There was a poem or lyric that mentioned looking in the mirror and not recognizing your own face. Matthew never understood that trite saying. Even if one underwent a physical metamorphosis, there would still be some semblance of the person one was before. Regardless of whatever life-altering transformation people might experience, people were innately the same from infancy to death. The child who liked puppies and rainbows would grow up into an adult who liked puppies and rainbows. A student infused with the love of literature would grow to be a bibliophile. A doormat would stay a doormat, despite all the self-help books said doormat read. A cynic would remain a cynic, save those few times he was hit with a rare dose of optimism.
People couldn’t change. Matthew was categorically sure of this. He had only to look at his sister Miriam to prove his theory. She had suffered from severe timidity and low self-esteem since her prepubescent years, and now as a thirty-year-old she could barely mumble yes or no without blushing as red as her hair. The reasons for her low self-esteem might have changed—as a teen she’d believed she would never have a boyfriend, and now her fear was her boyfriend wouldn’t marry her—but the essence of Miriam was one and the same.
Despite Matthew’s assured evidence of his claims, people were always clamoring to prove him wrong. Last week, at one of those annoying social functions he only attended to keep his publishers happy, he had bumped into an acquaintance who hadn’t seen him for several years. “Matthew Jones? My God, what’s happened to you? You look terrible,” the acquaintance had informed him.
Matthew had gone home and surveyed his reflection in the mirror, but he had seen no visible changes. His permanent five o’clock shadow was still intact. His eyes were still blue, and his premature wrinkles still appeared whenever he crinkled his face. His dark hair still stood on end in a frantic manner that echoed his inner-frenzy. In short, nothing was amiss. Clearly the acquaintance’s judgment had been impaired by alcohol.
Even his staff had taken to insinuations and accusations. Earlier that morning his housekeeper had asked him, “Why don’t you smile anymore?” As if he had ever been the happy-go-lucky type who saw the glass half full and believed Peace on Earth was only a dream away.
“I’m just caffeine-deprived,” he’d snapped back, affronted at the personal intrusion. “Seriously, what does it take to get a good cup of coffee in this house?”
It just wasn’t fair. No one ascribed to his firm belief that the world was unchangeable and unchanging. He could spout proof til he turned purple, and no one would listen.
Christine would’ve listened. She had always enjoyed his long-winded diatribes, the juxtaposition of ideas which made it clear to anyone in the room that he was a Writer. But she was gone, taken from him in a blink of an eye. Killed by a creature she had loved with every fiber of her being. There was so much they had meant to do, and now the chance was gone. Stolen from them.
He hoped that damn horse was glue. He thought about that accident every day. It haunted him, distracting him from his writing, from running his house and from raising Christine’s and his son. He rewound and fast-forwarded the image of her untimely death over and over again in his mind, searching for something he could’ve done to save her life. He always came up empty, because even that couldn’t change, no matter how much he wanted it to.
Matthew viewed the stacks of unanswered sympathy cards piled on his desk and a plethora of books which had never made it back to their proper shelves scattered across his office. He heard his son crying in an adjacent room and vaguely deliberated about getting up to comfort him. But he decided against it; the nanny would see to the child.
He took a sip of burnt coffee, his thoughts returning to the hackneyed lyric about not recognizing your own face. What nonsense. With perhaps a few deviations, people were the same from birth to death. Blame their genetics, or Fate, or good or bad parenting. Once a person was molded, there was no turning back. Life didn’t come along and chuck people in a kiln, refining and reshaping them like glass. Matthew knew this was true.
Because he hadn’t changed. Not at all.
*Previous Second Place Winner in Concordia University’s Creative Writing Contest.