Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Mirror Suit

The chest-piece was an old hallway mirror–egg-shaped with false gold molding for a border–that he inherited after his parents died. It came to him in a packing crate, mailed from whoever had taken care of their affairs. He knew they had died before the crate arrived, but there was a note stapled to the address label reminding him of their demise nonetheless.

The hall mirror lay on the floor of the spare bedroom, which had never been used, for several months, reflecting only the floor on which it sat. All of the other mirrors in the house–long, narrow ones the approximate shape of floorboards; smaller, roundish ones; rectangular ones small enough to hold in his hand–also eventually came to rest in the spare room. The only reason some of them survived in the other rooms of the house longer than others was that they were in corners or at angles where he rarely noticed them.

He found the final two loose mirrors in the house in the far corner of the attic, behind a stack of comic books he had forgot he possessed. The mirrors were set in the top half of a woman’s cosmetic compact that had belonged to his former girlfriend Madalyn. He caught a glimpse of his eyes in the small spherical reflectors. They blinked back at him and stared for a second before he averted his gaze, trying to preoccupy it with the adventures of superheroes whose powers no longer intrigued him. It was the first time he had seen any part of his face in years. He still touched it occasionally, running his fingers over the curve of his lips, along the stony bridge of his nose, through the bristly forest of his brows, but that offered only a secondhand reconstruction. Even if he managed to keep in mind all the various features of his face, their placement and proportion was entirely up to his imagination. In effect, he could draw his imagined face according to whatever theme he wished to follow. He variously saw himself as beautiful, an ogre, an innocent child, a self-conscious adolescent.

But he could not manipulate or negotiate with the blank stare of the mirrors. His eyes were simply there, uncomfortably fixed points reminding him with indifferent finality who he was and what he looked like. He turned over the compact with the edge of a comic book and approached them cautiously, like a primitive confronting the magic of an elevator or a gun. Once he was satisfied that it would not spontaneously flip over, he picked it up and brought it to the spare bedroom. He laid the compact on top of the dresser that had never been used, leaving it to rest beside the other smaller mirrors he had collected. They were carefully arranged, the larger mirrors on the left giving way to steadily smaller ones as they neared the bedroom window, all of them with their reflective face turned down. There was an ever-narrowing path between the mirrors on the floor from the dresser to the door.

The furnishings of his own bedroom, the one in which he slept and lived most of his life, were only slightly more elaborate than those of the spare room. The same ceiling fan hung in both rooms, and while his room featured a dull tan rug with a black-and-white striped trim, the paint and carpeting in the spare room were brighter and livelier. His room also had a computer, which sat on a desk in the corner farthest from the window. On it, he performed the freelance contract work by which he supported himself and his lifestyle, as well as ordering his food and all of his life’s other necessities, prepaying for everything, including the extra service charge to have it all delivered. Paradoxically or not, his own room was less crowded than the spare room.

He normally turned off the ceiling light before the room got dark, because of its tendency to create a reflective glare on the window, but this night he left it on. He scarcely noticed the additional light, however; he could not stop thinking about his eyes.


At the very end of his closet, occupying the hanger nearest the wall, was a vestige of his previous life, in which he had gone outside and done numerous things that most people do every day without thinking that anything remarkable has transpired, because for them, nothing has. And while a wetsuit is not an everyday article of clothing, it hung in his closet as a symbol of the days when he had worn such things. Looking at it, he wondered for the first time in years if it still fit.

Thinking back to the last time he had worn it, a jet skiing party with Madalyn’s friends the summer after he graduated from college, he compared his physique then to his body now. Despite the lack of running space in his house, he had amassed an impressive home gym in his basement and used it regularly, and if anything was in better shape now than he had been in college.

He tried on the wetsuit, flexed and felt along his arms and legs for any signs of untoward strain on the suit’s part, and then took it off again, satisfied that there were no obstacles in this phase of his still-forming plan. Next he took it into the spare bedroom and hung it on the door. Picking up his parents’ old mirror, he held it up to the suit. Although somewhat wider than he was at its middle, it would work suitably as a chest-piece. He set it in the hall, so it would not become lost in the jumble of the other mirrors, and looked for a back-piece, finding an ideal candidate underneath the dresser. As he pulled it out, he could see that it was larger than his chest mirror, though not too large for his purposes.

A set of eight strip mirrors he had once received as a present–originally, they were a joint gift to him and Madalyn–proved to be of adequate sizes to cover his arms. They had been manufactured for decorative purposes, and so were not all the same dimensions: half were longer and narrower, perfect for his forearms, while the rest were shorter and slightly rounded, and so would work well on his biceps. He found a similar but larger set to use for his legs. He would wear gloves on his hands.

Next he considered the problem of how to affix the mirrors to the wetsuit. Although the method was not terribly complex–he would use a combination of rubber cement and hanging wire threaded through the skin of the suit, making himself into a kind of human wall–the logistics of how to get himself into the suit with the mirrors attached to it was considerably more difficult. He was going to leave his joints unmirrored in order to maximize his flexibility, but the prospect of putting on a fully-mirrored suit without breaking some of the mirrors, to say nothing of the difficulty of hoisting up so much extra weight on his body at once, forced him to think of a compromise solution. He decided to attach, glue, or otherwise jerry-rig the mirrors on the back of the suit first, while he was not wearing it–because it would be impossible for him to do those with the suit on–and then once those were in place and he was wearing it, to put together the front half of the suit.

With those details taken care off, he turned his attention to his face. Of course he would have to cover it as well, but the question of how to do so was more difficult to answer than his body had been. He had more than enough mirrors of the right sizes and shapes but no obvious way to affix them in place. The wetsuit had a hood that extended around the back of his head and completely covered his hair, but it left his face completely exposed. Because the idea of putting rubber cement all over his face–and possibility sticking hanging wire in his nose–stuck him as patently foolish, he decided to put a ski mask on over the hood and attach the mirrors to it.
He put the mask on and marked the places where the mirrors for his ears, mouth, nose, and eyes should go, took off the mask, and began working. Although his other orifices did not present him with any unforeseen difficulties, when he came to the eyes he realized he had overlooked something. It was so obvious that he laughed when the problem finally occurred to him. With a pair of mirrors over his eyes, he would not be able to see, thus turning the already difficult proposition of moving around in the suit into a seeming impossibility.

While he was trying to think of a solution to this predicament, his mind wandered to the police shows he often watched on television. The interrogation rooms in the various police stations scattered across the televised landscape invariably had an attached observation room, where the other detectives and officers could watch the interrogation unseen behind a one-way mirror. He turned on his computer and searched for one-way mirrors. After skipping past a number of sites offering to sell him a one-way mirror and to install it in his house or place of business, he found a site that explained the physical principle upon which one-way mirrors operated. When a mirror is placed between two rooms, and the light in one of the rooms is significantly brighter than the other, the mirror will be reflective in the bright room, while at the same time allowing anyone in the dark room to see through it. With this principle in mind, it seemed reasonable that the same phenomenon could be recreated with a pair of mirrored glasses, so long as the space between the lenses and eyes was kept dark.

He took the attachment tube off his vacuum cleaner and compared the size of its circumference to the size of the cosmetic compact mirrors. Though too small to fit in the final opening of the tube, the mirrors could fit snugly in the slightly-wider ribs of the tube. He popped the mirrors out of their housing, cut a section of the tube, and placed a mirror in it to make sure that his eyeball measurement was accurate. It fit even better than he had imagined. After securing the mirror in the tube with several dabs of rubber cement, he cut the other side of the tube until it left the mirror the correct distance from his eyes. All that he had to do now was to mold the end of the tube to the curve of his eye sockets.

Once he had finished modifying both lengths of tube, he held them up to his eyes. The effect was similar to looking through a tinted window, or to looking in on a brightly-lit room at night. He cut a piece of the tube in half for a bridge over the nose, and then glued an elastic strap to either side of his invention. The strap was uncomfortably tight around his head, but it held the makeshift glasses to his face and did not allow any extraneous light to reach his eyes.
He laid out the mirrors for the front of the suit on his bed before putting on the half-completed suit. The weight of the mirrors on his back and legs was heavier than he had anticipated, but it was tolerable, especially when he considered the benefits of the suit. He attached the mirrors to the front side of his legs first, then his arms, and finally his chest. Next he put on the ski mask, and finally, the glasses.

For the first time in years, he wanted to see what he looked like. But he no longer had the flexibility necessary to pick up a mirror from the floor, which was where he kept all of his largest mirrors, so he had to settle for the short rectangular one leaning against the wall. Fluffy bears and blue balloons decorated its border. It was one of the last things Madalyn had bought for them, and it was not large enough for him to see his whole self in it all at once, so he first angled it toward his legs and then, in turn, his arms, back, and chest. He saved his face for last.
When he finally picked up the mirror and held it in front of his face, he was greeted with an effect different from when he looked at the rest of his body. When he saw the reflections of his legs and arms, the light bounced from his suit to the mirror and back again at angles that led it off the surface of the mirror. When he looked at his face, however, the angle was such that it reflected him infinitely, in ever smaller iterations, so that he appeared to be shrinking and multiplying even as he stood there. Where his eyes should have been, there was only a bounding spot of brightness as the light of the room attempted to penetrate the reflective surfaces. Trying to follow it made him dizzy.

Walking was not as difficult as he had anticipated. The weight of the mirrors was not as much of an impediment as he thought it would be, although their distribution on the suit–and therefore his body–made him top-heavy, to the extent that he had to stop after each step and reestablish his balance. Fortunately, the front door of his house was not far from the bedroom.

After he opened and closed the door, an operation that required more movements than he had ever before realized, he lumbered down to the sidewalk, wondering what he should do next. He could not go far; walking in the suit was difficult and tiring, and hotter than he had expected. Not having been outside for several years, he had forgotten how warm and humid unconditioned air could be, and wearing what was essentially a black spandex weight suit accentuated the difficulties posed by a summer afternoon.

A woman jogged past him. His glasses severely limited his peripheral vision, so he did not notice her until she was directly in front of him. She was wearing blue athletic shorts and a white tank top, her arms were slender and tanned, and her legs, for as far down as he could see, were toned and muscular. She was wearing sunglasses, but she took them off when she stopped to stare at him. Her hands rested on her hips, one of them holding her sunglasses, and she twisted back and forth slowly, as if admiring the various viewing angles offered by the man in the mirror suit. She reminded him of Madalyn.

The woman put her sunglasses back on and turned to go, but before she had taken a full stride, she looked back at him and waved. He returned it as well as he could, but the suit’s limited range of motion and its weight made it a slow and unnatural-looking wave, something like an astronaut or a deep-sea diver. She smiled. He thought she was trying to meet his gaze, but her sunglasses stopped him from seeing her eyes. It was an unforeseen moment of equality.

Several minutes later, a young boy came up to him, followed a second later by his mother. The boy touched the mirrors on his legs, pressing on them as if trying to set free the image he saw there. The boy was scared when he looked up and saw his reflection in the suit’s eyes.

"What’s wrong with that man, Mom?" he asked. "I don’t think he has any eyes. Can he see anything?"

The mother, an overweight woman who thought he was a statue, said, "There isn’t a person in there. It’s just someone’s idea of a joke. But I don’t think it’s funny. Come on, let’s go home."

"But Mom, it moved! I saw it."

"No, you just thought you did," she insisted, keeping her back to the mirror suit. "You saw everything else moving when you looked at it, and that made it look like it was moving. Mirrors play all kinds of tricks."

She took the boy’s hand in hers and led him away. He tried to twist around for another look, but she would not let him.

After waiting for a moment, he turned and walked toward the center of town; it was the same direction the mother and son had gone, but he was not following them. He waited for the signal to change at the only stoplight in town and crossed the road, stopping in front of the ice cream parlor. There was a bench on the sidewalk. He would have sat in it if he did not have the mirror suit on.

The girl behind the counter looked bored. She cleaned an ice cream scoop in the sink built into the wall, dried it, and surveyed the parlor. Only two other people were inside, and neither of them were interested in ice cream anymore.

One of them was an older man. He had white hair and a white beard, both of which were the same, almost nonexistent length. Sometimes it looked as though he did not have hair at all, and that it was only a trick of the light that made it appear to be there. His hands resembled the roots of a very pale tree. His face was weathered and had a chiseled appearance, but its character changed completely when he smiled. He could lose decades of toil simply by twitching a few muscles in his face.

Sitting across the table from him was the reason he smiled. She was a strange mixture, with a face that looked young and entirely too small for the maturing body to which it was connected. She had slipped off her sandals and was tapping the man’s legs with her feet–small, stub-toed things that were strikingly out of proportion with her hands. She was the sort of girl who looked awkward in every kind of situation. But none of her ungainliness mattered when she smiled and met the eyes of the man sitting across from her.


He took off the chest-piece and all of the mirrors on his arms and legs as soon as he was home. Now flexible enough to bend over without falling down, he turned over all the mirrors in the room, leaning some at angles against the walls, leaving others face-up where they were on the floor, hanging some on the walls and even on the ceiling, and resting the largest mirror he had against the side of the never-used crib. He balanced the next-largest mirror on top of the dresser. He took off the ski mask, laid it on the dresser, and looked into the mirror.

The bounding, reflection-multiplying effect was happening again, but he made himself concentrate on the largest reflection; it was the clearest and the one closest to his real face.

A shaft of sunlight streamed through the window and caught one of the mirrors lying against the wall. It rebounded unpredictably but with inexorable brilliance, intensifying on its instantaneous course through the room. It would only stop when it hit him.

He could see himself going blind.