Principle of Moments by Barry McCann

At first she was mist in the glass. A shadowy haze seemingly over my shoulder as I looked into the shaving mirror, and stubbornly refusing to be wiped away. Then it would fade of its own accord, only to come back another time.

One morning it came into fuller clarity, like the picture of an old television retuned. Features of vapour formed a face, semi transparent in itself until textures of skin and eyes filled its contours. And she looked over my shoulder into the mirror, looking at me.

Of course my first reflex was to turn around, only to find no one there. And no reflection in the large wall mirror to the side, except for mine. When I glanced back to the shaving glass, it too was empty of her.

If this had been a single instance, I would have put it down to some trick of the light or hallucination. But the regularity of appearances suggested the mirror was reflecting more than the eye could normally see.

Despite seeing her only in sporadic flashes, the woman’s features imprinted in detail on my mind. That chestnut hair, those drawn cheekbones and narrow lips. And the eyes pleading with intense gaze. Even within glass, they momentarily connected with mine like opposite sides of a kaleidoscope.

So each time my eyes clenched shut because she cannot exist, not in my world. The prospect of an afterlife had always scared me more than death itself, so I deny it. And also her.

I had lived in the flat just a couple of weeks, an Edwardian build converted into flats. The landlord is as old fashioned as his property, preferring to collect his rent every Friday, cash or cheque.

‘Did any past tenants report seeing a woman in here at all?’ I asked him direct one particular visit.

‘Woman? What do you mean?’ It sounded more of an evasion than a question.

‘Just asking. Keep thinking I’m seeing someone, though in small flashes.’

‘Not on drugs, are you?’

‘No, course not. Could be trick of the light I suppose, especially as I’ve only seen her in the bathroom mirror.’

‘Ah, there you go. No window in that bathroom, couldn’t install one with the layout of the place. And those low energy bulbs take a while to fully illuminate, cause odd reflections in the glass.’

‘Yes, you’re probably right.’ I was prepared to concede, even if he did not sound so convinced by his own explanation.’

That very evening I had taken a shower when it happened. Despite the extractor being on, the room was like a steam bath when I switched the tap off and stepped out. Rubbing myself dry as the air cleared, I was then taken aback by the sight on the wall mirror.

My name is Move. That is how they address me.

The words manifested on the steamed glass, seemingly drawn by finger. I read through them several times, wondering how the hell they got there. They could have written there at any time since I last used the shower, as with invisible ink they would only be revealed once the surface was steamed up. But there was only me in the flat. And no one but the landlord had access. Surely it could not be him. Why would he?

Wiping the message away with my hand, my second instinct was to ignore it. But then I turned to the shaving mirror and one more word.

Bedroom. 

As part of the bedroom furniture is a dressing table with triple mirror, I immediately guessed. Squaring up to the first mirror, I exhaled all my breath on the glass. Within the ghostly looking orb left on the glass was the letter I.

Fetching the kettle, I filled and plugged it into the socket by my bed. Once boiling, I lifted it up to the mirror and layered it with vapour. The words gradually came into view.

When I was another name, the house was mine.

My heart began to beat faster. If this was someone’s idea of a joke, it was a particular insidious one. Nevertheless, I marched back into the bathroom and refilled the kettle. Once boiled again, it was the turn of the middle mirror.

But you are welcome.

She still thinks this place is hers? So that was the scenario but to what purpose. And who was doing this?

Then I checked the third mirror and, sure enough, a final message awaited.

Why won’t you be friends?

That was the one which disturbed me most.

I slept unsteadily that night. Despite wiping the messages away with self-reassurances of a strange prank being played, they left me unnerved. By dawn, I had given up trying and got up to make a coffee. As the caffeine kicked in, an obvious thought occurred and I made for the bathroom.

The shaving mirror was the one I checked first. My own jaded looking face looked back, but no one else’s. Then I turned on the shower, but not with any intention of stepping in. The steam did its work and the words on the wall mirror appeared.

Please, to be touched. Feel the skin of a living pulse.

I then took the kettle into the bedroom and she had been back there.

All I ask is let Move share moments. That was the first.

But people wish Move away was the second.

Let Move touch you. That was enough.    

‘Now I know it is someone real. And leaving me these messages.’ I had called the landlord round and re steamed the mirror, having left the lettering unwiped this time.

‘Friend of yours playing a joke?’ he suggested.

‘I’ve had no visitors for days and these have appeared since. There is no one else.’ His tone became defensive. ‘Well, I’ll have no talk of ghosts! Scares off potential tenants.’

‘Who mentioned ghosts? I didn’t.’

He stopped dead, having inadvertently let a cat out of the bag.

‘Who owned this place before?’ I insisted. He took a reluctant breath and confessed. ‘I bought this property from the estate of the woman who lived here. She’d been found dead, apparently after a long illness.’

‘Alone?’

‘Yes, she lived alone. Don’t know any more than that.’

‘Was she old?’

‘No, she wasn’t. Forties I was told. I did find some photos while clearing the place out, which I presumed were her. Don’t understand why she wasn’t married, certainly a looker.’

‘Slim face, chestnut hair?’

‘Sounds right.’

‘And she’s been seen before.’

He nodded. ‘Which is why no one stays here long. Guess you’ll be giving notice?’

I shook my head. ‘You needn’t worry about that.’ 

Despite all that had happened, I still did not believe in ghosts. At least not in the supernatural sense. But there is a theory I subscribe to which makes more physical sense, underlined by a reality of time.

I perceive the path from past to present is not a linear one, but an ever outward spiral. So events of the past have not only happened before us, but are happening now by our side. Thus ghosts are merely glimpses of a reality ongoing, a view from the other side of a bridge so to speak.

Question is am I seeing this woman’s past, or witnessing her watching my present? Whose time is intruding on whose? And how exactly was she able to reach across to leave those messages? Maybe it is more than just a bridge that connects us. Perhaps the paths of our world are somehow crossing.

So I denied Move no longer. Accepting her existence need not confirm an afterlife, but simply acknowledge another life co existing alongside mine. However, that lends no sense of the messages she has been scrying. “To feel the flesh of a living pulse” sound more like the plea of a dead woman. Or maybe I was just seeing the surface of those words, a cry of mortal loneliness lying beneath. She was a woman alone. Is alone.       

As the sun set outside, it felt time to answer her call. Entering the bathroom and checking the shaving mirror, there was just me alone. Filling the sink with water, I splashed my face and the hot tap steamed up the mirror. No words left for me this time but, wiping the surface clean, there she was. Over my shoulder, smiling this time. I smiled back, knowing she could see my face in the reflection. She turned, the back of her head fading as she left.

I checked the bedroom and found Move in the triple mirror looking directly out at me. Her face and torso echoed from all three angles, in place of my own reflection. 

I raised my hand and she lifted hers in exact symmetry, our fingers touching but for the separation of glass. Was her image now mine? Or had mine become hers?

 

Advertisements