The depth of grief

portal-william-alan-mcneice-bohemian-breakdancer

To weep is to make less the depth of grief.
              — William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part III

Stephen works for the city. He has a mundane job. His job is to work with spreadsheets. The city requires that he use his spreadsheets to make the city a more efficient city. Stephen is an average worker. Since Stephen started working with his spreadsheets, the city has become neither more efficient nor less efficient.

Recently, Stephen has become numb. He has become an automaton, almost one with his spreadsheets. He likes working the formulas — they are like little mathematical puzzles that occupy his mind completely. He likes this because when he is working out his little puzzles, he forgets that his family is dead. When he forgets that, he forgets that he too would like to die. As a result, his formulas have become the most complex formulas in the city.

Let us look at Stephen in his home. It is evening, and he is following his routine. The house is meticulous. Stephen and his wife had had occasional arguments about housework, she complaining that he did not do his fair share. Now that she is dead, Stephen overcompensates. Though the house is meticulous, he cleans it still more. He wears rubber gloves. He washes the inside of the dishwasher. Silly, yes, but who are we to judge the actions of a grieving man? He goes upstairs. He leaves the upstairs lights on all evening, every evening, because his daughter used to leave them on and he used to shout at her for wasting electricity. Now he leaves them on to appease her ghost; perhaps the lights will bring her back to life. But she will not come back to life tonight. He switches off the lights, brushes his teeth, changes into his pajamas and goes to bed. He listens to the rain patter against the window.

Stephen goes through the motions. He is a faithful servant of social ordinance. Yet neither his heart nor his mind are committed to the act. Nor are they committed to anything else. They seem to have disappeared. Perhaps they died when his wife and daughter died.

It is the middle of the night. Stephen awakes because he needs to pee. He pees, and then he spends three hours staring at the ceiling. Occasionally he turns from side to side. The first hue of day touches the curtains and he falls asleep. He sleeps on the left side of the bed. One hour later his alarm wakes him.

This is the worst moment of the day. Yesterday’s routine has faded in the night and now he must begin again. In addition, he is very tired. Stephen has a morning routine that is just as pointless as the evening routine, but we do not need to examine it. We should by now have a clear enough picture of the futility of Stephen’s life that we can spare him the indignity of scrutinizing it further. Let us follow him to work.

His commute is about forty-five minutes and an average speed of twenty miles an hour: fifty miles an hour for most of the commute, and five miles an hour for ten minutes as he passes the portal, where much of the traffic turns left, causing a temporary blockage. The government has yet to implement a permanent traffic system for the portal, despite the fact that it has been in existence for almost twenty years. It has something to do with the fact that about half a mile either side of the portal is classified as portal territory, and since the portal crosses both universes, and from each side is technically on the other side, neither side is prepared to accept responsibility for the road maintenance. Or the reason may be something else. In any event, the reason is bureaucratic, which means that nobody fully understands the problem, and therefore nobody is in a position to provide a solution. Not even Stephen’s spreadsheets can help.

Stephen does not listen to the radio or to music. He listens to the sounds of the road. All other sounds distract him. Even the air conditioning, when it is at full, distracts him. When he arrives at the office, he goes straight to the bathroom, then to the kitchen to the coffee machine, then to his desk. He does not like to spend time in the kitchen because his colleagues behave awkwardly around him. They used to try to talk to him, to console him, but after a few weeks of silence, they learned that Stephen wanted neither to be talked to nor consoled. This situation suits Stephen, as he has no way of communicating to them that his heart and mind have disappeared. He is, however, aware that his reluctance to speak to them is difficult for them, painful even to those who consider themselves his friends, and out of respect to their feelings he avoids the kitchen as much as possible, though his respect comes more from habit than from any actual feelings, which Stephen no longer seems to possess. With his coffee, Stephen sits down to work on his spreadsheets.

Today, everything changes for Stephen. He overhears a conversation between two colleagues and an idea comes to him. The conversation goes like this, more or less:

Colleague A: Alison went to the other side the other day.

Colleague B: Oh yeah?

Colleague A: Yeah.

Colleague B: Wow.

Colleague A: Yeah. I know.

Colleague B: Wow. That’s incredible.

Colleague A: Yeah.

Colleague B: So what happened? What did she say?

Colleague A: She met her sister.

Colleague B: On the other side?

Colleague A: On the other side.

Colleague B: Holy shit.

Colleague A: Yeah, I know, right?

Colleague B: What was that like?

Colleague A: She said it was just like meeting her sister in real life. I mean, in this universe. Know what I mean?

Colleague B: Yeah, I know what you mean. But what do you mean? How just like in real life?

Colleague A: Like, totally the same. Same sister. Looked the same, same attitude, same mannerisms, same clothes, even the same job.

Boss: Hey Andy, when you get a moment can you email me that spreadsheet on downtown air pollution? Or was that Stephen’s?

Colleague A: Nah, that one’s mine. Sure, no problem. By the way, air pollution’s up again.

Colleague B: Hey Aaron, did you hear? Alison saw her sister on the other side the other day.

Boss: No shit. Really?

Colleague A: Yeah, she went over to collect the carbon filter.

Boss: Did she see herself?

Colleague A: Nah, they don’t let you do that. She only saw her sister because they have different last names and her sister’s boss didn’t realize they were sisters. They only saw each other for about thirty seconds before they took her sister away.

Colleague B: Still, that must have been really weird.

Boss: Yeah, I’ll bet.

Colleague A: Yeah, she said she was pretty freaked out.

Stephen takes away several things from this conversation. Firstly, he knows he has to go to the other side. Secondly, he knows how he can do it. And finally, he knows what to expect when he gets there. He pulls up the spreadsheet on downtown air pollution and looks at the numbers. If he fiddles with it a little — makes it a little more complex, so that only he can understand it — he’ll have his reason to go to the other side.

Colleague A, Andy, has finished telling his story and returns to his desk. Presumably he is about to email Aaron the spreadsheet. Stephen lifts his coffee cup and walks over to Andy.

Hey Andy.

Uh, hey Stephen. What’s up?

Was that really true, what you said about Alison?

Yup. Pretty bizarro, huh?

Yes. Yes, it is. Quite bizarro.

Stephen does not know how to do it naturally, so he extends the hand holding his coffee cup and tips the contents into Andy’s lap.

Hey! Jesus! What the — ? What the hell did you do that for?

Stephen does not know how to answer, so he stares at Andy.

Andy glares back at him, then shakes his head, gets up and goes to the bathroom.

Stephen looks around to see if anybody is watching him. Several people are, but when he looks at them they turn away. Stephen sits down at Andy’s desk, takes the mouse in his hand and navigates to System Preferences>>Personal>>Change Password.

Enter old password.

Stephen does not know the old password.

Forgot password? Yes.

Do you want to perform a password reset? You will need to obtain a new password from System Admin (takes up to three hours). Yes.

Stephen returns to his own desk and fiddles with the spreadsheet for three hours and then sends it to Aaron: Dear Aaron, I trust this message finds you well. I took another look at Andy’s air pollution data and found something rather disturbing. I am sure you will know what to do as soon as you see for yourself. Please let me know if anything is unclear. Kind regards, Stephen.

In the afternoon, Aaron calls Stephen to his office.

I can’t understand a damn thing in this spreadsheet. Can you explain it to me?

It’s really quite simple, Stephen says. The carbon levels emanating from the portal are dangerously high, much higher than we previously thought.

It’s a good thing they shared the carbon filter technology with us, then, isn’t it?

I’m afraid not, Aaron. The carbon filter they gave us, if I understand correctly, can’t handle these levels of carbon. We need something more powerful. I’m not sure they even have the technology themselves.

I’m not worried, Aaron says. They’re way more advanced than us. They got something that’ll take care of the problem.

Well, I certainly hope so. But just to be sure we get the right thing, I think I’d better go over there myself and talk to them personally.

Aaron stands up from behind his desk and walks to the window. He places his hand on the glass.

Can you make a spreadsheet that’ll predict when this damn rain is going to stop?

Stephen says nothing.

Okay. Write up the report and we’ll schedule you to go over at the end of the week.

Now let us jump to the end of the week. Stephen is at the portal, on the other side. He is sitting in a temporary prefabricated hut that is identical to the prefabricated hut on his side of the portal — a border guard faces him from behind a glass wall — waiting for the liaison from this side to collect him. Stephen’s chair is old and uncomfortable, the hut is draughty and ramshackle; there is a coffee vending machine, broken. The guard is staring out at the portal, his head resting on his hands and his eyelids droopy, watching the cars pass by, fresh out of the battery charging station, bouncing over the speed bump like giant, metallic sheep. Stephen looks at the clock on the wall. The time is 2:22pm. A woman opens the door and enters, shaking drops of water from her umbrella and forming little puddles with every footstep. She sees Stephen and smiles.

I’m Omari, very pleased to meet you. Sorry to keep you waiting. I’d shake your hand, but as you can see, I’m soaking wet. Jeez, this rain! Is it like this over your side? Sorry you had to walk over. As you know, you need a special permit to bring your car through. But then again, with the car you’ve got to get it towed through anyway, so either way it’s inconvenient. But don’t worry. My car’s right over here. You don’t have an umbrella?

No, Stephen says. I don’t feel the rain.

Omari drives Stephen to her office. Although he knows it already, Stephen is surprised by how almost everything in this universe is identical to his own. He half-suspects that the portal is a practical joke and that Omari is driving him back to his office, where Andy and Aaron and Alison will be waiting to laugh at him. However, in his current anti-social state, he knows that nobody would make a joke at his expense, so the portal must be real.

Stephen thinks that this universe does not look any more advanced than the other. He recognizes the same adverts, the same stores, the same models of cars. He even recognizes the same homeless people, who have experienced the same misfortunes in both universes. The car cuts a tunnel into the rain as they coast through the city. The rain has touched everything in sight — even shop entrances that are protected by awnings or set in a few paces from the street leak water as if it is flowing from inside the building rather than outside.

It’s a real pain in the ass, isn’t it, you having to come all the way over here personally just to give us a spreadsheet, when it’d be so much easier to do it all over the internet, Omari says as she drives.

Electricity cannot travel through the portal, Stephen says.

Well yeah, I know. That’s what I’m saying. It’s a real pain in the ass that electricity can’t travel through the portal. It’s like going back in time, right? When everything had to be done by hand. But tell me, what’s it like on your side? Is it way different to here?

No, it’s pretty much the same.

Omari seems disappointed.

At the office, Stephen gives his presentation and shows his spreadsheet. Nobody understands it.

I don’t quite know what all this means in real terms, Omari’s boss says. Let me send it down to R&D and see what they make of it. Why don’t you come back in a week and hopefully we’ll have some answers for you then.

Can I use your bathroom? Stephen says after he has packed up his things.

Once around the corner, out of sight, Stephen uses the emergency stairwell and exits the building. He flags down a taxi and goes to the street where he lives. He asks the driver the time. He has about twenty minutes. He gets out of the taxi a few houses down from his house and looks at his house. It is the same house. He wonders if his front-door key will work. He walks away from his house and around the block, walking for about twenty minutes. He thinks it must be about time, so he walks back toward his house, keeping to the side.

There they are. Her car is pulling into the drive. It stops and the two front doors open and she and her daughter step out. Stephen’s heart pounds and his body flushes and he begins to sweat. He feels suddenly very hot. He wants to rush to them. He almost does. Then they enter the house and it is as if they never were there. Stephen calms down; he turns away and walks to the nearest main road where he flags down another taxi and goes back to the portal.

Omari is waiting for him in the hut. She looks displeased, but she smiles at him. Stephen knows that he has got her into trouble — in the past, he would have been upset at his own behavior, but now he feels nothing, not even guilt. He cares nothing for her or her boss.

Just wanted to make sure you got back okay, Omari says, still smiling. Stephen looks at the security guard. It is a different security guard, watching different cars jump over the speed bump.

Yeah, I got a little lost on the way, but I made it in the end.

Well, that’s great. So I guess I’ll see you next week. Shall we say Friday? Same time?

Yes.

Let us now skip forward to Friday. We are back at the portal, and Stephen has passed from his side to the other side, and he enters the hut. He looks at the security guard and he cannot remember if it is one that he has already seen or another one. Omari is sitting on the old chair. She has a half-empty cup of coffee in her hand. Another sits on the table. The pools of water around the soles of her shoes are beginning to evaporate and her umbrella is dry. When she sees Stephen she stands up, smiles at him and picks up the coffee from the table.

I thought you might like some coffee, but it’s cold now. I don’t know if you still want it or not. The weather’s colder today than last week, don’t you think?

Stephen shrugs. He does not take the coffee. He places his hands in the pockets of his pants and pulls them up slightly. The weight is pulling them down. Omari opens the door for Stephen to walk out. He walks out. Omari follows. The journey is the same as last week: same route, same billboards, same buildings, same vehicles, same homeless, same rain.

At the office, Omari leads Stephen to the same room he was in the week before.

Orson’ll be here in just a moment. I’ve got some things to do so I’ll be back in a while, okay?

Stephen nods and Omari closes the door behind her. He sits in the same chair he sat in last week and places his hands on the table. A few moments later Orson enters. He smiles at Stephen and sits in a chair opposite and places his hands on the table.

Stephen, it’s good to see you again. Sorry to keep you waiting.

Stephen does not speak. Orson inhales, looks about the room and then puffs out the air from his cheeks.

I’ll get straight to it, shall I? I sent your stuff down to R&D, and they had a real long look at it. They must have spent at least four days on it, analyzing it from all angles, until finally they cracked it.

He pauses and looks at Stephen, as if waiting for a reaction. Stephen blinks.

So, you know what they discovered?

Again he pauses, but Stephen does not react.

It’s bullshit, Stephen.

Excuse me? Stephen says.

Your spreadsheet. Complicated bullshit, I’ll grant you that, but bullshit nonetheless. What are you up to?

I don’t understand. The data is accurate and the analysis is mathematically sound. What part of it is bullshit?

The R&D guys tell me all of it is bullshit. The math is fake, the data is fake. I confirmed it independently. At first we thought that maybe the data was different on your side of the portal, that the carbon output was greater, but we cross-referenced it with an external data collection agency, and it matches our own. Then we thought that, seeing as we’re parallel universes and whatnot, that maybe the math was different in your universe, but that’s not the case either. The math is the same both sides, the data is the same both sides. The only thing that isn’t the same is your spreadsheet.

Show me the spreadsheet.

Orson picks up a remote control and switches on a wall screen. Stephen’s spreadsheet is already displaying, his 3D animated charts running their scenarios in vivid color. Stephen studies them closely.

That’s not my data, he says.

Orson snorts.

That’s what you gave me last week. That’s what I gave to R&D.

That’s not my data, Stephen says again. I can show you.

Stephen reaches into his pocket and removes a data stick. Plug this in, he says.

Orson sighs, shakes his head and takes the stick and plugs it into a slot in the table. A new set of data appears, with new 3D animated charts.

You see? This is what I showed you last week. What you have there — I don’t know where you got it from, but it wasn’t from me.

Orson places his head in his hands and sighs again.

Okay, here’s what I’ll do. I’ll take some screenshots of this now, and then send this new data to R&D, and see what they say. If it comes back as bullshit again, you’re going to be in a lot trouble. You understand?

And if it’s legitimate? Stephen says.

Then I have an espionage problem. But that’s not your concern. Omari will take you back to the portal. I want to make sure you don’t get lost again. Wait here.

Orson gets up and leaves the room. Stephen too stands up and walks to the door on the other side of the room and opens it. A security guard is standing there with his back to Stephen. When the security guard hears the door, he turns around and looks down at Stephen.

If you could please step back inside, sir, the security guard says.

I’m looking for the bathroom, Stephen says.

There’s no bathroom here, sir. If you could please step back inside.

Stephen retreats and lets go of the door and it pivots closed with a soft click. He goes to the other door and gently opens it. Orson and Omari are standing in the corridor talking to each other. Orson has his back to Stephen and when Omari sees him she looks nervous. Orson turns around and smiles.

So, Omari’s going to take you back to the portal now. I trust you don’t need the bathroom, do you?

Stephen shakes his head.

The drive is silent. Omari stares straight ahead. The rain beats down on the windshield and the wipers swish rhythmically back and forth. Stephen gazes at the oncoming traffic and breathes deeply. As a long series of cars pass on the other side of the road, Stephen reaches across the car, grabs the steering wheel and thrusts it to the left, forcing the car into the oncoming traffic. Omari does not have enough time to hit the brakes and the car rams into the side of another. Stephen and Omari are thrown against their seat belts and the air bags puff out faster than Stephen can see. Omari’s head hits the airbag and rebounds to hit the headrest. Stephen looks at her to see if she is all right: her nose is flattened and blood is dripping out of the two nostrils. She looks at Stephen and recoils from him. She fumbles to get out of her seat belt. Stephen unhooks his seat belt and opens his door and gets out. Already people are coming to investigate. Omari jumps out on the other side and screams. She points at Stephen but she is incoherent. A man approaches Stephen and asks him if he is okay and Stephen mumbles and begins to walk away. He walks faster and faster until he rounds a corner and he runs, his heart pounding in his chest, his breath speeding up, panic setting in. Eventually he stops and bends over to catch his breath. He realizes that his hands are shaking — in fact, his whole body is trembling. He sits down on the ground and waits for the trembling to stop. His clothes are soaked from the rain, but he does not feel it. After some time he calms down and is able to control himself again.

Stephen walks down a few streets until he finds a hotel that rents rooms by the hour. He rents a room for one hour and goes immediately to the bathroom. Then he goes back to the receptionist.

There’s no hair dryer in the bathroom, Stephen says.

The receptionist looks confused.

What do you want with a hair dryer?

I want to take a shower and dry my hair.

The receptionist searches below the desk and pulls out an old, dangerous-looking hair dryer.

There’s a twenty-dollar deposit on that, the receptionist says.

Back in the room, Stephen hangs his clothes in the bathroom and tries to dry them with the hair dryer. Fifteen minutes later, before they are dry, he puts them back on and leaves. He flags down a taxi and goes to his office. He asks the driver the time. There is not much time.

The taxi drops him off in the car park and Stephen finds his car in its usual place. He takes out his car key and holds his breath. He wonders if the key will work. He presses the button. Nothing happens. He inserts the key into the door lock and turns. The automatic doors click open. Stephen gets into the back seat, presses the door lock button on the dashboard and the doors lock, and hides himself on the floor. A few minutes later the doors click open again and Stephen opens the driver’s door and gets inside. He is talking on the phone.

Sure, I can get that. I’ll pick it up on the way. It should take me about forty minutes in this rain . . . yeah, I’m starving. Okay, hun, gotta go. Love you too. Bye.

Stephen hangs up the phone and drops it between the driver and front passenger seats. He puts the key in the ignition and starts the car. Then he turns around, places his arm over the back of the passenger headrest, sees Stephen and jumps. Stephen is still crouching on the floor, but he is pointing a gun at him.

Don’t say anything. Just drive.

Stephen looks more shocked than afraid, and he stares for a moment before he nods and reverses out of the parking space.

Where are we going? Stephen asks once they are on a main road.

Not far. Just keep driving.

Eventually they leave the city, and the traffic starts to thin. The light fades and the streetlights flicker on. All the while, the rain drills on the windshield, like a tattoo marching band. Stephen guides him along a series of backroads until there is no more traffic.

There’s a lay-by coming up. Pull in there.

Stephen does as he is told and stops the car in the middle of the lay-by. They both get out of the car and he tells Stephen to walk out of the lay-by and into the trees, and then to get on his knees.

What’s going on?

You don’t appreciate your family.

What? I do. I love my family.

Yeah, you love them, like I loved them, but you can’t appreciate them, really appreciate them, until they’re gone. You can’t know what that’s like.

What are you going to do?

He says nothing, but just stares at Stephen.

No, no, no! Don’t do this.

You’re nothing without your family. Everything that’s good about you — it’s because of them. Without them, you may as well be dead.

No, please, don’t!

You’re pathetic. Look at you, on your knees, begging. You don’t deserve them.

He places the barrel of the gun to Stephen’s head. Stephen screams and he pulls the trigger. Stephen falls backward and spasms. He shoots him again, two more times, and he stops moving. He takes a step closer and examines the body. He feels only contempt. Then he smells feces. Stephen must have released his bowels before dying. This changes the plan. He can no longer stuff the body in the car to dispose of it later. He drags it further into the trees. He tries to cover it with debris, but there is no light by which to see and he has no idea how good a job he is doing. He will need to return with a shovel and a flashlight. He will need to do it tonight, but right now he needs to get home.

He gets back into the car and picks up Stephen’s phone.

I’m sorry, babe, I got sidetracked at work, but I’m on my way now. What was it you wanted me to pick up?

His heart pounds when he hears her voice, and he has to concentrate in order not to lose his own voice. When he hangs up, he races to the store to collect the almond milk. The phone rings and Stephen sees that it is the house phone. He answers it.

Hun, are you okay? she asks him.

Yes, of course. I just got stuck at work, that’s all. Why?

The police are here. They’re looking for you.

No, everything’s fine, Stephen says.

Hang on, one of them wants to talk to you.

Stephen hears the voice of a man.

This is Officer Orlando. We just wanted to make sure that everything is okay with you. Has anything strange happened to you today?

No, Stephen says, nothing. It’s been a typical, boring day. Can I ask what this is about?

We had some strange activity with the portal, is all. If you notice anything unusual, please call us. I’ll put you back on with your wife now.

The police officer gives back the phone.

I’ll be home in five minutes, babe.

Stephen hangs up and he goes home. When he pulls into the drive, his wife’s car is where it always used to be, and the lights are on in all the rooms, wasting electricity.

He switches off the engine and gets out of the car. The front door opens and she is standing there. He stares at her — he feels as if he had forgotten how beautiful she was. He enters the house and she closes the door behind him. The house is exactly the same as his own, down to the smallest detail. He falls into his old rhythm instantly, as if the last few months had never happened.

Where’s Sasha? he says.

At the movies. Remember?

Oh yeah, I forgot.

Hun, do you know what happened that the police wanted you?

Stephen shakes his head. No idea, babe. Come on, I’m starving. Let’s eat.

Okay, give me a sec. It’s risotto, and it’s still in the pot. Why don’t you go get changed? I just need two minutes, okay?

Stephen goes upstairs while she goes to the kitchen. He looks at everything on the way. It is exactly the same yet somehow different. She is exactly the same, yet somehow different too. He cannot put his finger on it. He goes to their bedroom and checks the drawers. Everything is the same, in the same place. He changes out of his still-wet clothes and puts on sweatpants and an old, baggy hoody. They are the same sweatpants and old, baggy hoody that he always wears when he comes home, except that the hoody always itches him in the small of his back, and this time it does not. He goes back downstairs.

Hun, can you come in the kitchen a minute?

Stephen walks to the kitchen to see her ladling risotto into two bowls. The steam rises from the bowls and from the pot and envelops her in a sensuous, obscuring aura. She looks beautiful, sexy, just as he remembers her, and still there is something that he cannot identify, something that he does not recognize. He approaches her and his heart beats faster with every step, until he is standing beside her. He dare not touch her. She sets down the ladle and the pot and turns to face him. She smiles.

What’s up?

You’re so beautiful.

Stephen takes the final step toward her. He wraps his arms around her waist and her hands close around his neck. He pulls her to him and their lips touch. It is at this moment that Stephen realizes how exhausted he is from the day’s activities, and his lips feel slightly numb. She pulls away from him and turns back to the food. She lifts the two bowls and hands them to him.

Will you take these to the dining room?

He takes them from her and turns around and walks to the dining room. Behind him, he hears a drawer slide open and something heavy being moved. As he walks out of the kitchen he hears her rush up behind him. He turns around and sees her racing toward him, a heavy frying pan held high above her head. He tries to raise his hands but they are already busy holding the risotto. The frying pan crashes down on his head and he drops the risotto and falls to the floor. He cannot see. The frying pan comes down again and again until Stephen falls unconscious.

When Stephen awakes, he is firmly tied to a kitchen chair. He recognizes the rope as the piece he bought to practice sailing knots. She is sitting in another kitchen chair, facing him, staring at him.

Where’s Stephen? she says.

I’m Stephen.

My husband, Stephen. Where’s my husband?

I’m your —

You’re not my husband. You think I don’t know my own husband? You’re from the other side, aren’t you? Is that where my husband is? What have you done with him?

Stephen watches her as she stands up. She paces from side to side and is working herself into a frenzy. She is still holding the frying pan, the bottom of which drips black blood onto the tiled floor.

Of course I know my own husband. I knew the second you walked into the house. I knew when you stared at me. I know how my husband looks at me. I knew when you put on his clothes that you weren’t him. I knew when you kissed me. You’re nothing like him.

Stephen is shocked.

But you’re my wife.

I’m not your wife. I’ll never be your wife. Where is my husband?

Stephen cannot speak.

What have you done with him?

Still Stephen cannot speak. She is frantic, swinging the frying pan around his head. But the pan is heavy and soon she tires. Her swinging slows, and then she walks back to the kitchen chair and drops into it. They sit looking at each other for a long time.

You killed him, didn’t you?

Stephen nods.

Why?

I wanted us to be together.

How could we be together?

Because I’m him, and he’s —

You’re not him. And he’s not you. And I’m not her and she’s not me.

But we’re the same. We’re the same.

She sets the frying pan on the floor and leans back into the chair. She seems as exhausted as he is.

How did it happen? she says after a while. How did she die?

Car crash. Both of them, together.

In this rain?

Stephen nods.

We’re not used to this kind of rain, she says. Although it’s been going on for long enough. I hate it. It chills me right to my bones.

I don’t feel it, Stephen says.

I understand you, she says. If I lost them, and then if I had a chance to get them back. Maybe. I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out.

You don’t have to. You have me. I’m here. I’ll always be here.

Do you really think that in time you would be okay with me? She leans forward in the chair.

Stephen says, You’re my wife —

Stop saying that. I’m not your wife. I can’t be your wife. I’m somebody else’s wife. I’m his wife. Do you really think that you could live with somebody who looked so much like your wife but wasn’t your wife? She is getting angry again, Stephen can see. But she is right, and the longer he spends with her, the more he realizes that she is not his wife. She can never be his wife.

You murdered my husband, and for what? A fantasy?

But maybe in time —

In time what? I’ll forget what you did? You’ll forget I’m not who you want me to be? You’re insane! You’re a murderer! She is screaming at him now, waving the pan again.

Sasha — he says

Don’t say her name! she screams and lunges at him with the pan. She swings it high and brings it down on him like a sledgehammer. There is a loud crack as his skull splits in two, he slumps to the side and both Stephen and the chair fall over. She lifts the pan high again and brings it down on his head again.

At this point, there is nothing more that Stephen can tell us, and we must leave him, on the floor, blood gushing from his broken skull, the woman who was never his wife, and who could never be his wife, bashing his brains into mush. Outside, in the rain, the sirens are wailing and the lights are flashing, as the police, who have already found Stephen’s body in the woods (for Stephen was better at making complicated spreadsheets than he was at concealing bodies) rush to apprehend the imposter from the other side.

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