THE OTHER ME — MALENA SALAZAR MACIÁ — TRANSLATED BY TOSHIYA KAMEI
The news of the inheritance turned our lives upside down as if someone told us beef was delivered instead of chicken. It had to do with Serafina E. Mora, my dad's aunt, according to the notice. I remembered seeing a couple of pictures of her, just because they said she looked like me, but I never saw her in person. Mom gathered old receipts, a calculator, and a pen, and spent that afternoon burying her nose in her accounts book to determine what was needed to pay for the fridge. My sister said she'd spend her share at the hairdresser. I was more interested in buying a laptop, so I could go to college without borrowing a computer. Dad spoke least. In the end, Mom was our financial planner. If Dad had some idea that concerned money, Mom would convince him to change his mind.
But our plans got derailed when Dad returned from the post office looking like a rain-soaked dog, next to two men carrying a long, narrow box, taller than him. They put it in one corner of the living room and left without accepting coffee. We attacked the package to rip the wrapping in a hurry, as though some treasures were hidden there. My sister was the first one to blurt out:
"A mirror…? It's all stained! Where's the money? Those post office guys duped you, Daddy!"
Dad explained to us – with the patience only he could muster – that the inheritance was never money, but that old mirror. His aunt had donated her property to the state, but expressed in her will that the piece of furniture should be delivered to her closest living relatives. And my dad fit that description. To end the discord – and the tantrum of my sister who couldn't get keratin applied to her hair – the mirror was placed in the living room in such a way that whoever passed by would see their whole body reflected in it.
After we had left the "inheritance" like an eyesore in the middle of the living room for a few days, Mom said we should keep the mirror in the storage room – among actual dishes and human emotions. Too nobble to contradict his wife in trivial things, Dad accepted her reasoning. The mirror couldn't be accommodated in any other room, because everyone already had one. The only one who could use it was my sister, who would admire her belly from another angle, but her bedroom was already too small and instead of sleeping in bed, she would have to sleep on top of the mirror.
So I carried old newspapers and a vermin-gnawed bed sheet, for I was ordered to embalm the mirror for its confinement. I must confess that I didn't accept the task grudgingly. Maybe I would find a false bottom with some of the money Aunt Serafina E. Mora didn't donate to the state and set aside for her fortunate relatives as their share of inheritance.
My first impression was that my reflected image wasn't me. As my heart skipped a beat, I kept a cautious distance. Then I discovered that the lamp that appeared in the mirror wasn't the one at the back of the room. Mine was sky blue with a white shade while the other one was darker blue with a beige shade. Nor were the armchairs the same color as mine. And the other me, after the second glance, wasn't like me either. She had a mole on her nose, her hair was darker and in disarray, and her eyes were hazel while mine were brown.
I moved my face closer to the mirror. The other me mimicked me, like any reflection. I raised a hand and moved it from right to left. Suddenly, the other me blew out a breath, fogging up her side of the mirror. With one finger, she wrote a clear word and smiled: olleH.
I just couldn't believe what was happening. As the other me remained in my exact position – except for her lively face –, I told myself that I was just stressed over my exams, pressured by Professor "Allwell" about turning in my paper for his Romeo and Julietseminar and the One-Armed Man of Lepanto, better known as Miguel de Cervantes. My reverie was interrupted when, once the letters disappeared, the other me once again fogged the mirror – or glass, a divider, or a door to another dimension or whatever – and wrote another word, even clearer this time: asilE.
I couldn't help moving my lips, with no sound, not without some difficulty to understand: asile? The other me, still in control of her own body, nodded, and her face lit up with joy like a death row inmate who had just been paroled. But as her face grew dark in anguish, she hit her side of the mirror until the glass plate trembled – her glass, mine was immovable – with desperation running through every line of her face. She patted her chest, as though she were in a hurry to make me understand something. She kept shouting, mute like a turtle: "asile, asile, ASILE!"
Then it dawned on me that any functional mirror reflected things backward. Her name was Elisa! With the same quietness, I mouthed her name, and she gave a pleased nod. At last we understood each other! Elisa pointed at me, shrugged, and pointed at me again. I went over to mist the mirror with my breath to write my name, but she stopped me with a gesture, and then pointed at her ear insistently. I didn't understand at first. Did her ear hurt, did it itch, or was she deaf...? No! Elisa wanted to hear my voice. Maybe that was the only way to get her out of there. I stayed close, my hands resting on the glass. Elisa remained anxious.
"I..." I felt silly talking to a mirror that showed everything backward, and even sillier being self-absorbed, as the litterateur "Allwell" remembered in his classes. "My name is Claudia..."
I hadn't finished speaking when my vision blurred, as if I were tired from spending hours staring at the computer screen reading Romeo and Juliet. I felt a stinging sensation in each of my muscles until I was as stiff as a stick. I didn't even feel any pain when I collapsed to the floor.
But I did fall, because when I regained control over my movements, a searing pain gripped me in every articulation in such a way that it felt like I was knocked down from a ladder. My vision was still blurred, and my legs couldn't even support me and gave way beneath my weight. I clung to the mirror and was able to stand up. There she was, still on the other side, with a glass plate separating us. It didn't work, I thought, overwhelmed by not getting her out of there... But why then did she seem so happy?
When I saw my hands, they were full of dark spots and wrinkles, with numerous blue veins running in my bony arms. Dressed in a housecoat, my feet with fungus-covered toenails stuffed into Zico flip-flops, blackened from days without washing. No, no, no, that wasn't me... I was the other me, the one on the other side of the mirror! When I spoke, a harsh squawk came out of despair:
As the other me smiled, her features darkened with triumph in her brown eyes – my eyes!
No.She was careful never to say aloud, trying to suppress the slightest audible breathing. Now, Claudia Mora.
I saw her crouch down and shouted, "No!" but the other me had already stuck the first newspaper against my face. My new window to the world stopped getting dark with old news and yellowed faces, and then I found myself in the storage room.
I leave this note of warning in the world of the other me, in case someone gets a chance – I don't have much time left in this withered body that consumes itself every second – to prevent Serafina Elisa Mora, or rather... Claudia Helena Mora, from living forever.
Malena Salazar Maciá was born in 1988 in Havana. In 2015, she was awarded the Premio David de Ciencia Ficción for her debut novel, Nade. Her second novel, Las peregrinaciones de los dioses, won the Premio Calendario in 2017. Her fiction has appeared in Selene Quarterly Magazine and Speculative Fiction in Translation.