By Juleigh Howard-Hobson
Followed by Q&A
There is a white hole in the wall, a mirror. It is a trap. I know I am going
to let myself be caught in it...
It is soft, what I see in the white hole. Soft and slightly dim. Like going home. Like going under. Like going in. I know it will yield to me when I go in, when I let myself be caught in it. Will it stay soft, I wonder? Or will it crystallize with my entrance? Will my presence shatter it at once or will I slowly harden it? Shall I encrust with it or will I be expelled from my soft hole, my mirror, my trap?
Here, I put my hand to it. Hard and cold at first, then warming, melting—I push and my hand is both in and out. I am in and out. Trapped and not trapped. Safe and not safe. Which one is me? Which hand is mine?
I withdraw and it withdraws from me.
Not completely. Never completely. Who can return from such a trap? To see if you can, you are trapped again. Or always was. Only those who have never felt the tug tug tug pull of the mirror are not trapped by what was once reflected.
Reflected! Who has not seen, close or far, by accident or on purpose, their unwanted reflection, held captive by a mirror they do not own? Who does the reflection belong to, then? Who is the owner, who is the owned?
Silent, it is, the hole in the wall. And serene. Even when reflecting chaos. It floats, untouched. Yet it touches. And how deeply it touches. Every nuance, every shadow—there! There! There! They all are repositioned and reproduced within the white serenity of trap that is the mirror. How can it capture me thus? How does it pull the picture that is my face from my face.
Or is it my face at all? Perhaps not. Perhaps it is another face altogether. His hair just so. His cheeks just so. That shirt exactly the same shade and cut as mine. Mirrored but not duplicated, not reflected.
His hand brushes his lips. His eyes watch his fingers—so like my own—curl, flex, reach. They touch but not each other, they touch the trap. Press press press—only cold smoothness. A hand here and a hand there. At the same time. But they cannot be the same hand.
Here I remove it. It moves in the mirror. Back and forth it goes. Touch and retreat.
Do I call the moves or do I follow? Is it him reaching—his fingers, so like mine, splayed up toward the mirror glass—or is it me?
Me. I think. I decide. I push my hand. Tug my hair. Wipe my face with my fist. Because I decide to.
Or do we decide together? He and I. Doppelganger. Spook. Guardian. Double. Fylgia. Reflection. Me. Not me. Him. Not him. Us.
Is the mirror the third? Holy triskele. Trinity. Three become one. One in three. Him, me, it. Us. Us. Always us. The me that is him and the it that comes between. Dividing thinker from thought, doer from deed, dreamer from dream, flesh from reflection. The trap that makes up our eternal audience, our target, our base. He and I accord for that and that alone, that one reason. It must have us so. Trapped. Forever. A dance of three. Triplicity. Yes, it is the third. Always.
Always there with its dim soft triplicity. Made to look like duplicity. Just there and here. In and out. No more, no less. Come and look. Come and see. No one heeds the trap, the hole, the way it holds everything apart and together.
The mirror—is that the trap or is the trap further in? Beyond the mirror, within the mirror. Deep inside. It has such depths. Such secrets held—secrets that go past what I can see. I see merely what I may see. What I see that is here for me to see. A wall. A picture. A mantle. A man. A door. Same same same, all the same.
What is beyond the door that looks so much like the door—my door—it mirrors? It cannot be my kitchen. My kitchen does not exist in the deep reaches of the mirror, yet the door remains. What does the door lead to, in there? Who has knowledge of what lurks beyond that door? Not this mirror, surely, it has never been in the kitchen. Never hung there, never brought in there, never known the stove or the table or the pantry shelves that exist in there. What the mirror cannot know it cannot contain!
The door is there. I can see it. I can put my hand to it, the mirror door—almost almost almost touch it—but the glass, the soft dim glass of that which is the third portion of all of this—stays my grasp. I see but cannot touch it.
I can touch my door.
He touches his in the trapped reflection that I see. Does he know that I do not know what is beyond his door? Does he assume that I am the same as he? Door equals door, man equals man, here equals there. Yes, yes, no.
Here is not there. The here that is there is there here, not here here.
Am I reflected there?
Does the mirror there within the trap reflect an image of me? To him? Who else? Who else would see me? Would see this room?
Am I his trap? Does he feel the urge, the pull, to reach and touch past the smooth glass that keeps up apart? Is his desire his or is it mine, reflected back? It cannot be mine, I am not there. His desire can only be the desire of the man there, not the desire of the man here. I am here. He is there. The divide lies between us.
Palpable. Real. Ever present.
The trap makes a desire that cannot be culminated by possession—there is nothing to possess. Image. Color. Reflection. Shattered, it is gone. Smashed, it goes. Nothing there at all.
Memory of what was there. Reflected there. Two men, two mantles, two hands reaching—each extended from an arm toward each other—stopped by the trap. By the hole that wants to pretend it is not a whole. Yet all the while it contains a whole.
Now contains a whole. A now that exists here and there. Then and now. There now and here now. A double now. Equivalent. Parallel. A worm hole. A white whole. Ever so thin, ever so fragile. I can break it if I wish. But it cannot be erased. The thin fragments can crack apart and grow microscopic but can not not exist. That which was held by them was held. There is no unexistance.
Can he break his mirror? When reflected fists smash, is it my flesh breaking the trap glass or his? Whose hand punches through? Will we touch, even for a moment, as the cracks bloom and widen under our fists? Will we know if we do? If we don't? When do we stop being we?
Does a 'we' exist if we can not exist without the trap, the mirror. Will there always be us? He and I.
Does the mirror hold us only here or does it hold us everywhere? Is the mirror one mirror or many? E pluribus Unum. On and on and on. A house of mirrors endlessly reflecting, retracting, expanding, distorting, contracting, making of us what it will. What it can.
Can it make us want it wants? Does it make him more like me when it distorts or is it that I suddenly am like him? The true me? The true him? Must one of us endlessly change to suit the image of the other? Who? Which is the other? Him or me? Who changes the most?
It does not matter, we change or we do not change. We revolve and we reflect. The mirror's reflected door holds secrets he knows and I shall never know. He cannot open my door. We part. We leave. We rejoin. We reflect.
Trapped in the soft dim depths we co exist. Him I it. Here there everywhere. One two three. Front middle back. Reflections reflecting but not looking. No Janus but a caterpillar, believing it always was and will continue as it is.
I shut the light off and we all go away.
Juleigh Howard-Hobson is a widely published essayist, short story writer and formalist poet. Named a Million Writers Award "Notable Story" writer, she has been nominated for both the Pushcart and the Best of the Net. Her fiction has appeared in The First Line, Danse Macabre, Sein und Werden, Key Hole Magazine, Aesthetica, The Loch Raven Review, Going Down Swinging, The Liar's League, Whistling Shade, Broken City and many other places -- both in print and in cyberprint.
Q: What was your inspiration for this story?
A: When I was 16, studying for the Higher School Certificate in Australia, we were set some European poems to translate. One pair of words struck me: “deep mirrors”...I don’t recall the poet, or even if my translation was correct or not (a real possibility)...but the image buried itself in my chest. This piece was pulled out of there.
Q: What's your second favorite place on Earth, and why?
A: Grave 121, Kensal Green Cemetery, Harrow Road, London W10. Leigh
Hunt—poet, essayist, the most pleasant of writers—is buried there;
visiting his grave is one of my fond memories—revisiting is one of my
Q: PC, or Mac?
A: I'm writing this on a PC. So PC it is.
Q: What's your process when writing a short story?
A: I kick an idea around for about two minutes, then dive right in. The plot
figures itself out (which is to say, my subconscious manages to get there
before I do) as it goes along. I have disciplined myself to be able to
completely disregard the inner editor while I'm writing. After the first
draft is done, I'll let my critical inner voice have sway, but it is
banished from the initial act of creation. Very liberating.
Q: If you weren't a writer, what would you be?
A: Those who can't: teach. I expect I would end up as an English teacher...or
worse, a professor... Perhaps, though, I would show some real spirit and
do something utterly fascinating and terribly, but strangely,
interesting—embalming comes to mind. As does cryptozoology.