Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 122 in March, 2010.
Sharon was happy she'd broken up with Carlo; she needed her space; he'd flunked out of his quantum engineering program—what am I supposed to write my thesis on, he griped, that some asshole hasn't written before—and he'd since been bad about respecting her space. He lounged on the black corner couch until the leather balled and stank, frowning as his pixel warrior jumped platforms on the TV and dodged crowds of pixel beasts, approaching its pixel goal. Why had Sharon liked Carlo in the first place? Because he'd reminded her of that memorable First Boy back in high school, Michael was his name, back in the days when Sharon had spent four hours painting naked girls with fixed, psychotic eyes and no smiles looking out of the canvas; she was a serious artist, and she'd been in love with Michael, his jawline, his black hair and drum-tight ribs and his serious nature, and he'd broken her heart, and she'd gone into advertising. Carlo and Michael shared a jawline and some delicacy to them: some sense that they were men trapped in crow's nests, the full force of the wind so high above deck and always whacking them in the face. His face was sullen on top of the black leather couch, his controller resting on the knees of his plaid pajama pants.
— Where do you think you'll go when you move out, she asked.
— I can't move out, Carlo said. — There aren't any jobs worthy of a quantum engineer.
— You flunked out of quantum engineering school, said Sharon. — So you're not a quantum engineer. You're a waste of my food and water. Why don't you get a job that's not worthy of a quantum engineer? You could make tacos. You could hand out leaflets.
— In the nineteenth century I would have been a great man, said Carlo, frowning at his controller. — I have it in me to be a great man, Sharon.
— Get out of here by tomorrow, she said, and she went into her bedroom.
She had two kinds of furniture. Most of it was simple Scandinavian stuff that she bought, piece by piece, to replace the old nautical-looking hand-me-downs she'd moved to the city with after college: the bed, with its giant, knotty headboard, was the worst offender, but also the most expensive to replace. On the wall hung her painting of a psychotic girl staring at the viewer. She stared back at it and stuck out her tongue, and she tried not to hear the sound of Carlo's pixel warrior dying again in the living room.
Carlo sold everything he owned and he bought a lot of equipment—Van de Graaf generator-looking things, octuple-bound snakes of fiber-optic and Cat 5 cables, revolving pocket particle accelerators that thrummed when they spun on their flywheels like ancient rattling washing machines you could never turn off. He spent the whole day wiring in resistors, testing switches, putting alligator clamp A onto terminal rod B.
Sharon found it all when she got home from work at the agency; she could hear the rattle and hum through her front door. She dropped her grocery bags in the hall, kicked off her shoes, scratched one hose-bound calf with a hose-bound toe. The humming was tearing apart the walls and ceiling and she pressed her fingers into her temples.
— Turn that shit off, Carlo, she called. No answer.
His room was full of machines; no Carlo to be found. She grumbled and went around yanking out plugs and breaking connections, tripping over cord protectors and shocking her fingers on clips, until she tripped the right switch and the whole apparatus went silent; the particle accelerators lurched to a stop. She looked at all of the crap now infesting her back bedroom.
— Unbelievable, she said. — Just unbelievable.
She went into the bathroom to brush her hair on the wooden stool in front of the mirror; it always calmed her down. There was a smear across her face in the mirror: someone's fingerprints had spelled out the word ALL. She Windexed it away.
— Unbelievable, she said again.
She sat on the toilet, chin in her hands, and thought about bitterly about the meeting of the creative staff from earlier that day; everyone had a damn opinion. When she flushed and got up to leave the mirror was fingerprint-smeared again. WALLS, it said.
Surely she would have noticed someone coming into the bathroom.
— Carlo? she whispered. — Are you—in the apartment?
Her voice echoed off the tiles.
Then more fingerprints appeared on the mirror like breath on a windowpane.
I MOVED INTO THE WALLS
— How? she whispered. — Oh God—Carlo? Can you—hear me?
OF COURSE SHARON. I USED ACCELERATORS. ITS A POCKET DIMENSION. SO MUCH SPACE HERE
— Carlo— did you hear me go to the bathroom? Sharon asked.
SHARON ITS FANTASTIC. THERES SO MUCH SPACE IN HERE. THERES NOTHING BUT FIELDS IN EVERY DIRECTION. THERES NOTHING BUT SPACE, AND ALL OF IT IS MINE
They settled into a routine. Sharon would get home and there'd be a fingerprinted essay waiting for her on the mirror. Mostly Carlo described what he had been doing, his letters cramping as he tried to fit more and more into the limited space. (She'd Windex his words away, starting from the top; his prose would chase the paper towel in her hand.) One day he built a well of some kind to harvest nutrient paste out of the amethyst earth of his secret dimension. The next day he'd photographed the arcs of energy that broke from the rock and circled his homestead. He made lists of birds and plants and charts of all the new arrangements of stars.
SHARON ARE YOU WRITING ALL THIS DOWN. I NEED YOU TO WRITE IT DOWN AND THEN MAYBE EDIT IT AND PROOF IT AND WE CAN SELL IT TO A SCIENTIFIC JOURNAL. FAME AND MONEY SHARON FOR US BOTH
— What do you even need money for, she said. — Do they use money, there? Or do you think you should be paying part of the rent or something?
WRITE IT DOWN YOU HAVE TO WRITE IT DOWN ARE YOU WRITING IT DOWN?
At first, she did, and later she just smoked on the stool and wiped away his fingerprints as soon as they showed up.
Sometimes he'd get quiet, or invisible, she guessed, and she'd be able to do her business and take showers. She was still squeamish about the shower. She'd pull the curtain shut with her clothes still on, take everything off and drape it over the rod, shower, and put everything back on, then open the curtain and come out. Sometimes there'd be no message waiting for her; sometimes there would be.
WHY DONT YOU TRUST ME SHARON
— Because we broke up, she said. — This is very uncomfortable for me, Carlo.
THAT WAS BEFORE ALL OF THIS SHARON
— I need space, she said. — I need my space.
She Windexed the words and stared down her reflection in the glass; she thought she'd see the eyes of one of her paintings. Instead she saw a bitch.
The next words appeared slowly, thoughtfully, like the words of God must have appeared.
IF YOU NEED SPACE WHY NOT COME IN HERE?
She cracked up.
— I have to go, she cackled. — I have adult responsibilities. You live in a wall.
TIME IS MEANINGLESS IN HERE. THIS IS WHAT WE NEED TO DO IM SURE OF IT.
— I want you to come back, she said. — Then I want you to set up this equipment again and go do this in someone else's wall. Or a lab or something. Or a subway station. Somewhere public.
PLEASE SHARON, ITS PARADISE IN HERE. ITS MANIFEST DESTINY. ITS THE AMERICAN DREAM COME TRUE AT LAST
The mirror fixated on its plan for months, marshaling different arguments.
WE CAN START OVER IN HERE SHARON. YOU HATE YOUR JOB, YOU CAN PAINT AGAIN. YOU DONT HAVE TO LIVE WITH ME AT FIRST. I CAN BUILD YOU YOUR OWN HOUSE AND EVERYTHING AND BRING YOU NUTRITION PASTE EVERY DAY AND YOU CAN PAINT THE ENERGY ARCS AND THE FRACTAL SKIES
— I'm not reading you, she said, Windexing him. — If I read a word, it's completely by accident. My brain can't always help reading words.
WE CAN BUILD A NURSERY TOGETHER. THE FIRST CHILD IN A NEW DIMENSION. WE CAN BE ADAM AND EVE SHARON, IVE THOUGHT ABOUT THIS
She started to spend more and more time out of the house. She hung out with her office-mates after work—they were really decent people, she realized; she'd always felt so guilty about working in advertising for some reason. She'd drink and she'd drink and she'd dance and then catch cabs home well after midnight. She'd go to the bathroom—WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN SHARON I HAVE INFORMATION FOR YOU—and then she'd fall easily and peacefully into bed.
She was at the bar when she felt the hand on her shoulder.
— Sharon? said Michael.
— Hey, you, she said. — How are you?
He was balder now, a full inch above his original black-banged hairline. It was a good kind of balding; it made him like sharper, less delicate, more solid. He was wearing a suit as good as hers; he smiled down at her. His ribs had run to fat and his eyes were mellowed and good.
She ditched her coworkers; they found a table together. She bought the first round, Michael the second, then the third.
— So are you still painting? she asked him.
He spread his arms like a jovially-crucified Christ.
— Would you believe—advertising? he asked.
— Get out, she said. — Me too. That's insane.
— That's insane, he said. — What a small world.
He looked into her eyes.
— God— it is so good to see you, Sharon. Really. It's so—incredibly— good to see you.
— What a small world, she agreed, looking back over her beer at him.
— Small world, he grunted as he mauled her neck with famished kisses and she leaned her head back on the leather seat of the cab.
— Let's go to your place, she moaned.
— I have a roommate, he whispered. — Three's a crowd, you know.
She opened her eyes, and then she laughed and laughed.
— What? he asked.
— It's nothing, she said, and she gave the driver the address of her apartment.
— Do you want something? she asked when they had the door closed and he'd taken off her coat and unbuttoned her blouse for her. — A drink or something?
— Can I use your bathroom? he asked. — Does that kill the mood?
She laughed again.
— Wait just a moment, she said. She slid out of his arms and sauntered into the bathroom and closed the door behind her.
WHO THE FUCK IS THAT
She covered the mirror with a black towel, turned the lights off, and sauntered out.
— Go ahead, she said.
He did, then joined her in the bedroom.
— What's with the mirror? he asked.
— What do you mean, she asked back.
— There was a towel over it.
— Oh, she laughed. — It's just broken.
She shouted the last word again.
Michael gave her a puzzled smile, but then pulled her down to the bed.
He got inside her and they got into a rhythm, pumping the headboard into the wall.
— Oh God Sharon, Michael chanted, neck muscles tight, — Oh God—
The headboard thumped again, and with a crash the painting of the psychotic girl opposite the bed hit the floor.
— Shit, she breathed, and rolled Michael off of her.
— Hey, he cried.
She walked to the wall to examine the painting, calves pimpling. The frame had cracked, and the nail on which the painting had hung was lying beside it. The hole in the wall where the nail had been had closed up completely, leaving no sign.
— Jesus Christ, she said. — Excuse me.
She took a cigarette from the dresser while Michael watched her, sweat rolling down his bald forehead, and she lit it and went into the bathroom. She stared at herself smoking in the silver glass.
Michael knocked on the door.
— Can I come in? he asked. — Did I do something wrong?
Sharon Windexed the glass, then took the stool she sat on while she brushed her hair and set it in front of the mirror. She sat down and spread her legs.
— Come in, she sang.
Michael stepped it and looked at her in front of the mirror.
STEP IN HERE AND FIGHT ME MOTHERFUCKER IM A GREAT MAN IM LIVING THE AMERICAN DREAM
— I thought you said the mirror was broken, he said, scratching his hairline.
— It is, she said. — I want you to fuck me in front of the mirror now.
It took coordination, but he did it, smiling and sweating from his bald forehead. She could just catch sight of the glass over his shoulder; the words hadn't changed; she closed her eyes and shook as she felt it creeping up on her. She came; behind her eyes a spill of brightly-hued paint; in her ears the sound of shattering glass.
She opened her eyes. The mirror had splintered into hundreds of triangle shards, skewed, canted in toward one another. Shards of silver glass faced one another, making endless hallways of repetition. Michael's back was repeated into infinity; so were Sharon's eyes, terrified, looking over Michael's solid shoulder. Hundreds of arms wrapped around hundreds of necks; hundreds of legs wrapped around hundreds of backs: the whole crowd of them, inescapable, filling up the mirror frame, leaving nowhere to hide. All the words were gone. She tightened her arms and legs around his warm body, choked off every last bit of open space between them. She closed her eyes, kept them squeezed shut.