It’s no secret that I drink. My friends will make jokes like “your idea of a balanced diet is a beer in both hands.” I’ll laugh with them, but I don’t miss their pitying smirks. When I’m out, I’m out to have a good time though, and when I’m in… well, either way, it feels like I’m only smiling once I’ve knocked back a few.
I have this weird habit when I’m drinking alone where I like to watch myself get drunk in the mirror. I start off by seeing this drab, aging, overweight slob, and I’ll make a game out of drinking until he looks happy. I’ll grin and make faces and watch myself laugh, and wonder why I can’t be like this all the time. I can steal a few hours from reality until my girlfriend gets home from work and we start to bicker, and then everything that didn’t exist a moment before is suddenly there again.
The second she walks in the door and sees that I’ve been drinking, the smile disappears from the mirror. Usually, we’ll have a “discussion,” although she’s the only one talking, so I tend to think of it as a “lecture” instead. Sometimes she’ll give up and let it go, but then there are cases like the other night where she works herself into some kind of frenzy. I guess I’d forgotten to pick her up — I knew it was my fault and I apologized — but it didn’t matter. Nothing I said got through to her anymore. It was like she couldn’t even hear me. And she just kept getting louder and louder until all the words morphed into one long angry blast, not ceasing until the door slammed behind her.
It was just me and the mirror after that, so I took another drink and watched it smile. A big sloppy smile too, as wide as I’d ever seen, stretching my face into a caricature of itself. It would have been heart-warming to see if I really had been smiling. I turned my head slowly from side-to-side, watching the mirror from my peripheral vision. The man in the mirror turned too, matching my movements exactly, giving me a full view of all its leering teeth. Meanwhile, I felt my own closed mouth with my hand just to be sure.
The mirror was smiling, but I wasn’t.
That unnerved the hell out of me. It was a wake-up call. I emptied the rest of my bottle down the sink and went to lie down for awhile. The weird thing was that I didn’t feel that drunk though. I was walking straight — thinking clearly. I was barely even buzzed.
Lying there in the dark and thinking about what happened wasn’t any better. I felt like I was going to start sobbing. After about an hour of tossing and turning and hating myself, I got up to use the bathroom and looked in the mirror again. I wanted to see myself smile, even if it wasn’t real, just to know that it was still possible.
I was even soberer than last time. I could feel the miserable weight of it. My reflection though? A coy dimple at first, but before my eyes, it was stretching into a beaming grin. I felt my slack, loose face again with both hands. Then reaching out to touch the smile in the mirror, my hand tensed into a rigid claw. I didn’t feel glass. I felt the warm, moist, tightly pulled lip. The stubble of its face, the curve of its chin, my hand slipping through the mirror as though it wasn’t even there. I wasn’t afraid exactly — more mesmerized by something so far beyond my understanding. Then when my reflection turned to walk away, it felt like part of me was leaving with it.
I watched myself exit the bathroom on the other side of the glass. Now the mirror showed an empty bathroom, my reflection gone. I touched the glass again and felt the cold, smooth surface. I was about to try and sleep whatever this was off, but then I heard the door open.
She’s back! She changed her mind! Suddenly the mirror didn’t matter anymore. I raced through my apartment faster than a kid on Christmas morning, stumbling to a halt when I reached the living room. It was empty. The door was locked. No-one had entered, but then I heard her voice:
“Look, I know I said I wasn’t coming back, but —”
Her voice was coming from behind me, sounding muffled almost as though she was speaking underwater. I raced back to the bathroom — the mirror still empty of my reflection. I was beginning to think it was another hallucination when I heard:
“I’m so sorry. I’m going to be a new man from now on, I promise.”
My own voice. Coming from inside the mirror. It was muffled too, seemingly a long way off. But even if my reflection had left its bathroom and gone to its version of my living room, how could my girlfriend have entered that living room instead of my own?
“You do look different somehow,” she said. “I can’t quite put my finger on it.”
Unless of course… I had changed places with my reflection somehow. If he was in my real living room, and I was behind the mirror.
“Did you do something with your hair? It’s usually parted the other way,” she added.
“I’m just happy to see you, that’s all,” my voice said. “I guess you’re not used to seeing me smile.”
“Maybe you’re right. It’s a good change…”
I’d climbed onto the counter at this point. An inch from the glass, but still no reflection. I mapped the entire surface with my hands. Then harder — pounding my fists against the mirror, watching the whole pane rattle against the wall.
“Hello! Can anyone hear me?” I shouted.
If they could, they made no sign. I heard them talking softly for awhile, then she started to laugh. I don’t remember the last time I heard her laugh. I was getting desperate by this point. I wanted to smash the mirror to pieces, but I was afraid that would block my only route home. I sprinted back to the living room — threw open the door — searching for something — anything to make sense out of this madness. I didn’t make it far before I heard her scream though, and I felt compelled to run back and see what was going on.
My heart leaped when I saw my reflection again in the bathroom mirror. He was still smiling, even humming to himself while he washed his hands in the sink. Washing the blood from his hands. I couldn’t hold myself back anymore. I threw my whole body against the mirror. It exploded on impact, splintering shards of shrapnel showing a thousand bloody hands which rained around me. I didn’t stop, hurling myself again and again into the empty frame, smashing and driving each fragment of glass into my hands until there was nothing left but diamond dust.
I was heaving for breath when I walked back into the living room — my real living room. I know it was real because I saw her on the couch, her throat and mouth cleanly slit from end to end, smiling wider than she ever had when she was with me. I took my keys and my wallet, and I ran, leaving everything else behind for good.
The police caught up with me about a week later. They interviewed me and took prints, but apparently, the one’s on the knife didn’t match me. They were completely backward, in fact. I haven’t had a drink since that day, but God knows I’ve wanted to.
I guess I’m just too afraid to look in a mirror one day and see myself smile.