The Mirror Ch. 01

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Lena could see the top of Adam’s head above the back of the sofa. He had his headphones on and from time to time his head swayed along with the music.

At the dining table where an hour before they had eaten supper she opened the laptop and logged in. If Adam moved, she would see him. She would still have time to close things down.

Quickly, she read over her email for the last time – the email that she was sure, would end things. Now when she thought of the man who had become her lover it was with undiluted revulsion.

‘You’re like some creature from the sea’, she wrote. ‘Like some marine animal. I can’t live like this. I don’t want you in my dreams. I don’t want you in my mouth. I don’t want you inside me.’

There was a dizzying moment of stillness. She felt her life balanced over empty air.

She pressed Send and at once felt lighter. She sat for a moment taking deep reviving breaths. The music had reached a climax. Across the room Adam was shaking his head slowly, keeping time.

She could have wept with relief. It was over. Her life could return to normal. Her relationship with Adam would recover. She would learn to sleep again. She would get her life back.

Two days later a reply appeared in her inbox. It was characteristically short.

“Take out ‘don’t’,” he said. “Read it again.”

Six words.

As always, she did as he asked.

‘I want you in my dreams. I want you in my mouth. I want you inside me.’

Read back the love letter she had written him.

When Lena and Adam first saw the flat they assumed they had arrived too late. The day of viewings was over and the estate agent only reluctantly agreed to show them round. They loved it at once. After the confines of her Victorian terrace the clean open spaces filled with light were like a promise of another kind of life. They had resigned themselves to continuing their search when two days later the agent called to say that the purchasers’s finance had fallen through and if they still wanted it the place was theirs. She gave notice on the house, Adam did the same on his flat. Before the month was out they had moved in.

From the outset they were careful with each other. Before the final decision had been taken they had sat across her kitchen table with a spreadsheet between them. They drew up columns for and against the move. Some of the benefits were easy. In practical terms they would have a roof over their heads while virtually halving their housing costs. They would save on living expenses too. There were accommodations to make. He would accept her collection of antique mirrors in exchange for her accepting his music system which seemed to involve far more silver boxes than was necessary. It’s an audiophile set-up he explained, assuming, wrongly, that this would make things clearer. Their musical tastes were different but tolerable. Though his Bruckner passion, they agreed, would be confined to headphones.

They spent a morning in John Lewis choosing a bed, tossing and turning fully dressed on a mattress in the showroom, trying to keep a straight face while a Polish shop assistant stood alongside explaining the mysteries canlı bahis of its springs. It was their first joint purchase. Two burly men had wrestled it up the stairs, cursing and apologising at every step. Once they had gone it sat there under its plastic cover unambiguously declaring their new status as a couple. They christened it in the curtainless room surrounded by plastic wrapping. He had asked first, as he always did. Early on in their relationship she had suggested this wasn’t something he needed to do each time, but he’d just smiled. It’s important, he said.

He was gentle with her as always, touching her as if he was curating some precious object. The first time they made love he had cried. It was something her friends remarked on. His sensitivity. That and his hands which everyone agreed were lovely. Not for the first time she thought how lucky she was.

Together they set about making the space their own.

Adam spent an inordinate amount of time setting up his audio system. As well as the rack full of boxes with winking leds there was a pair of remarkable ugly speaker stands topped by even uglier speakers.

She carried her mirrors through to the bedroom and spent some time arranging them, adjusting the angles of the heavy gilt frames, Others she positioned around the room, on top of a chest of drawers that had come from Adam’s flat, a small side table from hers. When she was done, the effect was disorienting. As you walked in, none returned an image of the occupant. Instead they offered fragments of the room so that the visitor seemed to inhabit a world broken into pieces. The first time he saw her new arrangement she had to stop Adam from straightening them. Instead she led him to the bed. As he lay down a smile spread over his face as the reason behind the careful placing of the mirrors became apparent. On the bed the world suddenly became whole. He was looking at multiple images of his prone body.

Slowly the flat accommodated itself to their presence and became theirs. The flat next door seemed to be empty. They became accustomed to the silence of the block and when after almost a month they heard a heavy door closing in the early hours of the morning, it woke them both.

Over the next few weeks they got used to the presence of their neighbour in the next door flat. He kept irregular hours often disappearing for days at a time and then arriving in the early morning and playing music loud enough to be heard through the walls. He seemed an odd fit among the young professionals who lived in the block. In his forties she guessed, with a shaved head he drove a grey transit that had once belonged to Railtrack. You could see the name under the paintwork. Adam promised to talk to him about the music.

For the most part, life in the new flat was everything she had hoped for. So it was all the more strange that sometimes she was aware of a slight undercurrent of unease. Once when she was younger she had set out in a moleskine notebook, a list of everything she thought she wanted in life. The list was a modest one. Somewhere to live that was full of light. Freedom from debt. A career that satisfied bahis siteleri her. A sensitive, caring lover to share her life. It troubled her that she had achieved everything on her list with surprising ease. And that she found herself at odd moments running through it in her head, wondering if she might have missed something.

Are you happy? she asked him one night in the new bed. Of course, he said. Aren’t you? Instead of answering , she leaned over and kissed him.

A month or so after his arrival Lena arrived home to find Adam in conversation with their neighbour on the landing. He had a tattoo of a fish disappearing into his collar. She tried not to stare.

Adam introduced them.

– This is Paul, he said, explaining he worked off shore, putting up wind turbines in the North Sea. Paul nodded a greeting but said nothing.

– That must be challenging, she said to fill the awkward silence that followed.

– It has its moments, pet, he said at last, without looking at her.

The voice had a softness that was at odds with his muscular frame. A soft Tyneside lilt.

And then he nodded, and disappeared into his flat.

– Chatty, said Lena.

– He’s probably exhausted, said Adam. Shifts, I expect.

Lena followed Adam inside.

– Pet? she said. Did he just call me Pet?

Adam waved her objection away.

– It’s a Geordie thing, he said. Don’t take any notice.

Later she asked Adam if he’d mentioned the music. Not yet, he said. We’ll get much further if we have a relationship with him first.

A few days later she found Paul on the landing struggling with groceries.

– Tescos, he said. Remind me never to go again.

And unexpectedly, he smiled.

It was the first sign of human warmth she’s seen in him.

– If you promise not to call me pet, I’ll give you a hand, she said?Again the smile.

I’ll give it a go. Leave the rucksack. It’s got tins.

Ignoring his advice she hoisted the bag onto her shoulder and followed him inside.

– Where do you want it?

– Kitchen, he said. Through there.

She carried the heavy rucksack through to the kitchen, and found she knew her way.

– Your flat’s the same as ours, she said. But the other way round.

– Not mine, he said. It’s the company’s. Not my choice but it does the job

The furniture was new. But the place looked as if no one lived there. A sparsely furnished show house. At that moment Paul’s mobile rang.

– Make yourself at home, he said, taking the call and waving her towards the living room.

When she thought about it later she wondered why she stayed. Her neighbourly act was done. And yet instead of returning to her own flat she remained where she was. His call dragged on.

Lena wandered through to the living room and met a woman in a well-cut jacket coming towards her. She was facing a huge mirror. She looked at the full length image critically. At home her own mirrors were of antique glass foxed with age. She liked the transient and cloudy version of the world they offered as she passed. This mirror was like the rest of the flat, pristine and soulless. As bahis şirketleri if it had been delivered straight from the factory without being troubled by a single fleeting image. But even here the magic was at work. The simple frame held an entire world separated from her by the thin surface of glass. It was always like this. Looking at the version of herself who inhabited this space she found it hard to escape the feeling that the Lena beyond the glass was the real one and that the flesh and blood Lena whose body she inhabited was an imposter. She stood for a while considering the woman who was at once her and not her. As ever, she seemed tantalisingly close.

She did not notice Paul’s arrival. One moment the woman in the mirror was alone, the next he was simply there standing at her shoulder. He seemed to have materialised in the glass, swum to the surface from its depths. He was watching her. The reflection had the stillness of a painting. A woman in a jacket, a man at her shoulder waiting. For a long moment neither moved.

And then slowly, in the underwater calm, she saw the man reach round, and slip his hands under the lapels of the woman’s jacket. As he lifted it from her shoulders she saw the woman’s arms straighten to allow him to remove it. The stillness surged back. Now the man’s hands were resting on the woman’s shoulders. She watched as the hand in the mirror detached itself from her shoulder and reached down to the open neck of her blouse. She saw it undo first one button, then a second. The woman in the mirror was standing perfectly still. The man went on unbuttoning. He worked slowly, deliberately, while she watched his face in the glass. It was as impersonal as undressing a mannikin. When the last button gave way the fabric fell open to reveal the curve of a breast. She watched Paul’s hand ease the shirt from the woman’s shoulder, reach across and in a single movement scoop the soft flesh from its enclosing cup. She saw the strong fingers knead the breast. Watched him take the nipple under his powerful blunt thumb. Lena felt a jolt shoot through her, not quite pain, but something too hard and insistent to be entirely pleasurable.

And then Adam was calling from the open front door.

“Lena?”

Paul turned away, releasing her and going out to meet him. She could hear them talking in the hallway. By the time they returned she was decent again. She didn’t trust herself to speak.

I was just saying you’d have expected the walls to be better insulated, said Adam. I was telling Paul we could sometimes hear his music.

Back in her own flat Lena busied herself with food. Chopping tomatoes, and garlic, putting pasta on to boil. Adam was his usual cheery self. Everything was as it should be, except that nothing was as it should be and everything had changed. She struggled to take it in. She had allowed a man she barely knew to open her blouse, take her naked breast and crush it in his powerful hand. What astounded her was that stopping him had never entered her head. Why on earth had she let him do this? She was conscious of a faint crackle of electricity humming in the air around her. She looked at the texture of the tomato she’d set on the chopping board. The tautness of the skin, with its faint blush of moisture.

How did he know, she thought. How did he know he could do this to her?

She cut downwards, appalled.

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