10th September

In the Mirror

Yesterday, as I was preparing to go out for the evening, I stood in front of the mirror and did not recognise myself. I don’t mean that I thought I was seeing someone else in the reflection. I mean simply what I say: I did not recognise my own appearance. The more I peered, the less I looked like myself. The nose was longer and thinner; the mouth had a different shape, especially when I attempted a smile; and the eyes were cold and demanding, like the eyes of a man – a teacher, perhaps, or a policeman – who has been waiting too long for some explanation. Yet I knew I was not looking at another man. The reflection was only a reflection, and when I stepped away from the mirror it vanished. When I returned, so did it. What puzzled and disturbed me, though, was that one could inspect oneself so intently and not know what was going on behind one’s own exterior.

I remember another occasion, decades ago, when I looked in the mirror and saw, for the first time it seemed, my father staring back at me. That, in retrospect, was not surprising, although it was discomforting: we all harbour within us vestiges of our ancestors, and, sooner or later, we become them. But to look at myself without recognition, without realisation or revelation, this was new and unexpected. Who was this silent interrogator, and what was he expecting me to tell him? There was, surely, nothing I could tell him, for he already knew it all.

But what did he know? Something that I did not? His cool regard suggested that I had forgotten or failed to produce some vital information. And he was waiting. I had a sudden understanding that he had always been waiting. I did not recognise myself, but he recognised me, and he despised me.

All my adult years were wiped out. I was a child again, faced by this combination of teacher and policeman: all the things I should have learned, all the things I should not have done.

It was time to go. I had an arrangement to meet a woman who thought she loved me.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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