From the author: This story first appeared around last year's Valentine's Day, and ironically, it's a love story about a breakup. Also, metaphysics, sculptures, and weird objects showing up in your living room from other dimensions, with offhand cameos from the Beatles and the Eleventh Doctor. This is my queer unabashed love letter to all things metaphysical. It also came straight out of one of the weirdest dreams I've had. (Why thank you, my subconscious.)
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This story is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC-BY-SA).
Day 3. Now.
When the Thing appeared in my living room, my husband fled, yelling, “Matt, what the hell did you do?”
It’s like a modern art sculpture, all black sinew and sinister edges. I’ve seen enough of Brent’s gallery showings to know. It’s growing from floor to ceiling, but I checked and it’s not in the basement or the upstairs bedroom.
There’s a blackbird, too, which appeared on my bookshelf. I didn’t notice it the first day, it blends with the ebony of the shelf. But on the second day, it stirred.
Okay, I can’t keep calling it the Thing. That’s too bad-horror-movie. It is the Sculpture in Matt’s Living Room. SIMLR.
Today I got up the courage to touch the SIMLR. It’s warm and pulses like it’s breathing. The breath is labored.
Day -634. Before.
I met Brent in a gallery. Of course it was a gallery, with violent pink canvasses on white walls, chrome monstrosities spread in a forest across the floor, and spray-painted beer cans hanging artfully from the ceiling. And among all the chaos was beautiful darkness. Matte-black pillars growing up like fluid stalagmites. Geometric, fractal, moving me when I thought all this stuff was junk and all I really wanted to do was go home and delve into my books and I was only at the gallery because I owed a friend a night’s wingmanship.
Then I looked up from his art and saw him. Tall. Neatly-trimmed hipster beard. Black-rimmed glasses and the cutest shy dimple when he smiled.
There are moments in life when your reality shifts. A quantum tipping point from one state to another. An observation that changes your state from one to two.
Day 4. Now.
The blackbird woke up. It sits on a stack of physics books and tilts its head when I mutter to myself, listening.
The SIMLR’s curves don’t ever quite look the same, like it’s edging forward in glacial motion. It’s not geometrical and rigid like Brent’s sculptures, but built as if for movement. I think it’s heading toward the front door. Does it want out?
I can’t look away.
Day -332. Before.
I never thought I’d go for marriage. I’d never wanted a boyfriend, much less a husband. Working shifts as a manager at an electronics store and a second job as a cashier at a geek shop kept me more than busy. Brent said I was wasted on those jobs. I should have gone to college and studied physics, which was what I spent most of my spare time reading about. My real passion, outside of Brent. Physics and metaphysics, but Brent wasn’t so sure about the metaphysics. “Fake science,” he called it.
Brent didn’t get that the brown suit, red bowtie, and fez (which he talked me out of) I wore on our wedding day was an homage to my favorite British science fiction show. Brent thought science fiction was nonsense.
“Why waste your time on things that aren’t real when you can be changing the universe, love?”
I brushed brown hair out of his eyes. “You spend all day creating matte black variations on a theme. Isn’t that making things that aren’t real? They’re gorgeous, yes. But not real.”
“Art is real. Art is tangible. Art anchors us to reality.”
Day 6. Now.
I read a lot. Brent says I should be searching for another job—or jobs—but he doesn’t know how hard it is out there. The doors to his studio in town, in which he’s been sleeping the last few nights, and the doors to the galleries where he shows, are like portals. There’s a different reality on the other side of those doors than the one I live in out here.
So I read about M-theory and quantum mechanics, about multiverses and other dimensions, the nature of thoughts and reality. I’d seriously like to change mine.
The blackbird keeps watching me, so I explain my theories, how maybe we think about something and it changes on the quantum level. Not just the state shifts in particles when they’re observed, but actual, tangible reality. Thoughts driving the nature of reality. I really want this to be true.
The blackbird says, “Hello, Matt.”
I peed myself when it spoke. I just toweled off before I wrote this down. I need a shower.
Also, the SIMLR is three feet closer to my door than the first day.
Day 8. Now.
Brent called. He’s not coming back from the city until I take care of our vermin problem.
“Matt, I didn’t make that thing. I don’t care if you said it looks like something I’d make—it’s obscene. And I know you didn’t make it. You just don’t have the imagination for that. So that’s too weird for me, okay? That’s just too weird. You’re…”
I don’t have the imagination for that? I stiffen, every muscle inside me growing silent.
There’s a pause, and I hear him breathing on the other side of the phone. It’s a pause like the moment before sleep. The death of a day.
“Matt, I love you, okay?” It’s like he’s testing the words.
And I’m testing hearing them.
“Okay,” I say.
He doesn’t say that I have issues. But I know he’s thinking it. I hear it in the soft beep as he hangs up.
The blackbird sits on its stack of books and hums to itself. It never flies. Its head droops, and it jerks it up with a chirp.
“If you’re that tired, just sleep,” I snap.
“Oh, no. If I sleep, I will cease to exist.”
That moment before sleep. The death of a day.
It fixes me with a cock-eyed stare. Its stare shifts the air from my concern to his. “Leave.”
The hairs on my arms rise. Neither the blackbird nor the SIMLR has tried to get me to do anything before now. This feels momentous, and I don’t think I like it.
“I can’t leave.” The SIMLR hasn’t hurt me. I’m not unsafe, am I?
I look at the SIMLR, its shimmering strangeness.
This is my home. Maybe Brent’s not in it right now, and maybe the home feels empty without him. But…it’s still my home.
“I can’t leave,” I say again, softly.
The blackbird nods sagely as if I’ve said something wise, then goes back to trying not to fall asleep.
Day -109. Before.
“I don’t want kids, okay?” Brent shoved his sketch pad away. We were sitting at the dining room table in our new home, boxes still scattered around us. Not boxes with Brent’s sculptures, though. He always wanted to keep his art separate, in his studio, in the sterile, too-bright worlds of his galleries. Even though I loved his work, and even though when we were both near it we felt a deeper connection than when we weren’t. I haven’t figured that correlation out yet.
I studied my hands, palms on the table. I was tired. Moving was hard, and I’d just started my latest job as a manager at an office supply store. It was hardly different than my last job as a manager at a sporty clothing store. It was a job.
“I want more than this,” I started to say, but Brent cut a hand through the air.
“Isn’t that what this house is for? So we can have a permanent place together, not just a series of random apartments? God, Matt. We just moved in. The extra bedroom’s for an office, not a nursery. I don’t want kids.”
We’d discussed this before. And I’d tried to tell him I wanted my life to mean something more than it did. And that meaning had nothing to do with if I was happy being with him or not—I loved him. I loved him, and if I wanted to raise children with anyone, I wanted it to be him. I wanted us to raise a kid, or two, or three, the sums of both of us. I wanted to learn how the reality of my life would merge with his and create something new. Both our talents inherent in our children. New realities, utterly new creations.
“It’s too expensive,” Brent said. “Adoption’s just—it’s too expensive. And what will people think? I mean, we still get looks, and we’re legally married. It’s stupid. But I hate it. But to have kids? I’m not even good with kids. You know that, Matt.”
It was probably true. I’d seen him not even look at kids when they approached him in his gallery showings. He didn’t know what to do with them.
But he’d been home less and less lately, consumed by his work. Or possibly less consumed with me. I’d thought buying a house together would give a sense of permanence, but the threads of the walls were unraveling. Raising a child would be something we could do together. Help us recombine. We really had to get out on more dates, because the times at night I wanted to binge space shows and he wanted to sketch quietly—the two states not mutually compatible—were adding up.
I wanted a child. Something for me. A dull ache in a growing collection of needs that I kept shoving under the bed and trying to ignore.
Day 9. Now.
The blackbird stares at me with fatigue-dulled eyes. It mutters, “Leave, leave, leave.”
Doesn’t it see that I can’t? The SIMLR is not supposed to be here. It’s not from this reality. But when I look at it, I feel safer than when I look away. Maybe that should scare me.
It is almost to the door.
Day 1. Beginning.
Brent says that when he doesn’t create, he feels like death is right beside him. Waiting to take him. He pours his life and his soul into his sculptures so that he can keep breathing.
I’ve thought about this for a long time. I don’t have a talent like Brent’s. I can’t take iron or stone and make it submit. My reality is less tangible, full of things that have begun to lose their glamor for me.
My reality is colder, full of a person who has cooled in my heart.
My reality is physics I barely understand, and thoughts I wish to be true. But it is my reality. And if I’m to find anything more than death waiting to take me, I have to pour my life and soul into something, too.
So I take everything I know. Everything I’ve learned. Everything about multiple dimensions and malleable realities and quantum states. My life has been set to off, and I need it back on again. I close my eyes and pour my life and my soul into a reality I can handle.
When I open my eyes, the SIMLR is there.
Day 9. Now.
When I look at the SIMLR, I think about Brent. Brent is dark and sinewy and alien to me. We live together, but we never expand beyond our own borders.
The SIMLR is turning towards me as I write.
The blackbird was almost asleep, but now it’s waking.
I’ve been playing with changing realities. If the SIMLR is from another reality, a reality I need, what does that mean? What does it mean that it looks like what I remember of that first night I saw Brent among his matte black pillars? But when I see pictures of those sculptures from that night, they look wrong to me. Different. As if the reality they came from has shifted away. They used to be my anchors, but now they’re as adrift as I am.
I’m trapped in this room where I spend my time. I can’t get another job. Not now. The world outside is too open, the reality of that world and my world and Brent’s world too disparate—but I can’t leave Brent. Even apart, our selves are so entangled I don’t know enough of myself outside the context of him. When he is here, though, it’s like I’m falling asleep. I’m losing myself. That small moment before the death of a day.
I tilt my head and study the SIMLR. It feels fresh somehow, like I’m seeing it for the first time. Or maybe it’s changed since I called it from its reality.
It’s how I see myself, isn’t it? Strange and wrong. But in motion. Moving slowly toward the door.
It’s how I see Brent. It’s how he needs to leave, and how I need to leave, how we are both drowning in the strangeness of each other. And I am the blackbird, too fatigued to fly.
The SIMLR shifts from black to granite to stone. It pulls down from the borders of the ceiling and opens a portal lined up with the front door. The blackbird leaps from the stack of books and soars through, and through the glass window beside the door. It flies free outside.
When I walk through the portal, I know the SIMLR will be gone. I will no longer need its mirror of my reality to show me the way out. The way to a new awareness.
Maybe on the other side, I can get another job. A job that’s not just a job but means something to me. Or go to a college that teaches what I’m actually interested in. Or start a Youtube channel and talk about the weird stuff I love. And people will listen.
Maybe, one day, people I love will listen.
On our wedding day, Brent said to me, “I don’t always understand you, but I understand that I love you.”
It was true. That was our reality then. Maybe we were never perfect, but for a time, our quantum states were similar.
But realities degrade. They shift. They move like tides with time and the press of other gravities. It feels natural and inevitable. A cycle of life and death. And life after death.
Brent creates because he feels death beside him. But I also create. I create realities. And I don’t create because I don’t want to die, but because I want to live.
I close my eyes and step through the portal. It’s like passing from winter into the smell of freshly cut grass.
I’m sorry, Brent. I’m sorry I waited so long to tell you goodbye. I do love you. That was real. Please find happiness now. We no longer have to pretend.
You and I, we’re just not similar anymore.
This story originally appeared in Tales from the Canyons of the Damned.