Flash Fiction by Niki Baker
The Man in the Mirror
Kaye stands naked before him as she has so many times before, vulnerable and afraid. Surrendering herself to his silent, methodical assessment of her countless imperfections has become a hated but somehow necessary part of her existence, an unbreakable habit of almost ritualistic self-torture. She supposes it must be like this for addicts, unable to resist doing something that you know is killing you a little bit more every time. As always, she fights the urge to run away and hide from his critical stare. She knows from all the desolate years of trying that it would be futile. He has always been there, as inescapable as the shadow pinned to her heels, effortlessly keeping pace with her no matter how fast or far she runs.
He notes the subtle changes in her body, her small but remarkable breasts… is one slightly bigger than the other? His lips tighten in disapproval and she knows she’ll never feel quite the same fondness for her modest cleavage from now on. She should be angry that he’s tarnished another of her few treasures but she accepts it, accustomed to his need to take the shine off things. It’s just his way.
She meets his gaze as his unforgiving scrutiny continues. He is immune to the deep fire in her eyes and narrows his own while she plucks hurriedly at a delinquent eyebrow hair. He ignores the elegant curve of her neck, the seductive dip of her lashes, the softening of her warm skin, her innate femininity. He zeroes in on her flaws, impossible to please, and she is incapable of seeing herself through any other eyes than his.
It doesn’t matter how often her friends compliment her and seek her company. She’s been hurt too much to trust the way they see her and so she politely refuses their offers to regard herself, rose-tinted, as they do. They look through the filters of her personality, her courage, her honesty, and are blind to her too-broad shoulders, her too-narrow hips. He alone has always been truthful – cruelly, uncompromisingly truthful – about the physical things that really matter.
Then, from somewhere buried inside her, comes the counter-intuitive realisation that the only way to escape him is to stop running. It feels like a huge revelation that should be accompanied by fanfares and pyrotechnics. Kaye catches and kindles the fragile thought before it can disappear, sensing that it is the key to her freedom. He is part of her, part of what makes her who she is, part of the mysterious inner strength that has enabled her to come so far. She looks into his eyes and knows that she has finally discovered his secret. As difficult as it may be, she must accept him. Love him, even.
She leans forward and kisses his mouth, leaving a smear of lipstick.
Kaye smiles. The more she does so, the more the man in the mirror fades. The woman he has become keeps on smiling. And she is beautiful.
Niki Baker is practically nocturnal, enjoying the world best when the stars are out and most of the people are in. She has received recognition for numerous short stories, poems and travel articles, and is currently seeking a publisher for her first full-length novel. Find her on Twitter at @NRBakerWriter.