“In the Mirror” (short story) by Rotem Baruchin
English Publication History: Zion’s Fiction (Mandel Vilar Press, 2018)
Original: Hebrew (2007, במראה)
Translated by David Chanoch, 2018
Synopsis: Since Danielle was young, she’s understood that the family mirror heirloom grants her choices in life: to live with her reality, or exchange it with an other-dimensional self. She shirks its use as it saps her vitality, save for more dire circumstances, one of which has just occurred not to her, but to her partner. Though the cat belongs to them both, its sudden death is a great hardship on Liron. Unable to accept her partner’s pain, Danielle resorts to using the mirror in order to make the life Liron experiences more tolerable to Danielle. The choice, though, lays in the mirror as she needs to confront her other self with the knowledge that she will be inflicted undue pain upon her. As she touches the mirror, their realities swap. Life carries on as if the cat had never died, but Danielle sees her other self casting glances into the mirror, becoming aware of a lingering suspicion.
Analysis: When our proximity to pain is close, it’s easier to make sacrifices than when it’s distant. Though the action could be seen as altruistic, the sacrifice may lessen the pain of the sufferer in addition to relieving our own suffering, vicariously. However, when that same pain is distant or faceless, it’s easy for us to make decisions that affect that or those persons. The pain we can see (i.e., our relatives, our partner) affects us more than the pain we can’t see (i.e., trickle-down policies).
Danielle temporarily sacrifices her health to benefit Liron, who knows nothing of the shift in the quality of her life. Danielle’s sacrifice goes unnoticed and unappreciated, but the overall effect on her life with her partner is better off. In contrast, however, is Danielle’s other-dimensional self who suffers from the decision to swap lives; her life goe from normal to catastrophic (oops, a cat pun) when her cat suddenly dies and her partner is the one who is suffering. While it’s hard for Danielle to make them decision knowing that the effect it will have on her other self, she considers her own tangible suffering in the here and now with Liron. The other side of her sacrifice is one of selfishness.
Review: The five-page story starts with the catalyst (damn, another cat pun): the cat dies and Danielle’s partner enters her bizarre phase of mourning. This catapults (argh, yet another cat pun) the reader into Danielle’s dilemma. It’s a short, sharp shock and the pain inflicted stays with the reader.