The Thing that is Reflected is What We Want to See
The Thing that is Reflected is What We Want to See
Meredith didn’t hear the sound until Kit followed Tom, Jay, and Magdalena out of the room. She was the last one left in the room when she heard it. At first, she thought it was just the wind. When she looked over her shoulder she couldn’t figure out where the breeze would have come from. There were enormous windows on all sides of the room, blue light crept through the thick panes of glass. The windows were fasted shut. The frames were so heavy there was no way a hurricane could blow through.
Then she heard it again. It was less like the wind this time. It sounded like something else, but she was sure just what it was.
The third time she heard it she didn’t think she wanted to know what the sound was.
When she turned back around she realized that her friends were fading into the shadow of the grand hall escaping the room they were in. The hallway was broad and absent of windows, so the farther they walked the more the darkness consumed them.
Meredith knew this was the moment to leave the room. She knew they would disappear into the darkness if she didn’t start walking right this minute.
Then the sound came again. It was not the wind at all.
It was a whisper.
She could hear someone calling her name from the far corner of the room.
“Meredith…” was what she heard. It still had the vague sound like when she was standing outside her house at night and she could hear the tall grass in the dunes brushing against each other.
“Meredith…” The very sound of her name brushed over her shoulder and moved her hair across her neck.
She flew around on her heels, gaping into the darkness. She scanned the room from one side to the other. Nothing had changed from how it was only moments before when the four of them were in the room. The decapitated head of the mannequin watched her from the shadow.
Meredith could feel her pulse in her fingertips.
When she turned again to look down the great hall her friends had vanished. She was alone on the threshold of the room.
“It’s okay. I just want to talk to you…”
She knew she shouldn’t answer. Nobody answers a voice in an empty room.
“You can come closer…”
Come closer to what, she almost said, but bit her lip instead. Her back was ridged. Her legs wobbled. But she bit hard on her lip because the alternative would be to speak, and if she spoke the voice would be real. She didn’t know what would happen if she accepted that the voice was real. Do speak to it, she told herself.
“You’re very pretty.”
She didn’t see it before. The entire time the four of them were in the room, she didn’t see it. But it was right there. It was standing against the wall in the back corner of the room. It was enormous. The blue light slanting through the window landed on the glass of the mirror. The frame was mahogany with gilded leafing on the edges. Swirling gold that formed angel wings.
“You should see yourself…”
She took a step back. She took a step away from the room. She let her footfall into the hallway.
She knew she could run. If she ran, she could catch up to her friends. They were out there in the dark and shadow of the great hall. She couldn’t see them, but she was convinced they were still there.
“You have never seen yourself like this…”
Her second foot paused. Her second foot was in the process of stepping out of the room. She was almost out. She was almost gone. She was almost entirely into the hallway.
“You should see for yourself. You should see how beautiful you are. I know it’s hard to see sometimes, but you should take a look. It’s not how you think.
The blue light from the window turned the mirror to silver. It shone in the gloom of the room. She wanted to see what it looked like.
People told her she was beautiful all the time. Everybody told her she was beautiful.
“You want to see…”
She let her footfall back into the room. Her other foot lifted off the ground as though under the power of something beyond her control.
“You should see what they see…”
At the other end of the hall, she heard Magdalena laughing.
“Don’t worry. They’ll still be there.”
She wasn’t sure if she said the words inside her head or out loud. Did she imagine they would stay? Did she imagine they would wait for her? Perhaps she was convincing herself?
Her foot moved again.
Then the other one.
“You really ought to see yourself…”
She stepped over the mannequin's head as she closed in on the shadowy corner of the room. The mannequin watched her pass with its flat, empty eyes. The lips on the face were parted but there was nothing inside but more plastic.
She passed the camera and the lights mounted as though to shoot her as she carefully approached the silver mirror glinting in the moonshine.
She didn’t understand what she was looking at when she reached the enormous, framed piece of glass. She was nowhere to be found. The room beyond her was reflected in the silver but she couldn’t find herself.
“It takes a minute to adjust…”
She wanted to ask what had happened to her, but she knew there was no one there to speak to.
The voice she was listening to didn’t matter. It was still an empty room and she knew it was better not to speak to an empty room.
“It is up to you to decide…”
The questions were posed to get her to speak, she knew that now. Something was tempting her. Whatever was speaking wanted her to talk back. It wanted her to acknowledge what it was saying. She refused. She would not allow the words that raced around inside her head to leave her mouth. It was too dangerous. It was too dangerous to speak to things that were there. She knew better than to speak to the darkness, the emptiness, the shadows that dance in the corner of rooms. She knew once you started those kinds of conversation you didn’t come back. They welcomed you into the darkness and then you found yourself alone and you didn’t come back.
She had been staring into the mirror but she didn’t see what was right in front of her.
It was her.
But it was somehow different from what she remembered looking at in any mirror before.
She had thought about herself as beautiful before. She had been told she was beautiful before. And she had looked at herself in the mirror and thought she saw what other people saw. She thought she understood what people told her they saw when she looked in the mirror.
But this was different.
Her face was covered in a kind of translucent plastic. It was as though she was looking at herself through a piece of clear plastic that was just thick enough it obscured the features of her face. She looked dull. She could see that something beautiful was on the other side of the plastic, but it was hard to focus. It was hard to make out the contours the way she remembered them from when she looked at the mirror in her bedroom.
“Don’t you see…?”
She opened her mouth for an instant, and then closed it just as quickly.
Don’t answer, she warned herself.
She bit down on her lip until she tasted the salty blood leak through the crevices between her teeth.
“You are even more beautiful. You can see it can’t you. Beyond the mask… You can see it, can’t you?”
Don’t say anything. Don’t say it out loud.
“You want to be the beautiful person you know you are…”
She wanted to say that she had always wanted to be beautiful. Her mother was the one who told her it was unseamly to admit you were beautiful. That was for other people to tell her. Her mother said other people would always be there to tell her she was beautiful.
“Don’t you want to see…”
She didn’t like looking at herself like that. She didn’t like the way the plastic covering distorted her face.
She touched her face with her hands. She felt her jaw. She ran a finger along her nose. She touched the smooth cleft of her chin.
“It’s under there…”
She brought her other hand up to her face. She traced the sockets of her eyes. She felt her forehead.
She couldn’t find herself in the mirror. She could only see the crudest lines at the edges of her face.
“Don’t be afraid… It’s okay…”
She pressed into her cheeks with the tips of her finger. She rubbed her temples. Her long fingernails gouged the clumsy plastic that encased her face.
She could see herself in the mirror as she sliced the coating that sealed off her fine features. She pierced the casing with all five fingernails and dragged them down in long lines until it began to peel away.
For the first time, she could see herself more clearly. She didn’t know how other people saw her, but she knew this was not how she saw herself before.
She dug her fingers deeper into the thick substance and ripped it away. It was almost like a rubbery cocoon that she could tear away from her face. She reached in deeper the next time and pulled more away.
The material stuck to her fingers like goop. She shook her hands to get it off.
Then she grabbed another clump with her fingers. Some of it was gathering under her nails.
Then she heard her name again…
It wasn’t the same voice.
She didn’t recognize the voice right away.
She kept ripping layers of translucent plastic from her face.
“Where’d you go Meredith?”
It was a man’s voice. A young man. Not a boy. But not a man, either.
She continued to tear at the covering of her face. She was beginning to find what was hiding underneath and she couldn’t stop herself. She wanted to know what was under the covering. She wanted to discover what her face looked like unobscured.
She thought perhaps this was the first time she had ever seen her real face. Could this be what she really looked like all along? Was this what she couldn’t see?
“Oh my god, Meredith,”Jay screamed.
Meredith turned away from the mirror to face the boy she hardly knew.
“Oh my god.”
“Isn’t it beautiful?” Meredith asked.
Jay grabbed her wrists. He needed to stop her. He didn’t know what else to do. He knew it was too late, but he felt a sudden urge to do something, anything.
“Don’t touch me,” Meredith said as she struggled against Jay’s grasp.
“What are you doing, Meredith?”
“It’s so beautiful under there. Can’t you see? Don’t you see how beautiful I am?”
Jay’s face was twisted with fear. He couldn’t find an answer to her question. His mouth dried up and he couldn’t form any words. What he was staring at was too horrible to contend with.
“What’s wrong, Jay, aren’t I beautiful?”
Jay caught a glimpse in the mirror that towered over him. He didn’t understand what it was that he saw in the mirror at first. He had to look again. When he turned to look into the mirror nothing made sense any more.
She was beautiful. She was more beautiful even then when he was standing beside her on the beach with the summer sun igniting her hair and her eyes flashing with joy watching her friend soar across the waves. Even on the beach he thought he could fall in love with her. But now, standing before the mirror, holding her wrists with all his might, he realized she was even more beautiful. It was almost as though he was seeing her true essence for the first time.
“Don’t you see?”
Jay didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know how to answer. He was afraid to turn back and look at her. He didn’t want to take his eyes away from the mirror. Because he knew the girl standing beside him wasn’t the same girl he was looking at in the mirror.
“Meredith...” he whispered because that was all he could get out of his mouth at the instant.
He wanted to climb inside the mirror and join the girl standing there.
“What is it?” Jay said.
“Jay,” Meredith said, in a thin voice, as though she had wandered into a tunnel, and her voice was drifting away from him. “I don’t feel so well, Jay.”
He kept his eyes focused on the mirror. He wanted to see her that way even as in his heart he knew that wasn’t how she appeared.
“There is something wrong with me, Jay.”
“I know,” he said. “I know.”
“I feel light headed.”
He knew he should call for help. He knew she needed help. But the longer he looked into the mirror the harder it was to look away.
His hands felt slippery with her blood that was dripping down her wrists the longer he held them. The sensation of the blood on her hands reminded him that what he saw in the mirror wasn’t true. Her face wasn’t the same face he was looking at in the glass.
He understood that the image of her face in that state would haunt his dreams until he died. The terrible condition of her face was too much to handle, so he fought the need to turn away from the image in the mirror and help the poor girl.
How could he help her in time? There was no electricity in the house, even if there was a phone, how could they call anyone? It had taken them an hour to descend the cliffside and scale the stone wall leading into the castle. He didn’t know how to get out of the castle. How would he get her to a hospital in time. She was already feeling weak. She would bleed to death before they ever made it back outside.
“My head, Jay. My head doesn’t feel okay…”
He released his grasp on her wrists. Instead, he gently held them as a way of comforting her.
“I don’t understand what’s happening.”
When he turned again to face her he thought he might vomit. Blood dripped out of her eye sockets. The blue light streaming through the window shone on the exposed bone where she had torn the flesh away from her cheeks and jaw. She did not look like a person anymore. The tendons and tissue that held the muscles of her face together were exposed. He could see the mechanics of her face at work when she opened and closed what was left of her mouth.
“I think I need to sit down…”
Meredith collapsed to her knees. Jay attempted to reach out and catch her, but she fell before his reflexes kicked in.
He turned to the mirror again.
He didn’t understand what was happening. He didn’t know how to reconcile the reflection he found in the mirror with the deformed, blood-drenched face of the woman on her hands and knees.
She was so beautiful in the mirror. He had never seen anything like the face he watched in the glass.
When he turned back to Meredith bend-over on the floor, he watched the blood drain from the gaping holes in her face onto the smooth marble floor.
“What is this?” Meredith asked.
She traced her finger in the pool of blood forming beneath her. She cupped her hand and caught the stream of red goo that dripped out of her face.
“I don’t know what this is, Jay?”
He didn’t know how to answer. He knew any answer he put into words was too terrible to confess. How could he explain to her that she was bleeding to death before his eyes? How had this happened? How had she torn her own face off and never felt it?
“I wanted to see what I looked like…” She said. Her voice diminished even as the syllables left her mouth. Jay could still hear her but her voice was so light it nearly vanished the instant it left her mouth.
Jay looked into the mirror one more time. He studied her perfect profile in the glass. Her skin was smooth with the smallest dusting of freckles just only her cheekbone. Her nose was straight with a fragile flair of nostril. Her lips were plump and red. Her faint, blonde lashes curled at the tips. Her cornsilk hair fell in smooth coils across her shoulders like barley being blown by a summer breeze.
She began coughing on the blood that she swallowed. There was so much blood escaping the open sores on her face she began aspirating on it.
“I think I taste blood, Jay,” she said. “My mouth is full of blood.”
He didn’t say anything for a moment. He kept looking at the girl in the mirror.
“Help me, Jay.”
“I want to…”
“What do you mean?”
He could barely hear her any more.
She collapsed onto the floor. Her ruined face splashed in the pool of blood.
“Where are my friend…?” She whispered.
She had fallen so her face could see the reflection of herself in the mirror.
“Who is that?” She asked.
Even as she died, she understood that she couldn’t be the girl staring back at her from the mirror.
Jay cried: “Help! Somebody help me!”