By E. E. Mack
Ralph met Gail at an open mike event in town when they shared the last small table in a corner of the room. They’d each brought something to read, and by the end of the evening they were making plans to meet again. They’d been dating for over a month now and tonight Gail was coming to his apartment for dinner.
Gail was everything he was looking for in woman. She was bright, witty, and had a wonderful sense of humor. They had a lot of things in common, old movies, writing bad poetry and cats, but what really drew him to her was her love of the outdoors. Since their first meeting they’d picnicked, hiked, and even rowed on Lake Hodges. Come to think of it, tonight would be the first time since their meeting he would see her indoors.
He went into the kitchen to check his spaghetti sauce: perfect. He made a green salad and got the garlic bread ready for the oven. He did one more tour of the apartment, plumping pillows, straightening pictures, and finally, smoothing the comforter on the bed one last time. He had high hopes for the end of the evening.
At 6:30 the doorbell chimed. He opened the door and smiled at Gail who looked past him at the large mirror hanging on the wall.
“Gail, welcome to my home,” he said opening his arms to hug her.
She turned her head and stood motionless her mouth moving, trying to calm her breathing. She started to shake and Ralph tried to pull her into the apartment. She resisted.
“I’m sorry, I can’t do this!” she said and turned and ran from the door.
Ralph ran after her. “Gail, wait! What is it? Gail?”
Gail reached her car, opened the door and slid into the seat just as Ralph got there. She clutched the steering wheel so tightly her finger nails bit into the palms of her hand.
Ralph squatted in the open door and gently took her hands off the wheel and held them.
“Gail, please tell me what’s wrong. You’re scaring me.”
“I’m sorry, Ralph. I never should have come. It not your fault; it’s me. I should have told you earlier.”
“Told me what?”
“I have catoptrophobia.”
“Catoptrophobia, it’s a fear of mirrors. When I saw that huge mirror in your entryway, I just couldn’t go in. I’m sorry, Ralph.”
Tears rolled down her cheeks. “I really wanted tonight to be special.”
“There’s no reason it can’t be a great evening. Give me five minutes to police my apartment. Then come on back.”
Gail pulled a tissue from a box behind the seat, blew her nose, and tried to smile. “O.K.”
Ralph ran back to his apartment and covered or took down all the mirrors in his house. He even pulled the drapes so there would be no reflection from the windows. When he finished, he went into the kitchen and opened a bottle of Merlot, poured two glasses and was waiting at the front door when Gail arrived.
She saw that the offensive mirror in the entry was now on the floor its shiny face turned toward the wall. She made a tiny smile and took the glass of wine from Ralph.
“Here’s to a wonderful evening!” he said and tapped his glass against hers.
“A wonderful evening,” she said and took a sip of the wine.
He led her to the sofa and she sat down. He sat next to her. “So, tell me about this phobia of yours. I’ve never heard of it.”
Gail took another sip of wine and let out a breath. “When I was a child I found I had the ability to see strange things in mirrors. At first it was fun, like living in someone else’s world. Then one day when I was visiting my grandmother, I stood in front of the mirror in the dining room over the buffet and watched the people in the room behind me, before I knew it, the strangest thing happened, I had been pulled into the mirror. I was actually inside it.”
Ralph took a big sip of his wine, swallowed and sighed, “So then what happened?”
“Well, no matter where I turned all I could see were the people in the room on the other side of the mirror, they were behind me. I yelled and pounded on the glass, but they didn’t see me. Alone, I was alone. I made a pact with whoever runs the universe that if I could only go home, I’d never look into another mirror as long as I lived. After hours of crying and walking around, a miracle happened and I found myself back in my grandmother’s dining room. Ever since then I’ve been scared to death it would happen again and I wouldn’t find my way out, so I kept my promise.”
Ralph took her hand to comfort her. “You’re safe with me, Gail. Let’s just have a good time tonight.”
He stood up and went into the kitchen to get the wine. He stirred the sauce, mumbling to himself, “I finally find the girl of my dreams and turns out she’s a nut case!” He put water on for the pasta. Then he went back to the living room, refilled Gail’s glass and sat back down.
“How do you manage without ever looking in a mirror? I mean you have to look in mirrors to drive your car, put on lipstick, and comb your hair.”
“In the car I don’t look directly into the mirrors, so I can’t see me. As for lipstick and hair, I use a small hand mirror and only look at my lips or hair. I know it’s irrational, I’ve been to a dozen shrinks, but nothing seems to help. I just can’t shake the feeling I’ll be sucked in again.”
Ralph kept excusing himself to check on dinner, and set the table, while Gail kept drinking wine.
She was relaxed and smiling by the time he served dinner.
“Ralph, this is delicious,” she said, winding more strands of the pasta on to her fork.
“It’s my mother’s recipe, I’m glad you like it.”
“Next time it will be at my place and I’ll make a dish my grandmother used to make.”
Ralph realized the evening was finally going along great. Gail helped clear the table and do the dishes. When they were finished he poured them each a Scotch and they went back into the living room. Ralph was happy he’d changed the sheets on the bed.
“Where’s the bathroom?” Gail asked putting her drink on the coffee table.
“Down the hall, first door on the right, switch is on the inside, just behind the door.”
Gail walked down the hall, and a moment later Ralph heard her scream. A blood curdling sound that went on and on. He ran down the hall and just before he reached the door the screaming stopped.
“Gail! Gail, are you alright?”
“Gail!” he shouted and pounded on the door.
When there still was no answer he turned the knob and walked in. The room was empty. He looked behind the shower curtain into the bathtub, nothing. Where the hell was Gail? He realized that he’d forgotten to cover the medicine chest mirror. He looked into the mirror, saw his own reflection, and standing behind him he saw Gail. He breathed a sigh of relief and turned to her.
“What the —?”
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
E.E. Mack lives in Fallbrook, CA with her husband of 30 years, three dogs and three cats on a small avocado grove. She writes when the muse kicks her in the ass.
Image by Ibrahim Iujaz via a Creative Common license.