by Jan Kaneen

The reflection is always on tenterhooks, waiting, nervously behind the silvery dividing line, in the slipstream reaches of the netherworld, waiting for him to pass.

Like all reflections, it must be quicksilver to appear at precisely the right time in exactly the right place, perfectly shape-shifted.

Bathroom mirrors are not much of a challenge, being regular, frequent and painless but they are the exception, not the rule.

Shop windows every day, on the way through the city are trickier, more transient and unpredictable.

The windows on packed tubes demand more skill and total concentration. The reflection must one moment be transparent and ghostly against daytime glass and then instantly solid and full-colored against underground, obsidian black.

Rainy day panes on the train to and from Waterloo are torture. They require the reflection to undergo sustained fragmentation, which is both demanding and excruciating, like being ripped to pieces and dislocated innumerable times, pulled apart into agonized smithereens.

The potbellied, brass coal-bucket on the hearth at home and the forks at dinner are excruciating as you can imagine.

The millpond at midnight when the water is as still as mirrors is an unexpected surprise.

They’ve never been here before.

He’s holding a counterpart bottle of scotch, half-drunk as the reflection looks up and sideways, trying to catch the words being uttered from beyond. It’s hard for the reflection to hear because it’s doubling itself, appearing at once flat and perfect in the water and shrunken and distorted in the bottle. The words are muffed and slurred, but it gets the gist.

Closing in, can’t carry on, nothing to live for.

The reflection swallows too. Is this really happening? What are the chances? That a human being might kill themselves looking deep into their unbroken, perfect reflection, allowing one of them to escape and take his place? Almost no one abandons their body, gazing calm at their own still-reflected selves, which is why that is the rule; the cruel hopeful commandment that chains reflections like shadows to their masters.

Other reflections sense the potential and do the unthinkable, clamoring in excitedly at the impossibility, pushing like poltergeists just below the surface. Inanimate reflections, of trees, grass, cottages, the clear black sky, the moon and stars move in, closer, entranced, poised.

He doesn’t notice. He’s somewhere else, looking inside himself, so the pond and the reflections and the sky, and the trees and the universe don’t exist, which is a shame because they’re all right there, crowded in, in one still, small mill pond right before his eyes.

The reflection jostles away all the other reflections. This is its chance not theirs. But he’s turned back, away from the brink, which tomorrow will be choppy ripples. If he dies here tomorrow the reflection must fragment like the pieces of a kaleidoscope, the chance shattered.

It would scream if it could, long and hard like a Siren or the Banshee it longs to be, but it’s condemned to silence as well as everything else so it pulls itself together and goes to wait in the shadows by the bedroom window for him to draw the curtains.

The reflection is always on tenterhooks, waiting, hungrily, millimeters away, just behind the silvery dividing line in the close-by reaches of the netherworld, waiting for him to pass.


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