“I hate myself more than I hate mirrors.
This morning, I accidentally looked into one. Three hours later, I was writhing on the school ground. Tears in my eyes (as predicted), because of a kick below the belt.
Every attempt to avoid it fails. Once I’ve seen the numbers, I can do nothing but sit and wait for it. The only upside is that I saw Mack’s eyes before he kicked me. So I know he’s got it coming too courtesy his drunk father. Or maybe someone else. Who cares. He’ll cry tonight. The next time, I’ll tell him though he’ll probably hit me again when he finds out I was right.
Can’t avoid shiny things forever anyway.”
His hands quivered as he shut the tattered journal and looked out of the window. He knew he’d best skip the next entry. Seven decades later he hurt just as much, though he could tolerate a lot more. Even appreciate some of it. His bladder urged him towards the bathroom but he wanted to avoid the mirror there. Thus he stayed in bed caressing the cover of his teenage journal, amazed that he still had it. It had been in a box of belongings dropped off at the nursing home by his college-bound grandson yesterday. There was enough space at home, but he thought it best not to dwell on that.
Someone began to play the piano downstairs, and he wandered back into pleasant memories stirred up by the journal. Two pages back there was an older entry, above which was pinned a Polaroid photograph of three boys. One of them was standing awkwardly and the others were laughing hard. He smiled at it before continuing onto the not-so-pleasant words written under it.
“This has to be the gayest power possible. Useless too, and caused me a world of pain in checking if it wasn’t anything else.
There’s no way to switch off the numbers. Whenever I look anyone in the eye they appear next to the head. Ticking away the seconds till that person cries next. If I try to warn anyone they think I’m a weirdo, and even more so when they realize I was right.
This photo shows my attempt at explaining this nonsense to the fellas, and their reaction on hearing that both of them were about to cry. They did cry of course, but the tears came from laughing their asses off.
I have the best friends.”
He loved photographs, especially of those he cared about. He could look at them for as long as he wanted to, and the static eyes wouldn’t yell back the moments he had left till his friends would be down on the ground laughing at his stupid “power”, till his mother would cry silently every year on his father’s death anniversary, till he could not hold himself back. Till forever, because the numbers stopped ticking when his wife bid him a rushed goodbye for the last time.
The realization came too late though, and he had lived long enough to know nobody would believe him.
And so he loved photographs and covered the walls with them wherever he lived. He looked around now, heaving a well-rehearsed sigh of resigned regret. The frames showed a life lived on tip-toes that still tried to dance in its better moments, and was crushed by its own weight in the others. It had settled for the faces that acquiesced to smiling so that a lonely man could glare at them at length.
The entries got more sporadic as he continued flipping through. More carefully, since he had a lump in his throat after the previous entry. He had shed a tear yesterday when he saw his grandson for probably the last time, as the mirror had predicted. But he didn’t want a repeat without knowing when, first. This vicious cycle was a part of him, as much as the by-lanes of memory he would travel down to avoid looking into eyes, mirrors and himself.
Each bitter reverie they caused was an old traitorous friend’s greeting. The last entry was just a single line which read,
“I try not to look in a mirror, but how do I stop?”
After writing which of course, he had tried to jump off a roof. His grandfather saved him. The old man talked a lot of philosophy mixed with movie references, stayed by his side for three days, and dragged him out to the light. That had been a long time ago though, and the negatives left a stronger imprint on his mind than the hurried words of an old man desperately trying to hold on to his grandson.
And so, he kept sneaking glances in mirrors. The questions in them swirled around, some settling down, others floating to the forefront of his mind. They needled him and he tried to answer even if it always ended in tears. The place for someone like him in the world wasn’t a comfortable one. Life continued to race him by— he tried to hang on but inexorably slipped into the ocean of another pair of eyes threatening to overflow.
A chill wind blew in, turning his attention to a dog-eared page near the end. That’s odd, he thought as he turned over to it to find something written in a scribble recognizably different from his —
“Grandpa, I have it too. Don’t worry.”
He flicked the journal aside and stood up. An urgent phone call was needed to be made. After relieving himself, of course. He was an old man after all.
For the first time in a long time he did not glance at the dirty mirror on his way out of the washroom. He never could make the call though, and if he had looked at the mirror he would have seen that the numbers had stopped ticking.
*(2nd possible ending lines — For the first time in a long time, he did not glance at the dirty mirror on the way out of the washroom. Had he done so, he would have seen that the numbers had stopped ticking.
No calls were made that day from his room in the nursing home.)
Prompt — An octagenarian man on his deathbed, is given a diary he maintained through his adolescence. Describe the emotions that surge up in his mind.
IF you're writing a review or even just commenting, I'd really appreciate it if you could also add how relevant you thought the story was to the prompt. ( It did reach the 1 k word limit)
This is the second draft, initially the story was named "The Absurdity of hope". Do comment on the title too, if possible.