h2>Dating : The Man in the Mirror
Have you ever looked into a mirror and wondered who was in the reflection? Did you see a better, more courageous person staring back?
There was one man who didn’t have such a luxury. He sat alone in his room, gazing longingly into the mirror on his bedside table. The room appeared dark and dingy as the dreary flowery wallpaper peeled away from the damp corner.
The reflection was not distorted or impeded, except for the man’s head. His body remained untarnished, yet the man’s identity was smudged out of existence for reasons unknown to him. From the top of his neck to the bottom of his forehead, there was nothing but a void that came in the shape of a circular hole. No one had ever pointed this strange anomaly out to him, which led James to believe only he could see it.
Holding his hand up to his face, the man gently traced his fingers over his nose, and then in slow and steady movements under his eye socket and across the bristles of hair that punctured through his chin. Although he believed he remembered how he once looked, James could no longer remember who he once was.
Agitated, James bolted out of his chair when he couldn’t bear to look at the hole in his head anymore. He walked down the hallway and stopped at the door, clenching the brass handle while twisting his neck slowly in both directions. He scanned the passage, careful not to miss any suspicious activity. James allowed his free hand to feel for the keyring chained to his jeans’ looped fabric.
He placed his finger along the keys’ cold and jagged teeth by touch alone and slotted the metal into the lock. A creaking sound stopped him in his tracks, prompting his throbbing pulse to burst out from his neck. Now entirely still, the only part of him moving were his eyes that went from side to side. When he was confident he was alone, James allowed his body to regain its fluidity. The teeth of the key slid into place, and the clicking sound of an opening lock invited the man with no face inside.
The door swung open, prompting his shadow to leak out of his shoes and onto the carpet. He watched as it crawled on its hands and knees towards the back wall before standing upright. The room felt empty and haunted due to the blacked-out windows smothered with pages of old newspapers.
Three strands of disconnected wiring dangled from the ceiling where a tubular bulb used to sit. Dust from the shelf towards the back wall reflected the light seeping in from the corridor. It was the only piece of furniture inside, and its sole purpose was to provide a stable home for the sealed jars that lined each shelf.
Closing the door, he stood in the darkness and removed the phone from his trouser pocket. Fiddling with the settings, James managed to operate the torch function. The dust particles rose into the air as he motioned the phone down to the floor. There was an eerie quietness as he shone the beam of light towards the shelf.
What presented James frightened and delighted him in equal measure. For it was not every day you saw your face staring back at you. It wasn’t just one face but several faces all imprisoned behind a wall of glass. These were the faces he had previously surgically removed from his skull with nothing more than a rusted kitchen knife. Each face showed a different emotion; some were crying, others laughed, while some were a mixture of anxiety and confusion.
James shone the light slowly across every jar and admired his collection. Depending on the occasion or mood he was in would help him select which face he would wear. On this particular day, James felt people were growing tired of his routine and wanted the world to see that things were now not going his way. Without hesitation, he selected the face that he could hear sobbing in the corner.
Grabbing the tank by the lid with his free hand, James used his arm as a cradle to transport the face down the hall. As he left, he heard some of the faces mumbled and grumbled as they remained trapped inside their transparent cells. The door slammed shut behind him as he entered his bedroom.
James sat down at his bedside table and unscrewed the lid, placing both hands inside the jar and gripping the excess skin that sagged around his fingers. The face sat like a mask on his palms as he slowly lifted the hollow face into place. The skin instantly fused to his neck as though it had been there all along.
Changing into his shirt and spraying his body with cologne, James collected his valuables and headed down the stairs past the lifts that never worked. He left his block of flats and buttoned up his dark grey coat. The cottontails of his coat swayed in the wind, dancing around his legs like two loyal huskies. The night was clear, yet the city’s dull amber lights were dense enough to block out the stars above their heads.
The punters in the pub had become very fond of James over the short time he had started going there. They were all startled by his sadness. They sheepishly looked at one another and sat him down, comforting him with either an arm around his shoulder or a pint of cold beer. Was this the same bloke they had come to know over the months? The man who never stopped smiling, charming, and laughing his way into the hearts of all those he met?
More and more people came to offer their support without fully understanding why the man was in such a state. This emotional state proved untroublesome for James, who secretly lapped up their affection and bathed in their love that he enjoyed drowning in. There was only the odd flicker of unease of deceit he carried on his shoulders, but that feeling wasn’t a powerful enough impulse to make them stop. James was addicted to their concern and attention; to be loved and adored by his peers was all he ever wanted.
James left the pub alone, despite people asking if he wanted company. Reluctantly, his friends respected his wishes and left him to wander back home into the night. There were more clouds than before, and the night seemed full of activity. The amount of traffic was abnormal for that time of the evening, and this oddity was made stranger still by a constant choir of dogs barking.
People started evacuating their homes and spilling out onto the uneven pavements. The streets were lit up in a neon blue wall, as a string of sirens blasted past. The crisp air was no longer pleasant to breathe, the aroma of smoke filling the public’s nostrils. It was then James saw a huge orange glow from above the buildings close to his home. The heat was so intense that he no longer felt the cold. Unable to tear his eyes away from the building, he stood in shock, watching his home burn to the ground.
Police cordoned the areas and made sure no one could get inside. The firefighters were given the impossible task of trying to control the fire and salvage anything they could. The flames licked their lips along the cladding side, as the inferno destroyed everything in its path. There was a sudden panic, as James realised his collection of faces were trapped inside. He stood next to people who were left powerless to do anything but watch everything they own go up in smoke.
Unable to watch this unfold, James shoved his way to the front of the crowd, where the police stopped anyone from getting too close. The inconsolable man begged them to let him go inside, to save his precious collection.
After they told him that such a request was suicidal, the man barged past the police officer and made a run for it. James ignored the intensity of the heat radiating from the building and made a sudden dash for the entrance. He didn’t make it that far, brought crashing down to the ground by not one, but two firefighters.
Laying on the floor and with his wrists held tight behind his back, James managed to crane his neck skyward to watch as part of the building collapsed to the ground. There he could identify the screams from his collection of faces that the newspapers would later describe as the shrieks of pigs being slowly cooked on a spit.
The tower block residents were found temporary accommodation in hotels while a more long-term solution was found. The homeless Tennant found himself at the site where the tower block once stood and tried to look for the jars that were either melted or blown to smithereens. Many of the residents were heartbroken by what had taken place that fateful evening, yet none looked so distraught and broken as that man on the sixth floor.
The guests in the hotel room next door to where James stayed heard him sob through the paper-thin walls. For months he sat in his room alone, petrified to take off the only face he had left. Many people felt sorry for what had happened to him, and they did all that they could to help and lift his spirits. James became a different character to how people remembered him, which eventually put people off. In the months that passed, he became utterly unapproachable. His friends stuck by him at first, but even they were weighed down by his sadness.
Unable to take his face off out of fear people would judge him, James decided to self-isolate and locked himself away in his hotel room’s comfort. Instead of mixing with people, James Decided he would spend time with new friends who went by the names of Jim Beam and Jack Daniels.
Throwing himself down on the chair, James sat in front of the mirror and stared numbly into the reflection. Suffering in silence, his hands clenched into fists. Bursting out of his chair, he flung his torso forward, swinging his arms wildly at the man in front of him. The glass in the mirror cracked along with the thin skin stretching over each one of his knuckles. Clawing his nails behind the back of his ears and wailing in rage, James prised open the skin around his neck, ignoring the blood dribbling out of the wounds.
With his face now off and on the table, Jame picked up the sharpest shard of glass he could find and frantically slashed away, cutting his fingers in the process. He continued this frenzy until the face was disfigured beyond all recognition. What remained was a bruised and doughy piece of putty meat.
With want and destruction oozing through his body, he took out his rage on anything he could get his hands on. The room was demolished — not even the free hand soap, and shower dispensers escaped punishment.
One lamp remained on, despite it lying arse-up on the floor. The glow from the light prompted James to look at the carnage he had caused- not only to the room but to himself. He reluctantly picked up the chair and sat down, trying to catch his breath. James looked into the smashed up mirror with no more masks to wear and no more faces to hide behind.
The black abyss that had plagued him for so long began to slowly cave in on itself, revealing parts of himself he struggled to recognise. Accepting this feeling of vulnerability and nakedness, James finally embraced the broken reflection staring back. With nowhere left to run, James was left with no choice but to accept who he was. For the first time, in a decade or so, he began to make peace with the one man he could never escape.