The Looking Glass

A look of distraction passes over my friend’s face in the middle of our girls’ date at a local chain restaurant. Her brows pinch together, and her whole expression slips into distress.

Alarmed, I glance over my shoulder, but see only a black clad waiter carrying a wheat-colored, napkin-covered basket of breadsticks. My friend and I had been talking about work— nothing terrible.

But suddenly. This.

“What’s wrong?” I say.

Her eyes are still focused over my shoulder, and I’m not sure she’s heard me. In fact, the hairs on the back of my neck begin to prickle because it’s as if she can see someone I cannot.

Then. Just as suddenly:

“Why do we hurt the people we love?” Like a headline in a woman’s magazine. Her eyes have become clear pools of pain, blue and translucent, and she seems to ask the ghostly someone lingering over my shoulder. “The other night I got so upset with him, I called him an effing jerk. Only I didn’t say effing. I wished he’d disappear, or I would disappear— it didn’t matter. And it was over something silly, you know? Something stupid.”

Her brows squeeze together above her eyes, and she continues:  “I go into work, and I listen to the girls talk about their husbands, their boyfriends, and I think: ‘God, why does anyone stay with you?’ But then I get tired or hungry or disappointed, and I say: ‘You effing jerk.’” There is a note of finality, even of discovery, in her voice, and she sits up straight in her chair and stares over my shoulder. Her look is so intense, it’s almost a sneer. Whatever she sees, it’s contemptible.

I mull my lips together, feeling very much as if I don’t belong at the table anymore. I put my head down and twirl the golden strands of my spaghetti through their saucy marsh upon my plate.

When I glance back up, she’s still staring down that ghostly presence, and as I look, I realize.

She’s staring down herself.

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