This is an excerpt of “A Reflection of Regret,” by Luke Cummings, from this year’s volume of SITREP: Veteran Perspectives On Combat and Peace:
“The face that returns my stare from the other side of the mirror is not one I’m used to seeing; it is pale and ceramic, accentuated by the fluorescent light above. The skin sags slightly down from the eye sockets, the depth of which is farther than I remember.
I know the last few months have been tough, but I never realized how tough until now; now that I behold the haggard reflection that is mine. I can’t seem to shake the dreams. They’ve plagued me since I came home from my second pump to Afghanistan.
My therapist is always telling me to talk about it; hash it out verbally to another human being. She says that’s the best way to cope. That and take medication.
Oh, that’s right. Medication. I haven’t refilled my prescription in over a month. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been sleeping and my brain hasn’t been functioning properly. Not to mention I have a headache that feels like the back of my skull was smashed in with a brick.
I blink once; twice. My eyes are cloudy and unresponsive. They don’t twitch around robotically to capture all the details like they should. Irises of milky green form a narrow ring around dilated pupils; pupils that are blacker than any night I’ve ever seen. I look into their hollow abyss and the rest of my surroundings begin to fade.
Then the fluorescents flicker, and the startlingly loud flush of a toilet diverts my attention to the row of gray stalls behind me. I am suddenly aware of the bathroom in which I stand: the white tile floors, the walls that match the stalls, the double black and white marble sink that my hands rest on while I lean toward the mirror in a hunch. A bouquet of fresh flowers sits between the sinks, and a painted depiction of Jesus hangs on the wall to my right, his pierced hands held out to either side as if to welcome me into an embrace.
With a spine-tingling creak a stall door opens and an impeccably dressed man approaches the second sink next to me. He sets his black, pin-striped fedora on the counter and begins to wash his hands slowly and carefully, attempting to avoid wetting the cuffs of the black shirt sticking out from underneath the sleeves of the pressed suit that matches his hat.
I ponder the strange combination of a black-on-black suit with a black tie, black pocket square, and a black fedora. And then he addresses me.
‘Did you know him well?’ he asks in a voice that is low and rich. He sounds like a late-night radio host; the kind to which people fall asleep.
I finally look at his face through the mirror. His complexion is eerily similar to mine, and he has a thin, black mustache that stops right at the ends of his mouth. He pulls a paper towel from the white dispenser on the wall next to him, and dries his hands as he returns my gaze and waits for an answer.
‘Know who?’ I ask with a furrow in my brow.
‘The fellow whose funeral we both risked being cursed to darken the threshold of this church for, of course,’ he said, as if it should be obvious.
‘Oh, right . . . no, I didn’t know him that well,’ I say, and look down into the sink below me. I forgot that I’m here for a funeral.
Or did I?
I make a mental note to go get my prescription filled as soon as the service is over; lack of sleep is really taking its toll.
‘Did they tell you how he died?’ he asks me. I shake my head. A smile creeps across his face, stretching his moustache and lighting up his dark brown eyes.
Then the man in black places the fedora onto his head with surprisingly little effort. He spins on his heel and walks to the door, his reflective black shoes clacking loudly.
‘Come on, I’ll show you,’ he says without looking as he pulls the door open. I look back into the mirror and contemplate the validity of his bizarre statement. He’ll show me? How exactly will he show me? I want to continue this inner deliberation, but he has already left me.
‘All right,’ I say slowly, to no one but myself, and turn to follow him.”
Do you want to find out what happens? SITREP Volume II is coming this week, and you can read the rest of this story, as well as a plethora of other awesome works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. There will be a reading reception at the Macomb campus this Wednesday, May 11th. If you are able to attend, by all means, go!
For information on obtaining a copy of this pub written and edited by veteran students and alumni of WIU, or to find out how you can contribute to next year’s volume, contact the SITREP team at firstname.lastname@example.org, or myself at email@example.com. You may also visit the pub website at http://www.sitrep-vv.org.