Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Mirror, mirror (Chapter 2)

I didn't expect to sleep much, but my dream was even more unsettling. Karen was awake most of the night, too, fleeing to the far side of the bed, as if she feared touching me.

She did. I'm sure of it.

I've had naked dreams before, in fact, most of them are, and I've had sex dreams, wet dreams, dreams where I was in love with a man – well, just one, a boy – and I was still a boy then, too – but this was all of them rolled into one, with a huge difference. I was the woman in the mirror having a sex dream, minutely-detailed, and my partner was myself – the male version of me. I had stepped through the mirror to find him.

My alarm clock found me a sweating, sticky throbbing mess – a male mess, at least. Fortunately, Karen had also fallen asleep and missed the excitement. Discreetly, I grabbed a pair of clean briefs from my drawer and slipped into the bathroom. Predictably, she gazed back at me from the mirror, also sweaty and disheveled, just as I felt in the dream.

We smiled at each other. There was no way of telling which side initiated it. It was that sickly, first love smile that asked, "Was it good for you dear?" while answering at the same time, "Yes, and you?"

Eventually, returning to my senses, I toweled myself off and changed my briefs, stuffing the damp pair deep in the laundry hamper. Back in the bedroom, I put my shorts and t-shirt on for a quick run. It was anything but that – I ran and ran and ran. I was afraid to stop, as if that would bring me back to what was happening to me. At home, my reflection looked sweaty and glorious in the patio door. I even had to stifle the urged to remove my clothes, just to be like her.

Back upstairs, Karen was still in bed, taking advantage of some solitude to get some much-needed sleep.

"You smell different," she mumbled.

"I stink," I replied. "I need a shower."

She couldn't have been right. While showering, however, I accidentally used her soap and shampoo. I don't know what I was thinking. That definitely would make me smell different – a little girly.

I emerged from the bathroom without my robe on, just confirm to her that I was still a man. Karen stood quietly, staring at nothing in particular, so I kissed her on the back of the neck. She almost jumped out of her skin. Stupid me – she'd been standing in front of the full-length mirror. I'd given her a horrible fright.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't mean to frighten you."

"Your lips felt different, softer, and I couldn't feel your beard. I'm really afraid. Did you put on lip gloss?"

"Chapstick. I have a rehearsal tonight, and they were feeling a little weathered." I glanced in the mirror. My – her lips were shiny.

"I think I'm going to go stay at Mom's for a little while. Do you mind?"

"I'm going to need your help."

"I need to think – to be away from you. I can't get that woman out of my head."

"That woman?"

"Your reflection."

"Well, if that is what you think is best for you, go, but it isn't easy for me either."

"Maybe it will be better. Maybe you should see someone."


"I don't know," she shrugged, "a shrink."

"This isn't mental. You see it, too."

"A fortune-teller? Someone?"

"What would that accomplish?"

"You've got to do something!"

"I have no idea what."

"That's why I need to go. I'll phone you tonight after work."

Her bag was already packed and sitting on our bed. She'd made her decision even before I'd frightened her.

I stared at my feet, trying to think of something – anything – to keep her from going. Perhaps it was just the light, but I thought my legs seemed less hairy, perhaps my chest as well. I figured it wasn't the time to confide that to her. I've never been particularly hairy anyway, but it did seem less curly and shorter. Before I knew it, I heard the garage door opening. She was gone.

I looked at her – that woman. "What are you doing to me?" I asked. Her lips moved with mine as if she were asking me the same question. "You are ruining everything."

I wanted to cry, but I couldn't. She was watching. "What are you staring at!" I screamed, but I only got that hurt, embarrassed look that was on my own face.

Briefly, I considered bunking off work or working from home, but I thought it was important to try to keep things as normal as possible. I couldn't phone in sick, since I needed to go to a rehearsal in the evening. That wouldn't look good if I was seen.

My routine, I thought. It's my refuge. I stepped back into the bathroom and stepped on the scale. I'd lost 5 pounds, probably from the ridiculous run that I'd just done. In any case, I didn't feel half bad, so I thought I might add some push-ups and sit-ups to that routine. That was a "man" thing. Think male – be male – lust after women, go out with the guys after rehearsal, have a beer in front of the football game on Saturday. OSU vs Michigan, that was as macho a game as I could think of.

I had a concert that night, so maybe no beer, and no big run in the morning. In fact, I had a rehearsal in the afternoon. Shit! We are playing Mahler's Kindertotenlieder, one of which always leaves me on the verge of tears – damn girly tears! Faure, Ravel – nothing macho about that concert at all. I loved Ravel's music. At least I wouldn't be playing in the Faure.

30 sit-ups, 40 push-ups. Manly work. That hurt, but it was good for me. Get out the dumbbells and do some curls. Be a MAN, Mark – be a man!

I probably should have done that before I showered. There she was looking proud of herself in the mirror with a light sweaty sheen. She looked hot!

Dammit! I'm not supposed to lust after myself! But she is not me – she is not me.
The situps are good – they will firm up my abs. Be manly, Mark.

I glanced at the clock. I'd missed my train. I always took the subway on Thursdays. Not today – not ever again. I couldn't risk anyone seeing my reflection in the windows.

Photo-security badges! We have to start wearing them on Monday. It should be in my in-tray today. I'll have to feign anger and have them change the picture. Maybe they will give me a temporary card without a picture. Maybe I could give them a picture of my brother to put in it. He looks enough like me, except for the beard. I might have to photoshop a beard onto it.

I put my trombone in the trunk and drove to work. I decided to use the back entrance, since there usually weren't any people there. Unfortunately, there was a gauntlet of blacked-out windows to run – and I would. I didn't know if there were any CCTV cameras focused on them.

Safely in my cubicle, I sat down to work. I pulled the first job from my tray: designing a website for a French women's lingerie dealer. Phoar! Some of the photos were quite racy, and I kept thinking manly, lustful thoughts, until I came across a white silk neglige. I thought it would look great on ... I'm going to have to give her a name, since I can't just refer to her as my reflection.

Mark, Mary. Too Catholic. She wasn't a good Catholic girl. Maria. Same problem. Maggie, Marlo, Marla. Miranda, yes. I would call her Miranda. I've always liked The Tempest.

It would look great on her, and it was silk. That would feel good next to the skin. "Would you like that?" I whispered to my dark reflection on my screen.

I've always liked silk, I thought ...

Damn! What was I doing? I turned away from the screen and looked out the window. There he was, Jack, giving me/Miranda the thumbs up. Rather than making a face at him, I put my index finger to my lips and shushed him, as if I wanted him to keep it a secret.

He motioned for me to come to him.

"Never," I mouthed back. "I can't."


I had to think of something. "I'm a ghost."

"You're what?"

"A what?"



I pretended to go, "Boo!"

"Ahem, excuse me, Mark?"

"Hi Jacqui," I gasped, startled.

"What were you doing?"

"Oh nothing. There was a pigeon the ledge distracting me."

"There is a problem with your security badge," she said. "Someone is playing a sick joke somewhere. Do you know this person?" She held out a badge with a picture of Miranda on it.

"Who's that?"

"I don't know, but when we went back to your originals, we found her. I think we will have to take a new set. Would you come down to my office at 4 pm?"

"Sure. I can't stick around, though. I have a rehearsal tonight."

"It will only take a few minutes."


She disappeared. I would have to play it by ear. Maybe I could find a picture of my brother online and doctor it up during lunch.

"Mark," Jack whispered around the edge of my cubicle.

"What? I'm really busy right now. I've got to finish this site by the end of the day."

"Have you seen ..." he paused. "Wow, I wish I was doing that site. She's hot!"
I still had the white negligee model on my screen. "Yes, she is," I agreed.

"Are there more?" he asked.

"I showed him a couple more choice pictures."

"Would you email me those?" he asked.

"You know I can't. I have to make them undownloadable on their site, too. They are really particular about it. If it's alright, I need to get back to it."

"It just ..." he stumbled. "I think your cubicle ..."

"Spit it out. What about my cubicle."

"I'm seeing things," he said, not venturing any further.

"You just wanted to sneak a peek at these photos."

"Maybe I did," he grumbled, walking away.

When he was back at his seat, I/Miranda gave him a "You're a naughty boy" look. He let me alone the rest of the day.

At 4 pm, I went down to Jacqui's office, and had my picture taken.

"This is weird," she groaned. "I think there must be something wrong with the database. It keeps spitting out a picture of this woman."

"Could it be a virus?" I asked.

"I hope not," she shrugged. "I'll have IT support look into it. Do you have any pictures at home we could use instead?"

"Probably, I'll bring one in tomorrow."

"Good. Then we can make up your pass card."

Whew! I was worried that she was going to keep trying. When I got to the car, my cellphone rang.

"Hi, Kar," I answered, “You at your mom's?"

"Yes, she's terrified."

"You didn't tell her, did you?"

"I didn't have to – that picture of us over the mantelpiece? It's changed, too."

"As far as I can tell, every picture that has ever been taken of me has changed."

"What is happening?" she asked again.

"It's surreal. They tried to retake my picture for my security pass today."


"It didn't work, of course."

"What did they say?" she asked.

"I suggested there might be a virus in their database."

"What will you do?"

"I'm going to photoshop a picture of Jeff, so that it looks like me."

"What about your beard?"

"I'll think of something."

"Do you remember what you look like?"

"Of course."

"You can't look at your own face. Maybe I should do it."

"It will be good for me. It's a self-image thing."

"What's wrong?" she asked, suspecting that I was having other issues.

"It's just that it is hard to look at reflection of myself and see a woman. It does strange things to my head." I couldn't tell her that I was starting to get accustomed to it. "Come home. I need you."

"Mark, I need to think, and I think Mom needs me here now. Have you spoken to your parents?"

"I haven't dared look at their email."

"I think you better."

"I will, after I get back later. I had better get going. I think I might go to the bar afterwards, just to do something – normal." I had almost said "manly." That would have set her off again.

"Don't stay out too late. Have a good rehearsal. We'll talk tomorrow. Bye."

"Love you," I said too late. She had already hung up.

When I got to the rehearsal, I did what I could to stay away from shiny instruments. A couple of times I forgot and rested my horn on my leg, only to see Class A skin, not to mention the view every adolescent boy wanted to see between Miranda's legs.

Afterwards, the brass met at the Miller Tavern. That was a mistake. The wall behind the bar was a huge mirror.

"I'm going to the restroom, Jim," I said, ducking aside before anyone saw my reflection. "Could you get me a Bud?"

Of course, the restroom had a mirror, too, and there were others in there. I balked at the door and waited and appropriate amount of time, before looking for the others, who sat in full view of the bar – and its mirror. I stood at the side and tried to get someone's attention. Kathy, one of the trumpeters, came over to see what was wrong.

"I'm not feeling very well," I said. "I think I'm just going to go home."

"Why don't you come and sit down first? Maybe it will pass."

"No, I think I'd better go." Over her shoulder, I could see Ron Fairchild staring at me in the mirror. "I'll explain later," I said, rushing out the door.

Outside, I sagged against the wall in relief, glancing around to make sure there we no shiny surfaces nearby – only a car window and that view would be so distorted that no one could make out what it was.

"Did you see her?" Ron asked, gasping for breath, having run out the door.

"Who?" I asked, know very well who he meant.

"You couldn't have missed her. She was amazing!"

"I haven't seen anyone come out the door since I did."

"She didn't have a stitch of clothing on."

"I think you are seeing ghosts," I said.

"More like an angel," he said.

"I think that must be going around. One of my co-workers thought he saw a ghost today."

"I saw her in the mirror," he insisted. "She was no ghost. I've never seen a more beautiful woman in my life."

I blushed involuntarily.

"Are you alright?" he asked, noticing my flush.

"I just needed some air. I think I'm going to go straight home."

"Are you sure you shouldn't sit down first? Are you dizzy?"

"No. I'll be alright. I think I just need some sleep. I shouldn't have come out tonight."

Ron looked around again. "I think I'm in love."

"I think maybe you're the one that needs to sit down – and maybe a cold shower."

"I saw her talking to Kathy."

"Kathy was talking to me," I said.

"That's what she said."

I pulled a couple of dollars out of my pocket. "Oh, I forgot. Could you give that to Jim for my beer. Maybe you should drink it instead."

"I'm not crazy, Mark."

"Maybe it was just a trick of the light or something."

"She had shoulder length blond hair and startling blue eyes, and a fantastic body. I got a good look at her."

"I think you better start with that cold shower. She doesn't exist."

"She does, and I'm going to find her."

"Well, good luck. I'm going home. See you Saturday."

"Yeah. See you."

I strolled away, hoping Ron would forget about it. He sat right next to me in the orchestra, and if anyone had a chance of seeing my reflection, the bell of his tuba would catch me out.

At home, I did some stretching and some sit-ups. That made me feel virtuous, and I imagined that I could already see some improvement in my abs. I was still too awake to go to bed, so I sat down in front of my computer to try to make a dent on my email situation.

Over 100 new emails, not including the usual spam.

I sent a message to my parents, just to reassure them that I was OK. I didn't refer to my predicament, as they hadn't mentioned it either. I certainly didn't want to talk to them; it would surely come out, although my mother would probably tell me all about what my brother was doing.

That reminded me that I had to find a picture of him and doctor it. I took a quick look in my picture folder and found one that looked like one I could work with, and resolved to deal with it after my run in the morning.

There were several emails asking about what had happened to various pictures of me. I pleaded ignorance, not knowing what they were talking about.

There was one, however, that required more attention: Faye had written back.

Dear Mark:

You are probably still mad at me after all these years, and you probably have a right to be. I have an explanation for my actions, but it would probably just open up old wounds. If it were possible to make it up to you, I would, but I'm more worried about you now. I don't understand what is happening. All the pictures I have of you have changed. You have been replaced by a naked woman. I don't understand. My favourite picture of the two of us! It's gone! I didn't realize how much it meant to me. I can't help crying as I write this. Please tell me what is going on.


Again, I had to reply right away:

Dear Faye,

If I knew what to tell you, I would. The same thing has happened here – everywhere that I know of. Look at our yearbook. My college yearbook is even more hilarious, but that is beside the point. It isn't the only thing that is happening, and I'm not sure I want to tell too many people about it yet. Karen knows, obviously, and I think her mother, too, but they are the only ones – and Karen is the only one with eyewitness proof of the phenomenon.

Don't worry about what happened 30 years ago. It can't be changed.

All the best,

She would notice that I wrote "all the best," instead of "love." Do I love her now? I can't say that I do, but I don't hate her, and she was my first lover, too. I will always cherish that. It seems so trite now, getting laid for the first time after the Homecoming dance. It wasn't premeditated, and neither of us ever had any second thoughts, at least neither of us ever admitted to any. I had a tough time removing the blood stain on the back seat of the station wagon, and in the end told my parents that it was oil from my bike chain. That was plausible, since it had a habit of popping off its sprocket.

Faye and I did have a month of jangled nerves as we waited for her next period, which was appropriately almost a week late. That, I think, was the beginning of the end. She didn't handle the tension well, and I put on an implacable facade, is if I didn't have any doubt that she wasn't pregnant. I confess, my stomach turned every night, even for a week after she told me that she'd bled.

As I was answering a few other emails, a reply came:

Dear Mark,

I had a look at our yearbook, and you are right. Some those pictures are pretty funny looking, especially the marching band one – a naked girl playing trombone and dancing in the front row! Do you remember what you wrote to me on the back of the front cover? It's different. Not what you said, but your handwriting. How can I sat this discreetly? It looks like a girl's handwriting.

Is that what you meant about other things? Please tell me. I won't judge you and won't tell a soul.


Dear Faye,

I don't know what to say about the handwriting. I hadn't noticed, but I can't say I'm that surprised by anything now. Yes, that picture is a hoot!
It's late, and I'm too tired to explain now. I promise I'll write over the weekend if things haven't righted themselves.


I grabbed a pen and paper and started writing. What flowed from the pen was an elegant script, reminiscent of my mother's finishing school hand. My writing used to be illegible, and the fact that Faye could read what I wrote to her in high school was downright astonishing.

My monitor went into sleep mode and there she was, Miranda, seemingly gloating that she was taking over my life. Sticking my tongue out at her was ineffectual, as I got an instant reply. That was it. I was going to bed, and just to fight back I did another 40 situps. Macho – I had to be macho. Unfortunately, that only served to wake me up, and I was too sweaty to get under the covers.

Be a man, I told myself again. I thought about turning my computer back on and trawling the Internet for hotties, but decided that would just keep me awake. My running mags were usually good for a few scantily-clad athletic women – but not this month. Kathy's catalogs, I thought, look at underwear and bra models. First, I looked at Sears and Lands End, before I discovered an Ann Summers catalog. I hadn't realized there were so many different types of lingerie – there was even a model that looked sort of like Kathy showing off a fairly ordinary bra with little red roses on it.

Across the page – now that was more like something Miranda would wear: shiny silk and with a little more support, accentuating her cleavage.

Shit! I wasn't oogling models, I was sitting in bed evaluating bras. Time to turn the lights out, but not before catching a flash of Miranda in the mirror.

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