Art Pact 121
Incongruities multiplied in the dark of our absence, so that each time Rachel and I returned to her apartment she would sigh in despair and roll her eyes at some new change or another. The third evening we came home to discover that Cathy worked in a bank, whereas up until that morning she had been a staunch anti-capitalist of the "money is evil" breed, as likely to go out of the house in a suit as she was to throw a cat out of a ninth-storey window. As we opened the door she leant forward to cuddle a little nest of paperwork under the protective shelter of her breast, and stared at us suspiciously as we made our way through the living room to Rachel's room, her eyes not leaving us for as much as an instant.
"This is getting ridiculous," Rachel said when her door was closed.
"It's odd, certainly."
"And how long before it's me, or you?"
"I don't know," I conceded.
"Perhaps we've already changed," she said, "and we don't know it. How would we know? Cathy obviously doesn't know, Lizzie didn't know. It just happens."
"We could stay at my place," I suggested (for the tenth time). "I know, I know, but - look, it's clearly the flat, right? Everything that's going on is tied to your flat. It's the furniture, or the electronics, or your flatmates. Nothing outside, nothing in the rest of the building, nothing at the office."
"No, nothing there."
"So why not stay at my house every night? Just move out, grab as much as you need now and we'll come back for anything we've forgotten." I could tell that she was wary of the idea - after all, it was the tenth time I'd asked her, you don't reject an idea nine times without a reason. But it seemed obvious to me that there was no better way to avoid the oddness of her flat than to physically avoid it. We just had to keep well clear. "Look, I know you don't want to leave them, and we don't have to. We can keep looking for the cause, we can help them. But there isn't anything we can do here that we can't do from a safe distance, and if you change as well there's no way you'll be able to help them." I let myself go quiet at that point, and Rachel, who had been nodding, looked up suddenly and searchingly as if she realised that there was something unsaid. I thought for a moment that I would be able to leave it that way, but before I knew it my mouth was moving and words were coming out: "...there's no way I'll be able to stand it."
"I'm not going to leave you," she assured me, but we both knew that whatever our feelings for one another might be, Cathy and Lizzie had had strong feelings that had changed overnight. Was what Rachel felt for me even as strong as those emotions? We have a tendency to privilege love above all things, but it's surely the case that there are many feelings that trump love - a devotion to a cause can force someone to act as though they love someone they despise, couples break up over simple musical tastes or over heart-felt opinions about the eating of meat. To say that love is the king of emotions, that nothing can bind so tightly, is to fall prey to a belittling myth perpetuated by the song industry, the romance novel, half of all the films ever made. The truth is surely that love is an emotion just like any other, sometimes strong, sometimes weak, most often barely there at all, a loose feeling that is to the human heart what gravity is to an albatross - omnipresent but easily overcome for the sake of continued convenience.
We could't say all this to each other, though. I believed that if Rachel changed it would mean the end of my happiness, and perhaps I was right. But perhaps I was as false to myself as we were to each other, and certainly in that moment I chose the easy way out, the comforting acknowledgement of her lie:
There were more things left unsaid in that room that evening than I think there had ever been between us, notwithstanding the fact that we talked almost constantly about the problem of the flat. We discussed possible mechanisms by which the changes could have occurred (mostly science fiction, I fear, rather than actual plausible hypotheses), we discussed how we thought further changes might present themselves given that the changes so far had all been one-hundred-and-eighty degree reversals in the nature of objects and people. But all those words coming out of our mouths still lacked the pressure to inflate a protective bubble around us, and the great weight of the unborn topics crushed in upon us as a terrible force, each quiet non-syllable another mass piled on so that it felt hard for me to breath after a while, as though something were sitting on my chest and the blood in my tongue had turned to cold lead.
Rachel's room had, at least, survived largely unchanged. Her posters had become teen magazine heartthrob pin-ups (which she took down, with the exception of one of Justin Beiber which she left up to annoy me), her collection of work-related books had turned into half a yard of leather-bound Dickens novels of the sort you might buy from a mail-order ad in Reader's Digest, and the light sheets and coverlets she'd chosen for her bedding had become a mattress-bending elasticated nylon bottom sheet and a duvet so heavy it could have been used as door-gunner's armour.
Cleaning up and discussion of all these distractions could only keep us occupied for so long, though. Eventually the thin membrane that we had stretched over the issue could no longer take the stress, and it snapped.
"Say I did move in with you," Rachel said after a long pause. "What would the deal be."
"The deal?" I asked.
"This," she said, pointing her finger between my chest and hers.
"Oh." I said.