Reflections Turn Away
by Gary L. Robbe
Miles screams again and flails at the wind. He tries to turn but drifts farther from the brief flicker of light and the girl, a flash of white and blonde and red. His red. She gives a hint of a smile before the light disappears, a hint of a look in his direction.
Darkness swirls around him. Miles has never thought of darkness as a living cloud before. It is living, all right. It is cold and relentless. It sucks his breaths and holds him, twisting away all he has ever thought and experienced in his short, insignificant life.
The darkness is complete. Are his eyes open or closed? Is he moving or frozen in place? Is the sensation of the wind a trick? There is no sense of time. A minute? Five minutes? An hour? A year? There is still sensation in his fingers. Miles feels the dull aching in his arms, feels the creased, wet skin where he cut himself moving through the glass. He should have bled to death. He wishes he had.
Collect yourself. If you can feel, you must be alive. And it couldn’t have been that long ago. He panicks. Time freezes when you panic.
Miles is thirsty, hungry, tired. He may be delirious. The green pill? Maybe it was the blue one. He sees lingering images. The girl is somewhere in this place. There are flashes, hints: blonde hair, a fading smile, not too far away at times but beyond his reach. There are many layers of glass here. He will break through them all to find her.
* * *
The sun bruised his eyelids. Kim was taking so long in the store that he had almost fallen asleep on the bench, in the open, like a derelict or an old man. People were strolling by. Miles caught their reflections in the store window nearest the bench.
Red and green, tan twisted, a very young couple were holding hands and shopping bags. A lady was pushing a baby in a stroller with another imp tugging at her jeans pocket. Miles focused on the reflections. The slight distortions.
He heard drifting conversations. Word parts licked at his feet. An older couple dragged by, leaving images that took forever to clear the glass. A young girl floated between the old couple, looking his way.
Miles turned and watched the couple move on to another outlet store, their backs to him as they limped away. No girl between them. No girl anywhere. Miles shook his head and looked all around him. Nothing. He smiled. You’re just tired, he thought. Back to the window. He waited. He had all the time in the world.
A Chinese couple came at him. Miles kept his eyes on the window. There were people moving inside, at least ghosts of people pulling things from racks, shuffling along with armloads of colors. The Chinese couple in striped matching shirts nodding and giggling.
Miles turned to the actual couple as they passed, two tired, blank expressions, an unhappy pair. No way.
He glanced at the window. The heads tilted back in laughter as they merged into the store wall. Something was not right.
Kim will think I’m crazy. Well, am I? Miles closed his eyes, letting bits and pieces of the past few months play out in an unrythmic and unsettling beat.
* * *
“You need a job, a real job,” she says, over and over and over, as if playing in a band weren’t a real job, weren’t enough. When they are together, they are dancing molecules. When they are together, he is far, far away, burning in the heat, sucking desert sand into his lungs, flinching. Always flinching at the slightest sound or movement.
He can’t explain to Kim what he went through and what he knows, what he sees every day and every night, how things are forever different and strange between them and in them. “I can’t deal with people,” he says.
But she is already in the other room watching TV or washing the dishes or dreaming about the way it should have been with children and sometimes cloudy skies. Instead of always living in darkness. Always trying to find the light in him that she remembered so long ago when he was alive and not a fractured vet.
* * *
Miles is floating as if in water. Only it isn’t water. He is breathing air, but it is not air. Miles can move, but there is some resistance. Every once in a while, he bumps into what feels like glass. He presses against it, slides along it for an eternity. He thinks he is really dead and this is the absurd afterlife he had always avoided thinking about. He feels screamed-out and defenseless in the world he is now in.
Then he sees the girl on the other side of the glass in a shard of light. He can break the glass and move toward her. But there always seems to be more glass between them.
* * *
Miles studied every person and their image as they came by. It took a while, but there were discrepancies. A look in his direction when there really was none. Or a color would be misplaced. Several times he would see an an added face, a reflection that didn’t belong there.
Miles, you’ve lost it. It’s the people in the store you’re seeing. You are tired. Drugs and lack of sleep are catching up to you. The sun is pretty intense. No. You need more drugs. The world is too loud. Drugs are the ear plugs that make it tolerable.
When Miles stood and faced the window and stared hard at his own reflection, the blonde girl was beside him for an instant. All the air in the universe he swallowed then, seeing the girl just as he remembered her in a blur of slow motion staring at him on the other side of his windshield, a look of surprise, as if she had been caught doing something naughty and dangerous, only it was also a look that said, Too late. I wish I could step back on the curb. I wish I could be anywhere on earth but here meeting your car face-first.
The scream in his throat bubbled out like cheap lava effects in an eight-millimeter movie. Miles couldn’t take his eyes off the window, dared not turn to see if she was really beside him on the hot sidewalk in the busy outside mall.
She was wearing a white dress. The same dress that had turned so dark and brown after the car swerved off the road. The girl’s look of surprise surrendered to a knowing smile, soft and sad at the same time. She had been alive and fresh and real.
Miles swelled backward as if caught by a gigantic ocean wave. The window went over his head into the sky. He must have stumbled into a bench. When he looked back to the window, there were several people around him, including an old man who slapped at him for giving him such a fright. There was no girl. Miles ran to the window and pressed his face against the glass. No girl inside either.
He needed a drink bad. What was taking Kim so long? He stared into the store, looking for her, looking for a little girl who could have wandered by inside the store at just the right—
“You looking for me?” Kim was beside him now. Holding a plastic bag filled with treats for herself, her expression flowered into one of concern, then perhaps embarrassment. “This is getting old,” she said as they walked to the car. Miles got in on the passenger side. “I mean, you’re making a spectacle of yourself wherever we go. I just wish—”
“Wish what?” he lashed out. Staring ahead, not giving her the satisfaction of turning to look at her. “That I wasn’t around to inconvenience you? Embarrass you?”
Kim blew the air out her mouth in a slow steady stream. Trying to be patient. Understanding. It drove him nuts when she did that.
“I saw her,” he said.
“You know who. The girl.”
“Say her name. Miles, you know her name. It helps you to face it when you say her name.”
“You been watching Dr. Phil ? Reading up on ways to deal with PTSD? Taking Internet courses in Psych 101? I know what I saw. It wasn’t a hallucination. Not this time. She’s not going to leave me alone.”
Kim started the car and backed up, purposely doing everything she could to avoid the stranger in the car with her. She didn’t want to go in this direction with him. “You have practice tonight?” she asked.
He never answered, all the long way home.
* * *
Bumping into the cold, jagged with holes, corpse doesn’t help. The flotsam jams into his eyes as Miles floats about in ... whatever he is floating in. The body pieces, held together by a meat-encrusted butcher’s string, wrap around him, giving a brief sensation of movement before he is past it. The decay smell wraps about him as well as the black darkness.
* * *
Miles went back to the window the next day. Kim thought he was at practice, bashing his drums to vent the demons from his system, a tympanic enema to be sure. He had to see the window, see what madness reflected back to him. He told Karl and Ed not to worry, he had to take a few days, practice without him or do whatever you had to do, he would call them later in the week.
The girl was there. She was staring at him, standing next to him in the reflection. A fluttering white dress. Blonde hair crowding the air about her head as if she was underwater. He knew if he twisted to look beside him she would be gone, and when he did there was only sidewalk and minute tufts of grass. He tried to recall her name, but it was as if that piece of memory had been amputated. Gone.
He went back, day after day. Sometimes he caught a glance of the girl. Sometimes he sat for hours on the bench and saw nothing out of the ordinary. When he did see the girl, it was only for a fleeting moment, the girl with mercurial expressions taunting him, staying between the glass. A migration of colors and faces flowing past and through her. The war missed him. Took dead aim and missed. A little girl not paying attention on a busy road didn’t miss him. And now she was here. Settling all accounts.
Kim’s words rattled about in his head. The band is not enough. We can’t survive on only one salary. You don’t talk, she said. Talk to me. Tell me what is going on inside here (tapping her head), as if anything really did occur within the close confines of a mere skull. He wanted to scream at her that it was everything outside of that skull that was the problem. He wanted to scream at her that he loved her but she couldn’t ever be a part of him anymore, that she only reminded him of what he could have been and what he did that fateful evening and the things he did in the war. He wanted to say, It’s not you, but instead he remained silent.
“There was nothing you could do about it,” she said, meaning the girl who had appeared out of nowhere and died in front of them so long ago.
Miles shook his head. “I did terrible things in the war. It’s payback.”
“You’re eating yourself up,” she cried. When her eyes fell open and let loose the hunger of hurt and fear, he grabbed her and held her tight.
* * *
Copyright © 2016 by Gary L. Robbe