The mirror from the antique shop suited Ania’s studio apartment perfectly. It was a large gothic Victorian mirror with ornate black swirls around the centred glass. It only cost her £100. Alf, the man who sold it to her, knocked £50 off the asking price. He said it was too big an item for most people, so he’d drop the price for Ania to take it off his hands. Alf spun a similar yarn to every customer, and it was effective. Alf even offered for him and his nephew, Will, to deliver it the next day.
When Alf and Will pulled up in the van outside the large and imposing block of flats where Ania lived, Alf wished he hadn’t bothered offering delivery. It was a cumbersome and delicate enough item as it was. He silently prayed that her apartment, 7A, was not on the top floor.
His prayer was unanswered. Four flights of stairs later, Alf found himself wheezing. He pulled down his face mask and took in gulps of fresh air. The stairwell was open air, it had large open spaces between floors, so the cool Autumn breeze prickled the beads of sweat on Alf’s forehead as they were quickly cooled.
Will said something to him, but Alf couldn’t make it out. These damn face coverings, he thought, they made it harder for him to understand what people were saying. Maybe he was going deaf and had been compensating by lip-reading. He was conscious that, at fifty-nine, he was starting to feel the onset of old age. He was already using his wife’s reading glasses for the crossword.
Ania let them in with a smile and offered them a drink which they both turned down. “Can’t be too careful with this Covid,” said Alf, and Will mumbled some approximation of agreement.
Ania had cleared a space in her studio apartment for the mirror, and they leaned the large antique against the wall, ensuring it was solidly in place before Alf set about unpicking the bubble wrap and taking off the dust sheet. Alf passed Will the dust sheet to hold onto and began to unravel the bubble wrap carefully. As he did so, Ania watched on, steaming black coffee in hand. The mirror already looked magnificent in place, so she anticipated it would be quite the talking point when revealed.
The mirror looked resplendent up against the wall. It was full length, so afforded Ania a view of herself in joggers, hoody, and tied-back hair. She felt a bit self-conscious as to how slobby she looked. As she looked the mirror over, she noticed an imperfection in the glass. It looked like a red smear. She took a step closer and it had gone. A trick of the light perhaps.
Alf took a cloth from his overalls and gave the mirror a final polish. As he did so, Ania saw the red smear again. Except now, upon further inspection, it was a red oval shape, misted at the edges, like someone had sprayed paint on the glass right where she was looking at Alf’s reflection.
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She moved, and the red splash moved too. It seemed to move at an angle depending upon where Ania stood as Alf finished cleaning. In this strange refraction the red splash always appeared to Ania over the reflected image of Alf’s torso as he cleaned. When he stepped away the red splash disappeared. Ania looked around the room. She remembered her red vase on the windowsill and assumed the light from the window on this sunny Autumn morning must have somehow cast a red shadow through the vase onto the mirror.
Ania thanked Alf and Will for their efforts and closed the door behind them. She returned to survey herself in the mirror. No red splash appeared no matter how much she moved around the room trying to recreate the casted shadow she had seen before.
She returned to her desk by the window. This damn blog post wouldn’t write itself. She quickly wrote a post-it note to remind her to write a post about the mirror. That’d make a good interior design piece for her lifestyle blog: Ania ‘Nother Thing.
A crash jolted her from her seat. It was such a loud bang; it must have been right outside the block. She craned her neck over the desk to look down through the window.
She saw Will stagger from the passenger side of Alf’s van, holding his head, red with blood. The van was crumpled into a lamppost, steam rising from the bonnet. She rushed out of her apartment and down the stairs as she called for an ambulance.
Twenty minutes later the ambulance pulled away with both Alf and Will onboard. Alf was laid out on a stretcher. They’d covered his face with a blanket. A massive heart-attack had keeled him over at the wheel of the van causing him to crash. His death was instant and painless, according to the medic. Will was inconsolable and sat slumped inside the ambulance holding Alf’s hand, refusing to let go and insisting he travel with his uncle.
The police had cordoned off the street and Ania tearfully returned to her apartment.
Shaken by the whole experience, she poured herself a brandy. It was midday now and would calm her down. She looked at the mirror as she swirled the brandy in her glass. Her mind wandered into a guilty twist of fate that meant Alf was here.
Had the carrying of the mirror up those stairs brought on the heart-attack? He’d seemed out of breath when he arrived but, fine when he left. She looked at her reflection looking back at her and noticed, in the top left-hand corner of the mirror a small vertical scratch of about an inch. She ran her finger over it. It was quite deep. The solidity of the glass was fine, it just had a deep groove in it. She hadn’t noticed it before.
The following day, Ania had resolved to recall the accident in her blog. She wouldn’t name Alf and wouldn’t post the blog till some time later in the year but, she would write the piece that day whilst it was still fresh in her mind. She’d woken in the night thinking about it and had scribbled a couple of notes in her bedside notebook. The blog post would be called “Simple Twist of Fate” from the Bob Dylan song, and it would be focused upon the circumstances of the accident but more so on the idea that none of us know what the future holds for us.
She was at her desk, switching on her laptop and eating a bowl of cereal, when she was startled by a bang on the window. Her cereal went spilling onto the hardwood floor, and she looked up in fear at the window where Mick, the window cleaner, stood mouthing “Sorry” as he leaned on the ladder, large sponge in hand. Ania smiled and shrugged and mouthed back, “It’s ok, you scared me!”.
Down on all fours with paper towels in hand, Ania began soaking up the milk and soggy cornflakes. The sun glinted in her eyes by way of reflection in the mirror. Cloud cover quickly shielded the sun, but, the flash had caused Ania to look over at the mirror.
From where she knelt, she could see Mick, whistling to himself as he soaked the window in suds before reaching into his belt to get the squeegee to remove it. Strangely, at this angle, the red splash appeared once more, except this time it was in two places that caught Ania’s eye. Maybe the sun had left those strange shapes that remain in your vision afterwards.
Ania looked over to the windowsill and back. Surely there was no way light could rebound through the vase and show up on the mirror from where she was. Ania moved the vase into the kitchen and returned to her position on the floor.
Sure enough, Ania could see two red marks on the mirror. Each was a straight line, still misty around the edges like sprayed paint. They were each, Ania estimated, six inches long. They remained straight but moved about the surface of the mirror. As Ania refocused her gaze on where the red lines moved, she noticed that the lines moved in direct relation to Mick’s reflection. Each red line was somehow linked to where Mick was moving his arms. In fact, each red line followed the movement of his hands. No, his wrists. If Ania sat perfectly still, the red lines dissected Mick’s wrists and moved with them as he cleaned the window. It was as if he were wearing two red wristbands. Ania turned away from the mirror and looked back out at Mick. He was wearing a copper wristband, perhaps that was refracting light in some way. Ania resumed her clean up but, something about that mirror, looming large and imposing in the room started to weigh on her mind.
Sunday morning was newspapers, croissants, and coffee morning. Ania, face mask applied, returned from the local shop with newspaper and fresh croissants in hand. Mrs Elgar, the elderly lady from the ground floor flat was leaving just as Ania returned to the main door. Mrs Elgar, also wearing her face mask, held the door for Ania. Ania broke into a little run to get to the door quicker.
“Thank you, Mrs Elgar. How are you coping with lockdown?”
Mrs Elgar shifted her position to be more distant from Ania, “Oh, I’m ok dear. It’s the new normal isn’t it? Could be worse couldn’t it? Like that poor windows fella”.
Ania thought of Bill Gates. Mrs Elgar saw the confused look on Ania’s face and continued, “Y’know, Mick Barron, the window cleaner? Must’ve been too much for him. God rest his soul.”
“I’m sorry, what?” Ania was concerned.
“Killed himself. No note, so they don’t know why but, must’ve been money or all this Covid stuff.”
“What? He was just here this week? How-“
“Slit his wrists. It’s his wife I feel sorry for having to walk in and find him like that.”
Ania rushed back up the stairs leaving Mrs Elgar tutting and mumbling to herself about manners as she went about her day.
Once in the apartment, she threw the newspaper and croissants onto the sofa and turned to look at the mirror.
In the top left-hand corner, another vertical scratch had appeared next to the one that was after Alf’s heart-attack.
The red mist on Alf’s chest! The red lines on Mick’s wrists!
Oh my god, it’s keeping tally! The fucking mirror is keeping tally!
She looked at her reflection, mouth agape and eyes wide in horror. Her hands crept up to her neck where the red spray line horizontally crossed the throat of her reflected image.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’m just going to come out and say it: I love this story! I originally intended the title, taken from a Spotify playlist, to be a prompt for a flash fiction of fifty words or less. However, once I got the idea of a mirror in my head, this story developed, and I knew it had the legs to become a longer piece. In fact, I may one day return to this and expand upon it further. I do feel that Ania makes the connection between the events and the mirror extraordinarily quickly. I’d quite like to stretch it out a bit further, but I did feel that the reader would make the connection quickly too. After all, why else would the mirror be so prominent?
Categories: Short Stories