"Sorry Gino, this is all my fault. I should've picked a nice Italian
girl, not a Jew broad like your mother. Then we wouldn't be in this mess.
Course, then you wouldn't be you, you'd be someone else."
That's my dad waxing philosophical as he honked his way through Cid West
traffic. On the passenger's side, my mom ignored the comment. She was too
busy leafing through the monstrous tome of our insurance plan, trying to figure
out whether my particular "problem" might be covered. They were
taking me to the ophthalmologist, or optometrist, or whichever one costs more.
"I love you with all my heart," she said, a knee-jerk response
she often uses for whatever she might have missed.
"Is it covered, Polly?" my dad asked.
"How should I know," she said, "this thing is impossible to
"Is it happening now, Gino?" my dad did a half turn in his seat
so he could both drive and intimidate me at the same time. "Cause we
don't have to go if..."
"We're going," she said, forcefully. "We're going and I don't
care how much it costs."
"Just answer the question, kid."
I'd have rather shut my mouth. Actually, I'd have rather slunk out through
the exhaust pipe and ran all the way home. Or better yet, gone back in time
and kept myself from telling my mom about this stupid problem so that I wouldn’t
be going through this right now.
"Well?" he insisted.
"Answer your father." Thanks mom.
I finally replied, "I told you, it only happens in mirrors."
"Mirrors?" he tasted the word. "Well give the damn kid your
damn make-up mirror so he can..."
"I don't carry one, you know I don't carry one, because I don't wear
a lot of make-up!. We're going, we're going, we're going. That's all there
is to it."
"Jesus Christ," he shouted. "Forget it. We're here anyway."
Cid West is one of the few parts of New Rome where a person can, with real
patience and persistence, actually find a place to park on the street. That's
because all the people who live and work around there are too rich to bother.
The super rich use chauffeurs or helipads, and for everybody else there's
the subterranean parking structures with armed guards and valet parkers. As
we circled looking for a spot, I watched the reflection of our car driving
by in the mirrored windows of the huge office building that took up the entire
block; I could just make out my miserable face glaring back at me.
Following a first-rate parallel, my dad walked off to find a lotto store
leaving my mom and I to navigate the labyrinthine building and find the ophthalmologist’s
posh office on our own. Thank God for small favors.
The doctor had leathery skin with a grayish hue, and his fingers looked far
too stubby to work on my fragile eyeballs. Nonetheless, he sat me down on
a stiff chair that reclined just far enough back that I felt completely helpless
before he asked me, "What seems to be the problem, young man?"
"It's nothing," I grumbled.
"Tell him Gino!"
"Well..." I tried to find something to look at besides my frowning
mother and this disinterested stranger, but all I could see were sadistic
instruments and an eerie portrait of an eye that looked as though it had been
stolen from behind the make-up counter of a department store. "It's not
a big deal or anything, I just... we just wanted to know what it was. My mom
worries too much." Why couldn't she just wait outside?
"So what is it?" asked the doctor.
"When I look into a mirror, I see kind of an outline around people,
like a shadow, a faded outline."
"Yeah. Sometimes around things too, but it's different, weaker, more
faded, and the colors are always the same." I felt so stupid just talking
"Well," he said carefully, "hmm... I would like to do a full
examination first, then we will discuss the possibilities. Put your chin on
this right here, please."
"This right here" turned out to be some kind of shiny torture device,
and although I was pretty sure it would suck out my eye jelly, I obeyed the
"So you're fourteen, hmm?" He asked in a lame attempt at idle chitchat
while he pried inside my eyes.
"And a half," volunteered my mom. "He's due for a growth spurt
soon enough, then we can throw away all those silly clothes."
My mom is always giving me crap about my clothes. At school, we all have
to wear the same stupid thing: a khaki shirt, black pants, and a black tie.
We look like an army of pubescent waiters. So when I'm out of school I like
to wear fun stuff, express myself a little. That day I had on my "I am
the Evil Twin" t-shirt, some faded jeans that dragged a little on the
floor, black boots and these cool skull laces I got at Hot Topic. I also had
a leather wrist band with a zipper pocket, a ring, and a gold chain (I'm half
Italian, so screw you). I'm kind of like shopping mall punk, I guess. No piercings,
tattoos, that kind of stuff, just enough to make me feel alive. I have short
spiky black hair, and during long vacations I like to grow a beard. When school’s
in though I have to shave. I look twelve years old without my beard.
"You know," said the doctor, "the eyes are the windows to
the soul." Where does my mom find these people?
"I thought that was the stomach," she said.
"No," I said, "the way to a man’s heart is through his
stomach." Holy fuck, who just said that? I looked around. Nope, nobody
there to beat me up, I’d have to do it myself.
The doctor shot a burst of compressed air at my eyes, but I blinked before
it could possibly have done its job. He didn't do it again though, so I figured
he didn't really care. He was just putting on a show for my mom. After his
examination he asked me a few more questions about what I saw in the mirror
and nodded while I spoke as if it all made sense.
"The technical term for what you are seeing," he said, "is
an aura. It's nothing... mmm... mystical, it is just a second reflection.
You see, mirrors are made with a layer of glass and a layer of reflective
metal. The second reflection you see is from the second layer in the mirror,
that is all. The only odd thing about it is that... mmm... humans don't typically
"What do you mean, humans don't see it?" my mom interjected.
"I mean I have never heard of a case where a human being was able to
see it, but it is really nothing to worry about. It is not a dangerous condition
at all. Some mirrors are made without that second layer, they are just highly
polished silver, or fused quartz, or other materials, but they are much more
expensive. This mirror here," he indicated a tiny surface on his instrument, "has
only one layer. If you looked into this, you would not see the aura. Otherwise,
everything checks out, his eyes are in fine shape, although he is very slightly
"That's where you can't read?" my mother was horrified.
"No, that is where you have difficulty seeing distance, watching movies,
for example, or driving, but as I said it is only slightly, there is no need
to get lenses just yet. Perhaps in a couple years when he gets his learners
"So I just have to get used to seeing double in the mirror? You can't
He took a long breath before coming up with his clearly ignorant reply, "It
may go away. Maybe you will stop paying attention to it. In any rate, it is
That out of the way, my mom quickly reverted to business. "So will our
insurance cover this visit?"
She followed the doctor out into the hallway and I was left alone in the
examination room. I found that special mirror he'd pointed out a few minutes
ago, the one with only one layer. I held up my finger and sure enough, there
was my aura, just as I’d seen it in other mirrors, only this time there
was a slight bluish tint.
That doctor was full of shit. I had to find some answers on my own.
Living in New Rome automatically makes you about three degrees cooler than
everybody else in the country. It's ridiculously expensive, there's a complete
lack of nature, and everybody's crammed together like crayons, but it still
seems almost worth it. Our apartment is on the East End Jut, a development
built on land-fill. There's the classic, cool, expensive, beautiful East End;
then there's the Jut. It's not so bad, a quick walk to the old brownstones,
yuppie coffee shops, and endless garbagey stores on the narrow cobbled roads
of the East End. Ours are just big brick buildings that advertised views of
the harbor but really just look out onto other big brick buildings. The only
really nice thing about the Jut is that in the center of it all is a massive
Entertainment Complex with movie theatres, bowling alleys, pool halls, and
one of those huge bookstores where you can sit all day, read magazines, books,
whatever, and never actually buy anything.
So I spent the rest of my Saturday there, sitting on the floor of the bookstore,
drinking coffee (which I got from a cheaper deli outside), and leafing through
a pile of what I now know to be dumb, commercial, and way-off books on mysticism,
the occult, auras, and all that crap. The only thing I really learned was
that I was in the wrong place if I wanted to actually figure anything out.
I got some of the basic definitions down, and one book came very close to
describing what I actually saw. In "Mysteries of the Mystics Explained" by
Doctor Bullshit Artist or something like that, it said "an aura is a
colored emanation that surrounds all individuals and can be perceived by a
Medium. By noting variations in the hues of a person's aura, the Medium is
able to describe a person's personality, needs, and illnesses. The shriveling
of the aura is considered a sign of an impending death." I took a quick
trip to the bathroom after reading that, to make sure mine hadn't shriveled.
I'd spent so much time there I was almost late for dinner. I wasn't eager
to sit at the table with my family. The car ride home had been awkward enough.
"So the doctor said that humans can't see it?" asked my dad.
"So Gino's making it up. You're making it up. I wasted half my Saturday
on this bullshit."
We'd just finished our matzo ball soup so I cleared away the bowls while
mom set out a tray of manicotti. To my relief, the conversation strayed for
a while away from me.
Later, I did a search online about auras but couldn't begin to sift through
all the garbage that popped up. If the internet was ever useful, now it's
just a huge waste of time for anyone who’s not looking for porn. I searched
through the online yellow pages and found seven possibilities under the category "Book
Dealers: Metaphysics Mystic, etc." Some of them had websites. I clicked
on them and found one with a single page, text only, very unpretentious and
therefore more convincing than the others. If it had shown blinking crystal
ball icons or java tarot cards I probably would've closed it right away. But
all it said was:
"New Rome Tomes. Specializing in theosophy, anthroposophy, the occult,
varieties of mysticism. Buy & sell ancient and rare texts, out of print
selections. Experts on staff. Open occasionally, but never after 5."
It was way after five so I printed the page and stuck it in my bag. The next
day I headed over there. My mom still gets nervous about me going around the
city alone so I told her I was going to spend a few hours in the bookstore
again. That was technically true, I just didn't mention which bookstore.
New Rome Tomes was in Cidso East, a quick trip from my neighborhood but a
world unto itself. The bus let me off right in front of a storefront so plastered
with graffiti that it had to be a management choice. The only legible sign
read "Daycare for Grownups," but a flickering neon Guinness tipped
me off that it was actually a bar. Right next to that was a brick townhouse
with a lush garden in the shade of a tall tree. The neighborhood continued
like that, contradictions everywhere: bars, clubs, black box theatres, cabarets,
strip clubs, and more bars mixed in with tree-lined townhouses and expensive
white tablecloth restaurants. Overall it’s a pretty rough place, but
I was making my solo visit on a Sunday afternoon, and the most offensive things
I came across were a foul-mouthed woman using the brail method of parking
and a homeless guy leaning against a bike rack and mumbling to whoever passed
I had to walk right by him on my way to the store, and the smell that wafted
up was less than pleasant: kitchen garbage with just a hint of piss. I noticed,
though, as I walked by, that his shopping cart—packed to overflowing
with black-bagged mystery objects—was padlocked and chained to the bike
rack. The man was possessive of his junk.
I skirted around him and walked up to the store. The iron grate was down
and the inside was dark. I couldn’t see past the grimy windows. The
website hadn’t mentioned that they were closed on Sundays, but that
wasn’t too surprising. Since there wasn’t anything else in the
neighborhood I could legally or morally do with my time, I headed back home.
The next day, right after school, I hopped on a bus and went across town
only to find that the store was closed. Just after three o’clock on
a Monday and it was closed.
"You were here yesterday." Normally, a stranger sneaking up on
me in the middle of the street, particularly a bum that by my estimation was
nearly seven feet tall, would scare a white streak into my hair. But his odor
gave me a little forewarning, and his voice was so pitiful that I couldn’t
be too frightened of him.
"Yes," I replied. I turned to get a better look at him. I could
tell by his entirely red outfit that it was the same man I saw yesterday sleeping
by the bike rack. Or at least, I thought he had been sleeping.
"They’re not open on Sundays," he offered.
"I noticed." I was really trying not to be sarcastic, which can
be difficult for me. But I wanted to avoid headlines such as, "Boy Provokes
Insane Hobo—Gets Stabbed In Ear."
"They’re not open now," he continued.
I managed to squeeze out a very straightforward and not condescending, "I
The following day, I took the same route but I approached the store carefully.
I wanted to avoid another protracted conversation with that freaky guy who
seems to live on the sidewalk around there.
"You have to be persistent. Never let them see you coming." How
the hell did he sneak up on me? The store was dark again, and I’d been
searching the window for some hint of their hours. Just like yesterday, he
was wearing all red. Not that I expected him to change. If I kept my whole
life wrapped up in a shopping cart, I probably wouldn’t bother with
too many changes of clothes either.
"Are they still in business?" I asked.
"Can’t make much money if they’re never open."
"They’re open all the time."
"Apparently," I said, that time failing to check my sarcasm.
"You just missed her. They have a select clientele."
"A select clientele?" I asked.
He brought his lips so close to my ear that wisps of his beard tickled me
as he whispered, "I think she doesn’t like you."
"Thanks," I said, and I headed home.
I swore the next day that this was the last time I was going to try. I had
to stay after school for a mandatory study session, but I was back on the
bus by four. "I give up!" I cried when I found myself facing the
iron gates once again.
"You’re late. I was worried."
I wasn’t even startled this time. In fact, I shocked myself when I
replied, "I had to stay after school."
"Didn’t get in trouble, did you? You look like a good boy."
"No, just this study thing we have to do sometimes." What the hell
was going on? They’re just supposed to shake their cups at you while
you walk by and pretend they don’t exist. This guy hadn’t even
asked me for a quarter yet.
I was really drowsy while sitting in Earth Science the next day listening
to Mr. Rabinowitz drone on about igneous intrusions. With my eyes half open,
I was completely relaxed and my vision blurred. Everything got kind of pixilated,
like a poor quality photo. Colors bled into each other, maybe because of my
watery eyes. But while I stared dumbly at the head of the girl in front of
me, I saw a pattern just like what I see in the mirror: a glowing outline
of the person before me. I looked around the room and while the rest of the
world took on a gray, dull, ashen appearance, I saw the same bright glow emanating
from all the students. Everyone's was different, too: the colors, strengths,
But then I looked up at Mr. Rabinowitz. The shape around his body was withered
and gray, bleeding into the dullness of the rest of the world. I was suddenly
fighting nausea. A sense of dread welled up in me, a miserable feeling, so
much that I got up and ran towards the bathroom. I didn't make it; I puked
in the hall right outside my very own locker.
I accomplished one thing by puking in the hallway. Well, two, if you count
pissing off the janitor who had to cover it in sawdust then mop it up. They
sent me home halfway through second period. My parents weren't home to answer
the phone, but since I live pretty close they said I could just walk. The
moment I stepped out of the school I headed straight for the bus, and by 10:30AM
I was outside the bookstore in Cidso East. The gates were raised and on the
inside of the glass door hung a faded sign that read, "Open." I
reached for the door before anyone could slam down the metal gate and before
I could get sucked into another conversation with that strange guy.
The door opened with a friendly jingle but when I stepped inside, the woman
at the counter said, "Dammit. I thought you gave up?"
"Look, why don't you damn Goth punk brat kids go to the mall?! We don't
sell Wicca broomsticks or 'I hate God' bumper stickers here, ok? Now leave,
"I'm not looking for bumper stickers, I'm looking for books. Isn't this
If it wasn't for her nasty attitude I might've thought she was pretty. She
had red hair that was black at the roots, but it looked strangely cool. The
counter was waist high, but everything above the waist seemed in good order
(by which I mean she had very nice tits).
"Well, let's get this over with," she said. "What are you
looking for, exactly? By the way, I’m up here."
She caught me looking. "Sorry," I said, sheepishly. "I'd rather
just browse myself, thanks." It was at that moment that I first had the
chance to look around the store, which was so cramped with books and unidentifiable
objects that it looked as though everything had been shoveled in place. The
aisles were so narrow you'd have to shimmy sideways through them.
"Browse, he wants to browse. Why me? Fine, have fun, take your time.
We close in ten
With one minute to spare I found something promising. Way in the back there
was a glass case, behind which were a series of leather bound tomes. I almost
skipped over them because there was a book about something called "Tantric
Massage" obscuring them, but luckily I took a second look. They were
ancient, or appeared to be, and that made them all the more appealing. Actually,
very few of the books in the store had an ISBN number; they all seemed to
be pretty old. This one was dusty and cracked, and even the language had kind
of an "olde English" feel to it. It was still legible though. Entitled, "Decyfering
the Aura," it read like a manual in interpreting the visual manifestation
of the aura. In the center, there was even a drawing which captured pretty
much what I see when I look in the mirror, and what I saw when I spaced out
in class today.
I placed it on the counter and took out my wallet. The salesgirl stood there
and looked at me as if I'd just puked on her shoes. "Why do you want
this book?" she asked.
"Just for research, school, nothing..."
"Really..." her eyes narrowed. "We barter at this store. I'll
give you this book if I can have that leather wrist-band you're wearing."
Again, weird. "Thanks," I said, "but I'd rather just pay for
"Ok," she said, cheerfully, "that'll be... 3000 dollars please.
And we only take cash."
"You're crazy," I cried.
"Forget it. Goodbye," I said, leaving the book on the counter and
walking towards the door.
"I really like your wristband," she called after me.
"Fine," I spat, turning around. I knew where to get another one
just like it anyway. "Here." I unclasped it and set it on the counter.
She quickly scooped it up and clutched it tightly in her hands. This lady
was really freaking me out so I didn’t wait for her to offer me a bag
or receipt, I just grabbed the book and headed for the door.
"What's your name?" she called after me.
"Why?" I asked.
"Thank you! I just have a few little questions before you leave. Again,
why did you choose this book."
"A school project."
She seemed to enjoy my response. She asked, "How long have you known
that you're a Medium?"
"What are you talking about? I wear a small."
"Sometimes that's how it begins. But reflections can be deceptive. The
book will explain all about that. But tell me, how clearly do you see them?"
"See what?" As much as I wanted to dart out of the store I couldn’t
help but stay to find out what the hell was going on. It was as if she was
pulling answers out of my head.
"Impressive, a lot of Mediums can't do that well when they're trying
at it. Fifth question, last one I promise..."
"Look, this is... thanks for the book but you're freaking me out, later." I
turned to the door.
"Last question: where do you live?"
"Goodbye," I said, reaching for the door handle.
"Be seeing you, Gino."