with all her might, supporting herself against the wall. There was little noise, no fuss. It was surprisingly easy. When she was sure that the nurse was no longer moving, she allowed herself a glance across at the mirror. He raised a thumb, then blew a kiss.
After that incident, Margot’s life descended into a living hell. The committal was extended indefinitely, and she endured a series of beatings from the angry staff, and more electric shocks. Days and months lost all meaning, and eventually, years passed by almost unnoticed. After the first ten years, they brought her in front of a panel of people in an office. They asked her to admit that there was nobody else in the mirror. She refused. Ten years later, another meeting; different people, but the same question. She gave them the same refusal. By the time the next panel was due, Margot was almost fifty years old. Her hair was grey, and they forced her to have it cut short. She could hardly recall a time before the hospital, and the drugs were taking their toll, both mentally, and physically. When they took her into the office and showed her the mirror, she blinked hard, and agreed this time that it was only her in the reflection. He smiled back at her, and winked.
They let her out on parole, assigned her a care worker, and gave her some money to live on. The tiny apartment was in the city. She hadn’t wanted to go back to her small town, and the memories of the sixteen years there. Being out was as bad as being in. Too many people, too much traffic, and too much noise. And mirrors everywhere, or reflective glass. He watched her walk around the avenues, followed her along side streets and into shops. Always suggesting, sometimes hinting, occasionally insisting. She told the care worker that she was fine, that she didn’t see anyone except herself in any reflections. She had become a good liar, during thirty-four years of incarceration. The three weeks had seemed like three years to Margot. Freedom was a word that she had never really understood. It didn’t apply to her, that was certain.
She left half of the tasteless meal, and walked into the bathroom. The twelve by twelve mirror had been covered by a towel since she moved in, and now she reached up to remove it. He would know what to do. He would tell her what must be done. There he was, still smiling, looking as nice as he ever had. She stared straight into his eyes and he began to speak, his tone kind, and relaxing.
The bath was hotter than she would normally run, but she slipped into the water easily enough, propping the mirror on the stool placed nearby. She took the small knife from the ledge behind the taps. It was the sharp one, used for peeling vegetables, or fruit. He had told her to be sure to cut upwards, from the wrists to the elbows, not across. The long cuts were surprisingly painless. He had said that the very hot water would help, and it had. The blood flowed steadily, and soon turned the water pink, then a darker red. Margot was drowsy now, and she couldn’t feel any sensation in her legs.
With half-closed eyes, she looked across at the mirror. Just her.
He had finally gone.