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.