a prison for doppelgängers
by dm gillis
“You’re so like me,” she said quietly, repeating what she’d said each day for more than two years, like a morning prayer to a man’s image in the mirror, the north light from the nearby window settling softly on each of their opposite cheeks. “And that makes me very sad.”
He spoke too. They spoke in unison, his lips moving with hers, translating her words into a language of reversal—it only happened when they met in the mirror. “And yet you’re so different,” she whispered.
The framed oval mirror was cracked. It hung on a wall in a room of a tall derelict house, the last evidence that the structure had once been a home. The house’s backyard was now an untended wilderness of bees, spider webs and feral cats. It had been a good house once. She and her doppelgänger had come there by chance, wandering and seeking shelter. She touched the mirror with the fingers of her right hand, and the fingertips of his left met them.
“Everyone has one, you know”, someone had said one evening over wine, “a ghostly equal.” It had been an unexpected topic of conversation put forth by a friend at a table of friends, out of step with their harmless banter, but fitting in well with the dark and cold October night. An impossible idea, of course. As obscure and mildly fascinating as necromancy, and they had all laughed, though some very quietly.
Moments later, she was surprised to suddenly feel that she was neglecting some important thing and that she, in turn, was being neglected, as though expressing the idea of an equal had caused a chrysalis somewhere to fracture and reveal something she’d wrongfully ignored all of her life.
It had been a spell cast innocently in conversation, her ghostly equal summoned somehow without any comprehensible effort and waiting for her, as it turned out, on the sidewalk across the street when she left the warm rooms where the gathering had taken place.
A cab nowhere in sight, they walked away together. She took him in, and they had remained together ever since. A man as unkempt as she had become with the masculine equivalents of her features, appearing always at her side and in every mirror and every shop window, eventually driving her mad. And having done this, he’d sat with her in psychiatry ward quiet-rooms as she raved and cursed him. He comforted her in her newly acquired homelessness, and hunger. Stood next to her as she begged strangers for change. Guided her away from assault and other physical harms. And he now occupied the derelict house with her.
She looked away from the mirror. He crouched in a corner now, surrounded by blankets and empty tin cans.
“You’ve ruined me,” she told him. He looked at his hands, and didn’t reply. “I realised it months ago, naturally, but I can only say it now.” Birdsong and the sound of bees came in through a broken window over the yard. “The only thing that’s kept me from killing you has been fear of my own death, but that’s nearly gone.” This got his attention; they were startling words. She’d said similar things before, but not with such weary conviction. “Something you should have seen coming,” she said. She turned to look in the mirror again. He looked back. She smashed the glass with her fist. His face vanished, and her hand bled.
She breathed the words, prison. Solitary confinement.
He remained in the corner.