The old man looked at his reflection in the mirror. Staring almost. Every morning he tried his best to avoid his aging image. But there were days like this one today, when he just wasn’t able to look away. This was an actual old man he was looking at; an actual old man who was looking straight back at him. When did it happen – getting old is a process. But being old? What’s that?
Is it really this reflection in the mirror? Being old: feeling old, staying old, doing things old people do. And what are those things?
The old man was further wondering about his standing in life. He liked to be surrounded by young people, people who looked young, people who behaved young. Didn’t that just make him young, too?
He didn’t want to fool himself or make a fool out of himself. He already – and for a long time – knew that he didn’t really belong to those young people any more. But at the same time thinking about it, he didn’t belong to those old people, either. Because old people sit in parks on lakes and feed doves and swans; old people talk about the war and sicknesses – and death; old people like to talk to themselves.
And the old man – this one in the mirror – wasn’t talking to himself; he was thinking about himself. And that’s a huge difference! Because old people don’t think about themselves any more. They think about the doves and the swans. But not about themselves.
An old man from some point in his life on fades away until nothing remains. Ashes to ashes. And thoughts to thoughts.
And grain for the swan.
An old man isn’t able to see any future. He just lives to die. There’s definitely no thought about the very next day. Because the chance always grows that you are dead tomorrow.
It’s mornings like this one that this face in the mirror creates such thoughts. And then they’re circling around in his mind, make no sense and make all sense in the world at the same time.
The truth was that the old man on the other side of that mirror wasn’t able to connect this picture with himself. This wasn’t him. This wasn’t how he felt about himself. He simply wasn’t someone for sitting in parks or on lakes, no-one for feeding doves or swans. It wasn’t time yet to just wasting time nonsensically. The old man very much felt that he still earned his place on this planet. The old man still felt that he’d got something to offer to the world – or at least his near surrounding.
There was no way that this picture in the mirror somehow corresponded with the way he saw himself. But he sees this picture every day. And maybe – one day – he’d be just tired and give in, starting to act to his image, doing all the things people expected from an old man who looked like an old man.
There was just one thing, something that he didn’t get, something that the old man didn’t understand.
This young man in the living room who liked to share more time with him than with any other people of his own age. He arrived yesterday evening, stayed overnight and even mumbled this morning that he’d like to stay for a whole week. He almost lived here anyway. So, the announcement didn’t came as a surprise. But the old man still wondered – now – what the young man saw in him.
And he still thought about this image when he no longer saw it. Once again he had been staring at himself – or what looked like himself, just far older – that this picture had made a burning impression on him. He wasn’t able to wipe it away. Like Damocles’ sword it was hanging above him, so the old man had to walk like an old man in his desperate try for the sword not making the cut.
In the end, the old man was looking like an actual old man and he was walking like an old man – making a fabulous whole impression of an old man.
Next he was sitting down like an old man, on that little space the young man had left empty on the comfortable dark brown couch.
The young man was blinking when he heard the old man sighing and moaning. A light chuckle followed, coming from the man who still didn’t mind creating a little more space for the old man. In fact, now he took over the whole couch with spreading his long legs over the old and tired legs of the other man.
»Seen something you didn’t like, old man?« the young man asked smiling.
»Yes, indeed, me in the mirror«, the reply was immediate. And he added, »I simply don’t understand why you look at me like you see some golden-haired angel sometimes. Because I certainly don’t see a golden-haired angel when I look at this truthfully hurting image of mine.«
»Well, we always see what we like to see, I guess.«
»And you like to see a golden-haired angel when you look at me?«
»Sometimes, I do, yes«, the young man presented a big grin but soon became rather serious when he added, »When I look at you it’s like I always see you as the guy I first met like ten years ago or so. This image seems to be imprinted into my brain, like this first impression we get – it’s always the most important one and strongest one, I guess. Because you met someone for the first time and within one second you want to get the guy, you want instantly know how this guy goes on in life, what’s he like – kinda, the first impression. And because you’re using all your senses, this first image is the one you know best, also after more than ten years.«
»But you see me almost every day. You see this face, this old face of mine«, the old man almost tried to convince the young man otherwise. »I do understand that this imprinted first image might be of some use when we don’t see each other for a couple of weeks. But then it must be an even bigger shock when you see me again – this huge contrast between the imprinted image in your mind and the real old pal in front of you.«
»No, because it’s like I said: we see what we like to see.«
»So, are you trying to tell me that I see this old guy in the mirror because I want to see this old guy in the mirror?«
»Sure. I mean, look…«, finally the young man sat up to sit right next to the other man and look straight into his face. Only then he continued. »We never see ourselves like we really look like – at all – not once in a lifetime. We only get an idea with a look into a mirror. Or we take a selfie or see other pictures from ourselves. But those are just such: pictures, images, ideas. You might know something about René Magritte. Well, of course, you know – you’re smart. Magritte had painted all those simple pictures of an apple or a pipe with all those pictures saying ‘this isn’t an apple’ or ‘this isn’t a pipe’. And that’s basically it. You can paint a pipe or you can take a photo of a pipe but it’s never a real pipe. And even a real pipe isn’t a real pipe – that one idea of a pipe because that doesn’t exist. So, when you look into a mirror, you might think you see yourself but you don’t. It’s just a reflection of yourself, one tiny little piece that makes you being you. You think you look into reality because this reflection in the mirror is all you know. You don’t have a different perspective. And you never will have one. You see this image and you build everything around it. You think that all people around you see you like you do. But that’s completely not the case. When you look into a mirror, your face is wrong sided; what’s left for you, is right for everyone else. And in selfies your nose appears always bigger than in reality. There might be light and shadow that influences how one certain picture taken from you looks like. You never see what others see and what others see in you. And what I see in you. Because, obviously, that image from you that is imprinted into my mind, is long gone. You’ve got another image printed on your face right now. But this face doesn’t make you. When two people know each other, they always look deeper, they see what’s behind those eyes and they take this imprinted image from years ago and pin it onto this face in front of them – figuratively. It’s a simple way not to be fooled by time and space, right?«
The old man had listened to the young man with growing interest. The boy always tried to convince him into believing that he wasn’t that old yet. But his own bones and this face of himself that stared back at him every morning, clearly spoke a different language.
»You should draw that picture of mine, you know, that imprinted image. So I would see what you’re talking about all the time«, the old man finally said and couldn’t hide a smirk.
»You don’t even listen to me, old man«, the young man replied, clearly missing the light tone behind the other man’s words.
»Of course, I do. Mirrors, reflections, selfies… Magritte, I do listen to you, dear boy. I just like to pin this drawn image from your imprinted image onto my mirror. And maybe I’ll get what you’re talking about.«
»But I can’t really draw.«
»I know«, the old man said smiling and went through the hair of the other man, »I know.«
The moment, I had seen this picture on the Instagram page of NXT, I knew that I needed to write something about it. I already had a vague direction in mind and edited the picture to the colourful reflection in the mirror while the ‘real’ surrounding was left in black/white. Yesterday, I went for a little walk and peu à peu the loose threads made it together into a bold storyline for this short story that I’ve written down today. Obviously, this man in the mirror is William Regal, but in my story there are no names, so it doesn’t necessarily need to be William Regal whom I had in mind. It basically works with most human beings that you will imagine. Hope you enjoy!
Written on the Ides of March a.d. MMXVI | Word count: 1,667