In my middle age, I was the fortunate recipient of an unusual gift. The delivery men arrived at twilight one evening. One of them, very stern, had me sign his clipboard, while the other rolled a large crate out of the back of a van. A squat, cumbersome box.

Twilight is the time when the dusty mountains are struck obliquely by amber sunlight, dying rays refracted dreamily through airy lenses of drowsy honey. Commuters drift soundlessly, cocooned in their cars, over highways that push furiously through the mountains. Then, softly, the dusty earth tones of day transform into the orange onset of evening.

They left me there at my home overlooking the San Fernando Valley, twilight bleeding the last light out of the day.

I went inside to the living room where they had left the package. No sender named. The only message: “To William Shapely. For your birthday. Love C.” Perplexing. Who was C? True, that day had been my 44th birthday.

I stood and circled the package before bending down and pulling back a board. I felt around through the foam packaging, brushed it off something that glinted momentarily. It must be a mirror, a sick joke for my 44th birthday.

Looking up, I wondered if my eyes were so momentarily dazzled by the glint of mirror-light that I was seeing spots. A faint line, very faint, a gentle curve, floated in space before me. It had a slight lavender tinge. Was this a trick of the light from a window? I looked up and to the sides. There were more of these strings, abstract shapes hovering faintly in space.

I looked at the one directly before me again. I was looking at some kind of object like the outline of a hand. I took a step back and squinted, peered into the half-light. I froze.

Over the box stood a faint figure, an apparition. I tore away the remainder of the planks. A shinning, tinted disk lay on a bed of foam packaging. Before me, above the disk, stood a phantasm, a man.

He was me. This was an image of myself. The eyes, the whole visage, carried a look of serenity to the point of complacency. I circled him, myself, in awe, having never seen myself—not like this. Not from without...