A mystery USB leads Adrian to a cabin where he finds a book written by himself. The book contains schematics for a machine. Adrian, being good with his hands, starts to build.
Adrian receives a second USB. It contains video proof that his wife, Candice, is having an affair. Distraught, Adrian returns to the cabin. The television inside turns on, reveals Other Adrian. Other Adrian explains he is from a parallel world. His life’s work is locating other versions of himself, bringing them across to his world where they share knowledge and unlock the mysteries of the universe. Other Adrian needs Adrian to build the machine to bring him across.
Later, Adrian receives an email from Other Adrian’s agent asking to meet.
He’s chosen one of the coffee places in the city that Candice talks about. A place on the corner of a pedestrian mall, and a busy road. It’s newly painted, polished concrete floors, a strange assortment of furniture—some old, some new—which Adrian senses is less random and more planned than appears at first glance.
He takes a table outside, in the mall. It isn’t the nicest table. The drone of cars from the nearby road is prevalent. As is the scent of tar and exhaust, which overpowers the smell of coffee. But he wants to be outside, to have a view of his contact when they arrive. Deep down, he’s also wondering if Candice might drop by, catch him out with someone, realise he’s got secrets too. Why else has he picked a cafe that she talks about? But then again, when was the last time she mentioned this place? A month ago? More? He doesn’t know. If he’s honest, he doesn’t really listen anymore. Is that why she looks elsewhere? No, that’s on her, not him.
He watches pedestrians approach in twos, in threes, more. Some stop, survey the menu, others walk on. The breeze is picking up, but it’s warm out, even as the sun sinks low in the sky.
When the waiter approaches, he orders a cappuccino to get rid of him. That’s when he sees her.
Taylor Bradbury. The expat he met in Thailand. That forced herself into his and Candice’s world. That convinced Candice to share him. That rocked his world, then left. And even though he didn’t want to think of her over the years, he has, often.
Seeing her now, he recalls the feel of her velvet, red hair across his chest. Like a phantom limb. He swallows, shrinks in his chair. He simultaneously wants to talk to her, and to sneak away.
She’s talking to the waiter, who turns and points at Adrian, and she looks, catches his eye, and he hers, and it’s too late to go. He jerks upright, clears his throat. She smiles, walks toward him. He can’t bring himself to smile back.
She slides into the chair across from him, places her handbag on the ground, leans forward, and his eyes are drawn to the shock of red hair that slides half across her left eye, and the pale freckled skin of her cheek. In his mind, he knows those freckles continue down her chest, and her stomach. He swallows again.
“Long time,” she says. There’s a huskiness in her voice he doesn’t remember. Experience, age. A change that makes her more attractive.
“I thought I was getting answers, not more…” He shrugs, gives some sort of weak hand wave.
“Questions? Maybe I bring both,” she says, laughs. She leans back into her chair, casual. A shadow tells him someone else is close, and he looks up to see a man backlit by the sun. He blinks twice, and the image resolves into a waiter carrying his coffee. The man places it in front of him.
“Anything else?” the waiter asks.
“You have anything harder than this?” Taylor says.
“We have an assortment of wines and beers. Would you like to see a menu?”
“No. Just bring me a pale ale if you have one?”
Adrian holds up two fingers. “Two, please,” he says.
The waiter nods. Then he’s gone.
Adrian watches Taylor watch him wrestle with all of this. He forces a smile. “So…” he says.
“I took the videos. I dropped off the USBs. I—”
“You’re his agent.”
She hesitates a beat. “Your agent.”
“No. That’s not me. That’s…” But how does he finish?
She reaches out and places a hand on his. Electricity sizzles across his skin. Heat. He snatches his hand back.
“I work as a historian for the Council,” she says, as if that explain things. He feels his face bunch in confusion. She hurries on. “My team is responsible for documenting, restoring and maintaining local historical sites.”
“Like the cabin,” he says.
“Like the cabin,” she repeats.
The waiter reappears with a tray, two beers—a craft beer that Adrian doesn’t recognise—two glasses. Adrian holds his tongue as the waiter places a bottle in front of Taylor, and then another in front of him. They clink pleasantly against the glass-topped table. He deposits the glasses, then dissolves back into the cafe throng without offering to pour their drinks.
Taylor pours her beer into the glass. Adrian grabs the bottle and takes a long draw. It’s achingly cold, bitter. When he places the half empty bottle back on the table, Taylor is looking at him with a grin. She raises her glass, “Cheers,” she says, takes a sip.
After she swallows, she continues. “The furniture appeared one day. The TV, the rug, the armchair.”
“Someone moved it in? Someone else? Another agent maybe?”
She shakes her head, no. She seems certain. “The cabin was being restored. We had the fences in place, and the gate was locked each night. There was no sign that the fence or lock had been tampered with, and yet one day the cabin was empty, the next…”
“Not,” he offers.
She takes another sip of beer. It’s familiar, he thinks, the way she licks her top lip after. Déjà vu.
“We removed it, paid a company to dispose of it. Then it happened again. I was alone when I found it the second time. I dropped by the site on my way to the office, I can’t even remember why. Remeasuring the beam we were repairing, maybe? Anyway, it was back. What looked like the same TV. The same rug. The same armchair and side table and TV stand. As well as a book.”
“Yes, by you. Then you were there. On the screen. And so was I.”
“You were on the screen as well?”
She nods. “Never at the same time. It would switch from you to me.”
“That’s what I call him.”
She nods at this, like she approves.
“I’ve never seen you,” he says.
“No, Other Adrian said it wouldn’t help. Not when I explained our brief interaction.”
“You told him about Thailand?”
“Not in detail, but the gist of it. The brevity of our time together. Have you been reading your book?”
Adrian pauses a beat, nods. “Some. Infinite worlds with infinite possibilities.”
She shrugs. “Other Adrian says that is not strictly true. The infinite possibilities part, that is. Some things are always drawn together. It happens over and over again, like electrons orbiting a nucleus. They may stray, but the attraction remains. In this possibility, you’ve strayed.”
Adrian feels hot, sweaty. Taylor seems clearer than clear, realer than real. “What does that mean?” he asks.
“Other Adrian and Other Taylor, they’re together in their world, and most others they find. They’re doing this together. Bringing other versions of them—of us—together. Joining our experiences to crack open the skull of the universe, to look inside at the grey matter, to learn it all.”
Like finding a god and destroying her, he thinks. He shivers despite the heat. She reaches toward him again, hesitates. When he keeps his hand on the table, she lowers hers, places it on his. This time he maintains contact, allows the heat of her skin to spark a fire inside him and send embers into his bloodstream, into his pounding heart, into his brain.
“Thailand was meant to happen,” she says, her voice a soft rasp. “This was meant to happen.”
His hand is shaking under hers. He feels desire. A want. He doesn’t trust himself. He gently untangles his hand from hers, stands.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I can’t… I’m sorry.”
He turns to leave, but stops when she speaks. “I can show you where Candice is now. Whom she is with. What she is doing.”
He swallows. He wills himself to leave. But he can’t. He turns back toward Taylor’s intense flame, sits. “I’m not sure I want that.”
She sighs with sympathy. “I know. But it’s necessary.”
And he understands that it is. He won’t be able to move forward without it. He nods, and Taylor calls for the bill.
He was thirty-six when his appendix burst. The pain had built steadily over several days, a burning sensation that he at first mistook for indigestion. But it became sharper, focused. A throbbing low in his right side that felt like a nail had been hammered into his gut when he applied pressure. In hindsight, he was naive. He thought it was his diet, or drinking too much. He’d continued driving the bus as the pain had built, then the fever, hoping it’d all go away.
It was Candice that twigged to what was going on. Which was odd in hindsight. They weren’t talking much at the time. She was grieving her mother and after some clumsy efforts by Adrian to provide comfort, she made clear there was nothing he could do to make it better. So, he gave her space. And at the same time started to resent her for going back on the pill without a discussion.
Despite that, she must have intuited something was wrong with him, because she broke through, and somehow deduced what was happening. When she said the word appendix, it was like watching an old silent film where a lightbulb turns on above the main character’s head.
By the time he got to the hospital, he felt better. The pressure in his right side had reached a crescendo and suddenly, like jumping from a plane, he felt weightless, he felt relief. They told him after that that was the moment it ruptured.
He doesn’t remember much about going into surgery. An anaesthetist that asked him if he was nervous, his replying no, all the while the heart monitor pinging like a slot machine revealing his lie. He remembers lights, counting backward, then… he was awake.
It was all over, but he didn’t realise at first. He didn’t realise much of anything, other than that there was a presence next to him, slumped in a hard armchair.
“Mum?” he asked, surprised at how sluggish his words sounded. He could see he was in a hospital, but in those first few moments, he wasn’t sure why. “Mum?” he said again.
A hand reached out, grasped his. Young skin. Maybe not as young as it once was, but warm, soft. The first time Candice had touched him in months. Or maybe, if he were honest, the first time he’d allowed her touch to get through the shell he’d erected. And maybe then only because of the morphine that fogged his senses, that made him confused about what was going on.
“It’s me, babe,” came the weary reply. He forced himself to look her over, to take her in. She’d just woken, but even in his daze, he could see she was exhausted.
“Did you stay here all night?” he asked in that slow, unfamiliar drawl. His mouth felt so dry.
As if intuiting this, she held out a cup for him, helped him sip it. When he was done, he sighed and sat back against his pillows.
“Don’t worry about me,” she’d said, smiling. “Get some sleep.”
And he had. It had been easy to sink back into oblivion, to let the drugs wash his mind clean. But before he went to sleep, a thought struck him. Stuck with him. Would I have done that for her? He didn’t know. But something about that act, that willingness to put aside her comfort just to make sure he had someone familiar nearby when he woke in a drugged daze, half confused, that struck him as something amazing.
Adrian and Taylor stand across the road from the apartment building that Adrian last saw on video. The apartment building that his wife disappeared into with a strange man.
“She comes here at least once a week, sometimes more,” Taylor says. Adrian deduces that she’s been following his wife for some time. A conclusion that seems important, but he’s too distracted to give it much attention.
“She’s there now?” he asks, staring across the road. It’s still light out, but only just. The sun has sunk most of the way beneath the horizon, and the sky has faded from blue to grey.
He sees the man again in his mind. The tall man, with dark hair, in the nice suit. A success, unlike him. He swallows, notices the sweat in his armpits spreading like spilt ink on paper.
“His apartment is on the third floor. I know which one,” Taylor says. He looks at her, sees a sparkle in her eye. She appears to be enjoying herself. His face tightens into a frown. As he looks back across the road the street lights shimmer to life, one after the other.
“They deserve to be caught, to be screamed at, to…” Taylor leaves the thought hanging. His mind takes it, runs with it. He imagines kicking in a door, yelling. It doesn’t feel right. Just as quickly, he imagines stumbling into a bedroom that smells of sweat and sex, losing his words, his anger replaced with embarrassment. He imagines himself apologising, and he feels his face redden. He swallows again. “No,” he says, barely a whisper. “No, I don’t think so. I don’t want to see… I don’t—”
“I understand,” Taylor interjects, and takes his clammy hand in her soft, dry one. She rubs the back of it, ever so gently, with her thumb. A thumb that is small, and smooth, and sensual. Adrian’s eyes are drawn to it, watching it move back and forth. Slowly, very slowly, his eyes move up her pale arm, to her shoulder, to her face, and her green eyes looking back at him. They sparkle with a want.
She licks her lips. They look so red, ripe. “We could get another drink? Or…?”
His hand tingles, his stomach flutters. He shakes his head, unwinds his hand from hers. “No, not tonight. I just want to go home.” He hates the sound of defeat in his voice.
“Not tonight?” she asks.
He’s married. He should make clear he means not ever. But he doesn’t. He leaves that door open. “I’ve got more work to do on the machine.”
She smiles. “Okay, then. A raincheck.”
Adrian stares at the maze of wires and circuits in the machine. His eyesight is strained, his hair is greasy, and he can smell his own body odour. He’s exhausted, and he just wants to leave the garage and take a shower, but he can’t, not yet.
He’s followed the instructions in the book, and yet the machine does nothing. Not that the book really explains what it is supposed to do, but he knows that the nothing it is currently doing is not right. There should be a hum of electricity when he switches it on, a vibration of power, heat. But there’s nothing, and he’s certain he’s made an error in the construction. A loose wire, a faulty connection. Yet he can’t seem to locate the problem
He’s so tired he’s having trouble seeing straight. But he can’t let this go. So he stares into the casing, into the circuitry, into the jungle of wiring. There’s something comforting about the trance he’s in, as unfathomable and impenetrable as it is.
The loud groan of the garage door rising jerks him from his stupor. He turns, squints as bright sunlight assaults his eyes. Morning already? he thinks. He sees bare feet, legs, a short skirt, shoes held in a slender hand. She’s been out all night, he realises, while he has been here working.
She doesn’t see him at first. It gives him time to appraise her. A ruffled top, make-up smeared, hair frazzled. He wants to despise her, but instead the usual cocktail of confused emotions emerges. Lust, love, a deep, throbbing pain like an infected tooth.
He clears his throat, and her head jerks toward him, her eyes widen with surprise. “Adrian?” she says. “You’re up early.”
She stands on the periphery of the garage, frozen.
He blinks. It feels like slow motion. He nods toward the machine as if that explains it.
“Oh,” she says. She takes two hesitant steps into the garage, stops. “Have you finished?”
“Where were you?” he asks. His voice sounds strange in his ears, feels strange leaving his mouth. It’s like listening to someone else, someone emotionless. A bluff, because his emotions are a pit of seething snakes, constricting, biting, slithering all over one another.
“Out,” she says too loudly. Her eyes dart away. “With Jenny and the girls, like I said.” She glances back at him.
“All night? Or you slept it off at Jenny’s place.”
Candice swallows, which sounds loud contrasted with the quiet of the early morning. “I stayed with Jenny, of course.”
“Like last weekend,” he says.
She straightens, places both hands on her hips, the right still holding her shoes. “Yes, like last weekend. What did you think I was doing?” she says, on the offensive now. His body responds like it always does. His stomach dives down to his toes, his neck warms, his heart beats harder. He’s a chastened child, being told off in front of the class. He hates this feeling. Hates that she knows she can do this to him, turn on him and make him feel apologetic for her behaviour.
He licks his lips. They’re dry, and his tongue does little to moisten them. He tries to hold her gaze, but he can’t. He lowers his eyes, shakes his head in a half apology.
She continues to glower for a few beats, then she moves toward the door into the house, her bare feet padding softly against the cement.
His words surprise him as much as her. “Who is he?”
She freezes. He regards her curiously, waits. He’s nervous, and yet he also feels removed from his physical body, watching everything from a safe distance.
She turns slowly, purses her lips, huffs. “So that’s what you think of me. A whore? Or are you just jealous, once again, that I have a life? That I refuse to give up, and wallow at home every weekend with you feeling sorry for myself? Is that it?”
He opens his mouth to respond, but she doesn’t let him.
“I was out with Jenny. Understood? I keep telling you that you can come out with us anytime you like. It’s you that chooses not to. So you don’t get the right to start throwing wild accusations around just because you’ve let your imagination run away with you.”
He rises from his seat, the stool screeching as it slides over the concrete.
“No, don’t fucking come near me. I’m getting a shower, and having a sleep. You could do with the same. You stink. But do me a favour, take the spare room.”
She turns to go, and he’s suddenly overwhelmed by the unfairness of it all. His heart turns to fire. His churning belly hardens into stone and he feels his face contort into something bitter. “Twenty-six Charlton Street,” Adrian hisses.
She stutters mid-stride, deflates before his eyes. When she looks back her mouth is an ‘o’, and her eyes are glassy with a hint of tears. Adrian thinks she will continue to deny what he knows. Thinks she will attack him again. But she doesn’t. She turns, and rushes into the house.
He wakes with a start, confused, hot, disoriented. Bright sunlight penetrates the room through flimsy curtains. A room that isn’t his. This one has pale grey walls, and a musty smell. A linen doona covers him. Then it hits him. His accusation, Candice’s reaction, his nap in the spare room.
He throws the covers back, sits up on the edge of the bed. Everything feels different. Like he went to sleep Adrian, and woke up someone else. The room feels on the edge of eruption. A build-up of electricity. A dam holding a torrent of water back. He feels dizzy, and he clings hard to the bed as if this might keep him from falling. He closes his eyes, opens them. The dizziness recedes.
He rises, eases the door open, pokes a head out. It’s quiet. The house is steeped in it. Not a silence of emptiness, but something else. A full silence. Filled with words yet to be said. He knows Candice is in their room, sleeping or feigning sleep. Right now, he doesn’t care. That she’s here, or for her words. He doesn’t need to do this her way. He doesn’t need to listen. He’s shared his knowledge. Now he can act. Move on. But to where? His mind wanders to Taylor, to the machine, to the cabin.
He moves out of the bedroom, walks as quietly as he can into the living/dining/kitchen space. He’s still wearing the clothes he worked through the night in. They’re crumpled, and smell of stale sweat.
In the kitchen he checks the clock on the microwave, sees that it’s just after eleven am. He hasn’t slept long. He thinks about turning the kettle on, but then thinks better of it. He doesn’t want to rouse her. He wants this moment to himself. The eye of the storm. He removes orange juice from the fridge, quietly pours a glass, and sits at the bench to drink.
He spies his phone on the charger, removes it, checks for messages, none, emails, one. He opens it and there she is. Redhead22. The only thing she’s sent is a phone number. He checks the hall again as if he might find Candice lurking there, then dials. As it rings, he gets up and goes to the garage, closes the door behind him. She answers.
“I was wondering when you’d call,” she says. Her voice is husky, sensual.
Adrian swallows. “When I’d call? Not if?”
“I’m an optimist.” He can hear the smile in her words. She’s enjoying this, he thinks. “How did she take it?” she asks.
He wonders how she knew he’d confront her. “Like Candice.”
“What’s that mean?”
He shakes his head. Like it’s my fault, he thinks. He wonders for the briefest moment whether it might be, but then corrects himself. No. It’s not. It’s hers. What has he ever done but be faithful? And yet there’s guilt there. Something that gnaws at him, which he pushes down, ignores for now. “It means she took it badly, but that doesn’t matter. I’ve nearly finished the machine.”
“Oh?” she says, both like this is a surprise and expected at the same time. “So you’ve decided? You’ll be brought across? To join him? To join us?” There’s an eagerness in her tone.
“I’d like to speak to him again first,” he says.
“And I won’t do it alone.”
“You won’t have to. I’ll be there.”
He swallows again. In his mind he dips into the past and feels, vividly, her soft hands. He sees the pale skin of her arm as it caresses his chest. He can feel the swell of her breasts against him. He shivers. She said they were made for each other. It’s inevitable. A repeated attraction across infinite worlds. He feels it.
“Do you have a car?” he asks.
“Yes, of course.”
“Will you come get me when I’m finished?”
“Yes,” she whispers into the phone. “I will.”
“Yes, Adrian.” He wants to thank her for finding him. He wants to explain his excitement, his curiosity, his fear, his guilt. Yet the words avoid his grasp. “I’ll call again soon.”
She hangs up. He stares at the dormant phone in his hand for a moment, then he goes to his workbench, and feeling fresher, he begins to recheck the wiring.
He finishes soldering, places the iron on the bench, stretches his neck left, right. It clicks loudly, he grimaces, rolls his shoulders.
He takes a breath, switches the machine on, waits for a hum of electricity, waits for something, anything to happen.
His shoulders slump. He flips the power switch off, then on. Nothing. Off again.
The door to the house opens. He looks and finds Candice standing in the doorframe, hands on hips, pouting. “Okay, I’m sorry. You caught me, and I’m sorry.”
He stares, wants to say something, can’t.
She steps into the garage, continues. “It didn’t mean anything. Nothing. It… I…” As he watches, she appears to shrink into herself. She takes a couple more hesitant steps, stops. Her voice is softer when she speaks. “I didn’t want this. Not really. It’s just… We…”
He sees tears in her eyes. One spills onto her cheek, and leaves a silvery trail as it runs toward her chin. Part of him feels sorry for her. Another part observes from afar, detached.
“It’s been so long,” she whispers, and yet he hears her voice clearly across the garage. “So long since you looked at me like I was… new. Lovely.”
She sniffs. He feels the pull of the machine, the temptation to turn and work again on its faults, and yet her gravity also draws him.
“His name is John. He made me feel special. I haven’t felt like that since we met. And… it’s no excuse, I know, but I wanted to recapture what we had once. Just for a time.”
She falls into a deep silence, looks at her feet. Waits. He can’t help but stare at her. She’s pitiful and untrustworthy, he tells himself. From outside comes the sounds of birdsong, and a dog barking a few streets away.
“Okay. Fine,” he mutters. “Now leave me alone.”
She looks at him then as if he’s a bug she’d like to bring her boot down on. She looks at him as if he’s the one that’s been caught fucking someone else. He should be angry, but he’s not. He’s tired of this one-sided discussion. But he can see there’s more.
“You get what I’m saying, don’t you?” she asks, her voice rising. “This is your fault. Your fucking fault.” She glowers. “I married someone else. Someone exciting. Then he changed. Into you. I just want my Adrian back. Not this fucking tranquilized, no ambition, emotionally bereft person you’ve become. I wanted to feel something, Adrian. Anything. That’s why I cheated, you bastard.” She’s screaming now. Red faced, arms gesticulating, breathing hard.
Adrian sighs, turns away and refocuses on the machine. He flinches when Candice screams. A wail that rises until his ears hurt, and he has to cover them with both hands. After, silence. He drops his hands, and hears only Candice’s harsh breathing.
He turns to her. Looks at her purple, angry face. “I have work to do,” he says quietly.
She looks like she will explode. Opens her mouth, closes it. Opens it again. “With that machine?” she screeches. “With that fucking game. Why? What’s so important?”
“You told me I needed something like this in my life,” he says, knowing that she doesn’t know that the game is real, that something big is at stake. He stares at her, and she at him. He doesn’t feel the guilt anymore, or the obligation. She’s broken all of that. He turns back to the machine and picks up the soldering iron. He waits for her to yell again, but she doesn’t. Instead, he hears her footsteps as she moves back into the house. It makes him feel larger, bolder. If he can just find this faulty wire, he thinks. He resumes his work.
Twelve months back, Adrian relented and went out with Candice and her friends. They all met up at an Italian restaurant in the city with nice food, and nicer wine. He doesn’t recall the name of the place, but he remembers the exposed brick, the smoky scent of the wood fired pizza oven, the buzz of wait staff floating between patrons.
They were given a large table along one wall of the restaurant. He sat on the bench against the wall next to Candice.
He was struck that night by her people. In a few short years, they’d all changed. He didn’t know any of them. The only topics they talked about were the office, difficult clients, and clever solutions. They used jargon that made discussions hard to follow. Whole sentences floated by him.
He presumed most of them worked with Candice—colleagues, bosses, and managers once removed. Important people, comfortable in their own spheres. People who’d shrunk the world down to a bubble small enough to understand and beat. A bubble that contained accounting, a firm of a few hundred people, and a list of clients. Beyond that, nothing of importance.
The thing was, from the perspective of an outsider—and a lowly bus driver who didn’t define himself by his meagre contribution to society at that—the stream of words was both impressive and thin. Like discovering the new town you’ve entered is actually a movie set with nothing but scaffolding behind the colourful facade.
These people only seemed to have two settings: talk, or wait to talk. And for all of the fancy words, the topics were always about whomever was the speaker at the time.
Yet that night sticks in his mind. On one level, Candice mimicked them, and he listened to her with the same detached and horrified fascination as he did the others. But when someone else took centre stage, she’d place her hand on his knee under the table, lean close to him until her hair ticked his ear, the side of his neck. Sometimes she’d sneak a kiss. A quick peck on his cheek, occasionally something that lingered longer, a nibble at the corner of his mouth. She’d lean in and whisper real words to him. She thanked him a lot. Told him she loved him. Told him she couldn’t have got where she was without him.
That night he saw her. Not the pantomime she produced for work. Not the judgement at home. Her. The girl he’d first met and fallen for. It was like she’d lifted the window a crack to let in fresh air, and through it he’d caught the scent of her, a flash of the real her walking by.
That night he realised that behind their difficulties, if he could just peel back the layers enough, he’d find her still there. Someone pure and familiar. He just had to try.
But it was easy to fall back into old habits, and familiar patterns. Adrian promised to try, but he put it off to next week, then the week after, then eventually he stopped promising. And she didn’t reveal herself again.
It’s hot in the garage. Adrian’s sweating, beads running freely down his back, his chest. His armpits are dark, wet, and the heady stink of him is in his nostrils. There’s also the scent of solder in the air, sharp and biting. One more try, he thinks. He turns on the power.
At first, nothing changes. But then he notices a subtle increase in heat, and hears the soft, resonant hum of electricity coursing through wires. He smiles so broadly his cheeks hurt. He’s finally done it.
Carefully, he swings the top steel panel back into place. As it clicks together, he feels the machine vibrate under his hands, so subtly he might not have noticed if he weren’t touching the casing. The hairs on his arm rise. He feels something in his spine do the same, then his brain. He suddenly feels naked. Like a monstrous eye has opened and turned toward him. He feels small, inconsequential under that gaze. He pulls his hands away like he’s been stung, flips the power off. The hum dies, the vibrations cease, and he feels himself again. He puts it down to working too hard without enough sleep.
He takes out his phone, calls Taylor.
“Did you fix it?” she asks, excitedly.
“I fixed it,” he says.
She makes a sound that makes him think of sex and sweat. A sound she might have made in bed with him all those years ago. He swallows hard.
“I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
“Wait,” he says, and for a moment he’s not sure if he’s caught her before she’s hung up. Then he hears her breathing.
“You’re really sure about this? You’re ready to just leave this world behind on the promises of a stranger? What if it’s a trick? What if it’s not what he promised?” He can’t shake the feeling that this is all too big, too crazy, and important. He doesn’t seem to have enough information to make an informed decision. He feels his emotions are running too high. That someone may be coercing him into something that he shouldn’t do.
“I didn’t talk to a stranger,” she says matter-of-factly. “I spoke to me. Then I spoke to you.”
Other Adrian isn’t him, he thinks.
“If you can’t trust yourself, whom can you trust?” she says. “And besides, what’s here for me that’s so great?”
He hesitates, thinking. “Okay,” he says eventually. “But give me half an hour. I desperately need a shower.”
“Half an hour it is.” He can hear the smile in her voice.
Candice is waiting when he steps out of the bathroom, hair wet, a towel wrapped around his waist. She looks like she’s been crying, and her arms are crossed defensively across her chest.
He stops, stares, waits.
“Can we talk?” she says. Her voice is soft, raspy. He feels for her briefly, until he recalls what she did. This isn’t his fault.
“I don’t have time,” he says. He steps past her, and walks to their bedroom. He doesn’t know what he should wear, or what he should bring. Candice follows him into the room. He ignores her, removes clean underwear from his drawer, puts them on without removing the towel.
“I want to explain,” she says, watching him as he opens the wardrobe. He rifles through his shirts, eventually picks a plain, white tee, throws it over his head.
“I miss you,” she says.
He regards her quizzically, turns back to the wardrobe, finds a pair of black chinos. “Well, I’m always here,” he says, not looking.
“But you’re not,” she says.
He hesitates, drops the towel and steps into his pants
“You haven’t been for a long time,” she continues. “I feel like you’ve disappeared into yourself. You’ve anesthetised the vibrant parts of you.”
He shoots her a glare, opens his mouth to say something, but then can’t bring himself to fight. He swings the wardrobe door open wider. There’s a mirror affixed to the inside. He runs a hand through his wet hair. He can see her in the reflection, eyes on his back. Sad eyes.
“This can’t all be my fault,” he says.
“I know, I’m not saying it is, I’m just trying to explain why—”
“Why you fucked a stranger?” he says, glancing at her reflection. He watches her cheeks redden, tears well in her eyes.
“You were such hard work.”
He barks a laugh. “I’m hard work. I don’t argue, I clean up after myself, I fucking encourage you every time you go after a promotion at work, even if it means I don’t see you for weeks while you work ridiculous hours.”
“Yes.” She exhales for a long time. “And that’s how you float by. Remember when we first went out? The arguments we’d have, the ideas we’d discuss, the way we fucked?”
He does remember it. Familiar, and foreign. Like a place he can’t find his way back to. He turns, tries to step past her. She blocks him.
“What I did was wrong. Horrible even. But it was a cry for help. Please, Adrian.” She grabs his hands with hers, squeezes until they hurt. He can feel her pain, feel her anguish, her desire. “Please, come back to me. Fight for me. For the us that once was. Please?”
He stares into her eyes. Big, brown eyes. He can’t remember the last time he looked into them. Saw how much lay behind them. The honesty. He opens his mouth to respond when a car horn sounds. Candice’s head jerks around like she might be able to see the car through the walls of their house. Without eye contact, it’s easier. He pulls his hands free. “That’s my ride,” he says.
He nods. “I’m sorry, Candice. I’ve got to go.” He eases past her, moves quickly to the garage. She doesn’t follow.
When he raises the garage door, Taylor is waiting, parked in his driveway, the back of her hatchback open. It’s still light out, but not for much longer.
He carries the machine to her car, manoeuvres it into the back, closes the hatch. He climbs into the passenger seat, and Taylor reaches across, places a hand on his knee, squeezes.
“Ready?” she asks. He nods. She starts the car, eases out of the driveway.
As they gain speed, he turns and looks back at the house. He sees Candice standing in the open garage, watching. He watches her until they turn out of the street, until he can’t see Candice or his house anymore.
Something has been set in motion. Something that he can’t stop now even if he wanted to.