Philippe Dupont opened the door, waited to let the attractive blonde exit, and before walking her to her car, he habitually glanced in the relatively large, round mirror across the hall. His reflection was dead. Despite the seemingly alive being he thought he was, he noticed that the reflection was strikingly different: First of all, the eyes were withered and cold, as if they were looking at something in the far distance, avoiding Philippe. And then there was the paleness. He shivered. His forehead sparkled from cold sweat. He involuntarily wiped his forehead, then rubbed the eyes and saw that the reflection did not repeat his movements. He wanted to scream, but instead he thought he heard a death rattle.
“What happened to you?” asked the woman who came closer when she didn’t receive a response.
“Look.” Philippe barely uttered, pointing to the mirror.
The woman looked and then confusedly turned to Philippe. “What’s there to look?”
“My reflection . . . “
“Your reflection?” The woman looked once more. “What about your reflection?”
“I didn’t know that a glass of cognac would have this effect on you.”
“Look, look!” yelled Philippe, moving his arms. “It’s not moving!”
“Keep it down.” she whispered. “The door is open. You yourself were complaining about your neighbors being too nosy.”
“But it doesn’t move!” Philippe exclaimed in a hopeless tone. “It doesn’t move, do you understand? Here, see? See?” and again moved his arms.
“You’re so weird” she grinned. “I don’t know; I’m leaving. Are you going to walk with me or not?” She impatiently waited for a response from the shocked man standing beside her. “And?” not receiving a response yet again, she walked out, irritated. More mechanically than consciously, Philippe looked at the reflection once more and followed the woman.
They walked to her car in sheer silence. It was cold. The light poles did not work, and that fact seemed to intensify the frostiness of the air. Philippe shivered and lifted the collar of his raincoat. The woman was walking fast, without paying attention to Philippe. She approached her car and without saying good-bye, got into the driver’s seat. After situating, she lowered the window, “Go have some Elenium . . . So sensitive . . . Also, don’t bother calling me again.”
She was gone before Philippe could say anything. She was just looking for a reason, he thought. Otherwise why so tempered and abrupt? Suddenly the reflection came to mind. He felt that going home was above his powers. What should I do? he wondered. Perhaps I should go to Jean’s. Perhaps it was only my imagination.
Jean was not home.
“Come in” Jean’s wife always had that warm smile on her face. “Jean will be home in about two hours. Come in?” she repeated.
She guided him to the living room. There was a mirror hanging from the wall, next to the piano. Philippe, not being able to fight the urge of looking himself in it, walked to the mirror. Alas, nothing has changed—the reflection was cold, dead, and the paleness was still there.
“Some coffee or tea perhaps?” she offered.
“Look at me carefully” Philippe turned.
“What happened?” Jean’s wife did not know what she needed to look for. “What’s wrong?”
“Look at me.” Philippe repeated. “Do I look different?”
“You’re not the type who changes” she smiled. “Everyone changes, but not you. You’re thirty-nine, yet you have the looks of a twenty-five-year old.”
“And now look at that.” Philippe pointed to the mirror.
“This? And that’s a mirror!”
"No, look inside."
"And that's you, too!"
“No, that’s not me. That’s my reflection.”
“What’s the difference?”
Jean’s wife was confused. She looked again and got worried.
“Are you sick?” she asked concerned.
“It’s dead.” he whispered.
“Are you drunk?”
Philippe moved his arms. “See? It’s not moving! It’s not repeating!”
“You’re really drunk! I can smell it. Why did your wife have to leave you? Ah . . . ”
“I told you.” Philippe sat in the chair. “I had a glass of cognac. I’m not drunk to the point to hallucinate.”
“Why don’t you stay over tonight? Jean will be home soon. You’ll play chess, and I have an excellent Sri Lankan tea.”
“I’m afraid I cannot.”
Philippe knew it was pointless. Maybe it appears to me? he thought to himself. I have to see a doctor. “Please tell Jean to give me a call.” Philippe asked and walked to the door.
“Wait! What about the tea?”
But Philippe had already left. He walked on the sidewalks, lost in thoughts. The winter air did not comfort him. There were some trees that had a few leaves left on them. He got home shortly, entered his apartment like a thief, without turning on the lights, trying to ignore the mirror. He stumbled to his bedroom and turned on the nightstand light. Without thinking further, he got himself two sleep capsules and lied down. For a few, long minutes he was looking at the ceiling, waiting for the drugs to take effect.
The anticipation that the morning was going to be different died after a glance in the mirror. The man in the mirror was dead and indifferent. He called in to work to say he won’t be in for the day and rushed to the clinic.
It was his first time to a neuropathologist’s office. He waited for his turn for quite a while. The patients were discussing their illnesses in the waiting room and giving each other advice. The main problems discussed were Alzheimer’s disease, insomnia, and an overweight, old man said that he doesn’t have any illnesses but is scared of losing his sanity.
“How can you not go insane?” he murmured. It’s the same story everywhere—these rich people buying the land and building new things all the time. At least before I got to go the park, have conversation with those like me, play chess, and vent. Now they’re digging the park to build offices there. My friends are passing away one after another. Not too many oldies are left. And when you get to live until seventy, they look at you like you’re too old and have lived for too long.
“You have to die young in order to be appreciated.” noted the diminutive man sitting in the corner trying to be ignorant of the old man. “With medicine nowadays, these seniors . . .”
The old man wanted to give a stinging response to the man in the corner, but only his lips moved, without saying anything out loud. Then he added, “Eh, and my wife left me after forty-five years of marriage . . .”
At that moment Philippe was called in. The doctor was not alone. The nurse, a very attractive young woman, was next to him, writing notes.
“What is the reason of your visit?” the doctor asked.
Philippe looked at the nurse. The doctor understood and asked her to leave them alone. She stopped writing, put down the notepad, and walked out. Habitually, Philippe would have thrown a glance behind her, but not this time. He was not in the mood.
“And? I’m listening to you” said the doctor.
Philippe decided to get straight to his problem.
“You understand . . . ” he said. “Yesterday I looked in the mirror and saw that I was dead.”
“I understand. What else do you feel?”
“Nothing else.” said Philippe. “I don’t feel anything else. I feel completely normal. I mean, uh-huh, except that. I mean, others don’t notice any of this.” Philippe sat up, looking unnerved. “My reflection is what’s dead, in the mirror. It does not repeat my movements; it’s pale . . . in short . . . It’s dead. Is there a mirror here? I can show you.”
“There is no mirror.” said the doctor. “Have you ever been hospitalized?”
“No, no. Never. Please don’t think I’m crazy. I’m telling you—I’m completely normal . . . more than normal.”
“No one said you weren’t. Hallucinations can happen to anyone. It can happen to me.” the doctor chuckled at his own joke. “Exhaustion, anxiety . . . can be causes. Do you have any headaches?”
“Do you drink?”
“Sometimes. In moderate amounts.”
The doctor carefully looked at Philippe.
“Insomnia? Do you lack sleep?”
“Undress from waist up.”
The examination took a while. The doctor pressed Philippe’s shoulders, asked him questions, and then used his little hammer for the knees. He also checked Philippe’s teeth. Then he started writing a prescription. At this moment the nurse knocked on the door, and without waiting for a response, walked in. Philippe has not put his shirt back on just yet. She looked at Philippe with interest. The latter had quite an athletic physique.
The nurse then turned to the doctor, “Sergey Petrovich, I brought his card.”
“Put it here.” he advised. Then he addressed Philippe, “This prescription must be taken three times daily, after meals, and the injections—once every two days. If the hallucinations continue, come see me again, and I will send you to Lons, for further examination.
By listening to the last sentence, the nurse’s expression changed from curious to pity. She looked at Philippe like he was some kind of an insect—a thing that was soon to be destroyed. At least that’s how it seemed to Philippe.
All day Philippe spent outdoors. It crossed his mind to stop by the office, but when imagined the cubicles, his desk, the co-workers’ nosy questions about his absence, he changed his mind. Avril, the secretary, would immediately say, “You shouldn’t have come. If you called in sick, you should’ve just stayed home. Today is especially busy.”
It’s been thirteen years Philippe worked for the same company. During all those years, he twice got minimal raise. And once they even gave him a travel pass (during the winter). Other than these, nothing extraordinary ever happened in the office. His days were monotonous, sleepy, and tedious. Personal life didn’t satisfy him either. It seemed to him that his family was the reason of his dreary existence. He couldn’t help himself but to think that he was born to live a passionate and seething life. But when one day his wife told him that she’s leaving him because she loves someone else—a real man who’s able to provide a passionate and seething life for her (it was clear that she also had the same dream)—Philippe felt miserable and deceived. It’s true that after the divorce there came some changes in Philippe’s life—many new women appeared, but somehow they did not contribute to his hazy search for contentment. Hopelessness became intolerable . . .
. . . Philippe entered the movie theater—there was a film playing about army life—a novice barely comprehended the new rules and had a hard time fitting in his “soldier” role, but with the help of the experienced sergeant, he adapted to the new environment. Philippe did not see the ending of this film, as he took a nap in his seat. He woke up from the noise of the crowd as it exited the theater when all was over and suddenly remembered that at six o’clock he invited to his place that cute brunette he met the other day. All day he avoided mirrors, but the thought of the big mirror in the hallway, terrified him.
By entering his apartment, with bitter assurance, he saw that his reflection’s paleness turned into a dark color—the same thing that happens to a corpse. While thinking this, he felt there was stench in the room. It is not clear what would have happened if the doorbell had not rung. It was her.
Right in the hallway, without a foreword, he asked her to tell him what she sees in the mirror. Alas, the woman also saw what others did—the handsome, fit man in the mirror.
That night Philippe saw a strange dream. His children and ex-wife slid out of the hallway mirror and proposed to him to get a lottery ticket. The cute nurse from the clinic he visited recently also supported his family’s suggestion. Then the film’s sergeant appeared and argued that because of the games the influential people play, the common people suffer, and because of that very reason the little park is gone where the oldies used to play chess. Then the old man from the clinic appeared, his body covered in bandages. Philippe noticed entreaty in his eyes.
He woke up with cold sweat. It was already six in the morning. He had a terrible headache. Perhaps yesterday the doctor was asking about this kind of headache. He stumbled to the kitchen for some water, and when he passed by the mirror, he felt that the stench has worsened. He couldn’t help himself and looked. It seemed impossible to him—the natural process of rotting was rigorously continuing . . .
Philippe couldn’t tolerate his miserable state any longer. He tore apart some sheets with what he covered all the mirrors and glasses in the apartment. Then he got into his bed and took a nap.
He did not leave the apartment that day. Jean paid a visit in the evening, around six. He seemed worried—perhaps the wife told him about Philippe’s peculiar behavior.
“What is this?” Jean asked appalled, pointing to the windows.
Philippe was silent.
“I’m asking you, what is all this?” Jean’s voice escalated. “Why did you hang these sheets all over the place? Has somebody died? Speak!”
“My reflection.” Philippe whispered.
“What about it?”
“Have you lost your mind? I told you to get remarried, form a new family. But you . . . look at you . . . You’re talking nonsense. Do you want to be institutionalized?”
With a sudden movement Philippe tore down the sheet that covered the big mirror. Philippe turned his head with terror, but Jean held him and made him look in the mirror.
“Here, here look! Nothing is wrong with your reflection! You’re the same, except unshaven. Why are you closing your eyes? Take a look! I’m talking to you!”
Philippe opened his eyes. What an astonishment! There was his reflection—good-looking like before! There was no paleness, and the foul smell has disappeared. The reflection’s eyes looked happy and even a bit playful . . .
From happiness Philippe did not know what to do. To jump? To cry from joy, or thank Jean, because he was the only soul there, besides himself? He couldn’t believe his eyes. For a long time Philippe was looking at his rediscovered, lively reflection. Jean was just happy at this sudden change, and the severity from a moment ago has vanished.
Jean stayed with Philippe for several hours. He patiently listened to Philippe’s story of his dead reflection and nodded at times, although he did not take Philippe seriously and thought all this is just a result of extreme anxiety. For the scenario not to repeat, he had to take him to a psychiatrist. And Jean thought of a credible doctor he knew . . .
After Jean left, Philippe cleaned a bit--the apartment remained untouched for the past few days. Then he turned on the television.
There was soccer. After an hour of it, he decided to shave because tomorrow morning he was going to go to work. He opened the hot water faucet in the bathroom, prepared all the necessary utensils and took a look at his joyful self. He mechanically touched his face to feel the grown hair.
His palm slid over a smooth, cold skin, which did not resemble a human flesh, but ice. Shocked, without understanding what has just happened, Philippe looked at his own hand and suddenly realized that the pale and frozen hand could only belong to the dead.