Zoroaster Met Himself (chapter 2)
The human capacity to acclimating to strange situations is really quite impressive. With just a bit of repetition an unthinkable aberration can become status quo. Elise was no exception: once her plan to finish out the semester had solidified, Elise got down to work ignoring her mirror self. And, while its presence remained unsettling, she found herself largely succeeding. For one thing, she had other projects to devote her time to. Long hours of toil went to paper writing, and especially to a grand opus of a paper about variations in the depiction of the Sumerian Pantheon. She’d been working on the thing all semester, a scholarly tour de force which she hoped would show her intellect to be on par with any in the history department.
Perhaps it was this long-practiced subjecting of all else to her work that carried her through the 48 hour mark. She didn’t spend time in front of mirrors, and had little occasion to think of what might appear in them. So she had a definite sinking feeling when Elli met her in the bedroom mirror that morning. “Dammit.” she’d said softly.
“It’s nice to see you too, sunshine.” her reflection had retorted. Then added jovially, “We’d look cute this morning if you weren’t so grumpy.”
But Elise had already made plans for the day. There was work to be done, places to be. And, in practical terms, her ill-behaved reflection didn’t seem to be coming to much more than a bizarre irritation.
“Do you remember that coral lipstick from last year?” Elise actually hadn’t until just now. She’d tried it out for a conference banquet and then, judging it to be too garish, had never thought of it again. “I think the tube is still in a drawer here somewhere,” Elli offered hopefully.
It was really only when she was directly confronted with a mirror that the abnormality of it all was forced to the forefront of her mind. But it turned out her look-alike’s antics remained in the mirror. For instance, she was easily able to turn and march out of the bathroom without applying any lipstick at all, even as Elli cajoled her. Fears that she’d be driven to another incident like last Thursday’s bender seemed more and more remote. What did she need to doll herself up for anyway: she was heading into campus for another long day buried in the library stacks.
As she entered the library restroom several hours later she was met with her own voice without so much as glancing at the bank of mirrors.“So can we finally take a break now?”
“No,” Elise answered curtly. In spite of her resolve to just ignore it, irritation at Elli’s presence was starting to get the better of her and draw her into responding. That this giddy creature was an aspect of her own mind irked her.
“But why go sit for another two hours? We’re really tired of this—you know we are! We could go get a smoothie with peaches in it and drink it in the park.”
“I find this work fulfilling.” Elise murmured.
“You feel important when we’re having no fun. And all this so ol’ Doc. Leo will pat you on the head. I mean, you know you’d have gotten an A if you just turned this in last week.”
Fleetingly Elise felt doubt. It was the mention of peaches more than anything. That particular flavor, she realized, was exactly the thing she wanted at this particular moment. And the paper she was laboring over had surpassed ordinary standards of excellence a month ago. Was she a bit bored of this topic? She met Elli’s sparkling hazel eyes.
Then the door opened and somebody else entered. Self consciously Elise realised she was staring into a bathroom mirror. She brushed her hair back as a pretext and with the same motion brushed aside this silliness about leaving in the middle of her workday to get a smoothie. She turned and was out of the bathroom and away from the voice. This is what she got for talking to a hallucination. She knew quite well what she wanted in life. As she returned to her books she revisited a well-worn daydream. It always went the same way: Dr. Leopold, or perhaps Dr. March, privately telling her how her work, in this instance, was on par even with that of the faculty members. Better than some, he’d add with a conspiratorial wink. As she sat back down she thought of Elli’s suggestion with disdain.
So things went until the day the muffler fell off of her car. Elise had been aware that the rear of her car was making too much noise. It wasn’t subtle. But, in much the same manner she was putting off her own psychiatric maintenance, she’d deferred doing anything about it until her academic schedule slackened. Her car had, apparently, had quite enough of this shabby treatment, and had deposited its muffler onto the pavement whole with an intimidating clatter.
This could not be so easily ignored. Her car now sounded like a pack of Harley Davidson’s and she imagined dirty looks being shot her way everywhere she drove. Thus Elise found herself fidgeting in the dingy waiting area of Benton Auto. Her phone was dying, and she wasn’t about to read the aging motor enthusiast and hunting magazines. Benton’s was one of those little family garages that doesn’t look like much but offers a good price, popular with those on a graduate student’s income. She’d been lucky that they could work on her little Honda that afternoon, but she still fretted about the interruption to her schedule. She rose and gazed through a grubby window into the garage proper.
Her car was hoisted into the air, and two mechanics were working on it: the junior of the Benton brothers, in his mid forties, along with a mechanic Elise didn’t know. He was much younger and much larger than Bud Benton, at least 6′ 1″ and broad shouldered. Bud wore a pair of grey coveralls that could probably remember Clinton’s presidency, while his assistant sported a blue shirt cuffed to the elbows and stuffed into a pair of jeans. The younger man was bobbing his head to a country song. When they lit up the welder Elise turned away from the retina searing flashes. She wondered how much longer the repair would take and once again wracked her brain for anyplace worth going withing walking distance.
“Where’s the bathroom?” she asked the woman behind the piles of old papers on the service desk. Elise walked in the direction the middle aged woman, likely herself a Benton, indicated.
“He is really cute, right?” Elli effused by way of a greeting.
“Who is?” Elise demanded with none of her double’s enthusiasm.
“That mechanic guy! Those big arms and shoulders…” she giggled, “Was there somebody else cute around?”
“He’s not my type.” Elise countered.
“Oh please. We find him really hot. We were wondering what he looked like without that shirt on.”
Elise directed a scowl at the mirror and said nothing.
“This is so like you!” Elli exclaimed. “You can’t even admit to yourself when we like something because you’re too stuck on your perfect version of yourself. You know you’d like to wrap those arms around us like a bathrobe. But you’d rather be a little prune than admit it. You’d like...”
“No, I wouldn’t,” Elise snapped, cutting off a remark she somehow knew would be quite lewd. She added crisply, “I don’t have a thing for greasy meatheads.”
Elli looked actually put out by this, her face pinched with irritation. For a moment Elise felt like she’d finally scored on her alter ego. Finally the mirror spoke again. “Bet me.”
“Bet you?” That was new.
“Yeah, you’re always ignoring what I say we want. But I’m right. So actually bet me you don’t find him incredibly hot. If I win, then we have to ask him out.”
“I’m not playing some game with...with a figment of my imagination! Why can’t you just leave me alone?”
“Ok, fine, if we bet and I lose then I’ll sit quiet and study your boring books.”
Elise paused. The absurdity of the situation was palpable. But sometimes in life you have to work with what you’ve got, right? “If I bet, it will shut you up?”
The reflection nodded.
“You won’t pester me about junk food, and eye-shaddow, and whatever?”
“I’ll be quiet as a really boring school mouse.”
“Ok then. I bet you.”
“You can’t take it back.”
“Fine. I said I’m in. Now: I. Don’t. Like. Him. So be quiet.”
“You’re not telling the truth!”
“Yes I am.”
“You can’t just say it. We bet, now you have to prove it!”
Elise staired in irritation. She was actually returning the very look her mirror image had shot her a minute earlier. The pair had on jeans and a baggy collegiate hoodie, an outfit picked out, though Elise wouldn’t admit it to herself, specifically to spite Elli who’d been chirping obnoxiously about “perfect sundress weather.”
“And how do you propose to prove it?”
Elise had assumed that neither one of her could answer that. But Elli was ready, “You just play ‘pat the bunny’ while thinking about him for a little bit. If nothing happens then you win. I’ll stop trying to make our life more pleasant...for a while.”
“No!” Elise hissed the response. “You are crazy if you think I’m going to sit in a dingy bathroom and masterbate just so I can settle a bet with my imaginary friend.”
“But we bet,” Elli pointed out. “You have to settle it. But,” she added, her face brightening at her own joke “you don’t have to stay in the bathroom if you don’t want.”
Elise was wavering between what she knew to be the sensible course of action—simply leaving—and the gratifying one—formulating another properly blistering response for a person with whom, real or not, she was thoroughly pissed. She was still undecided when she noticed Elli’s hand headed towards her pant waist. With a start she realized that it was actually her own hand which was in motion. She jerked it sharply upwards to her chest.
...Or she meant to. Her mind issued the order and met no resistance. But it became clear that her hand had continued on its original course. She stared at it and tried again to raise it, this time focusing all her attention on it. Her hand quivered for a moment, as if unsure whom to listen to. Then it made up its mind and slipped itself inside the waist of her jeans.
For a moment simple perplexity occupied her mind. But a moment later her fingers brushed against a very sensitive area and her consternation turned to horror. She tried frantically to command her rogue hand, but again only caused a slight trembling, and this time only briefly. Then her still obedient right hand flew to her left wrist and tried desperately to yank it back. But to no avail, its grip giving way as if it were pretending to pull hard rather than really doing it.
“How are you doing this?” she gasped in alarm and outrage.
“I don’t know.” Elli shrugged her shoulders without moving her hands, “How do you use ’em the rest of the time?”
“Stop! You have to stop!”
“You should quiet down or Mrs. Benton will wonder what you’re doing.”
“But you can’t,” Elise protested, dropping her tone—her hand gently caressing, “you can’t make me do this!”
“A bet’s a bet. And you never feel bad about making us sit there bored forever and ever—at least this feels good. We haven’t been touched properly in so long...”
At that instant a vivid image of the young mechanic inserted itself into her thoughts unbidden. There he stood before her mind’s eye, just as he had a few minutes ago in the shop. And try as she might to think about other things—about Julius Caesar, about Mt. Fuji, about congressional inactivity—the image remained, like a daydream she wasn’t having. Then he turned and winked at her, a boyish smile on his stubbly face, his muscular shoulders evident through his shirt.
“Please,” she begged, “please don’t.” But it was no use. Elli only responded with a contented little sigh. To her dismay she realized it had come out of her own mouth.
Elise looked dazed when she shuffled back to the waiting room, her face still flushed. She thought she’d suppressed her noises sufficiently to go unheard, but she’d had to pull her shirt down to hide the wet spot on her jeans. To her chagrin, she saw that the older woman had been replaced behind the desk by the man she’d so recently been visualizing. Though, instead of the things he’d recently been doing in her head he simply gave her a friendly nod and said, “We’ve got your car all finished.”
She returned his smile weakly. Though she’d managed to convince herself she was telling the truth when denying it, her recent experience had made it vividly clear even to her, were she woman enough to admit it, just how hot she really found him. Admitting it to herself made it more vivid. Even amidst mortification at the recent incident in the dank little auto shop bathroom and chagrin at being shown up by Elli she found room for a few butterflies in her stomach.
The walk up to the desk didn’t feel at all forced, but just sort of inevitable. It was like opening wide for a dentist—it might be unpleasant, but what alternatives were there? So she inevitably sidled up to the desk and timidly cleared her throat. He looked up.
“Would you like...to get drinks with me sometime?”
He looked startled. Then smiled broadly. “It sounds like fun, but I’m sorry, I kinda have a girlfriend already.”
“Ah.” She paused, her face crimson. Well, that was over. Then her mouth opened again, “That’s too bad because you’re really hot, and I would have loved to …”
With something like a shriek, she clasped both hands to her mouth (they’d resumed acting normally as soon as the bet was settled) and bolted out the front door of the shop without her car keys.