Lyle looked at his reflection’s eyes one last time. He felt that the only time it cooperated with him was when he covered his bedroom mirror in tape. He fancied that on the ‘inside’ of the mirror, his reflection stood there with its own roll of tape, covering up the mirror from its side. He imagined that his reflection wanted the mirror covered as much as he did.
Later, Lyle was sitting in a swivel chair in Sylvie’s bedroom. She stood in front of him, holding an electric razor. On a nearby desk was a comb, a spray bottle, a hair dryer and a jar of hair gel. There was no mirror in the room.
“This would be less time consuming if you hadn’t started growing facial hair,” Sylvie said, grimacing. “It’s so patchy. It’s best I shave it for you until you can properly grow it out.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Lyle sighed. He trusted Sylvie’s judgement, but at the same time he liked scratching the tiny hairs budding from his chin.
Sylvie turned on the razor and stroked it across his face. “Have you been picking at your lips? It looks like you’ve got a scab.”
“Maybe. I don’t suppose you’ve got some convoluted and ridiculously specific item to fix it like you do the rest? A lip-scab-remover, perhaps?”
Lyle was in awe at how many tools and accessories Sylvie had at her disposal for taking care of his appearance. She had even given him some facial wash to use at home for his pimples.
Sylvie groaned. “Unfortunately, no. It’s your responsibility not to pick your lips.”
Sylvie had become Lyle’s ‘stylist’ after she’d spent weeks making critical remarks about his appearance in class. Some of the first words she said to him were: “You should really do something about those pimples of yours.” “Your facial hair is way too uneven for you to let it grow out.” “Stop scratching your head, there’s dandruff all over your shoulders!”
Eventually, Lyle decided he’d had enough and asked, “Can you help me look better?”
Sylvie was thrilled by the offer. After class that day, she arranged for him to come to her house regularly for ‘style check-ups’.
“Twenty to already?” Lyle asked. “Shouldn’t we go?”
“Not yet! Gotta add a touch of hair gel.”
“Can’t we just skip that? We’ve been in trouble for getting to school late enough as is. And hair gel is weird. I can’t scratch my head without my fingers getting all icky.”
“Come on, it’ll just take a few seconds,” Sylvie urged, already starting to apply the gel. “You’re not meant to be scratching your head anyway.”
Lyle groaned. “Fine, make it quick.”
“Already done,” Sylvie smiled, shaping Lyle’s hair with one final stroke of her hand. “Come on, let’s go.”
Sylvie scooped all her tools and accessories into her arms and carried them to the bathroom across the hall. Lyle grabbed his school bag and waited for Sylvie to return.
The next morning, as always, Lyle woke up a few minutes before his phone alarm went off. He slung his arm across to his phone to remove the alarm he set. Why did he bother with an alarm? He speculated that it was the anticipation of knowing the alarm was about to go off that woke him up each morning. Regardless, he didn’t want to tamper with routine.
Sylvie had given him some guidelines for colour combinations when choosing what to wear. He kept this in mind when scanning through his wardrobe for shirts and jumpers (his only good pants were black, so he had limited options there). Once dressed, he stopped at the door. A circular mirror covered in opaque tape hung on it. A tiny bit of the mirror’s surface was exposed. Lyle smiled and placed a hand around the exposed area.
“Hope you’re comfortable on the other side,” he whispered into it, taunting his reflection like it was a lion in a cage. Then after a moment he opened the door and moved on.
Lyle’s plan was to leave home at 8 AM and go to Sylvie’s house again before school (which started at 9). Sylvie was an only child and both her parents had left for work by this time. Lyle’s family thought he was going straight to school. His visits were their little secret.
When Sylvie opened the door for Lyle, they exchanged greetings and walked straight to Sylvie’s bedroom. The makeshift beauty salon was already set up.
The procedure began quietly; neither spoke a word until Sylvie started combing Lyle’s hair.
“When I was taking all the stuff back to the bathroom yesterday,” she began, “I started wondering again why we couldn’t do all this in there.”
Sylvie had one hand rested on Lyle’s head as she spoke to make him look straight ahead.
“Sylvie, I’ve already explained this to you,” he sighed. He started to look up at Sylvie, but her hand forced his gaze away.
“I mean, the comb, the hair dryer, the razor,” she continued, ignoring him, “everything belongs in there anyway. It’s such a chore to carry everything between rooms!” she swung the comb around in her fingers. “And setting up everything in here so the floor doesn’t get covered in water droplets and adolescent facial hair is even more tedious. All I need is a sink, you know. And guess which room has a sink?”
“Sylvie –” he tried to interject, growing wary of her playing with the comb so close to his face.
“And each wall in the bathroom is lined by a huge mirror! I could literally see you from every angle without moving. It’s just so convenient!”
“Sylvie!” he yelled. “Please remain focused!”
Sylvie stopped. After a moment she took her hand off his head, stepped to his side and put the comb down. She apologised, realising how many times she was close to smacking him in the face.
“I’ve already explained this to you,” Lyle continued, staring forward. “You’re meant to think of this as a challenge. Do we have to tamper with routine?”
“I’m challenging myself by being denied a mirror? Yeah, it’s a real challenge alright,” she snorted.
Lyle groaned. “You’re meant to be styling me, not my reflection!” he exclaimed, spinning the chair to face her.
Sylvie paused, confused. “…You say that like there’s a difference between the two.”
Lyle froze up, then turned away from her, silent. Sylvie realised it was her words, not just her comb-flailing, that was making him uncomfortable.
She rested a hand on his chair. “Lyle, I want to help you look the best you can, but your ‘challenges’ aren’t helping me,” she said, trying to sound gentle. Lyle remained silent. “It’s just that I don’t know if you appreciate what I’m trying to do for you,” she sighed. “Have you even looked at yourself since I became your stylist? I get results!”
Lyle looked up at her. “Sylvie, of course I appreciate what you’re doing.”
“But have you taken the time to properly look at what I’ve done for you?” she repeated. What started as a self-prided comment became a serious question.
Lyle paused and looked away from her again. “…No.”
“Then you clearly don’t care enough if you can’t take 5 seconds to look in a mirror!” Sylvie snapped. “How hard is it to do that?”
“But it’s not because of that –” he panicked, but stopped himself. “Can’t we just get back to –”
“No! I’m not doing anything more until you go into the bathroom and look at yourself.”
“Sylvie –” Lyle pleaded.
“No! Get up!” she screamed.
Sylvie tried pushing Lyle out of his chair. Realising what she was trying to do, he grabbed onto the chair and resisted, but then she started wheeling the chair out of the room. Lyle repeatedly shouted Sylvie’s name. She didn’t listen. He slammed his feet on the ground and the chair skidded to a halt just outside the bedroom door. The two were in the hall. Sylvie pushed the chair one more time and it tumbled over, nearly throwing Lyle to the floor. He stumbled forward towards the bathroom, regaining his footing. Sylvie continued pushing him. Lyle tried resisting, but didn’t want to push her back. He was forced backwards into the bathroom doorway. He held onto the door frame, but with one final push Sylvie overpowered him. Lyle collapsed backwards onto the bathroom floor.
“Look at what I’ve done for you!” she yelled, standing at the door.
The shock forced Lyle’s eyes wide open. He sat up, half-dazed. Large, rectangular mirrors lined each wall, as Sylvie had said. Each wall reflected the opposite wall’s reflection of him, and that reflection was itself reflected. Lyle was confronted by not just one reflection but hundreds. They stared at him from every angle. He wanted to avoid their gaze but he was frozen to his bones. In his mind, they started sneering at him.
Sylvie, breathing heavily, gazed down at Lyle. Her adrenaline rush started to waver as she saw Lyle start gasping for breath. He fell back onto the ground. Tears rolled down his cheeks. Sylvie panicked; it seemed so unreal. She wanted to reach out and pull him off the ground, but she was scared to touch him. After a moment, she brought herself to drag Lyle into the hall by his legs. She shut the bathroom door behind her to be safe.
After a few minutes, Lyle spoke.
“That…person in the mirror…” he uttered, his voice shaky, “…that isn’t me. That’s not what I look like.”
Sylvie readjusted the seat for him once more and gave him a glass of water. She stared at him as he slowly held the glass to his lips and drank. She didn’t want to ask, but she knew she had to.
“What do you think you look like?”