The first time she noticed, it was purely accidental. A quick glance while reaching for a towel on the nearby rack. The pleasant burn from the Listerine lingered in her newly minty mouth when her gaze flickered to the mirror. It was subtle, really. Well almost. And she could blame the second-guessing on her lack of eyewear, but the layout of the apartment (all 900 square feet of it) was so familiar to her feet and hands it seemed silly to waste valuable morning time doing the obnoxious search for her glasses (damn things had a habit of getting tangled in the sheets).
It was certainly the most plausible explanation for the sight that could only be described as…blurry. The outline of her body, big and brown, clothed in sleep shorts and a threadbare t-shirt from her college days that had seen countless wash cycles. Gripping the old porcelain sink, she leaned forward, inching closer to the mirror, feeling her eyes cross in a way that would surely bring on a headache later that afternoon. Feeling sufficiently foolish, she backed away, her scoff morphing into yawns as tired feet skimmed across the tile towards the open door and her unfortunately action-packed day.
The blur was forgotten, as she fell into her regular daily routine. As regular as one could be, given the changes. A new job, a newly acquired ex, and several boxes of said ex’s junk collecting an absurd amount of dust in her main hallway. The Great Purge was her idea, one that seemed brilliant after excessive enthusiasm by her closest friends and three pitchers of strong as hell margaritas during their last hangout. Out with the old, in with the new, laughter stretching her lips as she toasted with her crew to a chorus of ‘Alone at last!’. Moving on was easier said than done with tequila-soaked courage and a pep squad at her back. But in the quiet of her new normal, ‘okay’ proved to be a challenge.
The apartment (their apartment), she got to keep, though she was sure that was less about graciousness than the fact that the old place was small and a total thorn in the side of the building’s resident super. Something about ‘charm’ always screamed ‘loud pipes and cold creaky floors’, but it was hers and she liked the idea of a space that no longer felt stifling. No body and nobody to return to, to argue with, to second guess life-altering decisions and half-assed proposals. She could pretend to feign indifference at the lone ‘R. Brooks’, scribbled hastily on the mailbox nameplate. Rose Brooks, the single pringle of 7B. Diva of dolo dance parties, Mistress of solo kitchen efforts and the fridge full of leftovers that would undoubtedly find their future home in the garbage in two weeks’ time, because cooking for one was a challenge she could never properly master.
It was startling, just how easy it was to slide into a different kind of lonely. Less with the sad, and more like a resignation. A quiet kind of solitude which bordered on unnerving, deceptive with its promise of peace but left just enough room for her mind to run rampant, to fully overthink and force her to fill in gaps. Her days were occupied but late nights were less so, feeling rudderless with no discernible direction in the reality of her new reality.
In the spirit of making a conscious effort not to hide away in the confines of her solo space, the business of the blur was pushed to the back of her mind in favor of new projects and mindless busywork. But three mornings and a miraculously speedy search and recovery of her wayward glasses later, her attention was drawn to the bathroom mirror and the curious sight before her.
The blur, once again. This time, not as subtle. Slipping the frames from her face, Rose cleaned the lenses with a stray bit of toilet paper, polishing until they’re liable to break. Leaning closer, she pushed the glasses back and gazed into the mirror at a reflection that seemed distinctively dimmed. As if someone adjusted the opacity ever so slightly.
Her gaze remained on her reflected face as an errant hand waved blindly for the nearby light switch, flicking it off and casting the bathroom in darkness. She waited for a five-breath count before turning them back on, light flooding the small space. Blinking at the sudden brightness, it takes longer for her eyes to adjust but there was no mistaking the truth in the mirror; the face peering back was most certainly dim. Dimmer.
She studied the furrowed knit of dark brows, the confusion plain on pretty features and instinctive even as her hand cupped her own cheek, transfixed on the face that stared back and the eyes following the path of lithe brown fingers, skating the softened angle of a clenched jawline to rest against her wide mouth. The wave of relief, a welcome change to the earlier panic that settled in the pit of her stomach; the firmness of her skin contrasts with the weirdness in the mirror she is absolutely willing to pass off as a trick of the light.
Saturday came with cleaning day duties, and the sounds of her morning playlist followed Rose into the bathroom as she scrubbed at the tile and tossed out old products. Saving the mirror for last, and she found it impossible not to glance, covering the surface in glass cleaner while wary eyes struggled not to linger. But the clarity of the reflection called to her, the change imperceptibly different. As if the switch had budged on the dimmer a few places more.
Backing away from the bathroom, Rose retreated to the kitchen, eyes falling to her purse on the gleaming kitchen counter. There was a slight shake in her hands, noticeable and enough to be annoying when she pushed open the leather bag, searching for her trusty makeup compact. A soft curse slipped out when she opened the case, watching bits of the crumbled foundation fall to the once clean quartz counter, speckling it with brown.
The compact’s mirror was slightly chipped around the edges, and she wiped at the surface with the hem of her worn t-shirt, eyes narrowing on the reflection peering back at her. Perfectly clear.
Rose returned to the bathroom, footsteps heavy against the old wood, buoyed by lingering annoyance and the trepidation at the marked difference between the purse compact and the picture painted by the old mirror.
A very pronounced fade. More so than the last time she’d checked, only ten minutes ago. It felt silly, her eyes darting from the chipped compact to the old mirror, trying to gauge the differences and doing nothing but stoking the panic that had upgraded from a flicker to a full-fledged fire. Edging out of the bathroom, she inhaled slowly, pushing out a deep breath, letting her heart rate ease into something a little less fearsome. Cleaning could wait. What she really wanted was fresh air.
By Monday evening, and an even dimmer mirrored face, Rose was willing to scour the internet. It’s not a situation easily explained in a message board, and by the second hour and countless search engine combinations, she was short on answers, coffee, and patience. Most of the information was irrelevant or redundant, and she was willing to take her chances on seven years of bad luck for smashing the obviously malfunctioned mirror.
Nearly a week after the first glimpsing, her reflection was waning—faster now—leaving her puzzled and more than a little terrified. An attempt to remove the mirror resulted in an unsightly cut and a begrudging respect for old-school craftsmanship. An uneasy feeling churned in her stomach at the sight of blood, red and vibrant against the edge of the mirror she’d attempted to pry off the wall. In a wild moment of late-night desperation, she was tempted to call her ex, if only to inquire about the mirror. She was certain the old piece was an impulse buy from one of their many trips traipsing through the local thrift stores, but the rest of the details escape her memory.
“You look different,” remarked her best friend, noting the anxiousness in brown eyes and the smile that was barely a twist of full lips as they caught up over video chat. The casual tone carried enough concern for Rose to bite back her irritation. She knows what she looks like (even if features are fading right before her eyes), and ‘different’ was being kind in the way only best friends could be. No matter how badly she wanted to bring the phone to the bathroom to get a second opinion on what she’s absolutely convinced is no longer a trick of the light, the wildly unexplainable of it all halted her steps. Instead, she breezed past the obvious invitation for honesty, instead blaming it on new makeup. Best to keep the conversation moving.
Though, the camera wasn’t a bad idea. The next morning, she grabbed her phone along with her glasses and a clean cloth. The mirror gets a thorough wipe down as do her lenses. Her grip is knuckle-clenching tight when she holds up the phone to the mirror and hits front-facing mode. There’s even less of her today than there was yesterday. A distinctive fading. Her eyes are drawn to her hand, nothing but bandage interrupting the smooth expanse of earthy brown skin and the mirrored image of it all, practically see-through.
With a sharp cry she flees the bathroom, finding shelter in her bed, and promptly ignoring everything else for the rest of the day. As far as plans go, it’s a good one. Wiling away hours and avoiding phone calls and her own increasing fear. With the sky shifting into dusk it was harder to avoid the call of her bladder. Hesitant footsteps make the familiar trek down the darkened hallway to the bathroom. It’s quiet, save for the occasional creak of wood and the muted groan of old pipes but Rose forgoes turning on the lights, wanting to avoid the sight that’s caused her so much stress for the last two weeks.
The flush of the toilet and the rush of water at the sink was enough to mask the other noise, so quiet she would have missed it completely had it not been for the subtle shift of the shower curtain. Rose silenced the pipe, and the stolen glance at the mirror is purely instinct, feeling her heart rate quicken at the sight that greets her once trembling fingers find the light switch.
The sharp gasp tumbled from her slack mouth, bouncing off the tile in a pitiful echo and wide brown eyes stare in disbelief. Raised arms wave frantically, cutting through her gasping breaths and the space that should be filled with her face and body. It should be frightening; it is frightening. Shaking hands drop, finding her heart racing under questing fingers and looking down Rose can see her body is still there, can touch all over but it’s the there and the lack of a reflection which spikes the terror. Nothing to see, no body and nobody, just the background of the shower behind her faded form.
And the fluttering curtain.
Easy to miss, but the sound of the slide is not. Plastic hooks easing against the metal rod, pulling back slowly, guided by a hand, brown and bandaged.
Much like her own.
Her eyes fall to the mirror, unable to look away at the nothing and…something happening behind her, transfixed to the spot when the curtain pulls back completely, revealing a self…
Faded made flesh, sporting her clothes: glasses, shorts, and the worn college t-shirt with a reversed logo. The chill creeping up her spine gave way to a full-on arctic frost of fear when she turned, meeting the other’s curious gaze and lips that stretched into a grim, feral smile.
“Well then. Alone at last.”
Are you a writer? We’re looking for short stories and personal essays to feature on our digital and print platforms. Click HERE to find out how.