THE MIRROR IMAGE

by Irving Kenneth Zola

It was nearly 1:30, time for our appointment, and I was getting nervous. I sat at my desk waiting for the ring which would announce her arrival. The whole idea of this meeting seemed increasingly crazy. Why did I let myself get talked into this?

It all started last week, when I spent the day sorting through nearly a year's worth of unanswered sabbatical mail and messages.

Most of it was fairly routine, already handled by my secretary, but one series of notes was quite strange. Several times during the past year a Dr. Brown had called. Each time, she refused to leave a message, only checking on my travel plans. The last call, however, was different; she left a message to set a specific time for her return call. This set a specific time for her return call. When the phone rang, I was not surprised, but very curious.

"Zola here," I answered.

"You don't know me," said the calming voice at the other end. "I'm Elizabeth Brown. But, before I tell you more, I wonder if you'd mind answering a few questions?"

"That depends . . .," I answered, and then, a little disturbed with my own hesitation, said, "Ask away!"

"You are Dr. Kenneth Irving Zola, are you not?"

"Yes."

"And did you grow up in Dorchester?"

"Yes."

"Had polio when you were sixteen and a serious auto accident when about twenty?"

"You seem to know an awful lot about me," I answered almost petulantly.

"Well, I'm not absolutely sure that what I know is correct. So please let me continue."

"Your nickel," I quipped, realizing almost immediately the falseness of that old cliche from my childhood.

"Do you wear a long leg brace on your right leg and walk with a limp?"

"So they tell me." I laughed, wondering if my increasing anxiety showed in my voice.

"Just a final question. Would you say that you've achieved a certain amount of success despite all this and are happily married, with a son I believe?"

"Now that seems like a ridiculous question," I said sharply, "Why do you want to know that?"

"Please indulge me," she went on reassuringly. "I'm not interested in specifics just how you generally feel about what I've said."

"Hummm . . .Okay. . . Yes, I'd say I am all those things. Now you tell me. What is this all about?"

"Well . . ." she began slowly "I am the therapist of . . ."

The name floored me. The woman I'd once hated more than anyone else in my life. But also someone I had not thought about in years, at least not consciously. I only half listened as Dr. Brown recounted the aspects of our relationship that had emerged during their sessions. After all, I knew the story well enough. She was once my college "steady," the first woman I'd ever seriously spoken with about marriage, and my companion the night of my near fatal auto accident. At the beginning of my year-long confinement in a hospital, we saw each other regularly. Then the visits began to taper off, until finally they stopped altogether. No calls or letters were returned, and I was thoroughly confused and upset. Even my friends were not able to contact her. And then one day, a special delivery envelope arrived informing me that I was being sued by her and her family for personal injuries resulting from the accident. There I was immobilized in a cast to my chest and she was suing me! To my knowledge, she had a small scar on her elbow and an even smaller one on her eyelid, only visible when she closed her eyes. Even though the case was eventually thrown out of the courts, I spent much of the next two years plotting revenge. I chuckled for a moment at one of my escapades, when two friends and I dated the three women who had rented the apartment above hers. But that was so long ago . . . nearly fifteen years.

By now Dr. Brown was recounting some of her client's current problems. I was still only half listening and so only picked up her conclusion. " . . . and so she blames herself for not fighting, not resisting her parents more. She feels that no one, especially no man, will ever trust her -- and she feels most of all that she ruined your life."

"Ridiculous," I said rather too quickly and then added, "but what can I do about all this?"

"Well . . . I realize this is rather unorthodox, but I wonder if you would meet her?"

"Meet her!" I almost shouted.

"Yes. . . I think she knows on some level that you're doing well, but she needs to hear it from your own lips. She needs to see you." And then adding an emphasis which I didn't need to hear, "I think it would really help."

And so I agreed, and here I sit waiting for the buzzer to sound. Things that I hadn't thought about in years cruised my mind. Her parents had always been wary of my disability. Was the accident just a convenient excuse for our break-up? Am I now really happy? Had that experience really left me emotionally unscarred? The questions keep coming but not the answers. And now certainly does not feel like the time to push them.

The buzz, louder than I expected, jolts me upright.

"Your 1:30 appointment is here," announces the Department Secretary.

"Fine, send her along to my office."

"I think you'd better . . .uh. . at least come out to meet her," she replied.

The strange hesitation in her voice prompted me to ask, "Why?"

"Please," was all she said, but the tone was enough. So I hung up the phone and limped out my door.

As I looked up the stairs, I could just see her head turning the corner. Still blond and quite attractive, I thought to myself. And then her voice, "Hello Irving. It's been a long time."

But my response somehow stuck in my throat, and only an acknowledging grunt emerged. For there she stood, my mirror image - limping heavily on her right foot, with a cane in her left hand.

 

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