“Marvin Meebs and the Empty Mirror”
- Lisi Breen
It was a familiar Thursday night when Marvin Meebs lost his reflection, and while the whole ordeal was terribly shocking, not even Marvin could say it really made all that much of a difference.
The night was ‘familiar’, not in the comforting sense, but in the numbing, suffocating way only adults seem to understand. Nothing in the house—nothing in the world— moved but the sharp hands of the clock and Marvin’s arm.
He mechanically swirled his whiskey around the glass, keeping beat with the clock. The hands on its face were off, had been for a week, but Marvin knew exactly what time it was. Something about being alone made him only too fully aware of time.
Marvin Meebs didn’t drink, his father did. Marvin did not sit in a comfortable recliner, nor watch the television when he drank. He sat upright in his stiff, straight-backed chair, listening only to the time.
Tick Tock. Swish.
Tick Tock. Sip.
Tick Tock. Swish.
Tick Tock. Sip.
The glass slipped from his fingers and shattered on the living room floor.
The dog scampered from its bed in the den, flying towards the commotion. Its eyes were wide with anticipation. It’d been days since Marvin had paid the animal a thought beyond filling it’s bowl and patting it’s head when he came back from work.
Marvin never referred to the animal with its given name. It was always “The Dog” or, on especially bad days, “Sharon’s Dog.”
Marvin groaned and pushed himself up. He then tucked the fat, shaking beagle under his arm, carrying it to the couch. He placed it on the cushions, as to keep it away from the spill. “Stay there.”
The dog disregarded its owners command and hopped back onto the carpet, wagging its tail. It sniffed the stain and recoiled at the smell. Marvin narrowed his eyes at the animal, remembering a time when he’d done that, too. He had been 12. His 50th game at Fenway Park and his first beer. He didn’t like baseball, nor had he liked the taste of beer at the time, but it was not unusual for Marvin to go along with things he didn’t care for.
“Paper towels,” he muttered under his breath. He slowly made his way into the kitchen, all sense of urgency lost… or maybe just misplaced. Marvin hadn’t quite decided. He bent down in front of the sink, checking the cabinets. “Paper towels,” he echoed. “Sharon?” he called over his shoulder. “Where are the—”
A horrible, shameful silence fell upon the house again. Marvin clapped his hand to his mouth, trying to stuff the words back in. Sharon’s dog blinked it’s wet eyes at him, but Marvin couldn’t tell if they were disappointed or understanding.
Or maybe he’s just a goddamn dog, he thought to himself.
He grabbed a roll of toilet paper, telling himself he’d buy paper towels tomorrow. He forgot he already had four rolls in the upstairs cabinet.
Marvin had misplaced many things in his lifetime. His father always said Marvin had a forgetful mind. His mother would always counter her husband’s remark—which was what she and her favorite radio therapist, Dr. Lila, liked to call a “passive jab”— and, with a flourish of her hand, would say it was actually the opposite. Marvin was too focused. Marvin only paid attention to life.
When Marvin turned 43, he finally understood that both his parents were wrong. He had come to the shocking realization that everything in his life resembled a toy soldier walking off the edge of the table—work, friends, his overall motivation. He wasn’t leaving things behind, they were marching off despite him. He often found himself wondering who had wound the keys so far.
His ex-wife, Sharon, was no exception. She’d been teetering off the side of that table for five years. Marvin had seen it, but he’d been powerless to stop her. It was not unlike when he was at the charm school his father had forced him into, a chubby 14-year-old, where he teacher loosely tied his neck to his ladderbacked chair, forcing him to sit upright, but keeping his utensils just out of reach.
He made his way back to his chair. The dog hopped up on Marvin’s knees, licking his exposed wrist.
Marvin would never give the dog away. He needed company, at least that's what everyone told him. He liked to think that there was just something good about about cohabiting with another creature that fell from his ex-wife's affections.
She’d liked the idea of a dog. Just like she’d liked the idea of Marvin twenty years ago, when he was a hopeful, young man with an impressive education under his belt. Marvin sometimes wondered if Sharon left him because a degree in engineering was the only worthwhile thing under his belt.
Marvin let out a heavy sigh. He’d have to clean up the glass before the damn animal cut itself. For a moment, he relished in the pretense that he hadn’t the time for a vet appointment.
Marvin halted, the roll of toilet paper falling from his hands and bouncing at his feet. He stared with a perplexed expression at a peculiar image on his wall.
It was a photograph of his own living room. It was empty.
He took two hesitant steps towards what should have been his mirror. The frame was there, but the reflection was all wrong. Something was missing.
Suddenly, the dog appeared in the frame, panting heavily. Marvin slowly turned. The animal was doing the exact same movements behind him. When he looked back in the mirror, the dog had tilted its head, staring at some unknown subject between it and the glass.
Everything was right where it was supposed to be. Everything but Marvin.
A horrible, gnawing feeling began to build in his gut. It was the worst kind of terror anyone could ever feel, the kind terror where you have no idea what you’re scared of.
He stepped to his right, then his left, but the reflection was empty of any human activity. All that moved was the dog’s head following the phantom movements.
Marvin pressed his hand against the glass. He felt the cool surface beneath his fingertips, saw his warm breath distort the image of his living room. He drummed his fingers, listening to the light tapping. Yes, it was all there, everything but him.
Marvin stumbled back. His lungs no longer exhaled long, dull waves of air, as they had for the past two years. Now, they wracked with short, shallow gusts, bubbling out in gasps. He pressed his back against the opposite wall, staring at the empty mirror. He wet his dry lips.
He closed his eyes counted to five, but when he reached the number, found he couldn’t open his eyes again.
He considered leaving the room, going to bed and checking again in the morning. He couldn’t move. It wasn’t until Marvin had counted all the way to fifty, that he finally allowed himself a peek. The mirror showed an empty room.
Sharon’s dog was barking, running around the first floor in a crazed frenzy, but Marvin ignored it.
He sprinted up the stairs and into the master bedroom. It still smelled of drying paint and sawdust. Sharon had asked Marvin to redo the whole room, but had left before he’d finished. In fact, he got more work done when she was gone, when it didn’t matter anymore. He really only started at the end of his marriage. He went painting on, through the fights, the divorce, through every sleepless night without his wife.
He flicked on the lights. They hummed for a moment before bursting into artificial life, once again revealing another empty mirror above Sharon’s favorite armoire.
Marvin rapped his knuckles against the glass. It shuddered beneath his fist. An ounce of reassurance fluttered in his gut, it had responded to him at least! He was real.
Well of course, he was real! How couldn’t he be?
He looked into the mirror again. The waves of confusion receded, revealing fury. Marvin’s face grew hot. The mirror was ignoring him, ignoring him!
He ripped the it off the wall with a great surge of strength. The nails pulled a chunk of the plaster wall out with them. Marvin shook and swung the mirror about, as if he expected his reflection to fall back into place. Still, the glass was inexcusably bare.
He tossed it to the ground. His brain processed the shatter behind him, but he couldn’t find any regret in his stomach. His legs were already carrying him downstairs to the kitchen.
He flung open the cabinets and drawers, checking everything and anything that could offer a reflection. Still, he couldn’t find himself. Not in the toaster, nor the microwave, or stove. He would have settled for an upside down face in a spoon, but again, there was nothing looking back at him
Marvin crumpled down onto the floor. Sharon’s dog was still running about, the click of its paws now on the second floor. Marvin leaned his head back, his cheeks wet.
He could dial someone, ask them to come over, but who? He hadn’t talked to the neighbors in years. He very well couldn’t call the police on a matter like this. They’d think he was a crazy drunk!
“Maybe I am,” he said, peering around the corner glanced at the fallen glass of whisky in the living room, pressing his tongue to the top of his mouth. No. Drunk? No. He’d only poured himself a small bit and hadn’t even gotten the chance to finish it.
“Crazy?” he whispered. No. Marvin was a lot of things, but he wasn’t crazy. That simply wasn’t possible!
Sharon’s dog scampered down the stairs, whining and barking. It ran into the kitchen, running around the table once, twice. Three times, it skidded across the kitchen floor, looking for something.
Marvin covered his ears. “Hey!” he yelled. “Shut it!”
Sharon’s dog didn’t react to his voice, like it always did. It just kept running, crying out. Marvin groaned and grasped the counter, pulling himself up.
He followed Sharon’s dog back to the unfinished bedroom. It was scratching on the closed door, howling in a frenzied panic.
“Will you just—” he faltered.
Sharon’s dog continued pawing at the wood, waiting for someone to open it.
Marvin lived alone. No one was there to open the door but Marvin himself, but he was behind the damn animal.
Crazy? Marvin was certain he wasn’t.
Invisible…Well, that seemed the only possible explanation.
He opened the door for Sharon’s dog, following it into Sharon’s old bedroom.
She’d wanted it a neutral color, something mature and sophisticated to match the new curtains. She’d gone through sixteen different color pallets. Finally, she decided on “drifting sand.” It reminded her of a house she knew very well but had never visited nor even seen. Her dream, beach house in Miami. It reminded her of the life she thought her husband would be able to afford after all those late nights in the office, all those arguments on budget cuts, all the sacrifices she had made for him.
The invisible man knelt down in front of open paint cans of that color Sharon had liked so much. Her dog growled as a paintbrush began to seemingly move on its own accord.
Sharon’s husband took too long to finish the bedroom, too long to do anything at all. She’d left to find what she thought she deserved, whatever it was that the man she left couldn’t offer. Still, her invisible husband dipped his brush into her old compromise and kept trying to paint that future for her.
Lisi Breen lives on a farm in rural Vermont and attends Rice Memorial High School.