The antique mirror was sitting out on the street for anyone to take, and because it was pretty and because he needed a mirror anyway Justin Marlowe carried it home. For the first few blocks he was sure that someone would come out and tell him that he’d made a mistake, that the mirror belonged to somebody who had for some reason decided to leave it out on the street for just a few minutes. It was much nicer than the usual giveaway furniture on street corners, after all. So he went slowly, checking over his shoulder, prepared to apologize and return it to its rightful owner. After six blocks it was clear that wasn’t going to happen, and so he sped up. By now his arms were tired and he was sure he would drop it, but he made it home and carried it up the stairs to his little apartment.
It didn’t fit in with his furniture at all. Most everything in his apartment was cheap and looked it, either salvaged from the street or reluctantly bought at IKEA. The mirror had an unforced elegance, in a wood frame that bore traces of ancient gilding. He put it in his living room on the far wall opposite his front door, in between the door that led to the kitchen and the door that led to his bedroom and bathroom.
Justin’s apartment was small and in a shabby neighborhood, but he was the only one among his friends who could afford to live alone and he was quite proud of it. The neighborhood was already getting better, too, with more businesses moving in. The Ukrainian cafe downstairs was quickly becoming “his,” and the mirror on the wall suggested to him a sense of permanence. This was home, he decided, and the mirror would be the first step towards settling in here for a good long while and moving firmly into adulthood.
His girlfriend Karen noted the changes every time she came. First the mirror, which she stood in front of for much of the afternoon, admiring both it and herself. Then on his table a small and pretty vase he found at a thrift store in Dover. “I get fresh flowers every other day from the Korean lady on the corner,” he explained to her. “It’s actually not expensive at all to give this place a little life.”
The band posters in the living room were exiled to the bedroom and replaced with a couple of wood prints he found online for cheap. And then one day he had drapes on his windows, which he found at a yard sale in Dillard.
“What were you doing in Dillard?” she asked.
“Going to yard sales,” he answered.
After that they began going out together on Saturday mornings: to the antique shops in Southeast, the thrift stores on the Waterfront, the funky little shops near Washington Square, and the yard sales in the suburbs. Th things they bought all inexpensive but well-chosen, and it all looked far more valuable than it actually was.
They both updated their wardrobes with stylish things they found at vintage shops. Her roommates noted with a mixture of pleasure and annoyance that she was adopting his habits and gradually transforming her part of the apartment, too, even though she was spending less and less time there.
The mirror remained the centerpiece, though. He was on a tight budget, and couldn’t afford anything in the same league as the mirror he’d found for free on the street. And so he spent a lot of his time looking at it, despite himself. He watched himself drink coffee in the morning, send out emails in the afternoon, and have dinner with Karen in his apartment–a used cookbook found in a bargain bin and a few pricey but well-chosen kitchen items had transformed his house into Karen’s favorite place to eat.
And one morning he noticed a peculiarity about the mirror. He ran his fingers through his hair and in front of him his reflection did the same, but not exactly in sync with him. The effect was a bit disorienting, and he rubbed his eyes hard before looking again. He moved again and saw the same thing. It was subtle, the tiniest fraction of a second, but he had a feeling that he was somehow trailing behind his reflection, as if it were tugging at him.
He must have been tired, or else he needed his eyes checked, or maybe he and Karen were drinking too much now that they were learning how to appreciate wine. He turned away from the mirror, finished his coffee and put the mug in the sink, and went off to work.
In the evening he came back with Karen and told her about it. They went to the mirror together and waved at it.
“You don’t see that?” he asked her.
“No, it looks fine.”
“It’s just so weird.” He leaned in close. Maybe it wasn’t actually happening. It was so extremely subtle, the time lag between himself and the mirror, that he couldn’t actually confirm it was real.
After she went home he looked again. He went into the bathroom and checked the mirror there; it was perfectly normal. He made faces at himself and stroked his chin, and the reflection matched. He hurried into the living room and did the same in front of the antique mirror. This time there was no mistaking it. The lag was more pronounced, still too small to quantify but no longer so subtle that he doubted it was even happening.
He set up his phone so he could record himself and his reflection. On the playback both appeared in perfect sync, but even as he watched it he could see himself in the mirror watching it faster. The mirror was running about a second faster than he was. It wasn’t reflecting him: he was reflecting it, and with a time delay at that.
“You really don’t see this?” he asked Karen the next day.
“No, I don’t.” They both looked at it. “What am I doing now in it?”
He tried to describe what she was doing in the mirror. It was least two seconds ahead now, but that wasn’t enough time for him to say something. By the time he said, “You’re smirking,” she had already smirked. He could say she was blinking, but that was cheating: she had to blink.
“I think you’re losing your mind,” she told him. She leaned in to kiss him and he turned to meet her lips.
“I totally knew you were going to kiss me,” he said.
She laughed. “You’re very slightly psychic.” But it wasn’t a joke. She offered to go out for fresh air, and he agreed. They took the subway to Washington Square and walked along the paths for the rest of evening, spending more than they should have on food from the street vendors. Afterwards they went to a trendy bar in South Square and after a few way too expensive drinks her concern melted away to a little bit of teasing. He put up with it good-naturedly but didn’t offer to take her home afterwards. They parted ways at the subway and he went home.
It was a bit silly, he told himself. At worst he was just a little bit psychic. When he got home he went about his business without looking at the mirror, and went to bed.
In the morning he watched himself eating breakfast. The time difference was growing steadily. Now it was about fifteen seconds ahead, far enough that he began to wonder just how tied he was to it. When the reflection took a sip of coffee, did Justin do the same fifteen seconds later because he was also thirsty, or because he had seen himself do it? Was his near-future, as shown by the mirror, something he could change?
He watched himself take a bite of his waffle and sit back in his chair. Justin specifically resisted the urge to do the same, fighting it and refusing to eat the waffle for a full minute. He just sat motionless. In the mirror, his reflection sat up and leaned forward, looking directly at him. Justin was startled, and to calm himself he took a bite of the waffle and sat back in his chair–realizing only then that he had done so exactly like his reflection. He thought about this for a minute and then leaned forward to look at the mirror. Just as his reflection had done one minute ago.
For the next few days he tried to avoid his apartment. Karen’s was no good–her roommates were always there, and always loud. Plus her kitchen was a bit sad, and they’d have to eat out, and food in her neighborhood was expensive. They visited as any parks as they could, and walked along the quay and the bridges. He tried to pretend it was a romantic walk, but Karen was actually starting to think he was crazy, and so he stopped bringing her along.
He tried to get rid of the mirror, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to. He saw himself try in the mirror and change his mind. He wondered why until he tried it himself: when he reached for the mirror he asked himself if he wasn’t being too hasty, if there was some value he was missing in being (as he still put it) very slightly psychic, and so he walked away.
In the morning, before getting dressed, he walked passed the mirror to see what he was wearing. Another day he walked past and saw himself wrapping a bandage around his hand. He didn’t know how that happened, until a glass jar fell from the shelf and cut his hand. He stayed calm, knowing that he had bandages and gauze in the drawer–he had already seen himself using them.
From the couch one day he saw the front door open and Karen come in crying. He saw himself calming her and holding her as she cried into his shoulder. He noted his actions in the mirror, prepared himself, and then waited to find out what was happening. She’d been robbed, she explained when she let herself in. He already had coffee percolating, and bolted the door, led her to the couch, and called the police. He already knew that the police would be quick, and that Karen would be able to provide a satisfactory description of her attackers. He saw that she would spend the night, and in the morning he knew she would say she was leaving but she wouldn’t.
Justin found that he could live with a slightly psychic mirror in his house, especially once he mastered the perspectives. He rearranged his furniture so he couldn’t see the TV, for example, after ruining the ending to a few movies. He learned where he could stand to see the weather. He liked taking the guesswork out of getting dressed, and could get used to be slightly prepared for news.
Sometimes he’d catch himself watching himself through the mirror, and it was never clear to him if he stared because he had to or because he wanted to. Was the glass a window into another parallel world, and was that Justin looking back into a world that was slightly behind his own? Did he look in the mirror to review his own actions? Or was this slightly sped up world really confined to just the narrow band reflected in the mirror?
Before going into the kitchen to cook he looked in the mirror and saw Karen nervously tapping out messages onto her phone, and when he came back he knew that there would be a confrontation about it. So he did as he was supposed to, or even compelled to, and asked her who she was talking to. A quick glance over his shoulder told him that she would get upset, and that he wouldn’t back off. So he insisted, and she started yelling, and he started yelling back. He knew before she did that she would say something, throw his vase off the table, and leave, and that he would be furious but would let her.
“I’m seeing someone else,” she confessed, and although he was very slightly psychic he hadn’t seen that coming. He had assumed they would fight about money, or his offer for her to move in. It turned out she’d been seeing someone else for months now, and he had asked her to move in with him, and she was pretty sure she was going to.
And so he said awful things to her–this, because of the angles, he hadn’t seen in the mirror–and she smashed the vase and ran out, and he had the tantrum he’d seen himself have earlier.
It was a long weekend, and he spent most of it on the couch, drinking. The occasional glance in the mirror as he walked past confirmed to him that in twenty minutes he would still be there, still drunk.
He ordered weed for the first time since college, surprised that the old phone number still worked. He didn’t recognize the dealer who came by, though; apparently his old hook-up had sold the business.
Justin called in sick from work and stayed in for the week. He saw himself call Karen a couple of times, and both times he was disgusted with himself and spent twenty minutes telling himself that he would definitely not call her, and then would pick up the phone to call her anyway.
He went for a long walk along the riverfront, looking out at the undifferentiated grey mass of slums across the river, and slunk back home late to find that he’d left his door unlocked while he was out. This was becoming a worrying habit for him–this was at least the third time this month he’d left the door open. His neighborhood was getting nicer, but it was still quite rough in places, and even in the best neighborhoods a person can’t leave his apartment door unlocked all day.
Slowly but surely he worked his way through his funk, and on Monday morning he saw himself getting ready for work, and decided that it was, indeed, time. So he shaved, got dressed, and went. Things began to go back to normal.
Without Karen, though, his evenings were emptier than he liked, and as much as he liked his Ukrainian cafe he couldn’t afford to go there every day, so on Thursday he took up running, and went for a long run through his neighborhood, which his landlord insisted was on its way up and which, Justin agreed, it appeared to be.
Once home he turned on some music and took a long shower. He stepped out, dried himself off, and looked at himself in the normal real-time bathroom mirror. He’d put on a few pounds over the past few months, both before and after Karen left him, but now that he was running again that should work itself out. He got dressed and stepped out into the living room. He turned the music down a bit and, out of habit, looked into the mirror.
In the mirror the front door was wide open, and for a moment Justin wondered if Karen had come back–she’d never given back her key, after all. It was just a moment’s thought, though. He looked down in the mirror and saw himself, dressed as he was now, with pajama pants and a grey T-shirt, face down on the floor in a large pool of blood. He looked back at the door, which was still closed, and then back at the mirror. He moved himself so he could better see the room. There was more pool around his head than anywhere else, but it was spreading out in all directions on his hardwood floor.
Justin’s skin crawled and his heart tumbled over itself. He was going to be sick. His living room was empty but the doors to both his room and the kitchen were open. The music was still too loud for him to hear anything. He thought of running, or of calling the police, but his mind was quick enough to realize that his death could be waiting behind any of those doors, and that thought made him freeze. He looked at himself in the mirror again, hoping to catch a sight of himself breathing. Maybe he could summon the police and explain later, after they’d saved his life, how he’d been able to call them before…before whatever was going to happen happened.
He spun around, unsure of where to turn, of even how much time he had. He was still spinning when he heard the shot, louder even than the music, and the momentum carried him around twice more on his heels–the room was a smeary blur of color as he spun and fell to the floor. His eyes stayed open as the front door opened and a pair of shoes ran through it. He at least wanted to know who it was, but already he couldn’t understand, and his eyes just reported what it saw to a brain that wasn’t processing anymore.
His loved ones came a few days later to clear his belongings, taking the mementos of his they wanted to keep and discarding the items that may have mattered to him but for which they had no use. The antique mirror they took down to the street and leaned against a wall for someone–maybe a decorator, maybe the garbage man, maybe someone in need of a mirror–to take with them.