It's All Done With Mirrors

It's All Done With Mirrors

"What the hell is that thing?!?" In spite of herself, Janet couldn’t help but laugh as she watched her husband struggling to drag what appeared to be an old-fashioned phone booth through the front door of their house. "What, are you collecting phone booths now?"

"Oh, honey, wait’ll you see this, you’re gonna love it." George said, over his shoulder, still struggling with his burden.

Janet sighed. She’d heard THAT before. She ought to have been used to this kind of thing by now, yet she somehow always managed to be surprised by the latest crazy gadget her husband brought home.

George loved to tinker with old gadgets; in the seven years of his marriage to Janet, he’d brought home one crazy contraption after another, to fix up, modify or otherwise monkey around with. Their garage was packed from floor to rafters with George’s discarded projects from the past, not one of which he ever managed to get in working order before losing interest in it, once a new contraption caught his eye. Looking over the ungainly object now lying across the threshold of the front door, Janet feared the worst.

"But what IS it?" she said.

"It’s…uh…" he paused, smiling, as if embarrassed to speak it aloud. Janet stared at him expectantly. "It’s a disappearing cabinet!" he said finally.

"All right. How about making it disappear right now?"

"No, you silly!" George laughed, the sarcastic tone in his wife’s voice sailing right over his head, as it always did. "I mean the cabinet makes stuff disappear! You know, like in a magic show!"

Janet closed her eyes and sighed. "So. You’re going into the magic profession now? The thrill, glamour and excitement of tinkering with useless junk has finally worn off?"

"No, no…" George replied. "But I got this thing for practically nothing at the flea market, because it doesn’t work—" He saw that Janet was about to voice an objection, so he hastily continued. "I mean, something’s busted on it. So all I have to do is fix it, get it working like new again, and I can sell it to a magician or a carnival or something." He continued to pull and tug at the thing. "Uh, honey, could you hold the door? Thanks."

"Can’t we talk this over?" Janet said.

"No, no, really, this’s beautiful, you’re gonna love it. Get the door, will ya sweetie?"

Janet rolled her eyes. I’m married to a lunatic, she thought. She had been playing the role of the patient, long-suffering wife for so long, it was now second nature to her. She walked over and patiently held the door.

After much struggling, George finally managed to drag the cabinet through the doorway and into the garage, which served as his workshop. (Going through the garage door was out of the question, as the garage was so jammed with junk that passage through it was almost impossible.) Once George stood the cabinet upright, Janet was able to get a better look at it.

It did, in fact, somewhat resemble an old-fashioned telephone booth, roughly about the same size and shape, although slightly narrower, with a clear glass window in the front of it. But it had a wooden frame, and was painted in bright, sparkling glittering colors. And it only had a window on one side of it, which Janet assumed was the front of the thing. Inside were a series of tubular lights and angled, half-silvered mirrors. Janet was no expert on the subject, but she could tell by looking at the contraption that it appeared to be very old, with old, out-dated wiring and electrical connections. "Are you sure this thing is safe?" she asked.

"Of course it is, of course it is," George reassured her. "Besides, I’m going to get it all fixed up like new. Wait’ll you see it, it’ll be great."

"How does it work?"

"Well, the subject, that is the volunteer, steps inside, and the door is closed behind them. The audience can see the subject through this window in front. Then the operator turns the dials on this remote control, and this set of lights gradually dims out," he pointed to one set of lights inside the cabinet. "While this other set go up. The effect, from the audience’s point of view, is that the lighting stays the same, but the subject disappears! Then you just reverse the process: You bring these lights down while simultaneously bringing these lights up. See? Simple."

Frankly, Janet had her doubts, but she kept them to herself. "If you say so," she said, turning to leave the garage and her husband to play with his new toy.

For the remainder of the week and the following weekend, George continued to tinker with the cabinet, running new wires through and installing new connectors and other fixtures. However, he was unable to find an exact match for the light-control device. He assumed it was simply a pair of linked variable resistors, yet he could not find anything even remotely similar to it in any of the electrical-supply retailers he checked. He finally gave up on trying to find a replacement, and decided to just use the original.

After a week and a half, George finally managed to get the cabinet in working order. When he plugged in the electrical cord, the lights went on and when he turned the knob, they faded on and off, just as they were supposed to. It works! he thought, delighted.

Almost. Because he still needed to see it work with a person inside, to see if the illusion would look convincing to an audience. He went indoors and called his wife. He again explained to her the principle behind the illusion, and asked her to be the subject, to see how it would look. She still had her doubts, however.

"Don’t worry," George told her, "There’s nothing to it; it’s all done with mirrors. And tricky lighting, of course."

Which brought up another concern that Janet had: she was worried about the old wiring that she’d noticed when George had first brought the cabinet home. She didn’t want to get electrocuted, she pointed out. George assured her that he’d replaced all the wiring and connections, and that there was nothing to worry about. After further reassurances, she finally agreed to step into the cabinet.

She stepped inside, facing the glass window, while George closed the door behind her. Once inside, she was able to get a look around. It was bright in there, with the tube lighting in front of her and over her head. She looked around and saw the angled half-silvered mirrors that came to a point just in front of her nose, and she saw a second set of lights, now off, on the other side of the mirrors.

"All set in there?" asked George, who now stood in front of the cabinet, facing his wife through the clear glass window. He held the control box in his hand.

"Ready as I’ll ever be, I guess." She answered.

"Okay, here goes." George slowly turned the knobs, watching the cabinet all the while. He knew that, as he had explained to Janet, even though the lighting inside the cabinet would change, to an observer the lighting would appear to remain constant. So far, it did. In fact, it almost looked at first as though nothing was happening at all, and he wondered if the light-control device was functioning properly. Then he noticed that Janet seemed to be fading away. He could see through her face to the back of the cabinet, or rather, that’s how it appeared. He knew that it was only the reflection of the interior sides of the cabinet, reflecting on the angled mirrors. Yet the illusion was so perfect that it looked real.

He turned the knobs the rest of the way, and Janet faded from view completely.

"Are you all right in there?" George asked.

"Of course. What’s supposed to be happening? The lights in here are changing around, but that’s all."

George chuckled with delight. "From out here, I can’t see you at all! You’ve disappeared!"

"So it works?"

"It works!"

"So can I get out of this thing now? It’s getting hot in here."

"Wait a minute, let me bring you back." George started turning the knobs again, when all of a sudden, sparks flew from the control box, smoke curled from its insides, and an acrid smell filled the air. The lights inside the cabinet flickered, dimmed, then went out. Instinctively, George reached around and pulled the electrical plug out of the outlet, before a fuse blew. He swore as he fanned away the smoke.

"What the hell happened?" asked Janet inside the cabinet.

"Oh, this stupid thing must’ve shorted out! Damn! It was working so well for a while there, too."

"Can I get out of here now?"

"Yeah, you can come out."

The door at the back of the cabinet opened…and then closed. George looked up, but didn’t see Janet. Where is she? he wondered. He looked at the darkened cabinet; he didn’t see her inside. He looked all around the cluttered garage. He didn’t see her anywhere. Was she hiding someplace? "Janet?" he said. "Where are you? Where did you go?"

"Stop with the jokes, I’m right here." said a voice close to George.

George jumped back about a foot. How the…? The voice sounded just like Janet’s…and yet it seemed to come from out of thin air! What the hell was going on here? "Where…?" he said, peering intently in the direction the voice seemed to come from.

"I just said, right here!" the voice said again, now closer, and more insistent.

"I don’t see you."

"What, are you blind or something? I’m right in front of you!"

George continued to stare at the air in front of him, with widening eyes. Beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. "Janet, this isn’t funny! I don’t know how you’re doing it, but it isn’t funny! Now stop fooling around! Where are you hiding?"

"George, I’m not in the mood for games!"

It WAS Janet’s voice! She sounded like she WAS right in front of him…but there was nobody there! Cautiously, he reached his hands out, in the direction the voice seemed to come from. Suddenly, his fingers touched what felt like a sweater…but there was nothing there to be seen! He poked and prodded it, and it felt solid (well, sort of) as though there were a person underneath, and yet there was absolutely nothing visible to the eye. "What the hell are you doing?" Janet’s indignant voice said. George pulled his hand away as if he had burned it on a hot stove.

George gasped, his eyes opened until they looked as though they would pop right out of his skull. "Oh my god, oh my god!!!" he said, stepping back. "Janet! You…you’ve disappeared! I mean REALLY disappeared, for REAL! I can’t see you! I can’t see you at all! You’re invisible!"

"George, if you study my face closely, you’ll notice I’m not laughing."

"Janet, I’m serious! Go look in the mirror if you don’t believe me!"

A silence followed for a minute or two, then the sound of a woman gasping, followed by a loud cry came from the vicinity of a cracked, dust-covered full-length mirror in the corner of the garage. "My god!" cried Janet. "George! What have you done to me?!? I’m GONE, completely GONE!!!"

"I didn’t do anything, I mean…" George repeated. "I mean, you’re NOT gone, not really, you’re HERE, you’re just…you’re just…invisible…"

"DUH! Tell me something I DON’T know! What the hell happened?!?"

"I don’t know, I don’t—" George faltered for a moment. "My god, the cabinet! It must’ve been that disappearing cabinet! It’s NOT just an illusion; it’s for REAL! It REALLY TRULY makes people disappear!"

"But that’s impossible!"

"Look in the mirror; does it look impossible to you?"

George watched in awe as the thick coating of dust on the mirror was wiped away by unseen fingers, leaving a clear spot in the middle. There was a long silence, followed by a tremendous sigh of disgust. "Terrific, that’s just terrific!" Janet said, exasperated. "That’s just great!!" She paused, for several minutes, taking deep breaths to try to remain calm. "Well?" she said, with tension still evident in her voice. "What am I supposed to do? Is this thing permanent or what? Can you bring me back?"

"I don’t know…the circuitry looks pretty well fried. I don’t know if I can fix it--"

"Well, can you at least TRY?!? PEASE?!?" She sounded on the verge of hysteria.

"I will, I will," George said, trying to reassure her. He reached his hands out, hoping to hold her and comfort her. He was trying to guess at her location, but it was difficult, as she was now silent. "Janet, say something so I can find you," he said, as he took a step forward with hands outstretched.

"OUCH!!" Janet cried, as George jabbed her in the stomach. "Will you please be more careful?"

"Sorry," George cautiously reached his hands around Janet’s back and held her close to him, comforting her. "It’ll be all right," he said. "I’ll get it fixed somehow, don’t worry.

For the next week and a half, George worked day and night on the control box for the disappearing cabinet. When he first opened it up, however, he was dismayed to discover that the circuitry involved was completely unlike anything he had ever seen or worked with before. He had no idea what it was supposed to look like even when it was in proper working order. He continued to tinker with it anyway, even though he felt as though he were doing little more than guessing at it.

While George worked on the repairs, Janet stayed inside the house most of the time, afraid to venture outdoors. At least, at first she did. As time went on however, she began to get curious to see what it felt like to walk around in public invisible. She started to venture outside, timidly at first, then gradually becoming bolder. It was a little scary for her at first, but in time, she got more used to it, and she began to relax. By the end of the week, she had no qualms at all about going outside and wandering about in her unseen state.

She began to go for long walks, while she pondered her unusual situation. The more she thought about it, however, the less terrible it now seemed to be. In fact, it now seemed to open many new doors for her. As she walked around unseen, she began to feel…different somehow. Different from the other people around her and different from the person she had once been. She now felt like a new person. As she pondered these thoughts, all sorts of new possibilities began to occur to her, possibilities that she never would have thought of before…

The day finally came when George had completed all the repairs that he thought he could manage. If this doesn’t work, he thought, then it’s beyond my power to repair it. But if it does work, there’s no telling how LONG it’ll work. He had just one chance to use the device; he knew full well that the circuitry could easily short itself out a second time, perhaps permanently. He therefore needed to make every second count.

He prepared the cabinet for use one final time, and then called to his wife. "Janet?" he said. "Will you come out here please? I think I’ve got this thing fixed."

The door to the garage opened and closed by itself. The sight of that was so creepy! He knew that it was only Janet, but it still spooked him to see it. "Janet?" he said. "This thing is ready to go now, I think. Are you ready?"


"Janet? Are you there?" Maybe he was mistaken; he thought. Maybe she was out here all the time and she just went IN. After all, how could he tell?

Finally, her voice spoke from out of thin air. "Yes, I’m here." she said.

"Oh. Okay. Are you ready?"

Another long silence followed before Janet spoke. "You know George, I’ve been thinking it over. Now that I’ve had a chance to get used to it, I think I like being invisible. I think I’ll just stay this way for a while."

"Come on, honey, stop kidding around."

"No, I’m serious. I have a rather unique opportunity here, you know. Too good an opportunity to pass up. This invisibility could even be fun! For me at least, anyway."

"What are you saying?"

"I just mean that, when life throws you a lemon, why not make lemonade?"

She was silent for a while, then her voice seemed to move around the garage as she spoke. "You know, I’ve always wanted to be more assertive…and now I can be! After all, I’ve got an ‘edge’ now!" she giggled. "Let’s see now… What to do, what to do… Well, to start with, I think you’re going to get rid of all this junk out here…"

"Janet…! Honey…!"

"…You’re going to clean out this garage completely so that we can get the car back in here again…"

"Honey…Can’t we talk this over?"

"And no more tinkering with useless gadgets, that stops right now! From now on, you’ll spend your time on something worthwhile, like fixing a few things around here."


"George!" she said, firmly. "I think you’d better realize that from now on, I’LL decide how things are going to be around here." She laughed, "And I don’t think you’re in a position to argue about it…are you?" She paused, savoring the stunned look on her husband’s face before going on. "I wasn’t so sure at first, but now I think I’m REALLY going to enjoy this!" she chuckled. "Now then, where was I? Oh yes, after you clean out the garage, then you can start fixing some things around here. Let’s see, the roof needs new shingles, and the drainpipes need to be fixed. And oh, the screen door on the back porch has been broken for a long time…"