…the degree of detail or doubt arrived at
She couldn’t see herself in the mirror.
Helen threw another handful of water on her face. Her legs were weak beneath her. The florescent lights of the bathroom seemed to rob her face of shape, of substance, of definition, of clarity, of meaning, of anything. She had a pain in her stomach, a pain in her legs, pain darting down her arms, pain beating in her chest. Her heart was beating, actually beating, banging in her chest. The beats were strong and rhythmic, but the rhythm was too fast. It was too fast. Her heart would explode. She would be broken hearted. Her heart now skipped a beat. It stopped. It ran on again in fits and starts. An arrhythmic burst. A bang. Her heart. My heart.
She couldn’t see herself in the mirror. Not properly. It was the light. It was too faint. It was moving, pulsating, buzzing. It wouldn’t stand still. The picture before her flickered. There was a problem with the signal. Interference. Her head was filled with grainy and faint pictures, amorphous shadows, distant memories which had lost their shape, images which dissolved before they formed any coherent shapes, but all the while, in the background, tainting everything was that picture of the two of them in the supermarket, they were bathed in the white light from the rows of chest freezers either side of them, the white light seeping into them, and then there was the fluorescent strip lighting glaring down at them from above as well, dripping off of them, each of them pale, almost translucent, phosphorescent – they were glowing. That picture. The picture.
“Oh where are you, you miserable little bastard?” Helen called out.
There was no reply, but for the sound from a cubicle of a toilet flushing.
The thought of someone else being in the world, on this side of the mirror, hadn’t occurred to Helen and came to her as somewhat of a surprise. Helen was surprised. Clear shapes now formed in the mirror.
The Chief stood there, behind her, looming over her reflection in the mirror. “Ladies don’t piss on toilet seats,” he said, by way of an excuse of his being in the ladies’ toilets.
His mouth hung in a smile. His eyes narrowed, widened, flickered. His face, each line, was wrought. His forehead wrinkled. Each line on his face at an angle. Each line cut deep into his face. His mouth the darkest of the lines. His eyes dark lines too. Dark lines on his neck. Dark lines either side of his nose. Dark lines.
Helen nodded at the reflection in the mirror – a picture of her pale face with the wizened face of The Chief floating above her shoulder. The picture had a haunting quality, as though it was a distant memory rather than a picture of the world right now. Perhaps it was the empty look on her face. Perhaps it was the look written on The Chief’s face. Perhaps it was the low wattage fluorescent light bulb. Perhaps the mirror was dirty and smeared. Perhaps the picture was broken, somehow distorted. Perhaps what Helen saw wasn’t there. Maybe she was seeing things. She was seeing this picture – two disembodied heads, two grey faces floating in a sea of broken light. It was horrible. It was frightening.
“I’m glad to hear that you’ve taken our little conversation to heart,” The Chief’s words shook the mirror out of the picture it held.
As he washed his hands, great big fat fingers splashing water, but all the time staring at Helen in the mirror which had now settled down, his eyes not leaving hers, lines in his face, as he shook the water from his hands, as his fingers darted across the bottom of the picture, wiping them on the seat of his trousers, as he adjusted his tie and collar, his fingers busy about the darkness behind the knot, as he tugged at one length of his tie, as he brushed the hair from over his ears back into the darkness, as he stretched his neck out of his collar, as he wet his lips, as he revealed the dun colour of his teeth between the darkness of his lips, as he settled himself into the picture again, as he stood there, his face and Helen’s face in the picture, as the picture reformed, fixed, stuck, framed, still…
Only when he turned to leave did Helen feel that she could breathe again. It was as though she was being smothered by The Chief for the last one and a half minutes – since he appeared behind her as the sound of the flush died away, the picture looming, until he washed his hands, shook the water from them, opened and closed his mouth, wiped his hands on the seat of his trousers, settling back out of the picture once again – it was as though he had his hands around her neck. It was as though something else. It was as though the picture was too sharp. As though it wasn’t a picture. No picture.
The final picture was a long distance shot, taken with a wide-angle lens from the building across the street. For some reason the front wall of the newspaper office had disappeared – a glass wall hung with various vertical and horizontal blinds. It was see-through. It wasn’t there. What was revealed was a picture of the office. Floor after floor separated by thick layers of concrete and brick and electrical wires and pipes. In the centre of the picture, on the middle floor, at the midpoint of this floor, stood Helen, staring into the camera: wide eyes, a look of shock, a look of nothing, an empty face. Her arms straight by her side. Her hands were tucked in beside her hips. Her shoes were red but they had no colour. Her grey skirt and black shirt were without colour. Her hands were grey. Her hair was pulled back from her face and tied behind her head. Her lips had no colour. Her eyes were dark. Her eyes were wide.
Around Helen a kind of grey light shifted. To either side of her were the backs of people’s heads. People sitting down staring into blank computer screens. People stood up talking into phones, talking to each other, looking over people’s shoulders, pointing at something, reading pieces of paper. Further back people milled around each other, moving incoherently. The grey light flickering as they moved. The same pattern was repeated on the floors above her and below her. The same people sitting down staring into indecipherable computer screens. The same people stood up talking into phones, talking to each other, looking over people’s shoulders, pointing at something, reading pieces of paper. Further back the same people milled around each other, moving incoherently.
Helen couldn’t move. She was stuck in the centre of the picture looking out into the darkness of the street.