The Man With His Back Turned

by Agustín Cadena

Daniela bought the mirror at the flea market one Saturday when she was passing by in her older brother's car, and for no other reason but to make him mad, insisted on stopping. The mirror was 12 inches long by 8 inches wide at its base, and the upper part was finished with a Gothic arch. The brass frame was scratched and dented in places, but in general still pretty, with vine reliefs and floral motifs. The mirror itself was rose-tinted, an antique glass in which things were reflected as if blurred by the mist of the years, as if they were reflections from the past, from long ago, not from today. Dani loved it. She didn't have enough money to buy the mirror, but what she had was enough so that the vender agreed to hold it for her.

When she got home, she begged her father for a little, asked her grandmother for a loan and then at school sold some CDs to a few of her classmates. The next Saturday she went to get the mirror. She didn't find the vender, just his wife, an autumnal blond with a witchy look. When Dani told her why she was there, the woman took the mirror out of a cardboard box where they'd hidden it. Excited, Dani paid the balance due and ran home with her treasure. She already had a place picked out for it in her bedroom.

The trouble started that same afternoon. Not every time someone looked in the mirror, but often, they saw in the background, behind the normal reflections, a man with his back to the mirror. It was fearsome, strange. Because no one was standing there, and nothing else in the room could reflect such an image. The worst was that sometimes it was there, sometimes not. And it always happened that only one person at a time could see him. How then could they be sure of anything?

The first hypothesis was that there was a ghost in the house and it could only become visible through the rose mirror. But when they took the mirror to other locations, the figure facing away remained the same.

The family was mystified. They wanted to find an explanation for this thing. Finally they arrived at a conclusion: the man with his back turned lived in the mirror.

They didn't want to know more. All they wanted was to get rid of him. Dani went to sell the mirror back to the vender from whom she'd bought it. He looked at her steadily with an enigmatic smile and offered her less than half what she'd paid for it. But Daniela wasn't inclined to bargain. She was already walking away from the booth when she chanced to hear the man murmuring, as if talking to the mirror: "Back again."

(Translated by Patricia Dubrava)

Agustín Cadena was born in Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo, México. He taught at UNAM; at Austin College, Texas; and currently teaches at the University of Debrecen, Hungary. Essayist, fiction writer, poet and translator, Cadena has won national prizes, including those for short fiction in 2004 and 2005 and has published twenty-four books, among them collections of short fiction, essays and poetry, three novels, and two young adult novels, most recently, Operación Snake (2013). "The Man with his Back Turned" is a translation of the story "El hombre de espaldas," which was originally published online. This is its first English translation. Cadena blogs at

Patricia Dubrava chaired the creative writing program at Denver School of the Arts, where she also taught Spanish. She has published two books of poems and one book of stories translated from the Spanish. Recent publications include her translations of stories by Mexican writer Mónica Lavín in the Fall 2012 issues of Metamorphoses and Reunion: The Dallas Review. Her translations of Agustín Cadena stories are forthcoming in NewBorder: An Anthology, Aldus and Ephemera. Dubrava blogs at