Mirrors

Read at the Tamale Hut Cafe Reading Series, July, 2013.

Have you ever put the side of your face to a mirror? Try it sometime. Get right up to the glass and press your cheek against it. When you do, you can almost see along the wall on the other side of the glass. If something is protruding from the wall on your side, like a light switch or a towel hook, you can see it on the other side. How is it that the mirror can reflect something that's next to it, not in front of it?

We used to have two mirrors in our house. One was a tall mirror that covered the back of the door in my Mom and Dad's room. It was held onto the door by these plastic clips that I always thought looked like fingers, as if a bunch of tiny hands were holding the mirror to the door. I usually couldn't use that one because I wasn't supposed to go into their room.

The mirror I used was in the bathroom, on the door to the medicine cabinet, over the sink. It was too high for me to use while standing on the floor, but I found that if I put one foot on the side of the bathtub and, holding onto the sink, lifted myself up and put my other foot on the edge of the toilet seat, I was tall enough to see my reflection in the mirror.

I've always thought that looking into a mirror is really looking into another dimension, another world like they write about in my comic books, only everything is backwards, the thin piece of glass being the only thing separating the two worlds. The person you see in the mirror is you in that other dimension, except he's backwards. He's left-handed where you are right-handed. He parts his hair on the right, the opposite of yours. I called my reflection Derf, because my name is Fred and he's me like me, only in reverse.

Derf lives in a house that's the same as mine, but everything is backwards. In his world, the toilet is to the left of the mirror, where it's to the right of mine. I walk out of the bathroom and turn right to go to my bedroom, but he walks out and goes left to his.

He thinks the same as me, too, just opposite. When I think to scratch my left ear, Derf thinks to scratch his right. He's also figured out how to get to the mirror by straddling the gap between toilet and tub.

I once found a small mirror and spent a lot of time trying to figure out if there was a way to use it to get to the other world. It was basically a piece of glass with something painted on it that allowed us to see into that other dimension. I tried to peel off the backing, to see if I could get behind the glass, but it only flaked off, and then I couldn't see through any more. It became a plain piece of glass.

So I was stuck with the bathroom mirror. I spent a lot of time, stretched between tub and toilet, watching Derf watch me. I would press my face against the glass to try to see around the corner of the frame, like I told you before, and he would, too, at the same time. One time, my brother pounded on the door because he had to go and we only had one bathroom. He startled me, my foot slipped off the tub and I fell, hitting my elbow against the sink. Man, it hurt. Same thing happened to Derf.

So one afternoon, while I was riding my bike down the alley with my pals Bob and Stan, we found an old, old stand-up mirror that somebody threw out. It was propped up against the garage, waiting for the garbage guys to pick it up. I somehow convinced Stan and Bob to help me drag it back to my house, and we put it in the loft of the garage. My Mom and Dad never had anything up there, so my Dad fixed it up so I could use it as a playroom, kind of like an indoor tree house. I used to go up there and read comics or goof off or listen to ball games on the radio in the summer.

We got the mirror up there and were looking at it, and we could see Derf and his buddies doing the same thing. I noticed that it was thick, like a picture frame, like there may have been more layers to it than a typical mirror. Around the back were these brackets, and using a screwdriver that Stan got off my Dad's workbench from down below, we carefully removed the brackets and took off the back, using some of my Dad's heavy gloves so we wouldn't cut ourselves if it broke. The back came off and we saw that the front glass was just that, glass. The back piece, the part we just took off, was the reflective part.

"Don't touch it," I said as Bob reached out for the shiny surface.

"Why not?" Bob asked, pulling his hand back. It was more than shiny. It had a weird shimmer to it. It looked fluid, like water, but it was not moving like water. It was just ... there, on the vertical surface.

"You're not wearing gloves. It might be dangerous. You know how they say that mercury from a broken thermometer can poison you?"

We stood there, looking at the shimmering surface. I knew that we were seeing right into the other world, with no glass between us and Derf and his friends. They were looking at us, too. They were in Derf's mom and dad's garage loft, and it looked just like mine, but backwards.

Stan was holding the board upright as I stepped in front of it. Derf did the same on his side. "I've got the heaviest gloves. I'm going to try to reach through."

"I don't think that's a good idea," Stan said, adjusting his grip on the board.

I reached my hand forward, as Derf did the same. I turned my hand up, so my palm was facing him. I got closer and closer. Bob stood at the side of the board, closing one eye and sighting down the surface to watch as my hand made contact. Just as it did, I jumped back.

Bob jumped too. "What happened?" he asked. "What did it feel like?"

"It wasn't hard, like I thought" I said, looking at my hand. "It felt ... like I was pressing another hand." I looked at the board and Derf looked back at me, with the same astonished expression I had.

"Try it again, Fred," Stan said. "But try to push through." He braced himself against the back of the board.

I reached forward and made contact again. The surface was uneven, like I was touching hand. I pushed as hard as I could, but I didn't get past the surface, because Derf was pushing right back.

"Try both hands," Bob suggested. I put my other hand up, as did Derf, and we both pushed as hard as we could.

"It's no use," I said, stepping back. "He's as strong as I am." I scowled at Derf as he scowled at me.

"Maybe there's a rule that two of you can't exist in the same world at the same time," said Bob.

"That's dumb," Stan shot back. "Who'd make a rule like that?"

"I dunno," said Bob. "The universe?"

"Maybe Bob has something," I said. "What if you guys turn the mirror around us while we push against each other in the middle? Maybe it'll work because only one whole guy will be on either side at any time."

"Huh?" asked Bob.

"I gotcha," said Stan. "Bob, grab the other side of the mirror. When Fred presses against the surface, pick the board up and walk to your right."

"Okay," Bob said, skeptically. He put on his gloves and nodded after grabbing hold of the board.

Stan was on my left and Bob was on my right. I walked up to the surface and got as close as I could without touching. I put my hands up and met Derf's. "Okay, guys."

Stan and Bob lifted the board slightly and started to turn, but only got about a third of the way around when they stopped.

"What's going on?" asked Bob. "It won't move any further."

Stan adjusted his grip. "One more time, Bob. Big push."

I closed my eyes and put my head forward, touching something that felt like another forehead. I felt as though my skin was being stretched, then I heard a snap. I opened my eyes and stepped back. Stan was still on my left and Bob was still on my right.

"What happened? I thought it was going around."

Stan's jaw dropped. "Derf, yas uoy did tahw, tiaw?" he said

I jumped and looked at Stan. "What?"

He looked as startled as me. "Tahw?"

I looked at Bob, and he said, "No gniog s'tahw?"

Then his eyes got wide. "Dekrow ti, woc yloh!"

I then realized what happened. We looked back at the board, and it seemed Derf realized it, too, that we had swapped places. Derf was in the real world and I was in the mirror world. I looked at Stan, thought a minute and pointed to him. "Nats?" I said.

He grinned and nodded his head, pointed at me and said "Derf". We both pointed at Bob, and said at the same time "Bob!" We laughed and laughed.

I looked around the loft, and it was the same as in my world, just everything was in reverse.

"Kcab og dluohs ylbaborp uoy," Nats said, pointing to the mirror.

"Yats uoy fi neppah lliw tahw wonk t'nod ew."

"What?" I asked. He motioned like turning the mirror around. "Oh, I get it. You want me to go back." I pointed at myself and at the reflective board, and he nodded. I saw the Stan and Derf on the other side doing the same thing. I walked up to the board, as did Derf, and we stood with out hands against each others like we did before.

"EEd-air?" asked Bob as he and Nats grabbed the edge of the board. I nodded and closed my eyes. I felt that same skin-pulling, then heard the snap.

"Fred or Derf?" Stan asked, hesitantly.

"Fred," I said. "Am I home?"

"Seems like you are," said Bob. "That was weird."

"You're telling me," I said. "Those guys were talking backwards."

"So was Derf," said Stan, laughing. "I was waiting for him to explode or something."

"What? Why would he do that?" I looked at Derf in the mirror, looking at me.

"After we spun the mirror, I remembered those old Star Trek episodes we watched on Netflix where they were talking about anti-matter, and how if matter and anti-matter touched, there was a big explosion."

"Why didn't you say something before?" I yelled.

"Ah, don't worry. Nothing happened. C'mon, let's get this mirror back together. I think it's about supper-time."

© Matthew Bieniek, 2013.


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