It was just before sunrise in a long rectangular mirror that I noticed the whites of my eyes stir. Matted with both coldness and familiarity, I was reminded of the stranger that had long ago pulled me from the flames that claimed my father. In my reflection, behind streaked glass and plastered on the same face I had seen thirty minutes earlier in my shaving mirror, a stranger’s eyes locked into mine.
“Double espresso,” I said, doing my best to ignore the mirror behind the barista. She was a short, stout, highly caffeinated girl with dark mascara and purple pig-tails and she looked right past me to the group of teenagers behind me in line. “Sorry,” I said, “Haven’t ordered yet.”
I wanted to see her write my name, Nolan, on the little cup and get on with it. I had an early appointment with a new client and needed to get to the office to prepare. I had worked years to become a marginally respected accountant in Pinole, and the barista wasn’t going to stop me.
Her name tag read Gina. “Gina, a double espresso please,” I said. “I’m kind of in a hurry.”
“Usual for the crew, Chuck?” asked Gina, speaking right through me.
“7 black coffees with an extra shot,” said a pimply boy that I took to be Chuck. “Two shots in mine if you don’t mind.” He leaned in and winked at Gina. Based on his sweater, Chuck appeared to be the captain of the Pinole Rower’s Club. He also seemed to be the shortest kid in the group with the highest voice. Like Gina, he talked as if I was non-existent.
“Hello?” I waved my hands in the Gina’s face and when she didn’t respond I turned to Chuck’s crew, just about all of them tweeting or texting. What could be so important before 6:00 am?
Chuck paid and with a droll smile Gina dropped the change in the tip jar.
I was beginning to really dislike Chuck. And I was afraid.
“Give me a break okay. This isn’t funny,” I said. Everyone ignored me. My life’s biggest fear was about to be realized: I’d be erased, forgotten, just like my father.
I screamed at the top of my lungs. Still, no response. I jumped up and down and clapped my hands with a force I didn’t know I was capable of. Nobody noticed.
“Chuck? Gina? Anybody?” I screamed. Nothing.
With Gina at work behind the espresso machine, I finally found myself in the mirror. I found the stranger’s eyes. I could feel a tear streaming down my face, the tear nowhere to be found in the reflection. My stare lingered, deep into the stranger’s eyes. I knew I was sobbing, yet the face that looked back at me was resolute, almost smiling.
Without moving his lips, the stranger spoke to me. “You’re reflected in,” he said, our eyes locked, “come all the way.”
“I don’t know what the hell you are talking about,” I said.
“Yes you do. Don’t be afraid. You’ve been here before, come to me.”
“No.” I said.
I had been there before, but I vowed never to go back.
It had been nearly ten years but I couldn’t forget the stranger’s eyes, no matter how hard I tried. People thought I was crazy when I told them what had happened. “The kid is in shock,” the doctor had said. The bystanders all nodded in agreement. I had told them exactly what happened: we were at my dad’s office to collect the mail when the fire started. We huddled behind his desk, my dad’s arms wrapped around me to protect me from the flames. My dad apologized over and over again, for getting us “in such a stupid mess.” A window gave way to the pressure inside, and just as the heat was about to consume us, I saw the stranger’s eyes reflecting at me in a chard of glass. The noise was unbearable. Without words, the stranger compelled me to reflect in. I held my dad’s arms, but he pushed me toward the glass, and screamed, “go, go, go.” I couldn’t be sure where I was supposed to go, until the stranger’s eyes told me. “Reflect in,” he said, “you belong here.”
There was calmness in his eyes, a peculiar familiarity, and with the fire all but surrounding us, a conviction settled over me. Without realizing it, I accepted the stranger’s invitation as if it made complete sense, as if it were rational. My dad apologized once more and as I reflected into the stranger’s eyes, I reached my hand back for my dad but he was gone, as was the building we huddled in.
I snapped out of the thought. That was then, a long time ago. It was a time I had tried hard to forget.
“Hello?” Still nothing. “Rowers club?”
I grabbed the cash register and yanked it free from the counter. The chatter in the coffee shop stopped, the world all of a sudden still. With as much force as I could manage, I threw the register at the mirror behind Gina.
Gina fell, a dazed look on her face as she shielded herself from the glass. The rowing crew stood dumbfounded, huddled together like their phones had just died and the boat they rowed in on had just been stranded on a deserted island.
They all looked at me.
“Sorry,” I said, “just wanted a coffee.” I walked around the counter. Gina hid in the corner, beneath her thousands of pieces of glass. “You okay?” It was a dumb question.
She looked at me like I was an alien. And I was. In the chards of glass at her feet, I found the stranger’s eyes. Just like that day so long ago, I relented to the calmness, the familiarity, the unspoken plea.
I reflected in.
That was yesterday, when I saw a stranger’s eyes.
Today, the eyes are mine.
Definitely interested in any feedback! I’ve never written any fantasy/sci-fiction pieces, but I really liked the idea of being able to jump into our reflections. Maybe its something somebody else has already written about? Either way, it was a really fun challenge this week, and maybe there is something to this story?!