The Face in the Mirror
by John W. Steele
part 1 of 2
Reggie awoke at seven am like every other workday of his life. His existence now seemed like a living nightmare. He lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling for a moment as the tension began to mount inside him. He dreaded his morning shower, because he knew that thing in the mirror would be waiting for him.
Reggie had given up on life and meekly accepted his fate. Elizabeth, his wife of twenty years, left him three years earlier. She pleaded with him for a long time before her departure as she struggled to understand his dark and erratic behavior.
When she could no longer tolerate his mysterious destructive side any longer she gave up, and left him for a copier salesman she’d met at her job. All Reggie had left was Seth, the couple’s only son, who lived out west with his wife Angela and their son Josh.
“Come out on and see us, Dad,” Seth would say. “Josh will be grown up before you know it; he wants to know his grandpa not just some unknown guy who sends expensive gifts.”
Seth’s plea fell on deaf ears. Reggie felt too enslaved by his routines to change. He’d become attached to his habits like a fly on an adhesive strip.
Reggie had advanced as far as he could in his career as a staff accountant. He was quite content to enter his office every day, close the door and juggle numbers. As long as he played the numbers game accurately his career was secure.
In his free time, Reggie found himself glued to a bar stool at the Oasis, drinking and watching sports on the wide-screen. He often felt depressed over his miserable and shallow existence. He knew in five years he’d be retiring. He knew as well when he did retire he’d probably live at the “O”; the premonition frightened him.
Occasionally Reggie would have a crisis. Something deep inside would start to haunt him, like the thought of death waiting patiently at the door. Or he’d struggle with himself in an attempt to understand his hangups. When it got bad enough Reggie would crash to the ground like a tree struck by lightning.
Sometimes he felt as if he were surrounded by demons and he’d go on a bender for a week at a time; sitting for sixteen-hour stretches at the “O,” staring mindlessly into dry martinis. Eventuality he’d enter a fantasy world; where he'd talk to Elizabeth as if she were sitting beside him.
No one at the “O” ever noticed when Reggie went off the deep end: he was never violent, only eccentric. As long as Reggie kept placing twenties on the bar, Max didn’t pay much attention to his irrational behavior. Reggie was only a dollar sign to Max; another barfly in a tavern filled with dreamers.
Reggie had accumulated plenty of sick leave at work, he could get away with his binges now and then. But each time it happened the duration of his insanity became longer and more frightening.
Sitting up on the edge of the bed, Reggie grabbed a Camel and lit it up, trying to brace himself for the inevitable encounter with the mirror. The smoke curled hypnotically between his fingers as his mind wandered back to the first day he saw the face.
He’d just come down from a three-day extravaganza at the “O.” After his shower he wiped the steam from the mirror and there it was. Upon seeing “the face” Reggie yelled out loud and ran dripping from the bathroom. The face terrified him to such an extent that he refused to look in the mirror or shave for a month. Finally his boss demanded that he clean up his act.
He decided the image must have been his imagination. Slowly and cautiously he began to sneak a peek into the mirror, but when he did the face would be there. Eventually he understood the face couldn’t be eliminated.
When the face first appeared he thought he’d lost his mind, but all the other areas of his life remained the same. He made it to work every day and his coworkers ignored him as always. It seemed no one he spoke with noticed any change in him; he concluded that his experience with the face in the mirror did not mean he was crazy.
When he attended his annual physical, Dr. Morel told him to lose ten pounds and quit smoking; otherwise he was fine. Reggie had been Dr. Morel’s patient for almost twenty years. If the good doctor said he was fine, Reggie believed it. So he did not tell the doctor or anyone about the face. He feared if he did he’d be committed to an insane asylum or placed on mind-numbing medication.
Crushing out the cigarette, Reggie stared into the open hallway leading to the bathroom. He knew he couldn’t the go on like this. The face had tormented him long enough. He decided today is the day I’m gonna deal with this thing. Marching into the bathroom he stared directly at the face in the mirror.
The face did not look threatening. It didn’t smile or frown. It appeared as a simple mask-like figure about twelve inches square made of chrome or quicksilver. The face looked cold, stoic, and expressionless. Reggie looked into the eyes of the face. Its eyes were like a deep, empty sky at night. The eyes held nothing and everything.
Staring at the face Reggie felt a surge of anger when he thought how the face had tormented him for so long. He screamed at it, “What do you want?”
For a moment the face didn’t answer, and then in a calm and measured voice it spoke. “Well, I see you’ve finally decided to acknowledge me. That’s the first step.”
Now filled with rage, Reggie’s breath became labored, and his hands trembled. Spinning around he grabbed the wooden scrub brush hanging in the shower. For a moment he thought about smashing the mirror into a million pieces. Holding the scrub brush in his hand like a cudgel he raised his arm and yelled, “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”
The face appeared undaunted, in a smooth calm voice it said, “Settle down, dude. I only exist because you want me to. Put, the, brush, down... dude.”
Feeling a little less threatened, Reggie obeyed. “Are you my conscience?”
The face laughed. “Ha... ha... ha... your conscience? That’s a good one Reg, I’m more than your conscience.”
“Are you some kind of entity?”
The face continued to laugh at him. “Entity? You’re a stitch Reg, did you ever consider doing stand-up?”
The face became more intense and in a stern, austere voice it bellowed. “What do entities have to do with your will or volition? I’m your greatest fear, you idiot. I’m your worst enemy or your best friend. I am the face of your future: insanity!”
“Why are you tormenting me?”
“I am not tormenting you Reg. You’re tormenting yourself.”
“You are tormenting me,” Reggie insisted. “No one I have ever known has ever told me about a face in the mirror that talks to them. I’m the only one I know of that has ever seen you. Why me?”
“Everyone has an enemy, Reg, a face in the mirror. Only, some ignore me. They live their whole lives never knowing who or what their enemy is. Sometimes the enemy kills them because they never see it coming. Prisons and cemeteries are full of people that have wasted their lives; they sensed my presence but refused to acknowledge me.”
The face continued to speak. “I can be a lot of things, Reg, for a lot of different people. Look at yourself and this so-called life you’ve chosen. I’m looking. Ha! ‘Here’s looking at you, kid!’”
“I don’t want you here,” Reggie said. “I want you to go away.”
The face sneered at Reggie. “Go away? I cannot go away, for you are the one that created me. I did not create you.”
Months passed. Reggie tried to reason with or outwit the face in the mirror, but eventually he gave up. The face did not change its message, nor would it go away.
* * *
May arrived. Reggie knew soon it would be time to begin his month-long vacation. He’d been planning on going to Oregon to visit Seth but changed his mind, and he decided to call him.
“Hi Seth, it’s your Dad.”
“Hi Dad! I was wondering where you have been?”
“Oh, I’ve been busy as usual. I wanted to tell you, I placed a check in the mail for you; twenty-five hundred dollars. I want you and Angela to take Josh to Disney Land this summer. I would like to go with you but I’m involved right now.”
“Well, that’s great Dad, thank you, but why can’t you go with us?”
“Well... uh... I met a gal, Seth, we seem to be hitting it off pretty good, and I want to get to know her better.”
“That’s great, Dad, you need somebody.”
“Yea, we fit together pretty good, if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, Dad, I know what you mean. Don’t sacrifice yourself though. We still need you. I mean if she’s too good I don’t want you having a heart attack.”
“No... no... son, nothing like that. I just wanted to let you know why I can’t come out this year. Next year for sure, I promise.”
“You say that every year Dad. I appreciate your generosity, but we’d sooner fly out to see you with the money.”
“No... no... son, I’d rather you didn’t do that. It’s kind of touchy right now. I need some time to work things out.”
“Well, I can’t make you see us Dad. I do understand how things like this go though so let me know when you and her can come out here.”
“Yea... okay Seth. I’ll be in touch real soon.”
“I love you, pop.”
“Yea, uh... yea I know you do son. I’ll call you a little later and let you know how it’s going okay? Goodbye.”
Reggie hung up the phone feeling guilty about having lied to his son.
* * *
Copyright © 2006 by John W. Steele