BY JM WETHERELL
My ex-girlfriend’s ex-girlfriend called me up tonight and told me to look out the window. Did I not see it, in the haze above the steaming rooftops of apartment buildings extending west—the greenish-gold filigree, a tear in the late summer sky?
“Don’t you see this is our chance?” she said.
It was a cloud trail dyed in the sunset, refractions off water droplets, heat, air, ozone. I didn’t retain much from environmental science; I was a film major. I told her I was very tired. I told her, again, that I didn’t believe her. There was muffled disappointment at her end of the line, and a boop as the call dropped, as I closed the curtain.
I had met my ex-girlfriend’s ex-girlfriend at the corner laundromat. My towels and shirts and socks were collapsing on themselves in the drier, a blur the color of several crayons melted together. She walked up to me where I was sitting in the bank of cupped chairs.
“I can’t believe it!” she laughed, pushing a trolley full of coordinated darks and lights, well-folded. “I know about you.” She was sitting down, already slapping me on the back as if we were the oldest of chums.
Later we met for dinner, at a place I like—the only lights are bulbs the dangle over the bar, and in the corners it is dark and a cellar-cool like a cave. It was she who insisted on the candle between us.
But it was pleasant enough, meeting someone new in the city. We were friendly when we parted ways on the street outside, although it became awkward when we touched on the matter of whether we might see each other again. It was she who became insistent that we remain in contact, “at least for some time.” She was drunk, and being sentimental, I thought, as I shouldered through the evening mist down the slick rise of sidewalk that lead to my then-new apartment.
But the very next morning she called me. She said we should meet somewhere, when I was free, which was usually in those days. And so we met in the late afternoon by the pond in the cemetery. She came with her dog, a boxer that she carried at shoulder-height for almost the entire duration of our conversation, which was not short—it nibbling at her ears and pulling out the hair that was pinned up at her neck.
My ex-girlfriend’s ex-girlfriend began by explaining that, while she had told me the truth the night before, when we had compared stories of arguments and walks and trips to the grocery store, she had omitted significant details. Then she took a weary breath and said that she had been traveling between worlds, each of them connected by the skein of our ex-girlfriend, her presence, her signature, she tried to explain, grasping at the air. She told me how in her darkest grief she had stumbled upon the first entrance. It had barely been a conscious effort. One moment she had been in her apartment, in a world similar to this, bent over the sink in the kitchen. The shimmer was in the drain, a slick of grime or oil on the surface of stopped-up water, and as she reached to clear it away she was transported to a new world, and a new body. A bodiless body, nothing more than a scattering of molecules bound in a thin membrane like a sail or kite, flapping in the air of an alien planet. Her voice broke in remembrance of this, the first transfiguration.
I asked her if she was okay, shuffling for tissues in my bag. “Yes,” she said. “It was just so beautiful.”
So she went on. As she shifted to this place, she saw her immediately, our mutual ex-girlfriend, a being of aether like herself, ebbing and nodding in solar wind. Ducking fast between huge pillars of stone—the sole geological features of the planet, it seemed, though there were lakes as well, far below, not of water but of some lethal compound in its viscous form, in huge orange pools on the surface, where these spirits descended to speak to one another, this liquid being the substrate through which they could conduct speech.
It was in the adjustment period to this gossamer body—the hours, weeks that it took to understand the customs and the weather of this world, the instruction on how to emit vocalizations through gaseous emission—that our ex-girlfriend successfully ghosted away. Apart from those first flickers, she never saw her again in that form.
But the next opportunity came, swiftly or slowly, it was difficult to determine in this world. A shimmering maw cracked open in the atmosphere and my ex-girlfriend’s ex-girlfriend flew desperately to it, knowing enough now at least to hurl herself towards some known source of light. The pain, which had been nonexistent in the previous excursion, now scorched every molecule of her being during the transfiguration. But she landed in a mammalian form, at least, now in the body of a dog. This world was all dogs, yapping and huddling and lying around, and trees, millions of different kinds of dogs but trees of a uniform kind, planted in precise rows so that, looking head-on, each one hid the uniform row behind it. At a diagonal the expanse of dogs unfolded as far as the horizon, wolfhounds and beagles and long-haired dachshunds and wire-haired retrievers. More impressive were the smells off millions of glands, which was how she had found our ex-girlfriend again.
At this point she indicated the dog who whimpered in her clutch, explaining how our ex-girlfriend was in this realm manifested in the body of a handsome miniature boxer, sleek-coated and lean.
“He reminds me of her,” she said. The dog considered me blankly with its bulby eyes before returning to chomping on her hair.
All had been well, she continued with her story; they had come upon each other in the avenue, my ex-girlfriend’s ex-girlfriend assiduously tracking the scent, and now it was as if nothing had ever happened. They traveled together from tree to tree, and apart from the de rigueur sniffing of new acquaintances, were committed in their partnership. Until the day came when a great hole grew in the center of the dog-plane, all the trees and dogs tilting toward it gradually. It was not long before they too were taken in. And so our ex-girlfriend slipped away, once again.
On and on it went, through worlds of insects and dimensions of sound, and giant ocean-worlds where they were fish the size of buildings, and a world where our ex-girlfriend was a king of the ancient Cypriots, and world next door to this one where I was our ex-girlfriend, and she was I, and here was where we had reconciled at last, and yet: a falling concrete beam, another woman or another man in another city, an unresolved argument, again, at the grocery store.
“All right, well, she lives one train stop away,” I said, humoring her as the sun went down over the small, weedy lake. “If you really want to, you can walk there. There’s a good Uzbek place on the corner.” I admit at this point I was a little nostalgic.
“I won’t be fooled again,” said my ex-girlfriend’s ex-girlfriend. “We have to stay two steps ahead of her, always.”
After a plate of plov and three or four beers, things got a little weird. The little dog, tied up to a pole outside the restaurant as we dined, barked without cease. On the sidewalk, I tried to kiss her and she turned her cheek.
“Are you not feeling this?” I asked. “Is it my breath?”
Gently, her hands moved from my waist to my shoulders. She looked me in the eye, the full moon bouncing off her irises, like a photo negative. “It’s going to happen. I don’t know the exact day, the exact hour, but soon. And we have to be ready.”
And then she walked away, the little dog trundling beside.
Now I’m lying in bed, under a slat of light from the streetlamp. The sun is long set, and with it the line she claimed she saw in the sky. Soon I’ll sleep, and if she calls me again, I won’t pick up, and if I wake up in another world, so be it.