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Mirrored Image

by Rob Walker

It was just an ordinary mirror that Norman bought from Ikea. After he’d picked it out from the fully furnished display bathroom and written down the catalogue number with the little pencil that had been provided, he went to the warehouse and found the mirror wrapped amongst hundreds of identical flatpack clones.

Yesterday his old one had crashed to the floor, splintered into hundreds of irregular shards. He’d seen the O of his mouth reflected up off the bathroom floor in multiple fractures. Seven years bad luck, they say.

Not that Norman believed that superstitious guff. His mother would have wrapped it in brown paper before disposal. Nonsense. He would put the pieces in an old shoe box out of consideration for the rubbish-handlers, tape it up and add it to the weekly collection. All those little pieces of my mouth gone to landfill...

The following day his shave seemed different. The mirror was hanging on the same hook; the same morning light was coming in from the window at his side. But the reflection was clearer somehow. Better quality perhaps.

He found himself studying his forty-year old face with more interest. Look at those long whiskers under my chin. Must’ve been missing them for a while.

He got up close and became aware of an intimacy, as if his own reflection were someone else. “You’re still quite good-looking,” he said aloud, his lips almost touching their own reflection. Fascinated by his own lips as if seeing them for the first time.

Ba ba ba...
Baa baa black sheep...

He savoured the childhood words, spellbound by the lips and tongue so close to his own.

It was then that his universe tilted. A fundamental paradigm shift, which only he could experience.

An outside observer would have noticed nothing in that bathroom on that morning. But Norman’s world changed. His reflection said, Not bad for forty...

Norman’s lips moved in unison with the reflection. But Norman knew, knew with the conviction of everyday reality that his image, not he, had initiated the words. He stared at himself in the mirror for an inordinate measure of time, frozen.

Finally he took a breath. What? The fog from the wh of the word condensed on the glass and faded just as rapidly. The reflected lips echoed the word.

You heard, they said as Norman’s lips slavishly emulated. I am your reflection, they whispered.

It was a mundane conversation. A casual onlooker might have thought Norman’s behaviour a little unusual, but otherwise the scene followed all the laws and conventions of light and physics. Only in Norman’s mind could a real conversation between two distinct entities be distinguished.

‘Am I going mad?’ Norman wondered aloud.

Don’t be ridiculous, said his image. You’re as sane as ever, and you know it. And Norman realised that he was.

It was the first of many morning chats. After the initial shock, it wasn’t disconcerting for Norman at all. In fact the Other Norman was quite nourishing for his self-esteem. Norman had previously had doubts about his appearance and abilities. Norman Two reassured him and boosted his confidence.

‘I’ve been thinking of going for a promotion,’ Norman murmured one Tuesday morning before work.

And why not? said his alter ego. You’re better than those other drones at the office. Time you got some recognition for all those unrewarded years.

Norman knew in his heart he was right. He’d often had ideas to improve procedures in the workplace. He’d mentioned one to Gerald over the photocopier one afternoon. Every time they ran out of paper, a new box was purchased. Norman checked the accounts and noticed that the brand, the quality and the price fluctuated widely. Why couldn’t they just calculate what was needed on an annual basis, agree on a standard quality and buy in bulk from the lowest tender? Gerald shrugged.

Two weeks later Gerald was congratulated in a General Staff Memo for his ‘brilliantly innovative cutting-edge idea.’ A new Understanding on Improving Certain Efficiency Outcomes was to be employed. It included annual bulk-purchasing of paper supplies.

Norman was upset. He’s been using you for years, said his reflection. Two weeks later Gerald was given a promotion to head the newly-formed Efficiencies Implementation Unit.

Norman was livid. Don’t get mad, said Norman Two evenly. Get even.

It might well have ended right there with Norman resentful but resigned. Perhaps it was Fate. Are events simply random? Does synchronicity really happen?

Norman was at work late and alone. The flexi-hours policy meant that he would often work for one or two hours more on some evenings. It enabled him to complete difficult reports without being interrupted by inane chatter or having to wait for printers to be free.

He was particularly bitter this evening. He had just completed an efficiency report instigated by Gerald. It used many of the ideas that Norman himself had voiced over the years. He found the last few typos, sent it from his computer to the copier, and then walked downstairs to the printing room to watch the twenty copies of the stapled report feed out of the printer: ‘A Report on Certain Suggested Improved and Streamlined Efficiency Outcomes. Gerald Bolt, Convenor.’

As each bound copy clunked onto the sorting tray the words Gerald Bolt seemed to scream at Norman. The ruthless, conniving bastard.

After copy three, the machine stopped. Norman looked at the keypad. The warning light was indicating a jam. He opened the top. There was no jam in the rollers or the main feed. The blue lights indicated that there was A4 paper in all of the feed trays, but number three was flashing. He opened the tray. Plenty of paper. He took it out, riffled the stack, put it back. The printing continued.

After one more completed document the copier jammed again. ‘This is bloody ridiculous,’ he muttered. Sixteen copies to go. If this kept happening he’d miss his train. Gerald had special privileges with his new role. He was entitled to work ‘offsite.’ He’s probably being paid to sit at home right now and drink a bottle of good red...

He saw his reflection in the photocopier glass. It’s OK. You can do this.

Calmly he opened the tray, removed the paper and looked inside. There was a tiny stainless steel clip or guide which hadn’t returned and was stopping the next sheet from loading. It looked like it just needed a flick with something pointy and the spring would return it to its proper position. The only thing he could see in the room was a paperclip, which he straightened. He touched the wire to the stainless steel.

It was as if an unseen hand had punched him. He was thrown backwards with two loud involuntary guttural grunts forced from his lungs when he was first hit and then when he was slammed into the side of the filing cabinet.

‘Christ,’ said Norman. ‘I’ve been electrocuted.’ Immediately his reflection replied, But you survived... As he sat on the floor, his back to the cabinet and willing himself to slow his hyperventilation, Norman realised that now that he didn’t need to see his reflection to hear him.

He went into the washroom and splashed his face. ‘I could have died! I should report this!’ he screamed at the mirror.

The mirror replied quietly, It might be better if we didn’t...

The next day Norman had to wait almost all day to choose a time when Gerald was in the photocopy room by himself.

‘Ahh! Good afternoon Gerald!’ he effused with self-satisfying calmness and affability. ‘It’s probably time we got this machine serviced. I pinpointed a fault last night. Let me show you.’

Norman showed him the trick with the bent paperclip, keeping the wire well away from the faulty part. Then he handed Gerald the straightened paperclip and hurried back upstairs to be with the others.

It was less than three minutes later — just as Norman was putting his coffee cup to his lips — that the lights flickered and died. A few more minutes of pandemonium before a voice from downstairs screamed, and it became known that Gerald was dead.

Six months passed and the office was buzzing along as it always had. No-one is indispensable. The parts may expire but the whole continues.

The terrible accidental death of Gerald Bolt had been mourned and grieved over. At the funeral Norman had even given a very nice eulogy about how everyone had benefited from Gerald’s initiative and diligence.

Norman was promoted to Gerald’s job where he also assumed the role of Convenor of the Occupational Health, Welfare and Safety Task Force. An investigation into that tragic accident concluded that by oversight the photocopier had been plugged into an old circuit. It had not been connected to the grounded circuit breakers installed in the previous fiscal year. Norman would leave no stone unturned in his determination to make the site a Safe Workplace.

There was no holding Norman back.

Copyright © 2014 by Rob Walker

Proceed to Challenge 566...

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