Verity was 22 when she found the silver lens. Prior to that, she’d spent much of her time searching for her truth in places where it wouldn’t be found. On the day she found the silver lens, she stood in front of her bedroom mirror.
She did not so much hate the mirror as much as she hated what it represented.
“Passing,” Verity thought, “is that it? A life where my existence is passing or failing, when everyone but me gets to choose what I am?”
Verity spent far too long looking in the mirror, attempting to force herself to love her reflection, despite the ease with which the opposite came. She had to go to The Doctors today, and she thought, erroneously, that if she looked particularly feminine today, she wouldn’t be subject to his gatekeeping, and it was always his gatekeeping. She needed a prescription for estrogen, and from experience, she knew the bureaucratic hoop-jumping might leave her a shameful sobbing mess in front of this same mirror later.
Verity hoped that wouldn’t be the case.
She pulled on the pair of hated heels, and after reflexively checking herself once more in the reversed camera of her phone, she held her breathe and opened the door to Vancouver’s East Side. Contrary to her previous thoughts, she did not burst into flame; she did not wither against the judgemental glances of a crowd of villagers coming with torches and flame and pitchfork. She fought against fears and anxieties daily, and sometimes won. But all it would take was one sideways glance or snicker, one “mister” or “sir” or “dude,” and she’d have to start the fight all over again.
But not from square one. She’d come too far for that.
She rounded her block and began to pass by Murubbi’s apartment. Murubbi could be found in two places: either perpetually sitting on his stoop smoking cigarettes brought from Bangladesh by nephews, or taking slow and steady walks around the street, hands pulled and clasped behind his back. Today, he was found doing the former; he was the best part of Verity’s day.
“Veri-tay,” he smiled, pronouncing her name incorrectly in a way she’d never allow anyone else. “How are you this afternoon? I have a gift for you!”
Murubbi balanced his cigarette on a nearby pewter tray, filled with ash and DuMauriers smoked to the filter. He reached for a small brown bag, perpetually by his side, which was endless in its capacity, always filled with gifts or trinkets or chocolates for his favorites in the neighborhood. Everyone seemed to be his favorite.
Murubbi was always a friendly face in a darker part of town. When Verity moved here a few years ago after getting kicked out, she held a terrible suspicion against the old man. Most men on stoops who offered gifts had a darker reciprocation in mind than the smiling gratitude Verity had to offer.
But last year, there was a week when Verity had to choose between rent and groceries, and settled on the former. On her way home from work, famished and tired, Murubbi offered her a massive container of delicious Alhoo Gobi. Verity stretched it to last until the end of the month.
Verity was no chef, but back when her parents still spoke to her, they taught her to never return empty handed when someone has given you a dish filled with food. The next month, Verity brought by shoddily wrapped cabbage rolls and barely boiled Pierogi. She awkwardly gave Murubbi his dish back, embarrassed at her comparative lack of culinary skill.
Murubbi opened the container, and cried. They sat together on the stoop and shared her food, and Murubbi told her about his polish wife (who was, not is) and that monster, cancer, and then Verity cried, and then they both cried.
Murubbi was the best part of her day.
He reached into his bag and pulled out what looked like a small magnifying glass, and held it softly in both hands, offering it to Verity. She took it with both hands and held it with the same reverence Murubbi gave the item.
“What is it?”
He clapped his hands together, his large iron bracelet sliding up and down the length of a withered arm. When he was younger, the bracelet probably fit well, hanging just barely loose on the muscular forearm of a young man. Now, it slid up and down the length of his form, nearly flying off as Murubbi gestured wildly, pointing.
“This is a Silver Lens! It’s a very old and impressive item,” Murubbi said, then added, noticing how Verity held the lens as one would a magnifying glass, “it does not reveal things close or far away or small. It reveals things as they are, and as they are meant to be!”
The lens looked more pewter than silver; the leather of the handle was frayed and worn, and held a metal frame tarnished by years of neglect. There were scratches around the rim of the frame that looked like a cacophony of five pointed stars.
But the glass of the lens was unclouded, polished and cleaned to a pristine transparency. She held it to her eye and looked; she saw the same smiling man who sneaked a mishti to kids when their parents weren’t looking.
Verity grinned. “Where’d you get this? Brought back by a nephew from the old country? Excavated from ancient Buddhist ruins?”
Murubbi’s laugh echoed in Verity’s chest as he pulled a crumpled receipt from his pocket. “Thrift shop!”
They shared a laugh as Verity placed the item gingerly in her bag and Murubbi returned to his now defunct cigarette.
She was grateful. She didn’t have many people with which she could share laughter. Not recently, anyway.
Verity hated The Doctors. She knew that health care is important, sure, but she hated these old white men who acted like gatekeepers to her well-being. Her hated heels clacked across weed-cracked cement, and she bit her lip to hold back tears.
They looked at her like she was a freak; everything in their eyes made Verity question her own sanity. These old white men were supposed to caregivers, but every poked needle and prodding question made Verity feel like she was a stranger in this world, like she was an alien spirit unknowingly inhabiting a human body. Verity knew that she was not.
The Doctors asked her stupid questions. They made Verity feel like an idiot for existing - like her worldview was so foreign to them that they could not possibly comprehend. Her head felt like a pressure cooker when The Doctors asked their stupid questions, and walking home, her head was steaming as she recollected.
“Are you sure you want this?” Yes. Obviously.
“Are you sure you need this?” Fuck off. Die.
“Are you sure you’ve thought this through?” Verity had thought about it. Sometimes cradling a pair of scissors. Sometimes with a bottle of painkillers. Sometimes in the shower when the water was unbearably hot. Sometimes on the bus while looking outside and everything is a blur of shapes and color. And always in the mirror. She always thought about it in front of the mirror.
So yes. She had thought this through. Verity did not want to “pass.” She wanted to be able to live without having to think about it.
She was so lost in her thought and her anger she did not notice the men who wanted to hurt her.
“Hey. Hey faggot!”
On hearing that word, Verity snapped back to her surroundings. To her, that word was not a slur as much as it was an air raid siren. Verity had heard it enough to know that it signalled violent intent. She reached into her bag for her cell phone, her keys, anything useful. She sped her pace cursing her hated heels and threw a glance over her shoulder. Against the orange Vancouver sky, she saw two white men in dark T-shirts, jeans and ball caps. They looked like oil riggers on spring break. They walked like they’d been drinking. They sped up their pace.
“Faggot. Yeah, I’m talking to you!”
Air raid siren. Verity needed to move.
Nothing good ever happened in a back alley, but it looked like Verity’s only option. She couldn’t outrun them in these heels, and the darkness might conceal her. She disappeared quickly to the right and hid. Verity held her breath. She remembered all the news reports about people like her. They died unceremoniously in alleys and bathrooms. They were beaten bloody and blue. People would say oh that’s a shame, and then make jokes about chicks with dicks. Verity heard them enter the alley. She wondered if her mother would care, or if Verity was already dead to her. The white men in dark clothes found her beside a dumpster. She could smell whiskey on their breath. A plume of green smoke began to pour out from the wall of building on her right. The white men in dark clothes reached for her.
She reached into her bag and grabbed the first thing she touched. Verity held the silver lens in front of her face, as a weapon or a shield. In that first moment she saw a world not meant for human comprehension - through its transparent polish Verity saw a Truth not meant for acceptance.
But first, she saw the dark men as they Truly were. There was red in their eyes and violent hate in their hearts. She saw a pallor of ash over both of their souls. These were not good men. And they only had moments to live.
For behind them was a Hound. Through the lens, Verity saw it: a constantly pulsing and crackling figure, like it existed between the static of the channels of what was real and what could be seen. It emerged from within the wall of the building and its figure cut through the green smoke. Its flesh looked more of smoke and ash than meat, and it swirled, and when the hound opened its narrow muzzle, tooth and fang were innumerable.
Verity saw all of this Truth, this terrifying, monstrous Truth in but a moment. And then the Hound attacked.
It lunged at the man closest to her. Verity held her arms in front of her head instinctively, and looking between her limbs, she saw sinew and muscle and bone being torn to tatters by an invisible force. The other man screamed and shouted and went white at the sight of his friend’s body imploding and hemorrhaging on the ground with no apparent cause. Verity gagged and forced both bile and fear back down her throat. She needed to act.
She ripped off her heels, and gripping the lens tight, ran to the left, hoping to make it to the end of the alley, and then the two blocks to her apartment before the Hound finished gnawing on its prey and noticed her. She heard steps and looked over her shoulder to see the second man chasing after her, thinking that perhaps she’d caused his friend’s death through some magic or witchcraft. In looking back, she witnessed an unseen force slam into her pursuer, sending him flying into the alley wall with such force that the fire escape shook.
The Hound would take its time feeding, she hoped. She turned and ran home, and did not look back.
Verity crumbled into a mess, leaning back against the mirror in her room. She tried to catch her breath, although it couldn’t be found. Looking down at the ground, Verity saw that she trailed in bloody footprints from where she’d stepped in broken glass in her barefoot escape. Verity laughed a short, manic laugh, coughing, knowing that soon the adrenaline would fade and the pain would come. Her shaking hand still held the silver lens with a painfully tight grip. She sat for a few moments, nearly resigning to let sleep take her there, on the floor, when her bedroom door moved.
It slowly swung open. The creaking of the old hinges had Verity holding her breath. The door was being moved by an unseen force. Trembling, she brought the lens to her face. The Hound stood with its mad, crackling, static presence. Verity knew she was going to die.
To her family, she was already dead. Verity had returned from school years ago, and began the process of transitioning over that time. When she returned that summer and tried to explain, they’d acted as if Verity had killed their son. She was not to return home ever again. Maybe in their minds she was a murderer, and what a terrible fate it is to be both murderer and victim. But Verity was not dead. In everything she did, Verity wasn’t trying to pass; she was fighting to live.
But in this moment, being burned by the steaming bleach-like breath of the unknowable Hound before her, Verity knew that she was going to die.
Verity refused to believe that. The Hound pounced, and Verity ducked, rolling and sliding away across her bloodstained bedroom floor. She landed painfully in the corner, and whipped the silver lens about face. The Hound was gone.
Through the silver lens, a plume of green smoke seeped into the mirror, clouding it for a moment, and then at once disappearing.
The Hound returned, to where, Verity did not know, perhaps corners of time and existence that even her silver lens could not help her perceive.
Standing and walking to the mirror, her hand and lens at her side, Verity looked at her reflection. It remained mostly unchanged from this morning, despite her bloodied feet and sweat-covered brow.
She was desperately curious. She had to know.
Verity lifted up the lens and looking through it, saw her reflection. Verity saw the Truth of who she was.
The image was the same.
No matter how anyone else saw her, this image would stay the same. Verity now knew beyond a doubt this was her. Although she had fought for years, she was now given a gift: the inscrutable knowledge that she was her. And no one else, not The Doctors, not the men on the street, not even her family could take that away from her now.
Verity dropped lens to the ground, tears welling in her eyes.
She was beautiful.