Stranger by Madeleine Rowe

Every time I look into a mirror, I don’t recognize the face looking back at me.

I am always different somehow. My eyes are never the same. My face always takes on a different shape. My skin, my hair, my skull — everything is always altered. I never knew the reason for this before.

The people I know, they never seem to notice. Their faces always stay the same. Like normal, I suppose. They always retain their features; they have the same smile, the same laugh. But not me. I know lots of people. They all like me, I think. They all seem to enjoy talking to me, but they never bring up the subject of my face.

Sometimes, I am a woman; others, I’m a man. Sometimes, I have dark, clever eyes or a hooked nose. Other times, I have big ears. I always notice the flaws first. My face is never perfect. There could be a gap between my two front teeth, a long scar on my chin, or I could have a lazy eye. These flaws never bother me for long. The people I know see past them like they aren’t even there.

Most of the time, I am old. My skin wrinkles and bunches up in ways that I never knew it could. A lot of the people I know often need a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on. Sometimes, what they need to hear is something simple yet profound that makes them think. Or they don’t need to hear anything at all. Because you see, the people I know, they are smart. They know how to fix themselves up. They know what’s wrong, but they just need to talk about their load anyway. People seem to carry an awful lot these days.

Recently, what weighs me down is my face. I don’t bring it up very often. Actually, I don’t talk about myself very often at all. I am always so afraid to change the subject. Maybe, I always think, maybe I’m just kidding myself. My face doesn’t change. That would be ridiculous.

And yet, I would find another mirror. And a new face would wait for me, every time.

For so long, I have wondered why that is. I look for the stagnant water during rainy nights. A new face looks back at me in every puddle, reflecting the orange of the sodium lights. I look for myself in windows, but I have such a difficult time distinguishing myself from any other passing stranger. Every reflection tells me something different. How can so many faces go by the same name?

But now, I know why my face changes. I know why no one else seems to notice.

That jaded man who felt like he lived in his office cubicle? He needed to see a child like me to remind him of the boy inside of him. That college kid that was shut away all day to study feverishly? They needed to see a carefree guy like me because they needed to understand that breaks are okay. That little girl sitting by herself at the playground? She needed to hear from a little old lady like me that grudges won’t solve any of her problems.

I am what they need to see the most. I don’t know who I am. I can’t even remember my name, now that I think about it. But I have come to realize that my existence depends on who needs to see me, who needs to hear from me. There’s always someone.

And so, every time I look into a mirror, I don’t recognize the face looking back at me. I smile. Sometimes my smile is crooked, but I smile anyway. Someone needs that crooked smile. Someone needs my new perspective.

Now I know everyone. There is no stranger except for the face I see in the mirror.

One thought on “Stranger by Madeleine Rowe

  1. This is such a unique take on this prompt! I’m so speechless, you executed this amazingly! I was so confused at first but filled with intrigue, there could have been a lot of ways to take this but I loved, loved, loved the approach you took!


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