The realtor’s feet were strange; her shoes looked like bricks. She clomped up each stair while telling them how her late-husband (bless-his-soul) rescued her from some Scottish backwater when she was sixteen. She pulled a key ring the size of a dinner plate from her purse.
“Devour a sheep whole, the bog would,” she laughed as she opened the door to #401.
“Twelve-hundred square feet, only one thousand a month,” Mrs. Bennekmann read off her sales sheet, dabbing sweat from her forehead with a paisley handkerchief.
Thom pressed the hand of his wife, Emily Jane, as she took it all in – how the Boston ivy threw shadows across the original oak flooring, the hominess of the arched stone doorways and antique fixtures, the modern kitchen with an artsy island made of reclaimed barn boards. Emily Jane did not name these things individually, but their combined effect engulfed her slowly like a tide does a beach. Trained in architecture and design, Thom noted the bedroom windows faced west so the morning sun would not wake them too early, but the living room would get a pleasant early light. Closing his eyes, he could see a faint architectural blue pulsing under the walls. “Steel frame, probably erected in the 1920’s,” he said under his breath. Emily Jane did not hear him because she was considering where to hang their painting Pig in Tall Grass by the noteworthy artist, Lerount Rebouffle.
“Did you say a thousand a month?” said Thom, touching his wife’s arm to bring her into the conversation.
“I’ll put my reading chair in that corner,” said Emily Jane.
“What’s the catch?” asked Thom.
“Well Dearie, I am glad you asked.”
“No,” said Emily Jane, clutching her husband’s arm so hard he tensed his bicep.
“The apartment has one peculiarity. In the center of the main living space is a metaphor.”
“A metaphor?” asked Emily Jane.
“Yes,” the realtor said, “a figurative device lashing two unlike things together.”
“I know what a metaphor is,” said Thom, “but why is there one in the middle of the living room?”
“I don’t know,” said Mrs. Bennekmann, “but it’s there.”
“Is it dangerous?” asked Emily Jane.
“No, not dangerous.”
“Well, where is it? I don’t see anything,” said Thom.
“Let’s see.” She consulted her sales sheet. “Approximately seven feet from the interior wall and twelve from the back. Right there.” She pointed to an empty space on the floor.
“There’s nothing there, so how is it there?” asked Thom.
“I’m no scientist,” said Mrs. Bennekmann, “but you can confirm if you like.”
“Like, stand there?” asked Emily Jane.
“Yes, if you like,” said Mrs. Bennekmann.
Emily Jane was about to step forward when Thom held his arm out to stop her.
“I’ll go. I wouldn’t want you hurt.”
Thom walked to the approximate place on the floor.
“Is anything happening?” asked Emily Jane.
Thom looked at himself. He was still wearing his red plaid shirt, dark jeans, brown leather shoes. He didn’t feel changed.
“No lightning,” said Thom. “Is this a circus? Am I the dancing bear?”
“You’re speaking rather figuratively,” said Emily Jane.
“Your gears are slipping,” said Thom, then stepped out of the metaphor, “I was speaking quite plainly.”
“You were not, darling,” said Emily Jane.
“You’re right— lightning, a dancing bear? It felt so natural.”
“Let me try,” said Emily Jane, eagerly walking into to the metaphor.
“Am I the X on the map?”
“Yes, I think you are there,” said Thom.
“How do I swim in this lake?” she asked.
“Describe yourself,” Thom suggested.
“My feet are clearly sausages. My legs are gazelles. My stomach is a toboggan. My eyes are an old English porter asleep in a barely used manor.”
“Describe your hair,” said Thom.
“My hair is a rainstorm in cursive writing.”
Emily Jane stepped out of the metaphor.
“That’s a lovely way to describe your hair,” said Thom.
“That was fun,” Emily Jane said, but she could tell by the way Thom abruptly turned to Mrs. Bennekmann that he was all business.
“So, the only problem with this place is a metaphor in the living room?”
“And there is only street parking,” added Mrs. Bennekmann.
Thom looked at Emily Jane and she smiled. He turned back to the realtor, “I don’t think there is much to discuss.”
Thom and Emily Jane moved in a week later. They had been married for three months, but they had not lived together except when travelling through Europe where they were married on a beach in Corsica. They spent a blissful month lying about in bed as the cool Mediterranean breezes blew white drapes in slow undulations. When they grew hungry, they rode the scooter up the windy hill to the town to eat linguini with clams and look at a sea so blue it stung the memory. And now they were on to the new adventure: permanent cohabitation. There was a different thrill, the thrill of creating a home, of merging their lives together into a system and routine. Thom busied himself with meticulously setting up his workstation by the windows. Emily Jane ran her hand over his drafting board. She loved its levels, lines, and the big silver clips that held the blueprints. She helped him bundle all the power cords to his scanner and printer and other devices. “You have so many cords it’s like you are a robot,” she said while tying them together and hiding them behind the desk.
Emily Jane placed the ancient typewriter that she still used to draft her books on her antique desk and positioned her favorite reading chair next to a small bookshelf lined with green wax paper. There wasn’t much to do about the metaphor except for deciding how to arrange the furniture. Should, for example, a chair be put in the metaphor, or should the metaphor be left in the open space? The answer to the question was easy, for when an object was placed in the metaphor it appeared different. When Emily Jane placed her old blue chair in the metaphor, it appeared to her as a giant blue jay. This made sense because she always felt like the chair was a dusty old bird, maybe stuffed, that had a kind face and black button eyes. When Thom looked at the chair, however, he saw a blue box of Kleenex. He hadn’t thought of it as a blue box of Kleenex before, but when Emily Jane was sick, (and she always had a cold) she would curl up in the chair and blow her nose.
It wasn’t like the chair had transformed. You could still go and sit in it even when it was a huge blue jay or a box of Kleenex, and somehow you knew where the chair was, as if both things existed at once while you only saw one thing. It would work with any object. The old grey vacuum would be a steam engine to Emily Jane, an elephant to Thom. And sometimes an object was the same to them both, like Thom’s slippers, which were clearly little green alligators.
Putting a piece of furniture in the metaphor would just be confusing, so they left an open space around it and turned the couch toward the windows, though it did cramp the living space a little. What remained was a stretch of open floor good for dancing, so they set up the record player directly across from the metaphor.
Their first summer in the apartment went well. Thom landed a big account designing the new stock exchange building downtown, and Emily Jane was hard at work on her next young adult book. Her heroines were extensions of how Emily Jane saw herself— dreamy, charming drifters who were thrust into unlikely situations. She was amazing with characters and scene, but she sometimes relied too much on coincidence to solve problems, so she tacked up a quote from her favorite writer on the wall by her typewriter: “Story is the chronicle of people making choices.”
One day, Emily Jane tried to use the metaphor for her writing. In her book her heroine came across an ancient book of magic on a shelf and Emily Jane wanted to describe the book, so she placed an old book on her shelf in the metaphor and it changed into an old man’s beard. Her censor instantly recognized this as a metaphor too odd for a young adult book, but it embodied exactly how she felt about that particular aging tome. So, at times it was helpful, but most of the things one wanted to make a metaphor about – a sunrise, a river, a bank of clouds – could not be physically placed in the metaphor, and the metaphor seemed to give two figs about finding comparisons that other people would enjoy.
Thom worked long hours, so after Emily Jane put in her obligatory three hours a day behind the typewriter, she had little to do but drift about the house, nap on the couch bathed in the light from the tall windows, or make herself endless cups of peppermint tea. Sometimes she would sit in the metaphor and nothing would really happen, but it made her feel like she wasn’t alone. It made her feel connected, but to what she did not know. Connected to everything really, somehow just more awake, just held. It was a good feeling, like when Thom came home, crawled into bed and wrapped his arms around her. She needed other people. Left alone her imagination would get too daring, her idiosyncrasies too close to the edge of compulsion. They world would wear a nervous edge, feel a little dangerous, like they might grow too large and consume her. The heroine in her new book said to Griswald, her trained circus bear, in the coatroom of a ball, “Grizzy, sometimes I feel like when no one looks at my painting all the colors start melting together.”
The next day was Thom’s first meeting with the Development Task Force, a team of brokers selected to advise him on what brokers actually do and might need in a stock exchange building. Thom carefully ironed a shirt, combed pomade through his hair, and made sure his eyebrows were not flying off by carefully plucking out rogue individuals from the ordered nation. He chose from his ordered rows of shoes an expensive pair of shiny Italian-leather bluchers that cut his heel something terrible, but looked as sharp. He donned a slim grey suit with a skinny black tie to compliment his horn-rimmed glasses.
The meeting with the Development Task Force was set at O’Malleys, an Irish-only-in-name bar downtown that catered to the corporate crowd. Thom handed his coat to a server whose wrist was covered in club stamps and who did not look up from her phone when she said, “Right this way.” The walls were soaked with mass-produced vintage-looking ads for Harp, Guinness, and Jameson. The restaurant had a long, polished bar with brass rails, but the carpet was thin and bore the scent of years of trampled grease. Thom saw the brokers, dressed in sharp black suits, seated at a high top smirking and showing each other graphs on their phones.
Thom introduced himself to the group and almost instantly forgot everyone’s name. There was the pudgy guy whose face seemed to broadcast that he was good with numbers, the middle-aged guy from Bangladesh they called Bangladeshi Bob, and the handsome but somewhat weasel-faced leader of the team who reminded Thom of that dorm neighbor everyone had in college — the one always talking about pussy and making you shotgun beers.
The group instantly warmed to Thom, dubbing him “fancy pants” because of his slim cut suit. The group’s humor was a jocular teasing. The pudgy guy was ribbed for being pudgy, the foreign guy for being foreign, and the frat dude for being horny. They spoke that default masculine code found in bars everywhere. They were waiting on the company lawyer, Lorelei, to begin the meeting.
“Should we tie him to the mast?” said Pudgy, dipping a jalapeno popper.
“You better tie me,” said Brosef, acting like his arms were tied behind his chair.
“I’ll chew through the ropes,” said Bangladeshi Bob, biting his sleeve and growling. The guys laughed.
“What are you talking about?” asked Thom.
“You don’t know? Oh shit,” said Bob.
“Listen,” said the Bro, turning serious, “I don’t see why she would want to play you since we are on the same team, but be careful if you hear her humming.”
“Or you’ll be using your shoe as a telephone,” said Pudgy pointing at the Bro.
The trio laughed at what must have been an inside joke.
“Speak of the devil,” said Broheim, nodding toward the door where in walked a petite redhead wearing a pencil skirt, low-cut silk blouse, and an unbuttoned blazer. As she sat down at the table, it felt like she carried a bubble of reality with her; time and space bent around her. Thom watched the men at the table lean in with watery looks in their eyes as if they were making out the contours of some distant shore for which they secretly yearned.
Thom had never met a siren before, not in person. He knew they existed, had heard of their powers in court to sway juries, but he thought it was more show than reality. Her face was attractive because it was so well-proportioned— her nose small, her cheekbones high. Her eyes were a bright blue that sometimes flickered green. Up the left side of her face, her skin turned to scales that threw off delicate flashes of aquamarine light. Thom blinked and they seemed gone, but whenever he turned his head they seemed to flash again. Her mane of fiery red hair rippled on her head as if in a light wind, but there was no wind in the stale, greasy air.
Thom did not realize he was leaning into his plate until she stopped humming and the bubble popped. All four men shook the fog out of their heads, the others more deftly than Thom, as if they had practice.
“Lorelei,” said the Bro. “I’m still waiting for you to call me back about my invitation.”
“Have you checked the messages on your loafers lately?” said Lorelei. The Bro turned red and Pudgy snickered.
“Hello, I’m Thom, the lead architect.”
“Nice to meet you,” she said, offering him a handshake more delicate than the normal business vice grip. There was nothing magical about her touch. Her hand was the same human flesh as any woman.
“Why are you interested in this little venture? Seems below your pay grade,” said Pudgy.
Consulting her nails, Lorelei said, “Some people far above you lackeys have taken an interest in this project. They don’t want our exchange turned into Alpha Beta Chi.”
“But we need a foosball table,” said Bob.
For the rest of the meeting, Thom took notes on the basic needs of a stock exchange building. Most of it he could have imagined himself, but there were some useful details regarding the flow of people between major rooms that helped him plan effective corridors. The real challenge was the main trading floor, which Thom felt should feel old school, portentous — oversized doors, curled ironwork balustrades— something that exuded the history of the power of money. As Pudgy explained the short selling process, Thom looked up from his sketchpad to find Lorelei staring at him. Her ocean-deep eyes caught his and his neck felt locked like he could not look away even if he tried. The corner of her mouth turned up and he realized she was ever-so-softly humming.
Thom came home smelling of beer and grease to find Emily Jane sitting in the metaphor.
“Hey Babes,” he said while tossing his keys on the kitchen counter, still swaying a little like he was out at sea all day. “Emily?”
She didn’t hear him. She was kneeling in the metaphor with her hands folded in front of her like she was at church. The light from the window added a spotlight. He decided not to disturb her. She looked so angelic. He went to work at his drafting table, but an hour later she was still there and he began to get concerned.
“Emily. Emily. Emily!” He said louder with each iteration. When that did not work, he went over to the metaphor and waved his hand in front of her face.
“Are you there, dear?”
Fearing she might be somehow stuck, Thom fetched his long ruler. As he put it in the metaphor, he saw it change into a steel girder. When it touched his wife, she was startled out of her trance.
“You’re a spider, Thom. Why did you crawl on my foot?”
“Step out of the metaphor, darling.”
“It’s not a jail. It’s a sauna.”
“Out of the metaphor.”
“Fine,” she said, stepping out. “It’s nice in there. Your mind is racing, but at the same time you feel really centered, like you are a hub and everything is spinning off you.”
“You were in there for an hour. I was getting worried.”
“I’m fine. It’s like meditation.”
But just then her head went light and her knees went out. Thom caught his wife under the arms and pulled her to the couch.
“Emily, are you okay?”
“I just forgot to eat.”
She often fainted from low blood sugar. Thom knew the routine and went to the kitchen for some juice.
“Listen,” said Thom, “If you are going to play around in that thing, don’t forget to eat. Here, take this egg timer in with you and set it for half an hour.”
Thom put the egg timer in the metaphor and they both watched it become a tiny rooster walking about, pecking at the ground.
During the long days at home alone, Emily Jane would sometimes catch herself speaking to Thom, even though he was not there. She wanted him home more, but as the owl, based on her father, in one of her books lectured Lenora, her protagonist, “Those who complain lack inner resources.” Instead, Emily Jane turned inward. Meditating in the metaphor, she saw a vision of a garden growing inside her body, of herself walking in the garden collecting the fruits of her inner life.
The dishes had not been done in a week, and dust bunnies were reproducing under the couch. There was less and less to eat in the apartment, but she always found something. Today she slowly ate an old can of lychees they bought years ago for cocktails. She had been stuck on the same page of her novel for a week. The last line on the typewriter read, “The CEO chained Grizzy’s leg to the desk and said, ‘You will never disrupt my underwater base because …’”
Instead of working on her novel, Emily Jane sat in the metaphor with a notebook and wrote. It all came so effortlessly. It was like a dream where you are giving the perfect speech or writing the perfect poem. There was a whale song; the world was a type of friendship because everyone wore knitted suits; all islands had people’s names. She pulled up these strange fish from the vast ocean beyond, but like dreams they choked in the brutal air of our world. Outside the metaphor, at best, the writing came off as strings of abstractions tied to seemingly random images bundled into a heady, incomprehensible nonsense, not even interesting as poetry. She had finished ten of these notebooks already, little editions of meaning only she could decipher while in two square feet of the entire world. She sat swaying in the metaphor, writing furiously. She had a vision that she was a cloud reaching its saturation point, but the rain was flowers, red flowers, buttercups, crane’s bills, and gloxinia. When she exited the metaphor she found her nose was bleeding again, fat drops staining her notebook and blouse.
There was no denying that the stock exchange building was the biggest commission of Thom’s life. He could have asked for a team, but he did not want to share the credit. This building was a career maker. Deep-pocketed people would walk the marbled halls of this building daily, and when the brokers stopped yelling and the green numbers raining, when the echoes of their footsteps in the silent halls prompted such reflection, it was possible that these deep pockets might wonder who designed these elegant corridors. Thom worked seventy or eighty hours a week. He tried to work from home but his wife had a way of being annoyingly helpful, like asking if he wanted tea, but then asking so many questions about how he wanted it that he would be gruff by the time he received it. So, he spent late nights in his office puzzling over different shapes. People had to walk in and feel like each room was a valve of the enormous beating heart of capitalism, a space you could feel the pump and rush.
His only social escape during these long weeks was the Development Task Force team meetings— or as they had started calling themselves: the DT club. With nothing else to do, their meetings consisted of long booze-filled dinners where they would cajole Thom into drinking violent sounding drinks like car bombs, shooters, or Bloody Aztecs. One night the team went out for Korean food. Whenever Lorelei went to the ladies room Brosef would whistle softly and mutter something like, “What I wouldn’t do” and bite his hand in mock frustration. After the usual barbs and sake bombs, Pudgy, Foreign, and Horny decided to sneak off early to watch Manheim play Dusseldorf, leaving Thom and Lorelei alone in the dark bar of the restaurant.
“Don’t do anything I would do,” said Pudgy.
“Watch out for the claws,” said Bangladeshi Bob, making his hand into a little tiger claw.
“Well done,” said Brosef, giving Thom a little salute.
When she came back, Thom felt a little jolt. Either his martini was kicking in or he was in the bubble again.
“These are plans from my superiors,” she said, handing him a packet of papers,” There are a few rooms they need specifically designed, nothing that should compromise your overall design.”
Thom flipped through them quickly. They were detailed, as if another architect had drawn them up for a different project. It was odd, but they were the clients.
Lorelei’s martini seemed to glow on the reflective bar. She was on her fourth and did not show it. Thom was working on his third and already felt his words sliding off the end of his tongue as if each one was walking onto ice.
The bar began filling up. An old Korean sang a love ballad in his native language on a small stage. His voice was gravely and firm. The yellow lyrics rolled across the screen which showed videos of Korean actors doing dramatic things like riding on horseback, walking down a beach holding hands, or sometimes just a shot of a rose beaded with rainwater.
They talked about his projects, her projects. His family, hers. Then the
Karaoke DJ called, “Lorelei, you are up. Lorelei.”
He had not noticed her put in her name. Everyone applauded. “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac scrolled up on the screen.
Then Thom heard the most beautiful voice he ever heard. It was not just sound, but depth— ten voices, a hundred, all on the head of a pin, all emoting separate pains and joys in each note. There was no spotlight on the stage, but she was bright. Was her hair actually glowing? It waved as if she were underwater, turning up on the ends like tiny muscles were in each strand. Thom felt the bubble stretch through the bar, consuming table after table. His heart threw itself against his chest like a child trying to break down a door. He watched the eyes of all the men in the room, young or old, roll back, their mouths grow slack. They trembled so hard he could hear the ice in their drinks ring under the music. She swayed on the stage like some delicate underwater plant. He realized he was gripping his keys very tightly in his hand. She looked at him directly. In the inky dark of the bar, he did not need the metaphor to feel her fire, light, and heat; he did not need the metaphor to take wing— he was a moth. He stood up from his barstool and took a few steps toward her.
Then all hell broke loose. The men in the bar began tearing at their hair and suits, holding out their arms as if to receive her, crawling on their knees toward her. Thom saw them, mad with hunger and knew she could do this to him as well, if she wanted. The song was for him to understand the things with which she had to live. In the gale of psychic wind drawing him toward her, he also felt a little sadness in the song, that though she had this power, she also had a life in which she, like anyone, struggled to be happy.
When the song was over the men went back to their seats next to their wives who all seemed less jealous than confused, as if they were all recovering from a slight concussion.
Walking her out, Thom and Lorelei kissed in the parking lot under the false yellow moons of lot lights among the silver Mercedes. It was not until half-way home that the sharp pang of guilt pierced him.
The next day Thom stared out the window at two pigeons trying to force each other off a traffic sign, replaying in a loop how his hand felt in the live animal of her hair.
Emily Jane was in the damn metaphor again. The little rooster in the metaphor began to crow but she ignored it. Thom noticed how her cheekbones were becoming more prominent, her arms thinner and less toned, her clothes hanging off of her loosely.
While he knew she was probably spending too much time in the metaphor, it was keeping her entertained and he felt bad he did not have time to spend with her himself. The rooster crowed again and now it was too much. He reached into the metaphor, feeling the odd sensation that his arm was a crane, and touched his wife’s shoulder.
She woke from her trance and stepped out of the metaphor.
“Didn’t you hear the rooster?” he said.
“I guess I didn’t,” she said.
“Well, I heard it plain as day.”
Emily Jane looked back at the metaphor. “I see why. It’s not a rooster to me anymore.”
“Well, what is it?”
“It looks like a parking citation in one of those yellow envelopes.”
“Put the clock outside the metaphor then. I can’t have you starving to death in there. Look how skinny you’re getting.”
“I thought you might like me a little thinner. You’re always watching what I eat.”
“No one should eat an entire bag of potato chips.”
“Thom, I’m bored. I need to see people, and you are working too much.”
“It’s a big project.”
“One that necessitates you getting hammered every Friday and wandering in at three a.m.?”
“To find my wife starving in a figurative device. Wait, come closer.”
“Come closer, did you lose a tooth?”
“Well, yes, but it was loose anyway. It was that baby tooth that never fell out.”
“Are you eating anything?”
“I ate string beans.”
“Thom, I need something to look forward to.”
“Well, what do you suggest?”
Emily Jane chewed on the end of a pen thinking. “Let’s have a party,” she said.
“Like a housewarming party.”
“Well, I will have a bit of a break in about a month for Memorial Day.”
Emily Jane knew this meant yes and jumped in excitement. The pen she had been chewing slid across the floor into the metaphor and Thom saw it become a little squid.
“But what should we do about the metaphor?” asked Emily Jane.
“I don’t think the metaphor will be a problem,” said Thom. “Perhaps it might even be fun. You know, not everyone has a metaphor in their living room.”
The party was approaching, and besides sending out some email invites, Emily Jane had not done much to prepare. In fact, it appeared she had done little at all. When Thom got home after his long days at the office, he spent an hour every night vacuuming, doing the dishes, or ordering groceries online. There were a lot of objects piled around the metaphor, seemingly random household objects. Thom woke in the middle of the night. His wife was not in bed. This was not unusual. She was a poor sleeper and would sometimes try sleeping on the couch, but tonight he wandered out into the living room and saw her sitting in the dark in her nightgown kneeling on a yoga matt in the metaphor swaying back and forth, mouthing strange words and touching her face and chest in an almost erotic way like she was some creature possessed by the night, an odd plant grown from the floor writhing in the moonlight. He discovered in her closet a stack of notebooks filled with gibberish, some spattered with blood.
But still Thom didn’t say anything to his wife. He knew she was going to get lost in that thing as soon as he left, but he did not have time to deal with it. His mind was dizzy from slipping out of his office early to spend long afternoons with Lorelei. She would put him in the bubble and his desire was so perfect and strong, he was all thirst and her body the only thing that could quench it; but he could never drink deeply enough at the fountain, and when the bubble popped he was back again. And there was still the building to design. The plans Lorelei had given him were strange. Why did they need a hexagonal boardroom in the basement? A little longer and he could deal with Emily Jane, could figure out what he wanted, but right now there was no time for reflection, just action.
By some impressive psychological gymnastics, Thom thought he could invite Lorelei to the party without betraying his feelings. He reasoned this would disguise his intrigue, his lust, show Emily Jane that he had nothing to hide – though she suspected nothing. He invited the whole Development Task Force so as not to seem obvious, and they accepted.
The night of the party they opened the French windows and turned the antique fans on low to circulate the cool evening air. Thom had prepared his famous Swedish meatballs and Emily Jane had spent all afternoon stressing over Bruschetta, completely ignoring the metaphor and eating healthy plate of pasta. Emily Jane’s old friend, Jen, showed up early to help prepare. Their new neighbors, Nick and Deborah, arrived next followed by Thom’s old college buddies, Willard and Steven, whose girlfriends showed up wearing the same blouse. Luckily, it became an icebreaker and the two were inseparable for the rest of the party. Even Emily Jane’s cousin, Lacrosse, attended. Lacrosse was an artist as well known for his pencil mustache and bell-bottoms as for his sprawling murals popular all over the city.
After the first couple of hours, Thom thought that the Development Task Force wasn’t going to show. He did not know whether to be relieved or not. When they did arrive, it looked like they were already buzzed by the way Pudgy’s tie was loose and how the Bangladeshi Bob clapped him on the back with his hand and yelled, “How, my friend, are you?” Lorelei scanned the apartment quickly as if she was expecting an attack from somewhere. None came, so she followed Pudgy, Foreign, and Horny into the kitchen to mix a drink.
“You didn’t mention the taskforce had a woman,” said Emily Jane.
“I certainly did,” said Thom.
“But not that she was a siren,” said Emily Jane, glaring at the creature in her kitchen measuring whiskey.
Thom felt this going badly already. Emily Jane clinked her wine glass with a spoon.
“Listen up everyone, Thom and I have a surprise. Everyone arrange your chairs around the dance floor here, in a Christmas wreath, a wedding ring,” she said, realizing she was standing in the metaphor. She stepped out, “I mean in a circle.”
The guests obliged. Everyone sat in chairs except the Development Task Force who stood warily at the edge of the circle. Emily Jane had a basket of random objects. She removed a common kitchen whisk and put it in the metaphor. Everyone gasped.
“I didn’t know you were magicians,” said Jen.
“A whisk into a light bulb, that’s an odd trick,” said Willard.
“What do you mean?” asked Lorelei coming closer into the circle. “It’s a child’s merry-go-round.”
“Are you talking about the banjo?” interrupted Deborah.
“I see a big floating teardrop,” said Lacrosse pensively, everyone quieting down for his expert opinion.
“So, what is it, Emily Jane? What do you see?” asked Jen.
“I see a canary in a cage,” said Emily Jane.
“So, we see different things?” said Bangladeshi Bob. “How can a magic trick make us see different things?”
“It’s not a trick,” said Thom. “Approximately right where the whisk is, is a metaphor. And whenever you place something in the metaphor, you see it metaphorically. It’s usually different for each person.”
“I’ve got to get one of these,” said Lacrosse, and everyone laughed.
“But why do we all see different things?” asked Jen.
“I suppose each of us has our own associations with the object,” said Emily Jane. “I once had a little stuffed bird and I remember putting him in the whisk and acting like it was a bird cage.”
“And I used to pretend the whisk was a musical instrument, a banjo I guess,” said Deborah.
“What in the world does a tear mean?” asked Thom.
Lacrosse said quietly, “Mom never used to cook for us. We had one of these but I never knew what it was.”
“Well, sometimes the comparisons are surface level, sometimes deep,” said Thom, breaking the awkward silence.
“Let’s do another one,” said Jen.
So Emily Jane put another object in the metaphor and they each went around and told what they saw and speculated on the meaning of their metaphor. Everyone had a very good time doing this.
“What happens if a person steps in the metaphor, do they change?” asked Deborah.
“No,” said Thom, “You just start speaking in metaphors.”
“Hey,” said Willard, “I must have been standing in the metaphor when I met Jen. I introduced myself as a friendly tornado.”
“I thought that was strange,” said Jen.
Deborah asked, “What if we played charades, but in this version you can speak, but only in the metaphor?”
It was a great idea. Willard called out “Team Captain.” Emily Jane followed and called “Team Captain.” Willard chose Thom first and Emily Jane chose Jen. Willard chose Lorelei and Emily Jane chose Steve. Emily Jane chose Lacrosse, and Willard chose Deborah. It went on until the teams were set. The game worked out fabulously. The most uproarious moment was when Jen got the word ‘orgasm’.
“A hundred little brass bells. Lightening in a cloud. A party in an elevator. A thousand desserts in a pill.”
It was Thom’s turn and his clue was “Money.” This should be an easy one, he thought, as he stepped into the metaphor.
“A baby,” said Deborah, thinking she had gotten it.
“No, bread,” said Thom, “A clock. A clock.”
He looked at Lorelei imploringly.
“A clock. Time. Time.”
“It’s money!” Lorelei yelled just before the buzzer, standing up.
“Jackpot,” said Thom, “You’re a fire I’m rushing into.”
Everyone heard it, and it was an odd thing to say, but Lorelei sat down promptly and crossed her legs, and no one seemed to take much notice; the metaphor made you say all kinds of crazy things. But the rest of the night Thom noticed his wife stayed at the opposite side of the party from him and kept stretching her fingers and rubbing her hands as if they were two small animals she was attempting to keep on the ends of her arms.
Everyone had a wonderful time. The dancing went on into the early hours and the Bro, officially out of romantic options, was the last to leave around two in the morning. Thom and Emily Jane were alone. They spent the first fifteen minutes cleaning up silently before Emily Jane asked, “So, what’s going on between you and Lorelei?”
“Don’t be silly.”
“We all heard the metaphor. She’s a fire you’re rushing into.”
“She has that bright red hair.”
“I have a degree in literature, Thom.”
“I just mean she’s bold, you know, a little sexy maybe. It doesn’t mean anything more than that.”
“It means that you are already in love, that you are already rushing in, regardless of the danger.”
“That’s nonsense,” said Thom looking at the ceiling fan.
“Step into the metaphor and say that.”
“Don’t use the metaphor as a lie detector,” he said.
Emily Jane stepped purposefully into the metaphor, “Our shores never touch.”
“Our shores touch,” Thom replied.
“We are parallel walls in a house. You and she are perpendicular,” said, Emily Jane.
“Stop it, Emily. Come out of the metaphor.”
“I’m a vase,” she said, crying.
“Come out,” pleaded Thom.
Emily Jane stepped out. Then Thom sat down on the floor and put his head in his hands.
“I don’t know what is going on. I’m confused,” he said.
“You’re confused! Let me make it clear. I want you out. Out!”
“Now!” she yelled shaking in such an anger Thom thought she might shake her skeletal frame apart.
On the day Thom scheduled to move the last of his things out of the apartment, he entered to find her sitting in the metaphor again. Her nose was bleeding and her face looked frighteningly thin, as if someone had draped her over a skeleton. Her dress barely hung on her frame and it looked like her forearm could snap in his hands. She came out of the metaphor and sat in her blue chair and watched Thom pack. Occasionally she would cry and then blow her bloody nose.
“I wish you would eat something,” Thom said.
“What do you care if I starve?” said Emily Jane dropping a used tissue to the ground.
“I care if you starve. I didn’t want this to happen.”
“Well, I hope you enjoy your fire.”
Thom put down the box of cords on the floor.
“I don’t even want the fire, I mean her.”
“Go ahead and say her name.”
“I mean Lorelei,” he said.
“Well, that was your choice and you made it.”
“Please, let’s talk.”
“There’s no talking.”
“Emily Jane,” he asked quietly, “Would you do something for me, one last thing?”
“What would happen if we stood in the metaphor together?”
She stared at him for nearly a minute until she softened. She could do this one last thing. She walked over. They stepped into the metaphor together and saw it. Emily Jane was the sea, huge and endless, deep and peopled with the things of the deep, churning, feeding her depths. She had no shores and her waves crested with whitecaps from a storm. And Thom was a tall ship cutting across the sea at an exact angle, directed, always moving, passing the island of the sirens now, headed toward a home of which he could dream but never reach. Sea and ship, ship and sea, their connection growing ever more beautiful and perilous by the distance it must leap; they held each other swaying, for now at least, each unwilling to break the last fragile bond between them.