Miranda discovered there was something in the apartment.
It was behind the TV set in the corner of the living room. But later in the evening when she phoned Grant, who had left on a business trip a few days earlier, she made no mention of her discovery. Why make him worry? He had other things to worry about out there in the distant metropolis. Or maybe he didn’t? Doubt started gnawing at her: only the other night she’d dreamed of her husband in bars and the things he was getting up to with sluts; though they might go by a different, fancier name in those parts—Miranda couldn’t remember the exact word—she was quite sure they were just sluts, engaging in slutty practices.
After the routine call was over she sat in the kitchen until late at night, and as the light of a small lamp illuminated her hands and fingers, and long shadows crept along the floor and opposite wall, Miranda wondered why this had to happen to her, of all people. Actually, not just to her, to Grant as well—but Grant didn’t have an inkling of it. Or did he? Was he lying in a hotel bed somewhere with an inkling? Was he on the twentieth or thirtieth floor of a skyscraper, in the middle of negotiations, with an inkling?
Miranda had grown up in a family where nothing ever appeared behind the TV set. Her parents had never mentioned such a possibility to her, though they were happy to discuss in her presence the petty scandals involving their neighbors or people at work. But perhaps they had it in their bedroom too. Their daughter had never been allowed to go in there. Could it have been in their bedroom? Did they take it along when they went on vacation? One of those trips they used to go on, leaving their daughter with her relatives in the countryside?
She went to the hallway and called a friend, for she felt the need to discuss this unexpected problem with somebody. A few sentences into the conversation she replied, baffled, “You mean I should go and see a psychiatrist?”
“Of course. You’ve got to. What if you’re just imagining it all?”
“You mean hallucinating? You really think I’m hallucinating?”
“But what if it isn’t there at all? From what you’re saying, it’s almost the size of a wardrobe closet . . . Could something like that even fit behind the TV set?”
“Candra, believe me, it’s there!”
“I doubt it. Look, you know Dr. Acker . . . “
“The one with the beard?”
“No, the one who goes to Britt’s”
“Where does he sit?”
“Right at the back, underneath the speakers.”
“I don’t know him at all.”
“Well then you know the other one, what’s his name . . . help me out . . . “
“You mean Dr. Frechette?”
“But he’s not a psychiatrist, he’s a psychologist.”
“All right, all right, a psychologist might do for starters . . . “
“What do you mean, for starters? It’s as big as a wardrobe and you’re calling this starters?”
“I’ve already told you there’s no way it could be as big as a wardrobe. Just calm down. I’m sure it’s much, much smaller.”
“So how big do you think it is?”
“Let’s agree it’s the size of a matchbox, at most. It’s absolutely tiny.”
“Listen . . . How about you come and take a look?”
“That’s out of the question. I can’t.”
“Why? Look, come over! Please help me.”
“But how? What’s this got to do with me? And anyway, I’m in a complicated situation.”
“I don’t understand.”
“ . . . “
“What is it? Can’t you talk?”
“All of a sudden you can’t talk when I need you to do me a favor. Can’t you even whisper?”
“I can do that. But what am I supposed to whisper? You’d better go and check again . . . “
“But I’ve been watching it the whole time. Actually . . . not the whole time, just now I was looking out the window . . . at the door to the hair salon . . . you know where I mean . . . “
“Of course, I do. At the door. So what’s there?”
“There . . . “
“C’mon, what is it?”
“Nothing! Nothing at all! Don’t you understand? It’s not there. It’s only here, behind the TV. Why don’t I imagine it’s out there, too, if I’m only imagining it? Let me tell you why: because it just isn’t out there, only here. And you were lying.”
“How was I lying?”
“When you said you could only whisper. Just now you were so curious about what was there by the door to the hair salon that you started shouting. Out of curiosity. And the only reason you found it so fascinating was because you go to that salon yourself. So the only time you’re willing to listen to me, without accusing me of being crazy, is when it involves you too?”
The phone call ended on a rather uneasy note.
Miranda sat down at the kitchen table, picked up a mirror, and examined the pale skin of her pale face. It shone in the kitchen night. The eyes, the nose, the mouth, the corners of the mouth. Thoughtfully, Miranda went on to examine her shoulders, chest, and legs. It would have been almost impossible to distinguish the whole from others of this kind. Or perhaps sometimes, thanks to one’s clothes, the ways in which the clothes were discarded, a body’s particular way of being naked. The way of being naked? Yes: see yourself for who you are! Step in front of the mirror, get to know yourself from the outside, but intimately! Let the inside follow. Follow the inside!
Miranda stood up, then sat down again.
Grant came home a few days later, left his bags in the hall, took off his shoes, went to the bathroom, took a shower, and, after thoroughly drying himself with a thick bath towel, headed for the living room. She was waiting for him there. Thinking of the sluts and the bars. And also of herself, her role. Was she supposed to float up into the sky now, all dreamy-eyed and happy? Or should she let barbiturates, medication, or a psychiatrist take care of everything? She stepped back a little to let Grant pass. He sat down in the armchair and switched on the TV with the remote. The flickering light carved objects out of the dark.
That’s when Grant noticed it.
It was moving slowly, sinister and inevitable. Grant didn’t say anything. His face looked like a mask stretched on a rack of bone. Only when his wife whispered hysterically to him did he respond, commenting that, in his view, it made the living room even cozier than before, covering himself with his statement as though it were a precious tapestry.
Miranda ran out of the apartment and called Candra on her cellphone. She was panting:
“I know everything!”
“What do you know?”
“It’s turned up at your place too! That’s why you can’t talk! It’s watching you! It’s listening to you! It’s growing!”
“ . . . “
“Don’t you have anything to say to that?”
“I told you I can’t talk.”
“Well, whisper then.”
“Yes, it turned up here, too. But that was a long time ago. It’s stopped growing now, although, I admit, it’s not getting any smaller either. We’ve gotten used to it. As it is. Look, I know how you feel, it’s not easy to come to terms with the new situation at first . . . But is it really new? Okay, I know you never counted on this. You didn’t expect . . . didn’t visualize it quite like this. What woman would expect such a thing? I was hoping it wouldn’t happen to you—to you and Grant. Last time you called, I thought you might be exaggerating a little. Because in our place it didn’t grow quite so fast! Peter and I had been together for six years by the time we first noticed it! But times have changed, life is moving faster . . . I know I’m probably not putting it well, but then the fact is, the world’s gotten faster, so that you and Grant . . . Even though you’ve only been together for two years—it’s been two years, hasn’t it? Or three? Anyway, for some reason it’s happening faster. Oh dear, I guess I am just behind the times.”
“Candra, I love you, you’re my only friend. But why did you have to keep this secret from me, of all things?”
“I’m telling you: I was hoping it wouldn’t happen to you.!”
“And what about your parents? At home, when you were growing up . . . Did they have a problem too? You know what I mean.”
“Of course. Nearly every family in our building had it. I remember the Jacobsons, they had to move because of it: it simply pushed them out of their apartment. One morning it was overflowing into the hallway. Can you imagine how delicate the situation was? Bursting out of your door? And you and your children have to sleep on the stairs because you have nowhere else to go? Well, my parents took their children in for a few days, they stayed in my room, but I didn’t like them. It eventually turned out to be for the best. It followed them everywhere; in the end they were staying in a place in Coon Rapids, but one night, after it caused a scandal by swelling up, making the whole place burst, they took a radical step; moving to another state. Now they have a wonderful life. She’s living in the Dakotas with the kids and he’s somewhere in Boston. They split up as soon as they left the state. Don’t you get it? It was a question of life or death. But actually, in cases like this, it’s always a question of life or death.”
“But why did my mom never even hint at it?”
“That’s what women are like: though we can see—right from the beginning, actually—how things happen and how they’re going to end, inevitably we keep hoping . . . and making the same mistakes. We just don’t learn our lesson. Typically. Not even seeing the way that our own parents have ended up prevents us from letting the same thing happen to us and our children. From their earliest days, we push them toward doing the same thing to their kids when the time comes. It’s like some compulsion, can’t you feel it?”
“Candra! I thought I was going round the bend!”
“That’s right. You are going round the bend, but nobody will notice you’re mad. It’s a collective madness. You’re no different from anyone else. How can you diagnose madness if everyone is mad?”
Miranda had no idea.
She could see it was watching her intently from behind the set. Or rather, not from behind but from underneath the TV, which by now was floating on top of it, swaying from side to side like a swimmer on an air-mattress.
Miranda stood on the balcony.
She leaned against the stove.
She even dreamed of going for a hike in the genuine, unadulterated countryside.
And wherever she happened to be, she wondered what it was that she and Grant actually wanted from one another. Wherever she might be she also wondered how she could get into the closet where she kept her large suitcase from before she was married, because by now the thing was cluttering up the whole room, blocking the way to the closet. And when it got especially bad, between the thirteenth and fourteenth cup of coffee, between a wistful stare from the balcony down to the street and at the high-rise opposite—into the windows of prison cells similar to her own—between calm resignation and quiet horror, in addition to other more important and essential things, Miranda thought that you need a partner to close the clasp on your necklace, and that you need a necklace to find a partner.