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When Is a Window Not a Mirror?

WHEN IS A WINDOW NOT A MIRROR

 

The Wound walked around her neighborhood, the streets dark except for the glow of houses nestled in the hills. It was raining and quiet, the only sound being the soft whoosh of cars exhaling down the hill. Her flesh dripped blood on the sidewalk. Everything hurt. The salt sting of the rain hurt. The warm lights of the houses hurt. The wind whirling leaves to the gutter hurt. Her heart gaped between the flapping lips of her chest. A man passing on the other side of the street stared at her with the side of his face, refusing to subject his eyeballs to her ugliness. She was used to it, and still it hurt. In order to avoid the glare of his cheek, she turned down a sidestreet and allowed shadows to obscure her. 

Before her was a row of neatly maintained houses. It was as hard for The Wound to distinguish between houses with minivans and tire swings and manicured lawns as it would have been for a rain drop to distinguish between blades of grass. What did it matter how narrow or rigid the surface it smashed up against? Dying is remarkably uninteresting when you get down to it.

The street ended in a cul-de-sac, and the house situated there looked the same as the rest, the only noticeable difference being that there was no car in the driveway. The Wound stood on the sidewalk and saw herself reflected in the wide window overlooking the front lawn. She was swollen and discolored. She wished she could walk away from her reflection, leave it stuck in the window without her. How free she would be without it hanging around, lurking in every stranger, hiding in every too-wide smile! She almost laughed at this thought, this dream of freedom. Wouldn’t it come soon enough? The laugh dried up in her throat. 

Something else happened: instead of leaving behind her reflection, someone else moved into it. Instead of looking at herself she was looking at the person who lived in this house, a woman, a woman who did not see her. The woman had crossed the living room from some unseen corner or doorway and was now standing in front of a desk. She was sorting through a drawer, facing The Wound but not looking out the window. The Wound was aware that if the woman looked up she would see The Wound and probably experience disgust or fear or both, and The Wound thought about moving on so as not to inflict such feelings on the woman; but her curiosity overcame her desire to save this woman from repulsion or fear, and so she stayed, standing as still as she could so as not to draw attention to herself.

The woman was middle-aged, though with the right clothes she could have passed for thirty. Her hair was short and tucked behind her ears, her shoulders narrow and tilted forward as if she were protecting something. She seemed fully absorbed in her task. The Wound shuffled the tiniest bit closer, careful not to let her shoulders bob and give her away. She inspected the woman’s face. There were signs of crying, a pillowy softness. The Wound imagined a number of scenarios to explain the tears before deciding on one--the woman’s husband was a liar. Not a cheat--nothing so dramatic as that. He simply could not tell the truth about his feelings, could not own up to his disappointment in her, so he took it out on himself, grew lean and sullen. He stayed out late and made plans with friends, watched television late into the night to avoid bedtime whispers. This was her chance; while he was shooting pool with the guys or working late, she was sorting through his papers, his private things. She would find proof. They would part. She’d been weeping in advance, so that now she could make the necessary movements, her hands flipping and sorting, her eyes loose and watery traps.

The Wound was so absorbed in creating a woman in place of the actual woman in front of her that at first she didn’t notice the actual woman noticing her. She hadn’t stood up straight all of a sudden, or grown noticeably rigid. She simply saw The Wound standing there, and slowly the woman’s actions ceased, more like a loosening into inaction than a halt. The Wound made no attempt to move, or to shield the woman from her bleeding flaps of skin. She waited to feel diminished, disgusting. Her dream-projection flickered and went black as the actual woman came back into focus, her tilted shoulders, her puffy face. The woman stared, but not like the man with the side of his face, not like all the men and all the women The Wound could ever remember. She stared with her soft slanted eyes. They were direct and unflinching. The Wound was not standing close enough to ascertain their color, but she decided they were the plain brown eyes of a dog or certain kinds of cows, which would look into you and accept without judgement whatever was found.

As The Wound considered her, the woman stood up straight, inhaled deeply, and instead of turning away, or smiling a too-wide smile, she began unbuttoning her shirt. Beneath the fabric the skin of her chest was warm and pink. The Wound didn’t know what to think, so she let confusion wash over her. The woman’s breasts, not quite in their prime, were delicately veined and tender, her nipples long, extravagant. Then--The Wound felt a bouquet of pheasants flushing her throat--the fourth button gave way to a deep red cavern wet with blood. Slowly the shirt fell away. A wildwood of burst, sputtering veins. The woman touched her face, began peeling back the skin. The lips, nose, forehead. The short hair. Other parts of her body came away, a slippery suit. They took only a moment to remove. In their place was The Wound’s reflection, staring back at her just like before, only this time with the kindest brown eyes, eyes that did not look away, eyes that wanted to see the very thing at which they were looking. 

I’m not the only one, thought The Wound, and she’d never felt so in love with the stinging sensation of rain beating against her torn and frenzied flesh, never been so aware of the million billion separate raindrops hurtling toward earth where they would smash into each other, lose themselves entirely, and become something altogether new, a rivulet, a root system, a tunneling, a bloom. I’m not the only one, and the world was pink and puffy and tender as a newborn baby, as a giant throbbing wound.

Before The Wound had time to metabolize the image of a world as a wailing babe as a bleeding gash as a throbbing desire as an orgasm as an explosion of the new she was yanked from the brink of the dream back into the present moment, crumbling. The woman was stepping back into her skin-suit. Arranging her hair. Buttoning her blouse. Goodbye ruinous chamber of the heart. Goodbye splintered ribcage. Goodbye taut, triumphant nipples. Goodbye tender, exposed throat. Goodbye, goodbye. The woman stepped back from The Wound’s reflection, receded into the shadows of her home. The Wound was just a wound again, not a raindrop or a flower or a revolution. She could barely lift her bloodied feet. The world was a sigh.

On the way home, she looked closer at each passing cheek, wondering what hid beneath the skin-suits of the world. But the glory of the revelation had faded. Even if everyone was a wound--each and every body navigating the world a gash hidden by a second skin--that didn’t make The Wound any less alone. In fact it meant she was more alone than ever, because now she saw that everyone else had somehow evolved the capacity to live inside a skin-suit, and she hadn’t. 

And yet, when she again found herself passing the man from earlier, the one who had stared from the side of his face, she felt a certain thrill pass through her, a thrill of memory and yearning, a thrill of a bridge not yet built but imagined. For the very smallest of seconds his eyes met hers, and they were not the kind brown eyes of a dog or a cow or a woman in a skin-suit, but the repulsion and fear she saw in them were not, after all, directed toward her. She, too, was a window of sorts, and when was a window not a mirror? In her naked woundedness lie his naked woundedness, a raw, scorched terrain he could not bring himself to love. He turned his cheek to his own weeping veins. This moment wasn’t enough--he would not unpeel his suit, expose the bandage of the lie for what it was, reach for his own trembling soul through another; but it was something--a single rain drop, maybe, crashing to earth.

 

 

This story originally published by Gravel.