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The Looking Glasses

July 24, 2012

 As he had done for so many mornings in the past months, Caliber jumped out of bed and hurtled his way to the bathroom, bouncing off walls as he rounded them and sliding on socks across the hardwood. He came around the last corner and nearly ran into the closed door. He knocked hard and said:

“Hey, hurry up in there! I gotta check!”

The voice was sleepy in reply, “Cal, it doesn’t just happen overnight.” The boy gritted his teeth and bounced quickly on his toes.

“I know, but I just wanna check!” He added, “Hurry!”

There was incoherent mumbling in undertones, a flush, a faucet, and eventually, Cal’s dad emerged, his fallout odor wafting out after him. Cal ducked the head tussle and hurried into the bathroom, grabbing the sink and swinging himself before the mirror.

Cal’s face fell. “Aw, damn!”

“What was that?” His dad’s admonition was half-hearted.

“Sorry, Dad!” Cal searched the silver rectangle before him, searching for even the foggiest reflection, but there was nothing. Dejectedly, with a last look for hope’s sake, unrewarded, Cal trudged out of the bathroom and down the hall to breakfast.

“Well? Did you see anything?”

“Nope.” Cal gave his friend a once-over appraisal. “Did you?”

“Nope.” Fence was tall, gangly, and brown with freckled pepper for skin. Fence sighed.

“Sometimes I think all adults are liars.”

Cal shrugged. Fence swung his backpack over his shoulder and started off down the hallway. When Cal didn’t fall into step alongside him, Fence glanced back.

“You coming?”

Cal looked sidelong down the other hallway, then looked back and shook his head, taking a step back. “Uh, nah, I’ll see you at lunch.”

“Where are you – ” But Cal was already gone.

Cal was going to the bathroom. When he got there, he brushed past an upperclassman and again consulted the mirror on the wall. Unwavering silver stared back at him, opaque and unbetraying.

“Come on!” Cal cursed and pushed away from the sink, turning around in hapless frustration. Why couldn’t he see anything? Except for Fence, everyone he knew – all his friends and their friends – could already see something in the mirror, even Fence’s little sister, and she was only 12! Cal whirled around again and faced the mirror. He addressed it directly:

“Why? Why can’t I see anything? I’m supposed to see something!” Behind him, a stall door creaked and a voice said:

“Awfully entitled of you, don’t you think?”

Caliber turned sharply around and said, “I didn’t know anyone was in here.”

The man said, “My apologies, I was trying to shit quietly.” Cal was taken aback by this, as he’d never heard a grown-up talk like that before, except on television.

“Who are you?”

The man laughed. “I’m a math teacher. Who are you?”

Cal didn’t miss a beat. “I’m a student.”

“My name is Troy.”

“My name is Cal.”

“You’ll forgive me if I don’t shake.” The teacher stepped past Cal and began to wash his hands. Cal watched as the man reacted to unseen things, touching his face here and there, squinting at the blankness.

“What do you see in the mirror?”

The teacher glanced at Cal. “What do I see, or what do people see?”

Cal considered this a moment. “What do you see?”

Troy the teacher looked back at the mirror. “I see numbers.”

Cal raised a skeptic’s brow. “Numbers?”

“Yep.” The math teacher turned around and leaned his butt against the sink, folding his arms. “Don’t worry about not-seeing. It’ll happen as you grow up. Just enjoy being a kid.”

Cal frowned. “But I wanna see now! I wanna know what I look like!” He gritted his teeth and clenched a fist, said, “How am I supposed to know who I am?”

Troy the math teacher laughed again. “What do you think you’re going to see in that mirror that you don’t already know?”

“If I knew that I wouldn’t need a mirror.”

Troy looked surprised and said, “Well. I suppose that’s a good answer.” He stuck out a washed hand. “Nice to meet you, Cal.” Cal took his hand and shook it, trying to be as grown-up as possible.

“Nice to meet you too, sir.”

Troy started to leaved and paused halfway out the door. “You know, Cal, the best way I ever had the mirror described to me? ‘You see what you see.’” Cal started to inquire further, but before he could, the door closed and the math teacher was gone.

At lunch, Cal told Fence about the conversation with the math teacher.

“’You see what you see?’”

“That’s what he said.” Cal looked up and out at the lunch room thoughtfully. “What do you think that means? That everyone sees a different reflection?”

“A reflection is a mirror. That’s why it’s called a mirror. It’s the same as the room.”

“You’re just saying that.”

“That’s what my dad said.”

“Maybe your dad’s just boring.” They sat in silent resentment for a minute. Abruptly, Fence got up and left without saying a word. Cal wasn’t particularly indignant – he knew time would heal the offense – so he continued pushing mashed potatoes around his tray and thinking about mirrors.

After school, Cal was supposed to meet Fence and ride home with him, but when Cal stepped out into the sunlight, neither Fence, nor his mom’s care were anywhere to be seen. Caliber loitered around the patch of grass next to the car line for maybe ten minutes before he decided Fence must have been angry enough to leave him as punishment.

Cal went back inside to call his dad. He stepped into the office, still full of students, and had waited in line for only a couple minutes when he happened to see the math teacher from earlier emerging from the principal’s office with a handful of papers.

“Did you get lunch detention, Mr. Troy?” The math teacher looked up from his papers.

He smiled. “Not quite. What are you doing here?” He checked an imaginary watch. “You know school’s over now?”

“My friend left me and now I gotta call my dad to pick me up.”

“How do you feel?”


“About being left.”

“Um, annoyed I guess. I wasn’t at first, but now that I think about it, I kinda am.”

“If you could see a mirror right now, it would have shown you annoyed, even if you didn’t think you looked it.”


“Wanna know the other great piece of advice about mirrors I got? ‘You see what you are.’”

Cal stepped aside to let someone else use the phone. “I thought – ”

“I know. Just keep them both in mind.” With that, Mr. Troy seized upon the opportunity for a dramatic exit.

Cal called his house but no one picked up. He tried to remember if Dad said he’d be out. He called again. No answer. With simmering irritation, Caliber sat down outside in the hall and waited. You see what you are. You see what you see. He frowned to himself and rearranged them. You are what you see. You are what you are. That was obvious. He laughed. Still, he felt like Mr. Troy was telling the truth. At least the way he saw it. You see what you are. You see what you see. You are what you see.

Cal was deep in his own mind when he heard his name. It sounded distant. He looked up.

“I’m sorry I left. Mom said we can’t hang out now, cause it’s late now, but she said she’ll give you a ride home.” Fence looked almost sheepish.

Cal blinked his thoughts away and said, “Yeah, that’s cool.” He got up and followed Fence.

By the time they exited the building, they were back to being friends.

Fence was saying, “I don’t get it. Is it a riddle?” He paused. “I think Fork had a class with Mr. Troy once. Don’t remember anything about it though.”

“Yeah. Maybe we’ll get it when we’re older.”


Fence’s mom dropped Caliber off at the bottom of his driveway. Slinging his backpack over his shoulder, Cal started walking up the hill, waving an arm in farewell as he did. He snapped a twig from a limb and twirled it around in the air for a few moments as he looked up at the clouds. Cal tossed aside the twig as he stepped inside the fence and his dog ran out from the doggy-door to greet him. He knelt and embraced the dog.

“Hey, Rooster! Hey, buddy! Hey, awh, you’re my little doggy, yes you are! Ah – ah – okay, that’s enough!” He pushed the dog off him, wiped off the saliva from his face and opened the door.

“Dad! I’m home!” He dropped his backpack on the floor just inside and walked into the kitchen. Cal called out again and poured himself some juice. He looked out the back window. His dad’s car was there. Shrugging to himself, Caliber grabbed a snack bar and his juice and went upstairs.

He had just ascended the last stair when his dad’s door opened and his dad walked out shirtless, wearing only his underwear, and stopped short.

“Cal. You’re home early. Weren’t you going to Fence’s house after school? Where is Fence anyways?”

“I tried to call.”

“Well – ” He stopped as a woman with long red hair stepped out of the room with only a bra.

“Hank, babe, who are – oh.” The woman masked her surprise and swept towards Cal. “You must be Caliber! I’ve heard so much about you from your dad. My, you’re a handsome one. To be expected of course.” She trailed off and smiled, half-bent towards him. Cal noticed she was quite bosomy. He took a step back and addressed his father.

“Who is she?”

Hank squatted. “Cal, I should have told you earlier. This is Cherie. “He glanced up at Cherie as though what he was about to say was humorous. “She’s my girlfriend.”

“What about Mom? I thought you missed her.” His dad started to say something, but Cal took another step back, almost lost his balanced and was only saved from falling down the stairs by Cherie’s quick hands. She pulled him back, but Caliber wrenched away from her grip and darted past them both.

“Cal! Where are you going?!” His father’s voice echoed towards him in pleading tones but bounced off the closed bathroom door.

Inside, Caliber raged in near-silent fumes, stalking back and forth in two-step and clenching his fists over and over. His anger was such that he couldn’t even form sentences of his thoughts. ‘Why’ and ‘betrayal’ were the closest he got. At last, he sagged and sat down on the toilet and stared at the wall. This went on for several minutes, but he wiped his teary eyes before they leaked out. One moment he would be close to sobbing breaks, the next he was tensed up in a curl, his hair wrapped in fingers.

Eventually, Caliber subsided. He began to breath with regular depth and frequency, his hands relaxed, and his eyes blinked wearily. Slowly, dully, numbly, he arose from his steeped stupor and stepped towards the door. Almost unconsciously, he turned to look in the mirror and sharply inhaled.

The normally opaque silver sheen was now a dulled and vapory swirl. It looked to Cal like what dust would look like if it were liquid. But that wasn’t all.

Looking back at him were two bright blue orbs, fuzzy and glistening. He blinked and the world disappeared, then came back. The orbs remained. He leaned forward and looked closer. When he did, the tears he had held back for so long came forth and he collapsed onto his arms and sobbed into the sink.

In the mirror, his mother’s eyes lingered for a moment with tears of their own.


From → Short Stories

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