I knew I was in trouble the moment I saw the body in the mirror laid out like a crumpled marionette. Ribbons of black and white, her cut strings, radiated from her sleeves. Bright red lipstick was smeared across half of her face. Flakes of dried mascara trailed down her cheeks. Filmy blue eyes stared dully into mine. I pressed my face to the mirror for a couple of minutes, searching for any sign of my Reflection or anyone else in the room on the OtherSide. Nobody but the dead girl looked back at me. I ran to the bathroom but I only saw traces of dirt and, maybe, flecks of blood in the sink. No sign of him anywhere. I went back to the bedroom and sat on the floor in front of the girl.
She didn’t seem familiar. Which was a relief. If March had killed someone we both knew, it would not have gone well for me. And, obviously, for the dead person. But I’m a firm believer that if you didn’t cause the dead body, then you have every right to be selfish about how it’s going to affect your day. I shouldn’t have lifted the mirror cover. If I had just left it in place like I do almost every morning, then there would be no dead body. The dead girl wouldn’t exist. At least for a little while.
I had to call 119. No matter what it did to March. Or what it meant for me. There were, supposedly, laws to protect me from my Reflection’s mistakes. Politicians had put those in place almost as soon as the Split occurred. Plausible deniability and all that. But the court of public opinion is rarely beholden to the written word. I had to call. My life was ruined anyway. We had all read the clickbait articles. ThisSide Judge Recalled for OtherSide Judge Bribery Scandal. OtherSide Woman Leaves Husband after Reflection is Killed by Hers. Okay, I couldn’t blame the last lady for leaving. I would have done the same.
But, I wondered, maybe I don’t make the call. Maybe I put the cover back on the mirror. Turn back time. Head into work and make small talk with my annoying co-workers. Completely ignore the noxious thoughts of a decomposing body on the OtherSide of the mirror in my bedroom.
I made the call. Recited my address, described the girl, and then wandered around the house listening to repetitive hold music designed to push concerned citizens over the edge. Downstairs, I turned off the television’s screensaver and peered into the dark reflective surface. Still no trace of him. The kitchen over there had beer bottles on the counter and dirty dishes sticking out of the sink. Maybe one of the bottles belonged to her. Maybe they were all his. Neither of us were big drinkers, but nearly everyone could find a good reason to get smashed from time to time. I headed to my own counter and cleaned up last night's pizza box, and dumped my glass in the washer. There, clean enough for company.
A flash of movement on the TV caught my eye. The front door of his apartment had swung open and a line of bodies poured in before they dispersed to fill the space. Everyone’s features were blurry. Height was about all I could distinguish. I started heading to my room when there was a knock at my door. At least they didn’t feel the need to kick mine in. A pair of policemen identified themselves, Detectives Garrett and Delaney. I wondered which one might be the good cop or the bad cop. Both of them just looked old and tired. I stood aside and followed them to my own bedroom.
Detective Delaney held me back at the door. Past the edge of the door jamb, I could see Detective Garrett as he stood in front of the mirror and waved to someone. He tapped away on his phone and put it up against the mirror letting the app flip the letters so the OtherSide cops could read it. Everyone had that app. It was how March and I talked to each other, too. For less than half a news cycle, people thought that sign language was going to be the main communication tool between our sides. Those people forgot just how lazy and utterly dependent on technology most of humanity is.
Garrett nodded at who never was over there and then brushed past myself and Delaney, who gave me a deep sigh and gestured for me to follow back to my living room. We found Garret sunk into my side of the leather couch. I sat down in the thinly padded chair across from him and eyed the cushion currently suffering from the man’s girth. I’m sure the buttons on his shirt could commiserate. He pulled out his phone and notepad and wiggled down even further.
“So, a regular mirror, don’t see too many of those. Especially in the bedroom.”
I shrugged, “ I don’t have a lot of money.”
“Still, most people don’t have them. Find it a little creepy.”
“My creep factor is a little higher than most. You should see my horror movie collection.”
Scribble scribble in his little notepad. “Give me a reason why you kept yours? Why he kept his? One of our counterparts said his was still up. In the same place. Don’t see that too often nowadays either.”
“Just lazy and cheap. Both of us.”
Delany chimed in, “You and your mirror buddy close? Having some sleepovers, late-night chats?”
“We talked from time to time. Used to share a lot of the same interests.”
“That girl one of them?”
“Never seen her before. Here or there.”
Not that I would ever forget those blue eyes again. Garret scratched out some more notes while Delaney wandered around, counting out the reflective surfaces. One finger, two. I wondered if he would have to use the other hand to keep track. Of course, I ended up with a pair of Reflecticists. Tracked with how they look. Mustard stains hid by a threadbare father’s day tie. Five-dollar belts with self-made holes. The kind of guys who would never want to see the truth of themselves. Especially if that truth had taken a good hard look at them and decided to work out or just eat some healthy family dinners.
“So, what do you call each other,” Detective Garret asked. “Evan 1 and 2? Or did you come up with some cute nicknames?”
“March. I called him March.”
Delaney smirked, “What did he call you, Mr. December?”
“Hare. You know, like March hare, from -“
Delaney snorted, “Yeah, yeah. Alice in Wonderland. You all think you’re the first to come up with something from there. That you’re all just so unique.”
I heard him say “weirdos” underneath the insistent buzz emanating from Garrett’s pocket. It distracted Delaney from insulting me further, verbally at least. Garrett checked the phone and snapped his notebook closed. He shuffled over and whispered something into his partner’s hairy ear before heading back to my bedroom. Delaney leaned back against the wall and glowered at me over his bulbous nose. I stared back. Blank, no emotions. Staring contest champion three years running against my little sister. He blinked and messed around with his tie, stuffed his hands into his pockets, fumbling around with god knows what in there. Candies, moldy sandwiches, lint the size of his nostril.
Garret came back in, “All right, we need you to come down to the station.”
“Am I under arrest? I didn’t do anything.”
“Our counterparts have a few questions.”
“Why can’t we do it here? I’ve got that mirror you're so obsessed with.”
Delaney grabbed my arm, “Because we said so. Now move it.”
I go along. No reason to fight it and every reason to look like I had nothing to hide. Which I didn’t. At least I didn’t think so. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the girl’s body being wheeled out of March’s apartment, followed by her own pair of detectives. I yanked my arm away and collected my wallet and keys. They had already confiscated my phone.
“My car or yours?”
“Ours,” they said in unison. Outside the sun was still trying to wake up, like most of my neighbors. Flashes of police lights could be seen across a dozen car windows. Police tape stretched out across the pavement, fluttering in the breeze. Uniformed police officers stomped all over the manicured grass. On my side of the glass divide, all I heard were hungry birds and the heavy footfalls of Garrett and Delaney on the empty sidewalk.
Looked like it could have been a beautiful day.
The two-way mirror took up most of the length of the cement block wall in the interrogation room. I fingered the metal brackets in the middle of the banged-up table and stared into the empty room on the OtherSide. A long time ago suspects and witnesses were left in this badly lit room to reflect on their current status and dismal futures. Now there’s nothing on the other side but an empty table with a laptop on it. A ticking clock on the wall. It’s probably still a two-way mirror, so my detective buddies may be on the other side, watching me fidget and rubbing the sweat off my nose. They think I’m nervous because I’m involved. That I know more than what I’ve said.
After more than half an hour a pair of detectives walk into the OtherSide room. I imagine the scrape of their own metal chairs as they sit down. While the two of them, a man and a woman, weren’t pretty enough for a procedural, they also weren’t as beaten down as Delaney or Garrett. Each seemed to have availed themselves of whatever department store tailor had been available at the time. One wore sky blue, the other navy. Each had a pair of glasses, oval frames for one square for the other, and short haircuts that I could only describe as severe. And people used to accuse me of being too close to my reflection.
The woman flipped open her ConVerse Laptop. It had a screen for her to see what she was typing and another screen facing me so that I could read her questions. The door on my side popped open and Delaney stumbled in with a keyboard for me. My responses appeared on her screen, but there was no way to check my own words. I felt sorry for the detectives. It had been a long time since I had a typing class. With quick strokes she introduced themselves, touching her chest as she wrote Detective Doyle and the man followed suit when she wrote Detective June. I typed out my name and asked why I was there. They said they just want to get to know me.
It was like an awkward first date. Where’s my favorite restaurant? What do I do to unwind? Where would you hide if you had just killed someone? Admittedly, the last one has not come up often on my dates. Just once and I fell so hard for that girl there was no way her sense of detached cool would let her be with me. They ask more innocuous questions, but we all know what they’re doing. All three of us watch the same tired cop shows. Oh, damn. I’m in episode four of Order and Law without a b-list actor to blame the murder on.
They’re on the wrong track. They think if they know me, understand me, then they’ll understand March. For a while that was true. When the Split first happened back in high school, we thought it was great. A built-in friend that felt things just like we did. A lot of us felt that way at first. But soon most people remembered just how much we loathed ourselves. If you asked “mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all” the answer was never you. Even the most narcissistic couldn’t agree. March and I made it as long as we could. Longer than most. Lounging on the floor of our rooms listening to the same records, pressing play at just the same time. Wearing the same clothing and doing our best to take the same routes at the same times so that we’d see always see each other out of the corner of our eyes. Our SameSide Jennys, our best friends from before the Split, got tired of that quickly, even before the schools eliminated all of the reflective surfaces they could. They removed the glass from the award cases and stopped shining up those championship trophies. Handed out detentions like candy for defying the ban on small mirrors, little spy holes into another universe. For a while we were a pack of monkeys, checking our friend’s teeth and picking at their hair and clothes like we were looking for tiny bugs to snack on.
“Is there anyone you -he - would go to? Any friends he introduced you to, old friends that you two shared?”
“No one that would hide us from the cops.”
“And he didn’t do this for you?”
“Maybe you had a problem with this girl and he wanted to help you out. Make you feel like you got some closure.”
“I told you, I don’t recognize the girl. Do you even know who she is?”
She hesitates before saying no. They don’t trust me. I wouldn’t either, but it still kind of hurts. Especially since it’s true. There’s no one I know that wouldn’t turn me or March into the cops for twenty seconds of blurry-faced fame on the evening news. Not anymore. Jenny would have. Maybe. Probably.
Jenny. Our closest, maybe only, friend since we were eight hiding out at the edges of the playground trading books and comic cards. Living the extraordinary lives of space-faring knights trod upon mutants. The Split was a fantasy adventure come true. All too soon, we found ourselves too old to proclaim our undying fealty to these imaginary kingdoms. We were high school seniors who felt rushed to explore ourselves and each other before we had to cross that magical line into the real world college purported to be. A while after the split, we laid out on my comforter, side by side, and whispered about our current writer crushes and argued again over our favorite X-Men artists. Caressing her arm I made my plea yet again for Bill Sienkiewicz until she finally kissed me to shut me up. Waves crested over my brain, pulling me under and into a beautiful waking dream. So, of course, I opened my eyes.
Past intertwined feet, across a threadbare rug and a black plastic frame, I could see March and his Jenny doing the same. For a few beautiful moments, I was making out with a beautiful girl while my other self was making out with a beautiful girl. Is it still voyeurism when it’s another you? Beyond the lip lock, I couldn’t see March’s face, but I know he was looking too. If only we’d shut our eyes.
There was this one time I’d fallen off my chair during a particularly intense bout of Mario Kart, and I saw Jenny’s brown eyes tear up and the giggles lasted for days. When her dog Ditko died, I saw those eyes go glassy while she hid deep down inside herself. And while I had done, and said, plenty of stupid things to her over the years, I had never seen that raging fire ready to consume my soul.
She screamed at me for paying more attention to March than to her, my best friend. Every minor argument we ever had after the Split bubbled up and exploded all over the room. She sneered at how we dressed alike, how we made sure our days were similar. Scoffed at how we looked to each other for backup in a fight. As if having yourself as your only point of reference was any more valuable in an argument than depending on the Bible.
Other Jenny watched from the edge of March’s bed. I doubt she had to work too hard to understand what, or why, her counterpart was screaming. When my Jenny stomped out, she quietly grabbed her jacket and walked out the door without a word, though I imagined that a small tear escaped as she outgrew her best friend. She had no need to scream and rage. My Jenny had taken care of that for both of them. What is the use in saying what you’ve already said to someone who isn’t going to listen and won’t bother to change?
With our Jennys gone, our road through high school narrowed from a two to one-lane highway to hell. No, hell is a point of interest. Our highway only made it to purgatory. As undistinguished graduates, we applied to one low-paying job after another until we found one that wanted to hire us both. Visited a dozen crappy apartment complexes, until we could sign leases for matching places. When you don’t like other people you’re only left with yourself. Company that tends to overstay its welcome. Over the last couple of years, we tried our best to hide our annoyance when one of us left a pile of laundry that the other was ready to clean. When one brought home a girl the other failed to charm, and so she was asked to leave. In the end, it wasn’t a lack of sex that finally broke our bond. It was the dishes. No, it was the scar. Or maybe it was the lack of sex and everything else was a proxy.
For days, our bowls had sat haphazardly in the sink, crusted over with a variety of cereals. The few forks and spoons we had played hide and seek between plates with bits of moldy bread clinging to the edges. While I tried to sit and binge-watch our latest obsession, I saw a squadron of flies reenact some World War II dogfight. Fighting over lifeless rubble after the bombs had already been dropped. I turned off the show. I could see March staring at the show. While he silently guffawed at the lead’s witty repartee, I scraped away days-old Rice Krispies with my fingernails. Swatted fly after fly, ending the war. Dish by dish I reclaimed my sink and then scrubbed that too with the one moldy-smelling scrub brush we owned. Then I saw March. The show was over. He’d seen I wasn’t on the couch and had come into the kitchen where we’d put up a mirror when we first moved in. Made it easier to do our meals the same, even if I got tired of having to burn my food from time to time.
His own flies had moved on to Blue Angel acrobatics with his head at the center. Turned toward the sink, he picked up a dish. Scraped a crusty bit with his nail. And then smashed it to the floor. Soured milk and hardened Cheerios couldn’t keep the next bowl from exploding into dozens of dingy white pieces. My dishes sat on the drying rack our mothers had bought us while his stack disintegrated. Then he punched the mirror.
I imagined the view from his side. Fault lines split us apart. Our cracks laid bare. From my vantage, I could see March looking at his bloody hand. Viscous streams pooling on the counter. I followed him to the bathroom where he pulled out a few shards. One long scar ran down the back of his hand. He held it up in front of his face, oozing blood. Then he pointed at me. I stared at the scar. In a few days, it would be pink, but noticeable. It had even removed one of our moles. Such a tiny, innocuous thing. The kind of thing children are taught to ignore. When you want to be like someone, to be that someone, such a tiny element can be everything. I smashed the bathroom mirror. With a towel wrapped around my fist. I never liked the sight of my own blood.
The scar became a Pavlovian trigger. March would rub it and I would look away. But, the scar became a magnet. I always looked for it when he passed by. The scar was our breaking point.
As lazy and passive-aggressive as we were the mirrors stayed up and uncovered for a while. With his alarm set after mine, March became my belated shadow, appearing in the bathroom mirror or other surface just as I had passed. Showing up later and later to work until he got fired and I got a promotion. They had been wanting to promote me for a while but knew I wouldn’t take it if March didn’t get one and he’d been struggling just to keep up. Now, whenever I left the apartment, I would see him passed out on the couch, with a growing collection of beer bottles that I had no idea how he paid for. As his hunched shoulders disappeared out the front door, I would settle in for the night.
Over time, my view of the OtherSide was of a proto-hoarder. My shadow’s face looked ashen gray with hollow cheeks hidden under three days of stubble. Ignoring all of that I looked for the scar. Stared hard at the scar. Then I covered my mirrors.
“So, you never saw the girl come over?” The detective asked through the screen.
“So, why take off the cover? If you and your Reflection weren’t on the best terms.”
“Just old habits. I’ll admit to taking a peek every so often. Make sure he wasn’t dead.”
“Hmmm…” They actually typed that out. “Most people don’t make it a habit to keep such a close eye on their exes.”
“Have you heard about social media? Look, March and I were close for a long time. Just because you… just because you break up with someone doesn’t mean every connection’s been severed. The past still exists, even in our twisted memories. I still wanted the guy to be healthy, happy. I was worried he’d gone down the wrong path, down some deep dark hole. Where madness may lie.”
“Poetic. But, this is your Reflection, not an old girlfriend. And your Reflection killed a girl.”
“Allegedly or not, that dead girl was in his apartment. And you called use. So you need to tell us everything you know.”
“I didn’t have a choice about calling you and I’ve told you everything I know.”
“You’ve told us almost nothing.”
“And that’s what I have. Look, I checked in from time to time to satiate my own morbid curiosity. But we weren’t having sleepovers or late-night chats anymore. He had his life, I had mine.”
“But you kept the mirror up.”
“I said it before. Habit.”
God, I just wanted out of there. The OtherSide mirror made me feel like I’d been arrested for this girl’s murder, even though I had the perfect alibi of being in another universe. Of course, that doesn’t matter. They might as well have stuck me in a cell. As soon as this hits the news, no one will treat me the same. I’m either guilty of the same crime or will be soon enough. I need to get a head start.
“Look, we’ve been at this for a while. I can’t think of anything and you keep saying I’m not giving you much to work with. Can we call it a day? If I come up with anything, I swear I’ll call Detective Delaney. Scouts honor.”
“Where will you go?”
“Fine. When you arrive, you will surrender any reflective surfaces on your person, except for your phone, to the uniformed policeman stationed at your apartment. This is to limit your views of our crime scene. To that effect, we have also confiscated your mirrors and all other reflective surfaces.
“Even my TV?”
“Even your TV.”
“Damn. Can you drop me off at the library? I’m going to need some books.”
I stepped outside with Delaney and Garett. After hours of halogen, even the overcast sky made me rub my eyes. They dropped me off at the library just a few blocks from the precinct and admonished me not to try and get in contact with March. But, if he did reach out, to call them as soon as possible. I nodded vigorously to their every statement and headed inside.
Ahhh, the library. The safest place I could think of after March and the Police violated my home. Rows upon rows of books to get lost in. Soft Chairs with large, pillowy arms, many of them hosting sleeping patrons enjoying the enforced level of quiet. There were also rows of computer banks. With forced nonchalance I headed to one in the corner, spinning slowly, oh so slowly around to see if anyone was keeping an eye on me. No Delaney, no Garrett, no one I recognized but a couple of the librarians hidden amongst the stacks.
I turned off the computer. My own face, framed in a hoodie framed inside the screen. I hoped he hadn’t been there long. There are few things less suspicious than a man in a hoodie staring at an empty computer screen. He brought out his phone, though it was hard to make out the words on the dark monitor. I got out my own.
‘I’m sorry, I screwed up.’
‘No shit,’ I wrote back. ‘This was not the plan. Mad and Hatter are going to be pissed.’
‘I know, I know, I’m sorry.’
I shook my head, rolled my eyes, and glared at him. Slapped my forehead theatrically. But I couldn’t stay mad at that face.
I typed, ‘Head down the Hole for a couple of days. I’ll check back in with you there. Now go.’
He nodded and touched the screen. Briefly, I brushed my fingertips against his, then clicked the computer on and watched him fade to blue. Borrowing a paperclip I popped out my phone’s SIM card, crunched it, and tossed the remnants into the trash. The phone followed suit a few blocks away.
March and I weren’t as close as we used to be. But we were trying. There are times your dark side comes calling and you can’t say no. Don’t want to say no. Just like March couldn’t say no to me.