It wasn’t long before he realised that there were no mirrors anywhere in the house.
He searched through the rooms but found nothing. It was possible, indeed likely, that there was a mirror in the Wilkinson’s bedroom but this was the one room in the place that he wasn’t supposed to enter.
Arriving the day before for his two-week housesit he had discovered that all the doors were closed but that some doors were more closed than others. The sheet of instructions he had received as he picked up the keys from the agency had specified that all the house’s nine rooms were available to him, except the second on the right, at the top of the first flight of stairs. He walked back to their bedroom for the third time that afternoon and stood outside, equally irresolute. He would be required not only to enter, but to open the door.
He checked back through the other rooms again but there were still no mirrors anywhere, leaving him but this one option. Why were there no mirrors in the house? Not even in what he took to be the children’s bedrooms, not even in the big bathroom where, after showering that morning, their absence had first become evident to him?
He pressed down on the door handle and lent forward a little. The door moved in its frame, a thin black crack opening up on the other side of the lintel. Then he pulled it back closed. Not locked then.
He went downstairs to make a cup of coffee, using the Wilkinson’s gleaming espresso machine. What if there was some kind of emergency? He might be forced to enter then. Three thirty on a December afternoon. He looked out at the garden, a few rusty trees against the darkening sky and his own reflection there in the window. Just go in there and have a look, he told himself. Seeing himself now suddenly emboldened him and he began to explain to his reflection how unimportant it was, how ridiculous he was for not just going in there. His own face split into two reflections that slightly overlaid each other but didn’t quite match up. An effect of the double glazing, no doubt.
He swore at himself. This had always been his problem, he was too scared to break the rules, for all his big talk. This was why he was house sitting for two weeks and grateful for a place while the owners sunned themselves on the other side of the world. He had spent a few minutes gazing contemptuously at a framed photo of the pair of them in the living room that morning. Typical North London moneyed types, used to telling people what to do, where not to go, prohibiting. The coffee was strong and bitter and he could feel it clawing at this chest.
Just go and get the fucking mirror. He stalked back up the stairs but even as he went, getting closer to the room, he could feel his resolution draining, being displaced, until, standing again by the mocking blankness of the closed door it felt that his thoughts were hardly his own.
He found that he was sweating, as though every moment were performed within a denser field of gravity. He pressed down on the door handle, felt the lock unlatch. Why were there no mirrors in the house? The door opened a fraction of an inch with a sound like an inrush of breath from the room beyond, then a little further. A thin strip of paperless wall had become visible, along with edge of the light switch. A little further and he could see bare floorboards smeared with what looked like mud. Perhaps they were decorating the room still. His face was hot. Wider yet and he saw there on the wall the edge of a mirror, angled slightly forward, hung on a dusty wire hoop. He knew it. He knew it, there it was. The thick, ornate wooden frame and at the bottom right corner, curling around it, a finger with a blackened nail that slowly retreated back into the mirror as the light from the hallway touched it.