A man stood in front of the bathroom mirror.
That morning he had retrieved the mirror from a pile of discarded items on the nature strip for the local council clean up. He had used it to replace the broken mirror that had annoyed him for months. He had fastened it to the door frame on the vanity cabinet. It was plain, a basic chipboard slab with a sheet mirror glued to its surface.
Story of my life. Tomorrow I am seventy, and I can’t even afford to buy a new vanity cabinet. My life is too full of regrets. I should have said yes when that beautiful brunette invited me to supper at her house all those years ago. Had I bought that property when I was young, it’d be worth a fortune now. I should have invested. So many people my age are much better off than I. They travel, they have boats, they have families that look after them. My hair has gone, my gut is large and my cheeks sag. I wish I did what I should have done.
Feeling glum, he lifted the razor to begin his daily shave.
But the image in the mirror did not copy him.
The main blinked. He thought, Maybe I just mis-saw, so he put his arm down again, and then raised it. But the image did not copy him. Maybe the mirror is dirty, he thought, and although he had cleaned it when he installed it, he cleaned it again.
He raised his hand again, and still the image didn’t move. He drew close to the mirror but the image stayed where he was. He frowned. The image smiled, and waved a hello wave.
The man stepped back in astonishment. He opened the cupboard door on which the mirror was hung. There was his toothbrush, toothpaste and sundry other items, as always. He closed the cupboard door. The image made a funny face.
The man chuckled, and made a funny face back. The image poked out his tongue with a smile. The man did the same. The image crossed his eyes. The man crossed his. It hurt a bit. The image shook his head. The man copied him. The image laughed, although no sound came out. The man realised he was copying the image, rather than the other way around. So he laughed too.
The image rubbed his chin, then winked at the man. The man did the same, but realised his skin was smooth. It’s like I have just shaved, he thought, but I know I haven’t. The shaving cream was still sitting on the left of the vanity basin, ready to be used.
The image ran his hand over his balding head. The man lifted his hand to his scalp and to his surprise his fingers ran through a thick head of hair. The man opened the cupboard door and studied the mirror he had picked off the street. But it was ordinary, bland even, a cheap and dispensable item of mass production. Landfill, when it was made and after.
But when he looked back in the mirror, the image smiled back at him, bald, unshaven, sallow cheeked. The image nodded in approval, and then raised his eyebrows as if to say “Shall we continue?” The man nodded.
The image closed his eyes, breathed in and flexed his aging biceps. The man thought Oh, yeah, and promptly popped a pair of guns that would have been the envy of any weightlifter. He felt them admiringly. I’ve never had such good muscles, he thought.
The image lifted his singlet to reveal its paunch. The man felt beneath his and sighed over his six pack. The image nodded as if to say, “I know, right?” The man grinned back, in slight disbelief, but relishing his new, youthful, appearance.
Then the image indicated the man should draw close to the mirror. He did, and so did the image. The image took deep breath (copied by the man) and then indicated the man should close his eyes, so he did.
There was a rushing of wind in his ears. He felt his heart flutter, and his breath flew from him. He felt a heat fire within him. Perspiration tripped on his brow. He felt clammy, and goose bumps spread on his arms. He became anxious, and his breath came in fits, and his limbs felt heavy.
He heard a banging on the glass. When he opened his eyes he saw the image standing in the mirror, its arms outstretched like a magician at the grand reveal. It had a full head of hair, smooth shaven cheeks, a rugged jawline. The image flexed his arms and produced a ball of solid muscle.
The man felt his hair. It was gone again, and whiskers spiked his hand as he rubbed his cheeks. He knew what he would feel when he touched his arms and belly. He glared at the image.
The image shrugged, as if to say, “What can you expect?” Then it threw its head back and cackled silently. It then turned back to the man, shot him with grinning finger guns, and waved goodbye. Then it turned and slowly away from the mirror. The man watched the image become smaller and smaller until it vanished, a man disappearing on the horizon, like tears dissolving on glass.
The man leaned on the basin, his head slumped between his shoulders. I must have been dreaming, he thought, I’m such a loser.
But then he sensed something was wrong. The cupboard door hinge is on the wrong side, he thought. The soap is on the opposite side of the basin. Hot and cold are reversed. I had my shaving cream on the left, and now it’s on the right. He looked closer. His razor had also swapped sides, as had the portion of bathroom window visible within the mirror. That scar on his right shoulder was now on his left. He reached for the soap with his left hand, even though he was right handed. This is not my bathroom, he thought.
He banged the mirror. In it, his image – his exact image with unshaven sagging cheeks and sparse hair – banged back. He flung his face close to it and met his likeness eyeball to eyeball in the glass. They both stepped back. They both slapped the basin.
“What have you done?” he said. His image mouthed the same in a voiceless echo. “Where am I?”
A woman’s voice called,
“Are you alright, Darling?”
He opened the bathroom door which should have been on his left. An older woman stood before him in a flowing robe. She had elegant dark hair that was beginning to grey, but her features were crisp with life and love. In her youth she would have been stunning, now in her maturity she was grand and magnificent.
“Do you need something?” she said.
“I … I’m fine, said the man, as he struggled to take it all in. ‘I just … bumped the mirror a bit when I tried to wipe off a bit of shaving cream.’
‘Well you be careful, Darling. You know what happened when the cabinet maker dropped it when we had the bathroom redone last year.’
The man smiled. ‘True. That was unfortunate.’
“Okay,” said his wife. “Don’t be too long. The kids will be here soon with the grandchildren. We want our Captain well-groomed for the launch of his birthday boat.” She kissed him lightly on the cheek, and then ran her hand down it tenderly, staring into his eyes. “Lovely old grandad, my lovely husband,” she said, and then added, “And don’t forget sunscreen, we want you to maintain your no sun cancer record.”