Daniel pulled up his black nylon socks and slipped on his polished wingtips with a plastic shoe horn. He loathed the Maccabees Christmas party, hearing all the petty stories about mundane jobs and spoiled children. Lives so painfully predictable. It's not that Daniel's was so special. It was rather ordinary, mostly. A watchmaker born in Pittsville, New Hampshire, he hadn't exactly achieved his goals of National Geographic explorer or paleontologist as he had dreamed when he was a boy. He gave up those dreams long ago when he saw he had no chance of ever realizing them. Daniel had learned to live with life's setbacks. If only others could.
He carefully wound his wrist watch, forward and back, forward and back. It was a 1936 seventeen jewel Bulova with a black dial, gold train and ten AM movement in a "Curvex" style case. It was his grandfather's and it had been passed down to him by his father in his will. The watch was in dire condition when he received it but he had lovingly restored it and now it ran admirably. He had done such a fine job that his mother had him repair hers, which led to a few neighbors and before he could blink, he was trapped in the back of his watch shop, eye glued to a magnifying loop.
He put his ear to the quad-beveled crystal and listened to his life ticking away. He was forty-nine. His father and grandfather had each lived to fifty-three. That left 1,825 days... 43,800 minutes... and 2,628,000 seconds... tick... tick... tick...
Daniel's wife Mindy told him to stop counting that way or risk a self-fulfilling prophecy. That made Daniel smile.
He noticed his dull reflection in the watch crystal and quickly glanced away. He hadn't intentionally looked at his reflection for many years.
He combed his thinning hair with his back to the mirror, then stared at the follicles in the comb teeth.
"Honey, we're going to be late, what's taking so long? " yelled Mindy, his tarnished trophy wife, glancing at her vintage Cartier Vermeil as she entered the bathroom and heard the crunch of glass beneath her high heels. With a knowing sigh, she stared at her broken image in the puzzle pieces. It had been such a beautiful mirror, with a tortoise shell frame.
"Damn it, Daniel! That was my mother's!"
She pulled open the sink cabinet, grabbed a dust pan and began sweeping up the shattered shards, as she muttered, "Do you have to break every damn mirror in the house? Just what we need - another seven years bad luck!"
Actually five, predicted Daniel.
They drove in their Buick LeSabre in deafening silence. The roads were icy and Daniel drove extra slow. 'Maybe the party will be over when we get there,' he secretly wished.
"You're driving like a turtle!" nagged Mindy, "Hoping the party will be over before we get there?"
Daniel leaned his wingtip on the gas pedal, accelerating to fifty... sixty-five... seventy. Mindy didn't care if they crashed. She wanted a new car anyhow. But Daniel couldn't afford the payments on his watchmakers earnings.
Mindy hadn't exactly had the life she dreamed. Before Daniel, she had courted a podiatrist and had become engaged when he ran off with a patient with prettier feet. Life was full of compromises. You could see it etched in the frown lines between her tweezed eyebrows - before the Botox.
The Buick skidded to a stop on the ice in front of the Maccabbes four column house. The estate was illuminated with Christmas lights like a supernova. But the lights hid a dark secret. DeeDee Maccabbe had wanted children but too few eggs and anemic sperm don't a baby make. They could have adopted but that would have admitted their failure to conceive and in a small town like this, gossip descends like toxic fallout.
Daniel's wife Mindy, on the other hand, was fertile as a rabbit. But Daniel had vowed to end his families legacy and Mindy had two abortions to prove it.
Daniel squinted, sensing a migraine, as he trudged towards the Maccabbes overly decorated front door.
"Stand up straight, you're slouching," ordered Mindy, as she rang the bell, dusting the dandruff off Daniel's lapel. He stood up straighter - until the doors opened.
"Mindy and Daniel! What a pleasure!" gushed Deedee Maccabee, acting surprised to see them, "I didn't think you were coming."
"We RSVP'd," slouched Daniel, "What'd ya expect?"
"Well," wheedled DeeDee, grimacing like a stroke victim, "It sounds like someone needs some eggnog."
Daniel stumbled over the entrance way mumbling, "Eggnog... a warm vat of holiday phlegm."
The living room was decorated with tinsel and forced cheer. There were thirty or so guests bumping together like billiard balls in front of the fake Yuletide log.
They all stared at Daniel and Mindy as they entered - the last to arrive. Daniel spotted the Flanders's grumpy pimpled son Jason scarfing barbecue pork rinds; Burt and Frank, two curmudgeon bachelors who spent so much time together on their front lawns everyone assumed they were gay; Holly Sawyer, a perky redhead with recent breast enhancements, who chaired the Pittsville PTA; and Phyliss and Mark Burnside, in their crisp New Hampshire PD uniforms, hanging an ornament of a police car on the well-flocked Christmas tree.
Daniel, head down, bee-lined for the drink cart. It was one of those brass and glass numbers with a bottle of store brand vodka, gin, whiskey and a plastic jug of diet Coke. Daniel reached for the whiskey.
"You promised," Mindy whined. Daniel gripped the bottle, momentarily glancing at his reflection in the cart and
hissed between his veneered teeth. "I'm not going to make it, with these 'people,' if I don't have something."
Mindy sighed like the air going out of a tractor tire.
Daniel poured himself a tumbler of whiskey and took a quenching gulp. As his esophagus warmed, he peered at his rippling reflection in the amber liquor. He closed his eyes and knocked back the spirits.
"Daniel," a voice chirped, like they'd found a missing sock. It was Florence Lipkin, principal of Pittsville Elementary. A shriveled women with a glass eye, Florence had recently brought Daniel her pocket watch, an early 20th century Swiss with an eight day lever, polished steel regulator compensation balance and blue steel overcoil hairspring.
Florence had lost her eye in a freak shuffleboard accident several years earlier but she still kept the cloudy temp marble gripped in the moist socket. Everyone in town gossiped how cheap Florence was and how she stole bottled water from the cafeteria. But only Daniel knew that she had inherited three quarters of a million when her husband crocked eight months earlier. Daniel knew it even before she did. But he didn't say. It was better that way.
"How's my favorite watchmaker?" she prattled to Daniel, as Florence personalized her greetings to everyone, like: "How's my favorite mailman?"; or, "How's my favorite butcher?"; or, "How's my favorite eye doctor?" Daniel wondered if Florence ever had a, "How's my favorite fuck?"
"Not bad," replied Daniel eying the drink cart.
They stood uncomfortably for several moments, just the click of ice in Daniel's tumbler.
Suddenly, Daniel was struck on the back so hard his teeth chomped together.
"Daniel, me boy... heh... heh," a voice boomed like a leprechaun on steroids
He warily peeked over his shoulder and saw his muscular insurance man, Mike Johnson - all five foot four.
"Have I told you, Danny, about our new, whole life, triple premium policy? Your principle triples every nine years."
"Yea," flatly replied Daniel, "you have."
Mike, (or Mick as his friends called him), threw a second pitch, "Well then, why haven't we signed ya up?!"
"I'm won't be needing it," uttered Daniel.
The ex-star linebacker of the Pittsville high school football team, who was too slow for a college scholarship, smugly grinned. "What are you... psychic?"
Mindy whirled Daniel around, "Honey, look who I just found!" she giddily squirted in her nylons.
Daniel had no idea who the handsome towhead in his late-twenties was, though Mindy waited impatiently several moments for his jubilant recognition. The Adonis, tried helping out, spreading a cocky smile and raising his trademark eyebrow.
"Uh," shrugged Daniel, "Do I know you?"
"It's Jack Conroy!" squealed Mindy.
Jack nodded with kind understanding at Daniel, like he had a learning disability, "Happens all the time, everyone thinks I'm an old friend from school, or someone they know from work."
Daniel, dumbfounded, stared blankly at the man he had never seen before, or even had the vaguest idea of who he might be... or care."
Mindy desperately jumped in, "Daniel, honey... It's Doctor Randy Marshall from "The End of Our Lives." Jack gave a reassuring wink and clamped Daniel's hemophiliac palm in his meaty paw.
"That's all right Danny - people act kinda funny around "celebrities."
"Don't I have to know you for you to be a celebrity?" wondered Daniel aloud.
Jack threw back his head, bleached teeth unhinged in a forced guffaw.
Mindy elbowed Daniel in the ribs, a little too hard.
"What are you doing here, in Pittsville, Jack?" queried Daniel, edging towards the drink cart.
"Just winged-in for the holidays. My friend Lance was born here and I thought it would be fun to see how the country folk live. I'm a city boy, born in Manhattan. Now that's a city. Ever been there, Danny boy?"
"No," said Daniel pausing, "never will."
"Why not?" asked Jack, munching an imitation crab puff, then plucking the cartilage from his front teeth, "It's only a couple hours from here."
"I just know... I'll never go."
"How do you know?" scoffed Jack, "I mean... that's how everyone feels about New York at first, before they actually go there. But soon they're singing... "If I could make it there I could make it anywhere..."
Jack paused, then sang the next verse, "It's up to youuu Newww York... Newwww..."
Several guests glanced up from their tuna empanadas as Jack's Julliard trained voice rang out, "... Yorrrrrrk..."
"Hey, I've got that CD!" exclaimed Stuart Maccabee, Florence's 'favorite gynecologist,' as he dashed over, turned off "Wayne Newton's Rockin' Christmas," and popped in Sinatra.
Jack sang along, booming over 'ol blue eyes.'
"Start sprrreading the newwws, I'm longing to stayyy, I want to be a part of it New Yorrrk, New Yorrrk..."
Jack stepped left and found his light.
Women swooned, including Daniel's wife Mindy.
Daniel took another gulp of whiskey and observed her, entranced by the handsome crooner.
Jack kicked out his feet like a Rockett... "It's up to you... "Newwww Yorrrrk..."
Everyone joined in.
The last part drifted slightly off key.
Mindy hugged Jack like he had just dismantled a nuclear bomb. Daniel couldn't help noticing the discreet pat on Mindy's butt.
"So Danny," what do you do?" asked Jack, inexplicably out of breath.
"I'm a watchmaker."
Mindy studied her out-of-date pumps.
"Hm. They still got those? chortled jack.
"Yes, I think so."
"Any money in that? toyed Jack, eyeing Mindy like a pork chop.
"No, not really, said Daniel, "acting?"
"You kidding? I made over six hundred g's last year. 'F.U.' money - we call it in Hollywood. How many watches you got to repair for that?"
Rather than responding 'all the watches in the Northern hemisphere,' Daniel sullenly slurped his drink.
Mindy, Jack's newest publicist, chimed in, "Did you hear? Jack did a movie!"
Jack modestly corrected, "Well, Mindy, actually we haven't started shooting yet - but they have half the financing."
"That right? said Daniel, "What about the soap?"
"I'm not going to be stuck on a soap the rest of my life," scoffed Jack. "I'm taking a break in my contract to do this movie, then after a few leads in films... I'll start directing."
Mindy gazed at Jack like a puppy in a Keane painting.
Daniel rolled the ice cube around his glass. Round and round, faster and faster until it put him into a trance and when it stopped... he saw his reflection.
And a lot more.
As Jack turned away, to smile at Holly, the flushed redhead in the corner, Daniel garbled under his breath...
"Excuse me. What did you say?" queried Jack, cocked eyebrow twitching.
"Not exactly," quietly reiterated Daniel, deadpan.
"What are you talking about?" quizzed Jack, growing irritated.
"You sure you want to know?" leveled Daniel, making eye contact for the first time that evening.
"Sure, I'm sure," assured Jack.
Mindy gave Daniel a ‘don't you dare' look, which only encouraged him.
"Okay," softly began Daniel, "Though you've left the soap for the acting gig, the film will lose Canadian financing at the last moment, actually two weeks from Monday. Your agent, Marty, will wait until you don't pick up your phone to leave the message.
Meanwhile, you're out paying cash for that jade green convertible Jag you've been eyeing. But what you don't know, because you haven't heard your agent's message, is that they have already written your character off the soap. He overdoses on Morphine, by the way, which he steals at Central Hospital. Stay tuned for the upcoming irony. Anyhow, the producers are so agitated that you've abandoned your role that they write your character overdosing while driving, so he's burned beyond recognition in a car wreck. Makes you easier to replace. Anyhow, a week from your character's big hospital scene in bandages, played by newcomer Matt Starling, which earns him a Daytime Emmy, you try to drive on the lot at CBS in your Jag and for the first time you're not permitted on the lot. "Fuck them," you say, knowing you're getting tons of auditions for other movie roles. But as you sit for months at humiliating cattle calls, with dozens of younger and better looking men, you just can't land a gig. There are a few call-backs but your acting is, "too wooden, too "soap," or so the casting agents say after you've left the room. Then, after a year of ego crushing auditions, they stop calling altogether. After trying to break out of soaps you are actually begging to get back in. "What if my character has a brother?", you beg the producer when you finally manage to get her on the phone. But Matt Starling is getting a much higher TVQ and the fan letters are flowing. Ratings are up two points since your 'unfortunate' accident. You have Marty check around for roles on other soaps, but your reputation for abruptly exiting parts precedes you. Over the next two years, your gleaming smile yellows and your mane of blond hair recedes towards your back. The women who used to eye you, now look past you as you circle ever seedier downtown bars, sucking towards the drain. Finally, you turn to drugs, methamphetamine actually, and here's your irony, when you run out of rent, you sell to a few 'close' friends. Actually, this is the closest to a film set as you're going to get. You are invited to a few 'B' parties but only if you bring the 'stuff.' Never one to acknowledge your bisexuality, the drugs finally free you to take a lover, your old buddy Lance, another skin popper who you occasionally share needles with... shall I go on?"
Jack's mouth slung open - Mindy's eyes brimmed with tears.
Daniel stumbled into the bathroom and splashed cold water on his face. He wiped off on the pink embroidered hand towels.
When he looked up he saw the future in the powder room mirror.
There were good things and horrible things: Jack, whiffing amyl nitrate was having anal sex with his new wife Mindy, something she had never done with Daniel; Florence taking out her glass eye and popping it in her mouth, bathing it with saliva, then chokes on it; Phyliss Burnside, wearing her NHPD uniform, answers a call at Seven Eleven and is shot by a fleeing robber, the Flander's acne crusted son Jason; The redhead, Holly Sawyer, is happily on her honeymoon in the Bahamas with Mark Burnside, unaware of her oozing implants; Burt grabs his heart while picking a four leaf clover off his front lawn and goes into cardiac arrest, the sprinklers running; Matt Starling, at the Academy Awards holds up his Oscar; DeeDee Maccabbe in her bathroom, holds up a bloody stillborn, tears glistening down her cheeks; Mindy at her doctor's reacts to the news regarding her aids test; And, Daniel wrapping his lips around the chrome barrel of a Glock nine millimeter.
A shattering of glass.
Daniel stepped out of the bathroom, hand dripping blood, to Bing Crosby crooning 'White Christmas.'
Deedee Maccabbe shrieked, "Not on the new Burber!"
* * *
Daniel reclined on the tufted settee staring at a book shelf reading: Neurology, pathology, anxiety, sobriety, compulsive, depression, addiction, bipolar, dependency, dysfunction - like a run on sentence. He noted there were no books on suicide.
He could hear his Bulova ticking, pure precision, beautiful in its' simplicity. Who would hear its' last tick? he wondered.
"So Daniel, are we still having problems with mirrors?"
Sheila Merryman rocked back in her ergonomically designed recliner, her lime fingernails in a teepee under her chin, balancing her head like the scales of sanity.
"When did you start having trouble with mirrors?" retorted Daniel, mocking the plurality of her query.
Sheila didn't give an inch. "Do you think I have trouble with mirrors?"
Daniel hated how therapists bent everything back into a question mark. It made you feel crazy, even if you weren't. For a
hundred fifty dollars an hour you'd think they'd answer a flippin' question.
Nevertheless, Daniel continued their cerebral tango, only this time he asked her a question that she couldn't answer with a question, "Are we really what we see in the mirror, or is our reflection only what we want to see?"
Sheila was silent. Check. Then... "What do you think?"
Daniel sighed, "A mirror's a piece of glass with a silver backing. Our reflection's merely what our eyes see, which our brains interpret to our liking."
"So, if we're blind we have no reflection?" molded Sheila into another question.
"What do you think?" parried Daniel.
Checkmate. Or, so he thought.
"Do you want to talk about what happened at the party?" she volleyed back.
"No," stated Daniel, "I want you to answer my damn question!"
"Fine, replied Sheila in a calming tone, "What you're saying is, if a mirror is in the forest and there's no one to look at it, then there's no reflection?"
"That's what I'm asking you," replied Daniel, realizing that she had weaseled another question.
"We'll never really know that now, will we Daniel?"
"Yes, I will. Because, I've been there."
Sheila had a befuddled expression.
Daniel, enjoying their philosophical tug of war, continued, "It's not the same for you and me," he explained, "I see the future in reflections. So, if I see myself in the mirror with a
gun in my mouth, how do I know if I'm seeing myself in the future... or the present?
"Have you been having suicidal thoughts?"
Daniel knew exactly when he was going to die because it would be exactly like his father and grandfather, who put a revolver in their mouths at age fifty-three and blew off the top of their skulls when they could no longer deal with their 'abilities.' The pain of knowing how and when you're going to kill yourself is torturous, especially when you see it as clearly as the shine on your shoes or reflection in the mirror.
"You're missing the point. I don't think. I see," articulated Daniel, frustrated.
Sheila methodically nodded, her face a knot of concerned doubt, "But if you've seen yourself committing suicide in the mirror, yet you're here talking with me about it now, isn't that proof that you can't truly predict the future?"
Daniel knew she doubted him, they always did until he told them their destiny. Most of his ex-therapists couldn't handle that. That's when they released him as a patient. Or retired. Or went crazy themselves. It's hard to live with your future laid out before you like a losing poker hand. The marriages, the children, divorces, accidents, financial hardships, illnesses and death. And, no matter how hard you tried to alter your course, you couldn't. If Daniel said that your wife was going to cheat, you might try so hard to stop it that you'd push them into their lover's arms. Or, if Daniel revealed that you were going to die in a fiery crash, you would avoid cars only to die in a plane crash.
Daniel had seen it all the way through to the end.
But still they always asked...
"So, tell me Daniel, do you know what will happen to me?"
* * *
Daniel drove home from the psychiatrist's office.
Sheila hadn't taken the news well. But Daniel knew she would delay nine days before the nagging seed that Daniel had planted in her brain would start affecting her sleep. She would finally schedule an appointment with her doctor, reassuring herself that it was more 'routine checkup' than from Daniel's prediction. She wasn't about to give into her delusional patient, suffering from
clinical narcissism and paranoia coupled with anxiety. She even laughed about it with her gynecologist, Stuart Maccabee, breathing a sigh of relief when he found nothing 'abnormal.'
But, seven months later, a blood test would prove Daniel prophetic. She had ovarian cancer.
It didn't make Daniel feel better to be right.
The truth doesn't always set you free... sometimes it sets you adrift.
Daniel didn't return Sheila's frantic calls on his answering machine, desperately wanting to know if she would survive chemotherapy? What her odds were? How long she had to live?
Daniel felt it best not to answer any more questions.
* * *
Three years passed.
Daniel's Buick LeSabre was parked at the edge of the scenic view overlook. Mindy had left him the car in the divorce and little else.
Water reflected off Lake Pittsville, which glimmered beneath the cliff. So inviting. A perfect spring day.
Daniel put his grandfather's Bulova to his ear and listened to his fifty-third birthday ticking down the steep side of the tracks like a death coaster.
He reached into the glove compartment and took out a Glock 9mm, which he had bought at Pittsfield Sporting Goods. The salesman, Mark Burnside, had suggested the used model. It had been his trusty sidearm before he retired. He had never drawn it on duty, but Daniel had seen in the chrome barrel that the gun was going to commit murder, someday.
"How's Holly doing?" Daniel had inquired, making small talk as he weighed the weapon.
"Oh, you know," replied Mark, avoiding Daniel's gaze.
Word had gotten around about Daniel's psychic abilities and he had become a pariah in Pittsfield. It was as if Daniel was causing afflictions, not predicting them.
He then thought about his psychiatrist, Sheila, who had expired on schedule eight months earlier, he read in the obits, from ovarian cancer.
She wouldn't be asking any more questions.
Daniel slammed shut the glove box.
The 9mm felt cold in his hand.
He couldn't live another minute, let alone another year with the excruciating gnaw of knowing how and when he would die.
He slid the gun barrel between his lips and sat like that for thirty minutes, breathing through his nostrils.
A fishing skiff cut across the mirrored lake and Daniel spotted Frank, trolling for bites, a radio in his boat for company.
Daniel suddenly began sobbing, mucus dribbling down the chrome barrel. He suddenly pulled the gun from his mouth. He would no longer be guided by his visions. He would take destiny into his own hands.
He started the car's engine, revved it several times, and drove off the cliff... as he stared in the rearview mirror.
* * *
The Buick was momentarily slowed by a Jack pine growing from the rocks. It nevertheless created a huge wave on impact, rocking Frank out of his boat who dove after the sinking car. It took three attempts but Frank finally pulled Daniel from the submerged car and brought his lifeless body to the shore. He pumped the water from Daniel's lungs and performed CPR.
But irreparable brain damage had occurred.
* * *
Daniel lay in a vegetative state for twelve months, until his fifty-third birthday, when Mindy came to the convalescent home to visit.
Her emaciated body sat by the window, holding a single blue balloon, sunlight illuminating the purple Kaposi's sarcoma sores around her neck and mouth. She released the balloon out the window and watched it float into the sky, swallowed by the clouds.
Then, she calmly opened her purse and took out Daniel's 9mm Glock.
It felt cold and heavy.
She placed the gun in Daniel's hand and raised it to his mouth.
"Till death do us part."
She pulled the trigger and blew Daniel's brains all over the cross on the wall.
Then, she blew out hers...
... just as Daniel had seen in the mirror.
We are saddened to announce that Robert Steven Rhine is no longer a human, just a website. He can be observed at Robertrhine.com. However, Rhine has sold over 100 short stories and a book My Brain Escape Me (Sun Dog Press) which received rave reviews from the Institute for the Criminally Insane. Rhine has won numerous festivals for his short films: "Road Lawyers and Other Briefs" and "Vinnie and Angela's Beauty Salon & Funeral Parlor."