I’m looking for the face I had
Before the world was made
— W.B. Yeats
Sometimes, standing before the bathroom mirror, I find myself confronting the wraith. Like a swamp creature, he rises up to meet me as if from the depths of a great dark pool. In a gesture of friendship or demonstration of harmless intent or display of malice, he shows me his slightly crooked teeth, his abdominal paunch, his sagging chest. He has shadows beneath his eyes.
The bathroom mirror is not the only place that I’ve seen him. Sometimes I’ll catch a flickering glimpse of that wary, bewildered expression in unlikely spots – the window of a nighttime bus, the back of a spoon, the surface of a silvered toaster. I’ve seen him in grainy home movies projected on basement walls, in an ancient Polaroid found wedged beneath the cushions of a couch.
I used to think he was confined to these out-of-the-way places, these lost regions. Lately, though, I’ve learned that he is closer than I thought; that we travel in the same circles. There are mutual acquaintances. He’s been seen at my barber’s, my favourite coffee shop.
There are rumours about him, contradictory and inconsistent. So and so says that he has beautiful handwriting, but is unreliable and ill-tempered. Such and such has heard, from a reliable source, that has unpaid parking tickets and a weakness for women in red dresses. Some say he smells of garlic and is insincere. Others, that he has a slight tremor and owns eleven cats.
From what I have been able to gather, it appears that we have several common interests and affinities. Stilton cheese, for instance, and German ghost stories and country and western songs about highways and train wrecks.
Sometimes I’ll catch myself daydreaming, inventing a whole reality for him. I imagine him shopping at Sears and organizing his attic. I picture him clumsily dancing a polka with his wife, or comforting his daughter after a bad dream.
Standing before him in the bathroom mirror, I sense that he has travelled toward me across vast, lonely distances. I sense, also, that he has come with the intention of conveying some sort of message to me. But perhaps the message is half-remembered, or he knows there is no language we share that can adequately express it. Perhaps he thinks I am not ready for it. Whatever the case, nothing is ever said. We simply stare at each other, in awkward silence, until eventually we turn our backs and leave.