by Nicola Six


Anna first saw The Monster in the mirror when she was 12 years old. It was a hideous creature, with bulging, black eyes that seemed to never blink, a bulbous, grotesque nose in which blood capillaries emptied into each other like bodies of water, and, the most horrifying of all, an enormous, asymmetrical mouth, whose purplish lips, when parted, revealed a set of rotting, uneven teeth that made the rest of The Monster's features seem almost normal by comparison. The next think she knew was that she was screaming, screaming so loudly that she almost didn't hear the loud crash on the floor of the dishes her mother had been washing after dinner. When her mother stormed into her room, she found her daughter crouching on the floor, her face distorted by fear and an almost perverse curiosity. What worried her most was that, in the hour it took to console her and make her calm again, Anna's eyes didn't seem to move from her reflection in the mirror.

Her mother took Anna to a psychiatrist, first at the insistence of her husband. He was a man who spoke very little but took action at the first instance of possible trouble. If their daughter was having emotional problems, they, as responsible parents, must get her the proper treatment as soon as they manifested themselves, he had said. His wife was more skeptical. However, that same night, she walked into Anna's room to say goodnight to her, and did not find her lying on her bed, but staring at her reflection in the mirror. She didn't look frightened like before, but oddly fascinated. She asked her daughter, jokingly, if she found herself so astonishingly pretty that she couldn't take her eyes off herself.

"I wasn't looking at myself, mommy. I was looking at my friend. I feel sorry for it. It's so ugly and lonely. Look, mommy! Can't you see it?"

She was sitting in the psychiatrist's waiting room, trying, but failing, to read an article about anorexia in adolescents, for what really caught her attention was the half dozen patients in the room, and some sitting quietly reading a book, some pacing around the office in a state of near panic, their hands wringing and their mouths moving but emitting no sound. She grew more anxious as the hour went by, but finally, Dr. Bernestein's office door opened and she was asked to step inside. The first thing she did was look at Anna. She was afraid, then. For her daughter looked so passively defiant, so scornful of her and of the doctor, and her eyes were so expressionless that it sent chills down her spine.

Dr. Bernstein began to explain what he believed to be Anna's condition. According to the man, her daughter suffered from an acute case of Body Dysmorphic Disorder, a mental disease characterized by a disturbed body image. It is generally diagnosed of those who are extremely critical of their physique or self image, despite the fact there may be no noticeable disfigurement or defect characterized by an individual's obsession with their physical appearance. In extremely rare cases, the patient may see their face as disfigured or distorted, even monstrous. Luckily, Anna was a very young girl and, although, body image is most strongly affected during puberty, with the correct dosage of Celexa, her problems would be corrected in as soon as 3 months. Finally, Dr. Bernsnstein asked the mother for a compact mirror and gave it to Anna to open. When she did, he asked:

"So, Anna, what is it that you see in the mirror?"

"A monster, Dr. Berstein", she replied.

Later that night, after flushing her pills down the toilet, Anna went to the mirror to see The Monster. It was, of course, there...waiting for her. Its black eyes stared fixedly at her brown ones.

"I told that stupid doctor I could see a monster every time I looked in a mirror. What an idiot. He thinks I have bad self-esteem or something, so he gave me some pills. I'll never take them. I know the only place where I can see you is in this mirror. We can be together now and no one can bother us. I'll say I stopped seeing you."

The Monster smiled at her with those purple lips and those enormous canines that protruded from its mouth and Anna knew that it loved her and that she loved it, as well. It was like they were the same person, only separated by the glass of the huge mirror in her room. No one would make that go away. The only thing that Anna needed to learn was to be careful. She learned to lock her bedroom door.

Dr.Bernstein and her parents were extremely pleased with Anna's recovery. To think that an acute case like hers could practically disappear in the short time span of 2 months was almost incredible. The father and the doctor credited the drugs for this near miracle, but the mother knew better. Her little girl had simply begun to grow up and leave the monsters and specters of her childhood behind. Besides, the sessions with a Psychologist that she herself had insisted upon contacting (she was always very skeptical of the effects of pharmacology on what she believed were normal rites of passage that every boy and girl had to go through) had been a blessing for Anna's self-esteem and confidence. Throughout the next five years, there was absolutely no mention of The Monster in The Mirror, and she was glad. Her daughter would be going away to university soon and nothing was more important than a good dose of self-esteem and confidence when one is away and far from home, learning new things, and, especially, making new friends. Anna had come home from the University's Open House in a state of near bliss, talking about a boy she had met while listening to the University President's Welcome Speech. This boy was perfect.

"He's English, Mom! He's so tall and pale and has dark hair and green eyes...and his hands! Oh, Mom, his hands are so elegant and graceful, with long fingers, and clean, beautiful fingernails! They're so different from us, the English. They're so...civilized. He asked me to go with him to a play and when I said yes, he said: "Oh, lovely". Isn't that so cool and sensitive"? I can't wait to go!"

In her room, Anna had repeated the same story to The Monster, but it was received with sadness and anger. She tried to reassure it, she said that she would be back soon for Thanksgiving and then for Christmas and she'd tell it all about college life and...about the English boy, of course.

"You've always been my friend. But now I need a real friend. I need someone I can hold and who can hold me. I need someone who will listen to me, but also talk to me. I can't even touch you, nor you me".

The Monster wept quietly and his tears were as black as his eyes. Then Anna herself was weeping, shedding salty tears for the loss of her best friend. And then she looked up at the mirror and its black eyes met her brown ones again, and she realized The Monster was not her friend; The Monster was herself. She got up, went to the mirror and continued to look at The Monster. It never took its eyes off of her and she felt frightened for a moment because she realized that, under those black tears, The Monster's eyes showed no sadness at all, but a definite sense of purpose. Anna placed her hand against the glass and It did the same. She felt the warmth of two hands clasped together, one very white and unlined, with long, delicate fingers and carefully polished nails of crimson, the other full of unruly hair, boils and bulging veins, with long fingernails caked with dirt.

"You are me", said Anna. The Monster's head slowly went up and down.

So Anna pressed her entire body against the mirror, for a second feeling the coolness of the glass on her arms and legs, but then beginning to feel the warmth of The Monster's body against hers. They were both inside the mirror now and Anna looked up to see Its face. His crooked smile was more pronounced than ever, and its eyes looked, for the first time, almost triumphant. Anna felt weightless; her body seemed not to be responding to her brain's commands of releasing herself from The Monster's embrace. She felt as she were dying, fading away slowly, while The Monster seemed to be being born and gaining more and more vitality and strength. Anna felt naked and cold. She could hardly see anything. She finally managed to disengage her arms from The Monster's. They were covered in hair and warts and ended in enormous hands that had long and birdlike claws for nails, all of them caked in dirt. In confusion, she looked up to The Monster's face. But it wasn't its face. It was hers. It was her brown eyes, her high cheekbones, her nose, her slightly uneven lips, and her body, now covered by the jeans and white T-Shirt she had been wearing at the Open House. The Monster closed her eyes in horror, and when they were open again, she was completely alone and inside the mirror. It began to scream, to cover herself, to attempt to awake from the horrible nightmare it was having. Then she saw Anna. She was staring at the mess of clothes and books that lay sprawled on her bed. She took the short, revealing red dress that had always been their favorite and put it on. She rummaged through the little makeup case with the lotus flowers that her father had hand painted especially for her and produced powder, blush, eye makeup and their favorite lipstick. She made up her face and fixed her black hair in waves, all of this while looking into her little case's mirror. She seemed transfixed by her own image. When she was finished, she sprayed on a lot of vanilla perfume, and looked into the big mirror, at The Monster. It was laying in a fetal position behind the glass wall, its black eyes almost unseeing. They both heard the front door open. It was Anna's mother. The Monster began to bang on the glass, to hit it with all her might, to call out to her mother to get her out of there, to wake her up from this horrible nightmare, to tell her that she was Anna and not this disgusting creature behind the glass. But her mother didn't hear her. She was too busy beginning to make dinner. Anna looked at The Monster behind the glass and smiled a smile of rosy lips and white even teeth. Then she grabbed her bag, turned out the lights and closed the door behind her, leaving The Monster in complete darkness, shivering from the cold, and certain that half of her had escaped and the other would remained imprisoned forever in this house of glass.

It heard her mother scream in the kitchen. She hadn't seen Anna sneak up behind her and was surprised to see her so dressed up. Of course, she knew whom her daughter was going to. English Boy. Anna laughed and touched her mother in the shoulder. Her mother shivered, not knowing why. Anna laughed again and said, in a very low voice this time:

"It's Okay, Mother. It's only me".

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