That’s not your reflection. It can’t be. She looks like you, there in the bathroom mirror. Only ever in the bathroom mirror. A perfect simulacrum. Golden curls, a dark cloud hovering around the eye, even the bandages around her wrist are the same kind of fresh. But she’s not you.
She’s too fast.
She jumps the gun on your movements. The first time you notice it appears like a simple mistake. A trick of light or a slight of hand. Or rather like she has been hiding for too long and became careless. The woman in the mirror beats you to the ibuprofen, her fingers touching its mirror image just a hair’s breadth sooner.
At first you aren’t sure and you stare her down, her gaze hard and unflinching. Oh, she’s tricky. Tricky tricky tricky. You carry on and she also doesn’t reach for the other meds, trying to compensate for her indiscretion. She’s smart. But you’re smarter.
The next morning you have a plan. A simple plan, but a good one. Your morning routine, standard and sure. Reaching for the cover-up foundation, your fingers pause just an inch from the bottle.
And she grabs it.
Her eyes turn to yours and her brows dips all by themselves, understanding she’s fucked up and you smiled, victorious. The ruse is up. Your mirror image leans forward without you and you both smile.
When she no longer has to hide, she doesn’t.
You know she isn’t you because she does things you would never. Her actions only a second before yours but strangely guiding. Floss before brushing? Stuffing dirty fingers into your mouth? Disgusting. But she has already grabbed the floss and you follow, compelled since it is ridiculous for two versions of you to be doing something different.
Of course she doesn’t always lead. Not when he is around.
Because she also watches him.
Only a glance out of the side of her eye, leaving yours often. Only a flicker, keeping a stoic observance on his hands while you are both at the double sinks. Maybe she’s on your side after all, also afraid, also restless. Her lips steel into a tight line. Or maybe she is pissed off.
He does that thing in the back of his throat, the one that grates your nerves like soft cheese in a shredder, spitting phlegm into the sink and walking away, expecting it to magically disappear. The tender skin beneath her eye twitches. That’s when you know you aren’t enemies. You are cellmates. She smiles.
You know she isn’t you because she has crazy ideas. Beautiful, crazy ideas. Ideas that questioned the nature of your own reality. There are other ways to be. Her actions begin occurring longer and longer before yours. Time stretching, yawning between you both and sometimes you feel like a puppet on strings. She no longer guides, but tells. Your hair, a rat’s nest of depression, speaks volumes of your homelife. You reach for the brush but her hand moves past it and onto the scissors. She grins mischievously, an impish smile on two heart-shaped faces, and you smile back. What a wonderful idea.
Wonderful, crazy ideas. He would hate it.
She cuts it all off.
You cut it all off.
Every golden lock, every straggling curl, cutting them all down to the quick, leaving a close look at your mottled scalp. Her scalp. Beautiful.
Oh, she has ideas, but doesn’t lift a finger to help. But what did you think she would do? Step out of the glass? Throw herself on his muscular back? Whenever you catch a glimpse of her, mid-altercation, she plays dumb, follows your lead. Or rather his. She falls with you to the tiles like a limp doll. Comrades in arms from his arms.
Why would she help you when you don’t help yourself?
When it finishes, you always need a bath. Wiping off the detritus, sloughing unwanted seed. You lay in the water while she stands at the mirror. Your bruises are the same. Her disgust greater. She simply stands there, revulsion on her face as her nose nearly touches the glass, examining you in the bath. A contemptuous stare. A hateful stare traveling down your floating nakedness. She hates what you have become. Hates enough to put herself far ahead of you, distancing herself from your existence. Your doppelgänger makes it clear she even hates that you and she look alike. She is goading you.
You stand from your bath, dripping, naked and walk to her until you are almost synced. You still have a back, a spine, he hasn’t broken that yet. You are more than what swills down the sink. Your desires align. She paws tenderly at your apple cheek, swollen and angry and you are suddenly grateful. Grateful someone shares this moment, has a pervading sense of justice when you don’t. Knows that loving someone with all their fibers and every pulse of your blood doesn’t allow them draw it like water from a well
Your grateful for someone stronger. Someone with a clear mind. Someone who tells you how things should be. Someone with a clear idea of the future. She never reaches for the medication, so neither do you. No longer do you bandage your wounds because she never does. She flushes makeup that covers disgrace and your hands also do it willingly.
No, she isn’t you.
She’s too strong. And you are weak.
You both continue watching him, brushing his teeth, often with knuckles red and bruised. Evidence is only evidence if someone notices it. But then he parts his hair the way you like, trims his mustache because he knows you hate it long, dabs the cologne that stirs nostalgia and good times, and his hand sweetly fondles your hip. You kiss him, forgiveness on your lips, and she’ll never forgive you. Her eyes wander down to his hand and burned as it left. Chiding you mercilessly. Rightfully so. Loving someone who hurts you. Disgusting. Pathetic.
She moves farther ahead in time. Decisively, a new vigor to her motions.
And you simply watch.
You had it wrong, again, always wrong. She is you. She is a future you. A time traveler returning to help herself. She shows you the future, a story playing on the big mirror, a TV show for examination. You watch her, yourself, him. She ventures so far into the future, the light streaming through the mirror world’s window is a different shade. You can’t look away, shes mesmerizing, tantalizing, hypnotic, hypnotizing, psychosis.
He enters the bathroom. Invades your space, her sanctuary. He says something to her, a careless brush of his hand beneath her ear, a stroke to hold your face, tenderly, lovingly. Not with the forceful calloused fingers of acrimony, but with desire. Love.
She hates it, and her hand whips out, the scissors on the counter already clutched tight. She demonstrates how they can pierce the tender spot on the hollow of his neck, right below his ear. She even made it in slow motion, like an instruction manual. The sharp metal broke skin like a hot knife in slimy butter. Him, future him, writhes in the mirror, falls across the counter, blood spurting from his body like great, glorious rivers lived inside him.
It is beautiful, empowering. She could do it, so you could do it. By your reckoning, this helpful time traveler had already done it and she is just giving you a play-by-play review. It soothes your nerves and rouses your courage.
A sound, his boots dropping onto the bottom of the stairs, echoes, and she reverses the mirror world in double time, rewinding her found footage to the present. You both slip the scissors into your robe pocket, your intentions paired down to the atomic level.
You don’t think he is searching for you, but you are often found in the bathroom these days, and his feet might have led him there all by themselves. Unthinkingly searching for his wife, though he quickly decides on a shower. Stinking of work, grubby hands, his actions are exactly as she described them. He doesn’t notice anything unusual, anything untoward, no additional audience. No additional eyes. He undresses, an intimidating and overwhelming body. But he notices you watching him, like you always do and grins with that square jaw and dimple. He knows all your weaknesses, and at one point you were grateful to him for accepting them, overlooking the more damaging flaws. The flaws that make it difficult to keep a job, keep a home, medicines that keep you alive but also caged.
He also knows what you like because he likes it too.
He whispers a lewd, delicious comment in your ear, a careless brush of his hand beneath her ear. You have seen this before, a movie seen twice. A stroke to hold your face, tenderly, lovingly. He steps in, cradling you, undoing the robe, your hand slipping into the pocket. The scissors are cold and the handle smooth. Your heart is a drum.
His kisses are rough and your scissors raise, the hot knife and warm butter, just liked she showed you. Just like she promised.
Your arm raises. The scissors high. Sisters in arms.
And he catches them.
His face is at first confused, his mirror self equally puzzled. But then his eyes travel to the scissors, the bruise and cuts not far below on your wrist. Anger blooms like a poisonous red cloud on his face and then you are the confused party. A different iteration to your movie. A director’s cut where she smiles wickedly in sheer delight.
His arm comes down, an open palm and then a closed one.
The clear movie turns crimson. The screen obfuscates by your self. Over and over again, the screen grows darker, dripping with your haze. The scissors came down, but not in him.
From your place on the floor, the cold tile mashes your face, you watch him swear and holler in the mirror above, aggravated at himself for losing control again. He always became easily frustrated with your sickness. He had never taken it so far. This was too far.
You cough, air is becoming a problem, and once he leaves after bleaching his hands and searching for garbage bags, you are alone together.
No, a woman should always trust her gut and yours rang true from the start. She’s not you at all, not some future time traveler here to save you, you wouldn’t let yourself die, no matter how much self loathing rots your insides. She watches you, standing right at the mirror, as close as she could get, watching you gasp on the tiles, no longer cold. A warm pool grows around you. And she smiles. Wide, gleaming, she laughs and it is the most realist thing to ever happen in your bathroom. The happiest anyone has ever been in such a small space. Happy she no longer has to live with you. Happy she is freed from life’s heavy chains. Happy she is no longer your cellmate. Happy she now has the cell to herself.
Rowan Hill is a horror author currently living in America. She loves flawed women who occasionally murder, hiking and the outdoors, and a good 80’s synth soundtrack. She has many short story credits and a novella released last year and another in the year to come. She can be found on social media or her website, writerrowanhill.com