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Doctor Gramma

When Mirror Regards Mirror

By C. Rommial ButlerPublished 2 years ago 10 min read

When mirror regards mirror which is the reflection?

This question popped into my mind when I had the misfortune to stumble onto the doctor’s experiment.

But I cannot go into that without some background.

I’ve always had a way with words, so I fancy myself a writer. I like saying it that way: I fancy myself a writer. As if I am only ever pretending, playing a game. I suspect I do this to alleviate the pressure of deadlines, but I’m not certain. There are a lot of things I’m not too sure about, especially as regards my inner world. I have a rich imagination and I love to play there, but to make a living, I write copy, mostly for websites.

I grew up reading literature. I hoped to be a famous author one day. However, by the time I made it to college, I realized there’s not a lot of money in writing literature. Pop culture fare is more where it’s at, and I just can’t get my mind to resonate with a common audience. Nothing against them. I understand most people are, as the saying goes, “social animals”. But I’m not, and I don’t want to be.

This ruled out journalism too. Populist propaganda writhes just beneath the surface of popular culture, and I can’t bring myself to aid and abet it just to make a living.

Despite being a loner, I care about people. That’s why I avoid the news. It’s embarrassing, all the talking heads regurgitating facile opinions. A good journalist must hold a mirror up to society. I don’t like what I see, so I don’t trust myself to be an impartial observer. I fear I will seem just as childish and stupid to others as those talking heads are to me.

One might think that writing advertising copy would be even worse, but, at the end of the day, I just write what they pay me to write. I make money. I pay my bills. I live alone in peace and enjoy a limited social life with a few people I trust. It’s all perfectly functional.

I avoid the sleazy stuff. I won’t name names, but there are some marketing “gurus” out there whose approach to the business is emotionally manipulative, to say the least. I understand the old Latin saying must hold true—caveat emptor. Buyer beware. I subscribe to it myself. But there are lines I won’t cross, though I do have to skirt them sometimes.

I do the bulk of my freelance business with firms. The pay isn’t always good, but it’s easy to keep them at arm’s length, and once you’re on board with enough of them, there’s always work. No dry spells. However, I also take on independent clients occasionally. Like the doctor. She contacted me through my website and asked we meet. In person rather than a video conference call. She wanted someone local, for face-to-face communication.

She offered to double my rate. After doing some research on the doctor, I agreed.

Dr. Carolyn Rainn, P.H.D., Psychology. She was on all the accredited lists. Out in the open. She even served a stint on the board of the American Psychological Association. I felt I had nothing to fear.

When I met Carolyn, she reminded me of my grandmother. I was a big fan of Gramma Ann. She was a very intelligent, articulate woman. Surveying the rest of my family, I must conclude that Gramma Ann was correct when she quipped that she was where I got it from. Once I equated Carolyn with Gramma Ann in my mind, that was it. She was a keeper.

Our first conversation was all business. Her website was up and running. She could do almost all the work herself but needed someone to write content about the service she was offering. All I had to do was email her the files and sometimes, come over for a cup of coffee and a bull session. Knowing that I didn’t even have to deal with her content management system, I was thrilled. This would be easy money. But what service was she offering?

That’s where the pristine waters of professional etiquette got a little murky.

“That’s the delicate part, Gerald,” she said to me. “Because of doctor-patient confidentiality, I can’t tell you exactly what I do, except that I help people get to know themselves better. The service will be marketed as a groundbreaking new form of therapy. And it is. But I have to keep it under wraps to some extent, as it is…”

Gramma Ann often stopped mid-sentence to search for words and Carolyn did the same. I loved that thoughtful pause. I watched and waited.

“…experimental sounds too ominous, doesn’t it?” She asked.

“Well, yes. From a marketing standpoint. It’s hard to sell people on experimental. Unless they’re desperate,” I replied.

“So use my name. Tout my credentials,” she said. “I’ve mostly been involved in academic research over the course of my career. I’ve had little to do with therapy, but I’ve done it. I’m certified. I just want to help people.”

I agreed. I told her I’d make it work, and I did. Within a year, I had her website on the top page of any internet search for therapists in our area. That’s how you get the clicks. Most people don’t look past page one. After a while, I’m mostly just rewriting the same stuff over again in different ways to keep the search engine crawlers acknowledging that Dr. Carolyn Rainn’s private practice still exists.

Our bull sessions over coffee went from brainstorming about what to put on the website to friendly chatter. Even now, I swear, the woman was a delight. I have to say… I loved her. Like I loved Gramma Ann.

I told Carolyn she reminded me of Gramma, and being the sport she was, she told me to run with it. To call her that. She said she was honored to remind a friend of a dearly departed family member. It caught on with some of her regular patients, who left five-star reviews on her site calling her Dr. Gramma.

It even got incorporated into the copy. It became her slogan, in a way. Her meme. Dr. Carolyn Rainn—her patients call her Dr. Gramma.

When mirror regards mirror which is the reflection?

The incident that prompted this strange question is one I will never forget. I popped in unannounced at Carolyn’s practice one day. I was in the neighborhood. I even thought, let’s go see Dr. Gramma.

I asked Carolyn’s secretary Bob if she was in. She’s with a patient now, he said, but it shouldn’t be long. Appointment is almost over. The door to Carolyn’s office opened and shut. Carolyn’s patient came out, but Dr. Gramma didn’t come out with him. Bob called into Carolyn to tell her I was there. She said she’d be out in a minute. She was finishing up her notes.

I kept jawing with Bob while I waited. We talked for maybe ten minutes when we heard a loud crash and a thump from Carolyn’s office. Bob and I both ran to the door. It was locked.

We knocked hard and yelled through the door. No answer from Dr. Gramma, but I could hear the faint but unmistakable sound of sobbing. Bob was still yelling through the door.

Open up! Open up! Open up!

I wondered if Carolyn had a stroke or heart attack. How I wish that were the case.

I got fed up. I’m a big guy. Not in great shape, but strong enough. It was just a doorknob lock. A well-placed kick blasted it out of its jamb.

In Carolyn’s office there was a large mirror behind her desk. At least, I always thought it was just a mirror. It was shattered. There was a room on the other side.

Carolyn was crumpled on the floor in a heap of broken glass on the office side of the mirror. I ran up to her, checked her pulse. She was dead.

Then I heard the sobbing again, but louder. I stood up and peered through the opening where the mirror had been. Bob was right behind me. I heard him gasp. He started saying the Lord’s Prayer. I didn’t turn to look, but knowing Bob is a devout Catholic, I’m sure he made the sign of the cross.

This is what I saw on the other side of the mirror as I listened to Bob complete his plea to God:

There was a man and a woman. They were naked. Thin and gaunt. Facing each other. Six feet apart. Above them was a system of guide wires that stretched across the room. To the guide wires were connected a system of rolling pulleys.

Cables ran down from the pulleys and were connected to the people. Between the people ran thin wires that connected them to each other. Head to head. Arms to arms. Legs to legs. They were being kept six feet apart by bars between the pulleys. The couple could only move in tandem. They were mirroring each other. Living marionettes, mirroring each other.

When mirror regards mirror which is the reflection?

I stepped through the opening, up to the couple.

Just to the side of the couple was a small wooden table. At the foot of the table was an apple. The woman sobbed. She said, “I just wanted the apple. I’m so hungry. Help me.”

The man stood paralyzed. He was catatonic. Staring into space. Whatever it was the doctor was doing, it broke this man. Some of the wires ripped open the flesh in his arms. As if he’d tried to free himself. Or maybe shove an old lady through a window. The woman’s arms were also torn to a lesser degree.

I could see through the eviscerated, bleeding mess of the man’s arm that the wires were bolted to the bone.

I picked up the apple and put it to the woman’s mouth. She took a big crunchy bite. I offered it to the man. He didn’t budge. I listened to the woman greedily chew while she continued to sob.

“Calm down, ma’am,” I said. I can remember hearing—feeling—the quiver in my voice. It was the quiver of fear that ran down my spine as a child when I buried myself beneath the covers in the dark at night, hiding from the boogeyman.

“Calm down, ma’am,” I heard myself say again. I felt myself quiver again, inside, but I tried to keep it out of my voice. “Please don’t choke,” I said.

Bob went back to his desk to phone the police. By the time they arrived, the woman had finished the apple. I never saw her or the man again, nor did I learn their names.

The police took me back to the station for questioning. They decided neither Bob nor myself had anything to do with the crime. They also failed to give me one iota of understanding about what I witnessed. Every attempt I made to inquire directly into the matter was thoroughly ignored.

Indirectly then. I dug deep into Carolyn’s academic work. I found out that her private practice was funded by clandestine donors who could be traced back to the government. That bit of digging got me a gentle rebuff in the form of a note in an unaddressed envelope, typed in all caps, slipped beneath my door. It read:


It didn’t say what I would find, but it’s not hard to figure out what was implied. I stopped looking. But to this day I still read through Carolyn’s academic research, and I keep coming back to these lines from her paper entitled Aspects and Applications of Emotional Intelligence:

“Limbic synchrony, or the mirror effect, happens naturally. Even in those with dark triad personality disorders, like narcissism, I suspect it is done innocently enough, though the narcissist may need to dissociate from the reasons they do it. But it can be done intentionally, even weaponized. In the future I hope to explore how to specifically control this singular neurological trait. I just need to isolate the phenomenon from the other factors that feed emotional intelligence and interpersonal cooperation.”

Why am I writing this down? Because I’m a writer, I suppose. I have no plan of going public. Those who funded Dr. Gramma’s research aren’t villains I can defeat.

I keep remembering how my deepest fear in that moment when the woman was eating the apple and sobbing was that she might choke. I was pulling for her. I figure that she and the man must have been as disarmed by Carolyn’s charm as I was. As gruesome as the physical torture was, the betrayal of trust and affection seems to me somehow worse.

To know that all it takes is a casual demeanor and an air of generosity to lure us into the most depraved situations took a hold on me. I don’t trust anybody anymore. Whether I’m engaging with clients, acquaintances, or good friends, I wonder what lurks behind the mirror of polite discourse. Could something like the doctor’s experiment hide behind the closed door of someone else’s smile?

Is society just a labyrinth of mirrors, reflections casting reflections unto reflections, creating the illusion of conscience, a harlequin masquerade distracting consciousness from the brutal fact that it is always doomed to play out the same territorial, animal instinct?

I don’t even know if I trust myself anymore.

When mirror regards mirror which is the reflection?

More Fiction from C. Rommial Butler:

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About the Creator

C. Rommial Butler

C. Rommial Butler is a writer, musician and philosopher from Indianapolis, IN. His works can be found online through multiple streaming services and booksellers.

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Comments (3)

  • Novel Allen7 days ago

    Omigosh...luckily I'm a vampire and have not an image in the mirror. I am becoming so Rommial-ed, I am alarmed. I love the writings...and the musings even more. Wait...this is fiction...phew! You had me there for a minute. Bad Doc Gamma.

  • Whoaaa, this story took a left turn! I would have never in a million years expected that. Now I'm so afraid of mirrors. It creeps me out so much. I think this is by far my most favourite story of yours!

  • Babs Iverson2 years ago


C. Rommial ButlerWritten by C. Rommial Butler

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