"Story in a Mirror" (German: "Spiegelgeschichte") is a short story by the Austrian author Ilse Aichinger written in 1949. The story is written backwards, beginning with the end of the biography of the unnamed woman, and ending with her early childhood. It is written in the second-person narrative
The story begins with a woman lying on her deathbed as she recalls the details of her life in a series of flashbacks during a fever dream. From there the story progresses backwards, showing her life as it happened in reverse, beginning with her impending funeral and ending with her childhood. The story opens with the woman's funeral, and begins reversing story at that point. The casket is opened, and the wreath is returned to her grieving lover. From there, she is brought back to the mortuary, and then to the hospital. As her lover screams at the moment of her death, she reawakens. An unseen individual remarks that the death throes are beginning. As the days progress, she becomes stronger, finding herself able to eat soup on the fourth day in the hospital. Eventually she leaves the hospital. At this point, she visits an old woman who performs illegal abortions. It is revealed the unnamed woman's death came from an infection during the illegal abortion. As the story is progressing backwards, instead of asking the woman to abort the child, she screams for the old woman to "make my child live again!" After this visit, the woman is once again pregnant. The unnamed woman thinks on how this request is only possible thanks to a "mirror," or the backwards nature of time in her narrative. Another unnamed voice remarks that the death throes are in progress, an idea the woman rebukes. The woman then encounters her lover, who tells her of the old woman who performs abortions, and orders her to visit should she become pregnant, not realizing she is already carrying his child. As the story continues and time progresses backwards, the lovers grow less and less familiar with each other, until they no longer know the name of the other. Once again the voice speaks, remarking that she does not have much time. Unlike the rest of the story, the voices appearing in the story do not happen backwards. As this fever dream progresses and the woman relives her life backwards, the voices of an unknown doctor are the only external stimuli linking her to reality, where she lies on her deathbed hallucinating. She once again rebukes the voice, still believing that time is progressing backwards. As a schoolgirl, she meets the older man who will seduce her. She meets her brothers and father once more. Her mother, who died when the woman was only a child, is brought back from the cemetery and wakes up just as the unnamed woman did in the beginning of her story. From there, the woman returns to infancy, losing the ability to speak and ending her dream with the day of her birth, as the doctor in the hospital announces that she is dead. In her last breath, once more rebuking the doctor, she thinks "Quiet! Let them talk!"
Through following a normal story progression, the story tells of a girl whose mother dies, who falls in love with an older man, becomes pregnant by him, is forced into an illegal abortion and dies of an infection as a result. W. Michael Resler, a professor of German Studies from Boston College, argues that the story is to be interpreted as a hallucination of the dying woman, stating "if, then, the students can see for themselves that the real stylistic disorder and the apparent structural disorder are the product of a deathly ill, perhaps hallucinating person (in this respect mention briefly segments three and two, where the narrator pictures herself lying in her coffin at the mortuary and then at the funeral), then they are more willing to accept the peculiar form of "Spiegelgeschichte" as a valid literary expression." The story, then, is the woman's life flashing before her eyes. Fitting the motif of the "Spiegel", or mirror in the title, the story serves as a reflection to the woman's life, in which both she and the reader can examine her actions and priorities.
The nature of the story progressing backwards instead of forwards helps remove the constraints of time to alleviate the woman of her guilt. In a story written in the traditional narrative, the woman could appear guilty due to the abortion. Yet in the story's reverse style, she screams to the old woman to bring her child back to life. Though this scenario is only a fever dream and therefore she lacks the ability to undo her abortion in real life, in the backwards nature of the narrative she is able to reveal her true intentions, vindicating her of her offense. Conversely, the lover, who under a traditional narrative would appear to be a good man who lost the love of his life is revealed to be much more manipulative hypocritical under the mirror-effect of the backwards narrative. By depriving her of her ability to bear children, the man has robbed her of her femininity. He has taken her capacity to create life and manipulated her into a toy for his own pleasure. Critic Patricia Haas Stanley further argues against the blame of the abortion and infection belonging to the woman, arguing "the girl in "Spiegelgeschichte" is perhaps too young to accept the fact of pregnancy with courage; she allows herself to be led by the young man's mention of the old woman, and interprets his words as implicit instructions should she become pregnant." Through the mirror effect of the fever dream, she is able to take power and make her own decision to keep the child and drive the man out of her life, something she was unable to do before her deathbed dreams.