Mirror, Mirror On The Wall...
Disclaimer: This was written for the Academy of Bards Halloween Challenge. Its easy, Steph said, Just do something Twilight Zone-ish... So its all thanks to Steph for the invite to take part and also to Kamouraskan for helping me work out some of the story from the loose and wishy washy idea I had.
Copyright to the author October 2002
Dazed and still sleepy, I sat up in bed and for a moment, wondered where the hell I was and what that awful, buzzing noise was. It took me a moment to figure out that it was the telephone; my wake up call.
It took me another moment to figure out why I was in a strange bedroom.
Groaning, I dragged myself out of bed and into the tiny little room that passed as the ensuite bathroom. I switched on the shower, and the cramped room immediately filled with steam. From what I could see of myself in the mirror, I looked like shit. I swiped at it, trying to clear off some of the condensation, and stared at myself.
I barely recognised the woman who stared back at me.
All the crying Id done the night before mustve really gotten to my eyes - they were red rimmed, and bleary looking. The condensation on the mirror mustve been really playing tricks too, because they looked a different colour - almost green instead of their usual blue. Even my hair looked different - darker than usual. I dragged my fingers through it, trying to bring it to some kind of order and when they got snarled up in the long, thick tendrils, I gave up and stepped into the shower.
The hot water hit me, and it felt like a thousand pinpricks of fire dancing over my body. I gasped, and hopped around until I managed to get it to a more bearable temperature, but not before the skin on my breasts and stomach had turned bright red.
"Shit," I swore aloud, as I glanced down at myself. Grabbing the hotel soap, I absently started working it up into a lather as I replayed the night before in my mind. What had started out as an anniversary treat - the theatre, followed by a meal - had turned into yet another row, and wed both made sure that wed hit the other where it really hurt this time.
"We need a break from each other..."
I paused, my hands full of soap bubbles, and let the water which streamed over my body mingle with the tears that dripped from my cheeks, nose and chin.
"Why do we always end up like this, Rachael?" Alan hissed as he leaned over the table. "Even on our bloody anniversary, you cant drop it, can you?" He sat back in his chair, putting as much distance between us as he could.
"Why do you always get so upset about this, Alan?" I replied, struggling to keep the tears back and my voice down. Already, we were getting furtive glances from the other diners. "I want a baby. Is that so wrong? I want to be a wife and a mother..."
"I cant take much more of this..." He slammed down his napkin.
"I feel incomplete, you selfish bastard!" I blurted before nervously gulping down my wine. "And no matter how many times I bring it up, you never listen to me. Sometimes its like Im not even there..."
"Sometimes I bloody wish you werent!"
I put the soap down, and started to shampoo my hair instead. My fingers slipped through my hair and it felt different; I figured it mustve been the unfamiliar shampoo that made it feel thicker, coarser somehow. I tried to slide my fingers through it, feeling its unfamiliar weight, but they kept getting tangled.
"Do you still love me?" My voice was plaintive, hopeful and fearful all at once. I wondered if he still cared enough to hear it.
"I..." He hesitated a moment; only a moment. "I dont know if Im the same people we were when we married."
My face crumpled. "What does that mean? Im no different..."
He shook his head, yet kept his eyes on the tablecloth. "I think you have. You just wont see it. I know I have. Its just that... I dont think weve changed together."
I rinsed my hair off, took up the soap again and started to wash myself, starting with my arms and moving to my chest, breasts and stomach as usual. I glanced down as the soap suds worked over my breasts, a little startled to see that my hands covered them completely. My breasts were smaller? My stomach seemed a bit flatter too. I knew I was having a tough time lately, but surely you didnt lose weight that quickly? Not that I was complaining...
Maybe your marriage breaking up had benefits, after all?
" So what are you saying? That weve grown apart?" He hadnt replied to this, only nodded and then turned his head away as my eyes had filled with tears. "I dont understand... we were fine. Weve been fine. Im still the same woman you married."
He shook his head again, then drained his wine glass. "Im not sure we really know each other anymore."
"Im your wife, who else do you want me to be?" I pleaded.
We stared at each other over our untouched dinners.
"Is there someone else?" My voice cracked.
I hadnt believed him then, and I didnt now. All this talk about me being different, how far apart wed grown... it was just a cover, it had to be. Id caved in easily last night, going along with his suggestion that we have a break from each other. Thats how I ended up here, in this shabby little hotel room, away from my husband, my dog. My life.
He looked uncomfortable. "Look, I just think we both need a break, maybe some time to ourselves to discover who we really are."
"I already know who I am. Your wife... the mother of your children, if youll let me be."
"Thats not who you are, Rachael! I am not just a husband, or a father - god, Im suffocating here!" He sat for a short while with his head in his hands. "I want to find out how much more I can be, and... I cant as long as Im with you."
"Im happy with who I am, arent you?" There was another eternal silence, as I stared fixedly at him and he studiously avoided my eyes.
"You are so afraid of change." He shook his head, a faint note of wonderment in his voice. "You always were, I guess. I just didnt think it would become this big a deal for me. But I cant stay like this forever, Rachael."
"Alan, dont do this to us. Dont make me go through this. Youre right, I dont like change but... Ill change for you, Ill be whoever you want me to be. Just dont take what I have away from me. I dont know who Id be without it."
"You have to find your own strength, Rachael, you cant keep taking mine. You have to be your own person - we all do. If we dont have that, what do we have?"
"Nothing," I finished, mournfully.
Hed insisted, and Id given it all up. And for what? For some other woman to have?
"Im his wife. Its all I know. Its who I am." I swathed myself in the rough towel, and stalked out of the bathroom. I had a marriage to rescue, and a life to reclaim.
Amazing how quickly the weight just drops off when stress hits you. The jeans I had stuffed into my overnight bag last night were baggy and too long for me. I always liked them a bit on the loose side, but now they were quite uncomfortable as they settled on my hips. I shucked them up, then tried the key in the door again. It was sticking, and I jiggled it around a bit until eventually, I felt the latch drop.
I could hear Suki barking from behind the door. I pushed it open and with a huge smile bent down to ruffle my dogs coat. She hesitated a moment, growling a little, until I called her.
God, even my bloody dog was starting to forget me. Id only been gone a night.
"Alan? Its me..." There was no reply, so I made my way upstairs and into our bedroom, where I hunted around until I found an old belt that had been stuffed away in a drawer for about three years. Hurriedly wrapping it around my waist, I headed back down the stairs in search of my husband.
I found Alan in the kitchen, reading the Sunday papers and chewing on a piece of toast. He nearly choked on it when he saw me.
"Who the hell...?" He was up and out of his seat in an instant, bolting to my side. "Rachael, is that you?" he asked, hesitantly, staring at me as though he barely recognised me.
"Well, who did you think it would be?" I replied, suspiciously. "Werent expecting anyone else, were you?" Seeing him relaxed and contented over our breakfast table had really, really pissed me off. How dare he?
"No, of course not." His face darkened. "I wasnt expecting you, for Gods sake. I just didnt recognise you for a minute there..." He looked at me curiously. I gave him a hopeful half smile. "You look different. Have you done something to your hair?" He stared closely at me, his brows wrinkling with puzzlement, then he grabbed hold of my arm and made to pull me closer. "What are you doing here? I thought we agreed to a split?"
"No, you agreed to one and anyway, I thought you wanted me to change?" I shot back sarcastically, squirming out of his grasp. I was full of resentment and anger at his less-than welcome. "Or have you already found someone to take my place?" I yelled at him as I ran back upstairs.
"Dont be so fucking ridiculous!" he shouted, chasing me up the stairs. "What are you doing here, anyway?"
"I was hoping we could talk," I sobbed, "maybe try and save our marriage. But I think theres only one of us who wants to do that!"
"Oh, dont be so fucking dramatic! A trial separation..."
"A trial separation? You want me out of your life, dont you?" I yelled at him as I ransacked the bedroom and the bathroom in search of traces of another woman. So far, I had found nothing. "Dont you??"
"Yes! I dont know you anymore, I dont even know if I like you!"
I slapped him hard across the cheek. I didnt even stop to think about it, I just whacked him.
And then I ran out, back to the hotel, where I holed up in the bar and drank myself stupid for the rest of the night.
I woke early the next day, before the early morning call. This time, I knew where I was and, even worse, I knew I had to get to work. The phrase Monday morning blues had new meaning for me. Cursing the fact that Alan had made me move to this sprawling, anonymous town away from my family, and vowing to start looking around for a flat tonight when I got in, I made my way into the bathroom.
The face staring back at me from the mirror didnt look right.
It didnt look like me.
It wasnt just that Id been crying all night again, and I looked like death warmed up. Everything about it was different - the features, the shape, the colouring.
I glanced around, petrified that someone had sneaked in behind me, but there was no-one there.
"Just calm down, youre being silly," I muttered, splashing cold water on my face. "Its just a leftover dream, thats all. Who elses face could it be?" I chattered away to myself until Id gotten my breathing under control, pinched my arm to make sure I wasnt still asleep and risked another glance in the mirror.
A stranger stared back at me.
"This is crazy," I muttered, my voice rising with disbelief. "Im having some sort of breakdown, its as simple as that. Not surprising with all thats going on. Just a breakdown, thats all. Gotta get some Prozac or something from the pharmacy on my way to work..."
I put a towel over the mirror so I couldnt look at it again.
I stopped off on the way to buy some aspirin (they wouldnt sell me Prozac over the counter), eventually blundering my way into the Bakery where I work at about 08:15am. Unusually for me, I was late, and I rushed into the shop.
"Can I help you, Maam?" asked Tim politely as he peered at me over the counter, his big spectacled eyes blinking owlishly at me as I went to make my way around the side. "Were not open yet. Was there was something you wanted?"
"Its me, Tim. Stop messing around, Im not in the mood..."
He smiled apologetically, but looked nervous. "Sorry, Im afraid customers arent allowed back here. We open in about another quarter of an hour." He shrugged, and turned to help William wheel in the huge racks of freshly baked bread.
"Its me, Rachael," I said, my voice beginning to rise with frustration. "You know, your supervisor?"
"Sorry, Maam... The supervisors out back. Would you like to see him?"
"Him? Whats going on...?" I banged my fist down onto the counter. "This is bloody ridiculous!" I began to shout, until the Supervisor arrived. I decided that it would be wiser to withdraw and plead my case another time. I left the shop quickly, embarrassed and terrified.
What is going on?
I rushed to the public library across the street, disappeared off to the bathroom and stared at the unknown face in the mirror.
She was still there. Where the hell was I?
I pulled my drivers license out and stared at the photograph on it. It was faded, a little blurred but it was unmistakeably - her. I peered at the name on the card; it was handwritten in ink which had smudged and smeared when being laminated. I couldnt quite make out the name. It was as though the letters were coming apart.
It was my life that was coming apart. I felt like I was in an episode of The Twilight Zone.
"Who are you?" I muttered to the mirror.
She stared back at me, her vivid green eyes burning into mine as she finished mouthing the words back at me. I could feel myself starting to fall into those strangers eyes, and my heart began to pound and my chest tighten, causing my breath to come in short gasps. The feeling of absolute emptiness was overwhelming, and it left me aching and petrified. If I wasnt me, who was I?
"Im having some kind of panic attack, thats all," I rationalised. "Maybe a chemical imbalance or something..." I poured out a palmful of aspirins, and gulped a couple down, followed by a couple of handfuls of water from the tap. I risked another peek in the mirror.
She was still there.
"I know who I am... Im Rachael," I gasped, reaching out to touch the reflection. "Rachael Sawyer... Rachael... Rachael Sawyer..." With each chant of my name, I brought my fist down, shattering the mirror and in each shard, I could see her face staring back at me.
Settling down at one of the study cubicles in the far corner of the library, I emptied my pockets and poured out the contents of my handbag, searching for my wallet. I yanked it open, and pulled out my cards. My credit card, my cash card, even my store chargecard and my library card - all the names were illegible.
Amnesia. Im not losing my mind, its amnesia. Has to be.
My mobile phone had also tipped out on the desk; I flipped it open and punched in my parents number with violently shaking fingers. After several seconds silence, the line connected.
"Dad? Mum, is that you? Its Rachael..."
The operators toneless, computerised voice was my only reply; "The number you have dialled no longer exists. Please try again... the number you have dialled..." I gave a small cry, jammed the handset back into my handbag, then stumbled to my feet.
Alan will know whats going on, Alan will fix things for me...
My hand was shaking so much I could barely hold the key, and I just about managed to get it into the lock, but it wouldnt turn. I remembered it had been stiff yesterday, and I jiggled it around, but it wouldnt budge.
My heart was beating furiously, and it pumped harder as I heard Sukis barks and growls coming from behind my front door. "Its okay, girl," I shouted through the wood, "Its me, Im coming..." Desperate with the need to get into my home, I burst into tears as I tried the key again.
"The bastards changed the locks," I sobbed to myself, "He mustve. Hes locked me out of my own fucking HOME!!" I felt something inside me break, and I screamed and lashed out at the front door, kicking it until my feet hurt. Sukis barks grew louder, and more ferocious.
As quickly as it had come, I felt the helpless fury wash out of me, and I sank to my knees on the doorstep and wept as I rocked myself back and forth.
"This is a dream, its just a bad dream... thats all, just a dream..."
When the door was jerked open, I nearly toppled in. Alan stood there, holding a snarling Suki back by her collar. Warily, he looked around and then down. His mouth dropped a little when he saw my tear-streaked face staring up at him.
"Can I help you?" he asked, in a small, wary voice.
"Alan, its me!" I sobbed as I struggled to my feet. He looked at me blankly, and tightened his grip on Sukis collar. She was snarling at me, and straining to get loose. "Suki, darling..." I reached out a hand and snatched it back as she went for me.
"Are you crazy?" Alan swore at me and managed to drag my Labrador back behind him. "What the hell do you want?"
"Alan, whats wrong with you? Its me!" My tears erupted again, and he took a few steps back.
"Sorry, Ive never seen you before in my life. I think youve got the wrong house. You better go, before I call the police." He started to close the door; I stuck my foot in the way.
"This is my fucking home!" I screamed into his face. "Dont you shut me out, you bastard!" I started to batter him with my fists, sending the dog into a frenzy.
"Are you fucking mad?" he screamed at me, his voice angry but his eyes scared. "Ill set my fucking dog on you if you dont piss off right now!"
"Its me, its Rachael. Your wife, for Gods sake! Dont you know me?" I could hear my voice rising with hysteria. I went to grab him, and earned another cacophony from Suki.
"I dont know who the hell you are, but my wifes inside. Abbie, honey?"
A woman appeared behind him. She laid one hand on his shoulder, and another on Sukis collar. "Take the dog inside while I get rid of this, please will you, love?"
I felt a pair of curious blue eyes sweep over me briefly, before she and the dog disappeared. I could hear Suki still barking from the kitchen.
"Alan?" I held out my hands to him in a gesture of supplication, and forced a desperate smile onto my face. "Whats going on? Who is that woman? I dont know whats happening here, but Im your wife... not her." He began to close the door again, and I started screaming. "Shes not who she says she is! Its my life shes got! MINE!!"
"If you dont get the fuck away right now, Im calling the Police, you fucking nutcase! And if I ever see you around me or my family again..." He shoved me hard onto the ground, and slammed the door in my face.
"Alan!!" I kept screaming and banging on the door, but there was no answer. The curtains were yanked shut, and I could hear the bolts being drawn.
Blindly, I felt my way up the garden path and collapsed onto the pavement, screaming and wailing. I could see my neighbours at their windows, and one of the old women from next door, Mrs Dawson, eventually ventured out.
"Are you okay, lovie?" she asked me kindly.
"Do you know who I am?" I asked her in a small, hopeless voice.
"No lovie," she replied, her eyes wary. "Ive never seen you before."
I nodded in resignation as more tears flooded my face. "Thanks anyway," I said gruffly as I climbed to my feet.
"Will you be okay, lovie?"
"I dont know." I looked at her, willing her to recognise me, but her face remained politely interested. "I just dont know, Mrs. Dawson." She looked puzzled - probably because I knew her name - and I turned away before she could ask me any more.
I wandered around aimlessly for hours - I had no idea where I was going, what I was doing. Eventually I found myself in front of an electrical store, staring at my reflection in the shop window and in the television sets that were on display. Dozens of hazy images of a woman pretending to be me. Everywhere I looked, she was there.
I reached out a careful hand, ran a finger across my reflection and then touched my own face.
The woman in the window ran her finger over her cheek, over her lips and then rubbed her eyes. I leaned in closer to the reflection, so close that I could see the flecks of gold in the green irises; drawing closer, and I saw the minuscule image of the new me reflected in the pupils as though they were round, black mirrors. I felt dizzy... faint and for a moment, I felt like I would collapse into those black wells and lose myself completely in this strange woman.
"I dont know how to be anyone else..." I told her. My words sounded hollow as they echoed through my ears, as though they came to me from a great distance.
Again, I reached out a hand to touch my reflection. "I dont know who you are..." My fingers pressed against the cold glass of the window and my breath misted the pane, causing the reflection of my face to blur and fade. "I cant be someone else - Im Rachael..." My reflection in the glass grew fainter. "Im Rachael Sawyer... Its all I know how to be..." My whole body was tingling; I held my out hand and was stunned to see the translucent outline of my veins and bones against the afternoon sky.
I was fading with each repetition of my name.
I panicked; sheer absolute terror gripped my insides and filled the emptiness that now lay inside me, a black, boiling mass of horror and fear which soaked through any last vestiges of self control I had.
I ran out onto the pavement, and grabbed the collar of a passing shopper. "Im Rachael! Can you see me?" He paused for a moment, as though hed seen something out of the corner of his eye, then kept on going. "You! Can you see me? Im here!" I ran alongside a woman pushing a pram; she didnt look at me, but her baby started crying. "Im here! Dont you see me?" The woman swatted vaguely in my direction, as though I was a nuisance fly buzzing in her ear and then wheeled the pushchair across the road.
I stood on the street, tears coursing down my insubstantial face, and screamed at the top of my lungs. Nobody saw me, nobody heard me.
"I dont have any choice but to accept this, do I?" The words flew off my tongue, laden with bitterness and fear. Immediately, I felt heavier, more substantial somehow. "Im not the same woman I was," I muttered to myself, hating the truth that I was being forced to swallow. "Ive changed. I suppose I have to learn to live with it now."
As I was considering my choices, I was knocked aside as a teenager on a skateboard blundered into me. "Sorry," he mumbled as he skidded off. Hurriedly, I grabbed his arm.
"You can see me?"
His face screwed up, and he mounted his skateboard again. "Well, duh!" was his reply.
I was thrilled. I examined my hands, my legs - every bit of my torso that was visible. Then, I turned back and approached the shop window again.
She was still there, her green eyes glittering and her light brown hair burnished copper as the last rays of the dying evening sun hit it. She gave me a half smile as I greeted her ruefully. "Looks like Im stuck with you, whoever you are. At least its a better working model than the last one I had," I observed as I examined my new body in the glass. "So, you gonna tell me who we are?"
She remained silent, just her eyebrows quirking in response.
"I thought not. Guess thats something I have to discover for myself, huh?" There was the faintest uplift of her lips. I wiped the tears from my face, then dug in my handbag and pulled out my drivers licence and other ID. They were all blank, containing no personal information whatsoever by this time. I strolled to the kerb, and stuffed them all down the drain. "So, what say we go find out who we are? After all, its not as though I can ever go back now, is it?"
And with that, I started to slowly retrace my steps to the little hotel.