Rebekah Bergman

Three Fictions

A Skillful Imposter

She went to bed in March and woke up in April. It was exhausting, how a new month would start before she’d grown used to the old. This month, in particular, began with all things called into question. The first of April, a day for scrutinizing. She resigned herself to read the newspaper carefully over her breakfast. To take nothing at face value. Everything with grains of salt. But what did the date matter, really? What we believe is truth can always be someone else’s idea of a joke.

Scrutinize was the first thing she scrutinized. She did it without meaning to. It was such a very odd word. Those opening consonants, how they forced the lips to purse. Scrutinize. She said it aloud and her husband muttered back in his sleep. He did not yet know what the day was. Lucky man. Or did he? She remembered to doubt.

So today she would try hard to second guess. Most days, this was not the case. Most days, she tried not to peel back the layers of reality and peer beneath. But this day was different. She’d read once—and where had she read it?—of a woman who’d become convinced that her husband was not her husband. He was instead, she’d said, a skillful impostor. How did she even think to think that? In any case, the not-husband knew her husband’s walk and the length of his showers and the way he chewed his food. He mimicked it all, the not-wife said. Imagine that, she thought now and she imagined it. She looked at her husband and found it quite easy to imagine it, actually.

What she could not believe was the ending of that story. What the not-wife had done about the impostor. She had done nothing. She hadn’t looked for her real husband or kicked the impostor out of her home. She’d lived with the not-husband for over a decade. She said she’d grown used to him. They’d grown used to each other. Eventually, she said, they had fallen in love.

Book of Burial

On Sunday, they mimic the spiders; they determine to build a new home each night. They rearrange the furniture in the apartment. They count to three, lift, move, place a thing down. Wherever they place it, it will stay for one day only. Tomorrow, they will dismantle all that they have built together. They will start over. The couch will go here. The armchair, there. The changing floor plan of their intimacy will keep them refreshed. That is the hope.

On Monday, they become a common punch line when they discover that they do not know how to change a light bulb. That is, they do not know what properties to look for in a new light bulb. This is a setback and they seek help. At Home Depot, Trevor calls them Dude and directs them to Lighting, which they cannot find. They push an empty cart down one wide aisle and then the next. Nothing in the outside world will save them from their darkness, they conclude together. They spend an idle hour locating the car that is theirs in the parking lot. Then they drive home.

On Tuesday, they replace the dead with the living; he unscrews a working light bulb and switches it for the one that’s burnt out. This becomes part of the routine immediately, the switching of light bulbs. There, he says when the brightness returns. But it is not there, she says, because the darkness is everywhere. Like a roommate they have to share space with. Someone who shifts so softly, they will lose track of her for hours. Until she pees so loud after midnight it wakes one of them up.

On Wednesday, the dust of their arguing threatens to choke them. They rush to open every window, turn on the ceiling fans. It all starts when she puts his desk inside the bathroom. He looks ridiculous when he sits on the toilet. The toilet is much too short to be a functioning chair.

On Thursday, something unexpected happens. She falls in love with the dead light bulb. It is charming, how it promises nothing now. How, in dying, it has already let them so utterly down. She falls asleep midday on the kitchen table. When she wakes, the dead light bulb is screwed into her mouth. I am a lamp, she thinks, that emits darkness. Lamp, she says to herself inside her head since the bulb prevents her speaking, you must stop thinking. A good lamp does not let itself think.

On Friday, he puts their pillows in the freezer. All they do on Friday is dream of Saturday when they will have cool pillows for the whole of a day.

On Saturday, their aching is a sign of their progress. With backs and arms sore from the moving, they sleep in. They lay and listen to the noise of their bodies. They are separate shifting homes moving without them. His right hand is a growling stomach. Her throat beats hard like a heart. She tastes blood each time she swallows. He feels a hunger when touching her skin.

The Future

She wakes to the world as if from a time capsule. As if someone else had buried her, planted her to dig up later. And now is that later. So it is a later that belongs to someone else. She won’t even remember it.

She begins to walk around the edges of everything: curbs of the sidewalk, the fence in the yard, the geometric border of the area rug. To move at all is this grand act of balance. She travels in spirals more than circles, dizzying those who are watching more than herself.

Soon, she utters words that she has invented. They are not words at all; they are sounds that hold no meaning for anyone anywhere. No matter, there is applause, a high-pitched cooing of a response. One day later she will not be able to hear that pitch at all.

Later, less later, she wonders where those eyes went. The flashes of light that took in her image upside-down, flipped it over and held onto it and to her. She thought those eyes, like the mouths below them, were not just hers but a part of her. They are gone now. Without them, she moves only because of the spinning planet. She speaks only into the vacuum of empty space.

This continues nearly forever until a day comes when she plants something to dig up later. That later will be the last later. And before it, nothing will have changed except the weather for a very long time.

Rebekah Bergman

Rebekah Bergman's short stories have been published in Joyland, The Nashville Review, Hobart, Necessary Fiction, Everyday Genius, and other journals. She was a 2015 Best of the Net nominee and holds an MFA in fiction from The New School.