Water on a mirror.

Every morning starts the same. You stand in front of a mirror. Take in the reflection of the person staring at you. Who is you and not you. Whose existence is defined by a rectangle of glass with fingerprint smudges and the specks of toothpaste residue dirtying the surface. Behind you—the you in the nowhere place of the mirror—is the fogged sliding glass door of this morning’s shower. You drew a heart in the condensation, but it melted into streams of water, losing shape and form. But that you in the mirror—he is all shape. All form. Made of substance. A someone. With brown eyes and dark-rimmed glasses. A someone with a tattoo of Buddha meditating in the tangled vines of chest hair. A someone you know and don’t. Carved from another someone. Your father. Your father existing in that nowhere space inside the mirror, too, your father who you miss dearly, seven years after his passing. The yearn you have for him, this dull ache of want, grows as time passes. Your father stares. You stare. He is everywhere on your face—the age spots that have come into existence at the point of a cheekbone. In the coarse fuzz on your jawline and chin. In the vertical creases deepening around your neck, like canyons that descend and disappear at the start of your clavicle. The last time you saw your father—the real him—was in Bangkok, on a weekend visit. You took a selfie with him at a dim sum restaurant, the last photo of the two of you. When you showed him the picture, you told him he was getting old. He laughed, and it was loud and high-pitched and made workers and patrons turn and stare. In that picture the skin at his neck was paper in wind, loose and sagging, like the red wattle of the rooster he loved telling you about—the hero in the folktale of the cockfight that won the country back from Burma centuries ago. And now, here your father is again, staring at you, a man you thought was born from lore himself, who could do no wrong until he did. When he left, you never forgave him until he passed. What resentment there was evaporated in an instant. Like that heart on the shower door. What remained was the sodden sand of guilt, a guilt you sift through, a guilt that is like a pebble in a shoe. You peer into that nowhere world. At him. This is what aging does. It reshapes. It reflects. It reminds. At some point, you will be there, too, that nowhere space, where all you can do is stare.

Or, every morning starts the same. You stand in front of a mirror. Take in the reflection of the person staring at you. Who is you and not you. Whose existence is defined by a rectangle of glass with fingerprint smudges and the specks of toothpaste residue dirtying the surface. Behind you—the you in the nowhere place of the mirror—is the fogged sliding glass door of this morning’s shower. Your son wrote hi on the glass the night before, and when the steam from the water condensed on the glass, the remnants of those two letters emerged like a ghostly message. A ghost—that’s what it feels like, watching him grow. In the mirror is a future him, a THICC him, a word he likes to say. Your wife says he looks nothing like her. He is all you. Brown eyes, a one-dimpled smile, a round face with cheeks that ruddy easily. At some point this older him will have a tattoo, perhaps many, like you, like the Buddha meditating in the tangled vines of chest hair, the one he pokes at to make sure you’re paying attention, to remind you he’s someone of substance and form. Your son. Your son existing in this world, this somewhere, the smell of him everywhere, of boy and dirt and the funk of sweat. It is as if he’s carved from the bark of your body. He stares. You stare. You tell him stories of how he came into being, that he hails from a lineage of kings who believed a rooster can decide the fate of a country. He points to the picture of a man he has never met, the one hanging on the wall next to the bed, a selfie of you and your father. You tell him who the man is. You’ve told him many times, so he finishes what you say. It’s his grandfather. He died when your son was one. Grandfather learned to swim in a river of piranhas. Your son says the man has a lot of skin on his neck, like canyons, like a chicken. You will inherit this, too, you say. Just wait. He shakes his head and laughs so loud his mother from another room asks what’s so funny. Then he pinches the skin of your face. Hard. You let him. This intimacy won’t last. What he feels for you will change—is already changing—which brings a sorrow so deep it feels like a cleaving. This is what time does. It takes. It tempers. It taunts. At some point, he will stand in front of the mirror, gazing into that nowhere space, and what he’ll see is you—long gone—staring at him.


Photo by Rainbow International, used and adapted under CC.