He Angles, She Refracts by Rob Vagle

 

     In the mirror above her bed, Evy had no reflection.

     She sat up and the silk sheet slipped away from her breasts, exposing her skin to the cool, air-conditioned apartment.  A mirror along each wall left no room for windows, and in each mirror a reflection moved.  One Evy smiled at her, one winked, and another one waved.  The golden tan, sinuous curves, and locks of blond hair–all bedroom reflections accounted for.  Except for the mirror above where rose petals dotted an empty bed with wrinkled sheets and strewn pillows.  It looked like the aftermath of lovemaking and then it dawned on her.  While she slept someone had been up there with her reflection making love.  

     She kicked away the sheet, swung her legs over the edge of the bed and sat staring at her reflection in the wall.  The reflection blew her a kiss.

     When her mother had taught her to love herself she told Evy reflections could fall out of love.  “Beware of the seducers,” she had said.  “They don’t adore themselves, but adore the images of others.  Lose your images and you’ll lose yourself.”

     She never believed such people existed.  At least not until now.  

     Her reflection frowned, waiting for Evy to blow her a kiss back.  Evy only smiled.  She stood and walked across the plush purple carpet and out of the bedroom, fearing other reflections would be gone.

     Down the hallway from her bedroom a mirror ran the length of each wall.  This was her favorite spot.  One mirror reflected off the other so when she walked down this hallway a whole line of her stretched out from each side.  She was the center of this chain, a line-up without end.  A line-up without a missing reflection.

     In the kitchen the mirror table, counter top, and all electric appliances held her reflection.  In the living room all the walls held her image. 

     When she looked down at the end table next to the leather couch, no face looked back at her from the mirrored surface.

     She turned away. 

     She didn’t want to believe it.  Two reflections missing.  She felt as though two of her limbs had been cut off.  She wondered how many more might be gone.

     The doorbell buzzed and she walked to the door, staring at the mirror there.  Her reflection ran a hand over bare skin from hip to thigh.

     She punched the intercom button.  “Yes.”

     “Service,” replied a woman.

     Evy opened the door.  A short woman with a round face stood in the hallway.  She wore the baby-blue colored uniform all servers wore.  In her arms she carried a stack of food boxes.  Without looking at her the server walked across the living room, and the walls didn’t hold her reflection.  Evy felt ignored by the server and that she noticed this surprised her.  Usually she was too occupied with staring at her reflections to notice the server and it never occurred to her the server ignored her too.

     She wondered if she might become a server if she lost all her reflections.  She had heard most servers were born without them.

     She peeked in the kitchen doorway and watched the server work.  The woman was smiling.  Evy wondered how anyone could be happy without reflections, even if they were born that way.  How did she keep her face so clean and put that apple-red lipstick on so neatly?

     The server deposited the empty boxes in the trash compactor and turned and caught Evy staring at her.  “What are you looking at?” she asked.

     Evy turned away and pretended nothing was wrong, staring at her reflection as she should have been doing.

     The server walked to the door and left the apartment.

     Evy realized she had so many other reflections to fawn over and she was ignoring them.  She walked towards the bedroom and midway down the hallway something caught her eye.  She moved closer to the mirror and looked along the line of reflected Evys.  Far down the line she saw a vacant space between two reflections.  Further down there was another space, a spot perfect for an image of her.  Further still, another.  The chain was broken, segmented, and falling apart.

     She ran to her bedroom.  The mirrors along every wall and on the ceiling held nothing except for a vacant room.  Her skin prickled with goose bumps.  Cold wind seemed to be blowing from every mirror and Evy found the blazing red rose petals in the mirror above her bed repulsive and a reminder of things spinning quickly out of control.

     There had to be someplace to go for this problem, but mother had only given the warning and didn’t get into the details because that would have been time away from her reflections.

     Evy grabbed a silk robe and rushed out of the bedroom.  She stopped again to look at her reflections in the hallway, the robe draped over her forearm.  A moment ago only a handful of her reflections were gone and now every other one was gone.  Beginning with an empty space to her left and to her right, the spaces alternated down the length of the chain.  Too many empty spaces left nothing for the remaining reflections to hang onto.  The nearest reflection looked scared.  Evy felt the same way.

     She ran to the kitchen and then to the living room and when she noticed no mirror held her reflection she covered her mouth with her hand. 

     Evy ran back to the hallway and found the two mirrors empty of her.  Those mirrors held a vast empty space.  Her reflections had to be in there somewhere.  She wanted to break through the glass surface and run searching for an image to love.  

     The doorbell buzzed, a constant irritating noise from someone on the outside who didn’t know when to let up on the buzzer.

     She went to the intercom, punched a button, and shouted, “Stop that!”

     The buzzing stopped and a male voice said, “My dear Evy, I have the most beautiful thing you have ever seen.”

     She put on the robe and opened the door.  A short, bald man wore a brown corduroy jacket over a white jump suit.  The man smiled and pointed at his sunglasses.  The mirror lenses reflected an empty doorway.  “Look here,” he said, “isn’t this the most beautiful person you’ve ever seen?”

     Evy, feeling threatened, backed into the apartment.

     The man frowned and looked at the door next to her.  His reflection was there but not hers.  Then he looked back at her and cocked his head.  “Oh, I’m sorry.  Where’s your reflection?”

     She swung the door to shut out this freak with glasses that reflected nothing of her.  The man stopped the door with an extended hand.

     “I know where you can find your reflections, Evy,” he said.

     “What have you done with me?  What have you done with every single one of me?” she asked.

     He offered his bone-white hand.  She backed away.  He was one of the seducers.

     The man smiled.  “My name is Jimmy,” he said.  “You don’t need your reflections to show how beautiful you are.  I’m the one who can shower you with praise, touch you where you want to be touched, love you the way you should be loved.”

     She threw her hands to her face and covered her eyes.  “This can’t be happening to me,” she said.  “I don’t want anyone else.  I just want me.  Me, me, me!”

     His breath smelled of peppermint and she knew he stood very close.  He pried her hands way from her face and said, “Look into my eyes.”

     She squeezed her eyes shut like a petulant child.  This man held nothing for her.  She wanted to look into her own eyes.

     He spoke again, “Evy, you really are a goddess and if you open your eyes you will see.”

     She opened them.  And she had to look down at him.  From the glossy pupils of his onyx eyes two reflections looked back at her.  She pressed her hands against her mouth and squealed.

     “There you are, Evy,” Jimmy said, each word sending a whiff of peppermint at her.  “Isn’t that who you’re looking for?”

     “Oh, good me,” she said and rested her hands on his chest.  “Oh, good me.”

     Jimmy looked down at her hands, taking away her reflections.  One corner of his mouth curled up in a smile.

     “Oh!”  She lifted his chin to look at herself again.

     Her heart raced, she felt giddy, and she grasped at his corduroy jacket.  All she wanted now was more–she wanted to see the full length of her reflection and she wanted to see it now.

     “Oh, beautiful,” she said, her breath quickening.

     Jimmy stepped back and replaced the glasses over his eyes.  “You want more?”

     “Oh, yes,” she said.  “Take those off.”

     She reached for the glasses and Jimmy stepped back into the corridor.  He gestured for her to follow.

     “I can’t go out there,” she said, thinking of all the mirrors out there.  “I’m not–decent!” 

     “I will give you more of you, all the multiplicities, all in full length.  Come with me, Evy, let me take you to the garden of you.”

     As Jimmy drove, she noticed the world. 

     Every building was a cube shaped mirror, three to each block.  She wondered how she ever found her way around with one building indistinguishable from the next.  She hoped to catch a glimpse of herself in the mirror-walls of these buildings, but each one held disappointment.

     People on the sidewalk gazed at their images as they walked.  They barely acknowledged each other and they never noticed the servers walking among them.

     She saw a man without a reflection, but he wasn’t dressed like a server.  He had blond hair to his shoulders and his expanse of chest bulged out of his black satin robe.  She made eye contact with him and she stared at him, turning around in her seat to watch him watching her as the distance between them increased.

     “We’re here,” Jimmy said as he stopped the car.

     They stepped out and Jimmy led her to the entrance.  Tall double doors, each with a warped mirror stretched Jimmy’s reflection into a long and narrow line.  She stopped, her feet incapable of another step.

     “All of them are in there?” she asked.

     Jimmy pulled a ring of keys out of his pocket.  He looked at her over the rim of his glasses.  “Every single one.  I know you’re jealous that they all came to me, but that doesn’t mean we all can’t live together.”

     As he inserted the key into the lock she wondered if her images could ever love her again and she wondered if she could really take them back.  Then the words of her mother came back to her: Lose your images to him and he’ll have you too.

     “Ready?  Let’s go in.”

     “No,” she said.  “Can you just bring me some of my reflections?  I’m sure some of them want to stare back at me.  I mean, really, look at yourself.  Who would want you?”

     “All right, Evy, one moment.”  Jimmy opened one door wide enough for him to slip through.  He returned in a moment with a plastic bucket filled with marbles and shoved the bucket at her. 

     “There,” he said.  “If you don’t want to come in, you can take these reflections with you.”

     She moaned.  Those weren’t just marbles.  They were mirrors.  Dozens of tiny faces stared back at her.  At first she didn’t think those faces were hers.  The balls made the faces grotesque like Jimmy’s reflection in the door.  She recognized her hair, her eyes, but her nose was squashed like a pig’s and her face was bent back and narrow.

     “Evy, now you can take those and get on with your life or you can come in here and see the beautiful images of you.  Take something less or come in for something more.  Are you willing to settle for skewed images–oh, so ugly–in little mirror balls?”

     “They look so frightened,” she said.  Their mouths were big black holes as their lips moved, trying to tell her something.

     “Go on, Evy.  Leave.  I’ll be in here surrounded by beauty.”  Jimmy tucked his glasses away in his jacket and stepped inside.

     “Wait!  You can’t leave them like this.  You can’t leave me like this.”

     “This is your last chance,” Jimmy said.  “Leave here or come inside and head for the light.”

     She ran past him, her bare feet thumping against concrete.  A spot of light shone on the floor in the middle of the room.  She jumped inside the light and twirled around to look for Jimmy.  The piece of floor she stood on began to rise and she bent her knees slightly to keep her balance.  She set the pail down at her feet and looked up as she moved closer to the light.

     When the platform stopped rising she saw movements in the shadows.  Before she could figure out what she was seeing, light flooded the room.  Mirrors came at her from the walls, up from the floor, down from the ceiling.  The ones above her and below her tilted to capture her image within phosphorescent frames.  She plastered her hands to her chest and twirled around gazing at each reflection. 

     The room had changed as if she were inside a ball lined with mirrors.

     “There they are, Evy,” Jimmy said, his voice coming from somewhere.  “Aren’t they beautiful?”

     She loved the way the light stuck to her skin and got tangled in her hair.  Each reflection smiled at her and winked back when she winked.

     “Oh, Jimmy,” she said, “when can I take them home?”

     The lowest ring of mirrors below her pedestal dropped down and swung away, exposing Jimmy standing on the floor.  “I’m not getting through to you, am I?  This is their home now.  They want to stay.”

     Stay?  All of her reflections nodded their heads.

     Jimmy stepped onto a platform.  He pulled out a hand-sized black box from a side pocket of his coat and pressed a button that raised him to her level. 

     He stepped from his platform to hers and draped an arm around her shoulders.  His touch made her shiver and she would have moved away but she was afraid of falling off the platform.  Her reflections weren’t alone anymore.  In every mirror a Jimmy had an arm around an Evy.  Although she shrank from his touch, every one of her reflections pressed their bodies against him.  Their hands moved across his chest and belly.  Some kissed Jimmy on the head.

     “You’re home, Evy,” he whispered in her ear.  “There’s enough room for all of you.”

     She turned to him and said, “How could they love anyone but me?”

     “I’ll love you, Evy,” he said.

     “No,” she said.

     “Look!  They love me.”

     “I don’t want you.  I want them.  Only them.”

     He gripped her tighter.  “Evy . . .”

     “No!” she cried and pushed him away.

     Jimmy stumbled back, his heels slipping over the edge of the platform.  He waved his arms in circles, teetering for balance. 

     “Evy!”  And he fell.

     He cursed when he landed with a thud.  She peered down.  Jimmy rolled on the floor, writhing in pain.

     She looked at the mirrors.  Jimmy still remained next to each of her reflections.  None of them rejected Jimmy.  Her reflections shook their heads and scowled at her.  She never knew how ugly she looked with a scowl on her face.  She picked up the pail and with her free hand she grabbed a handful of balls and flung them out at the mirrors.

     Cracks stretched across the glass of several mirrors and shards of mirror slipped off the walls within the frames and fell away, shattering against the mirrors below.  She grabbed another handful of balls and turned, glancing at all her reflections holding up their hands and shaking their heads.  She grunted and threw some balls above her and continued to turn, throwing more balls in every direction.  Below her, Jimmy cried out as glass crashed around him.  She continued to spin around, growing dizzy, intoxicated by the violence and the rage she felt beating in her chest.

     She flung the last of the balls and threw the empty pail after them.  She dropped to her knees and gripped the edge of the platform so hard that her knuckles turned white.  The pail clunked against empty frames on its way down.  Shattered glass falling to the floor faded like the letup of rain.  The dizziness continued and she closed her eyes wishing it to stop.

     Jimmy’s sobs faded away as if he had left the room.

     Silence.

     She still wouldn’t open her eyes.

     Not until she felt and heard the hum of the machinery.  Over the edge of the platform, the floor came at her.  She let go of the edge and sat there with her legs under her.

     “Now we’ll never get them back,” someone said.

     She turned and rose to her feet.  A man stood inside the entryway beside a control panel, but it wasn’t Jimmy.  This was the man she had made eye contact with on the street, the man with the long blond hair.

     She touched her forehead and staggered to the door, barely aware of how the glass melted under her feet.  She had never seen a broken mirror before.  The man moved directly into her path.  She walked right into him and her hands slapped against his chest.

     “He took my reflections too,” he said.  “What are we going to do without them?”

     She walked around him toward the daylight slanting in from the doorway.

     “Help me,” he called to her.

     She stared at the sidewalk as she walked, seeing the feet of strangers passing by.  She never looked at the walls.  They made her feel invisible.

     The man behind her shouted again.  “Stop!”

     Two pairs of feet, both clad in black leather boots, stopped in front of her and a hand reached out and grabbed hers.  She looked up, startled, and held her breath.  Two women holding hands stood before her and she recognized the one who held her hand as her server.

     She looked away and attempted to walk around the women, but she gripped her hand hard and pulled Evy down close to her face.

     Evy stared at the sky as the server whispered, “I know you recognize me.  It’s really not all bad, you know, not having a reflection.  When someone takes away your reflection they can only take away what you see.  They can’t take away what others see.”

     She looked at the server.  This woman probably never had a reflection in her life and what did she know about it?  The woman turned and walked away with her friend before Evy could say anything.

     Someone touched her shoulder and she turned around and looked at the man who was following her.  A smudge of dirt streaked his right cheek.

     “Please.  You’re alone now.  I’m alone and . . .”  He tilted his head and said, “Your hair is a mess.”  For some reason under his gaze she didn’t feel invisible. 

     She crossed her arms.  “Well, your face is streaked with dirt.”

     “Where?”  He touched his left cheek.

     “Here,” she said and reached out and wiped the dirt away from his right cheek.  She licked her fingers and applied moisture to get rid of the last of it.  Stubble on his face moved under her fingertips.

     “There,” she said and stood back to look at him.  His skin was as golden as hers and with a shave the man would be perfect, but to look at someone else in this way seemed so wrong.

     She turned and walked away.

     “Wait!” he shouted.  “Can I brush your hair?”

     She looked back.  The man pulled a brush out the side pocket of his robe and she realized she was smiling.

     The man did another head tilt.  “You’re so much more beautiful when you smile.”

     She thought the head tilt was adorable, but she didn’t say anything.  Not yet.  First, she would allow him to brush her hair and tell her how beautiful she was.

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