He comes back to the house, lets himself in, and half-shouts: “Chloë!”
His voice comes out hoarse the first time, so he calls again: “Chloë?”
There is no answer. The house feels dead. As he steps into the hall, absent-mindedly leaving the front door ajar, something crunches underfoot. He doesn’t notice.
“Chloë?” he asks of the darkness, and then clears his throat: “Chloë? Are you here?”
There is still no answer, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t here. She could be upstairs, on the bed, face down. She could have her headphones on, shutting out the world. She could be hiding from him or – for that matter – herself in the wardrobe. She could be locked in the bathroom, quietly cutting her arms and legs with scissors.
She’s done all of these things at one time or another – often after making love. But they haven’t had sex this time. In fact, they haven’t had sex for a week, because he’s been away, staying with his sister. He’d left soon after they’d had sex last time. While he was on top of her, she’d started crying, then hitting him. She’d hit him across the face and on his shoulders, shouting: “Getoffgetoffgetoffme,” while he came – it was too late to stop, he said afterwards – and finally she’d shoved him off. They hadn’t said anything to each other for a few minutes, just lain on their backs in the semi-darkness, listening to the sobs gradually subside, her breathing deepen.
Finally, she’d murmured: “I’m sorry. I couldn’t see your face. It was all dark, blacked-out. I got scared, and thought for a second you were … you were … you were him … Like I was back there, and you were him.” There’d been another long silence, and she’d said: “Aren’t you going to say something? Please say something. You can cry if you like, or shout, or scream. You never cry.” She’d tried to touch his side, but he’d pulled away and sat on the edge of the bed, with his back to her. That was when he’d said to her, in a quiet, controlled voice: “I love you, but I can’t cope with this shit any more. I can’t cope with being mistaken for … for that – for him. Look, perhaps we need a few days apart for things to settle. For us both to put our minds back together.”
They’d had a few days apart for things to settle, and now he’s back. His sister had told him to go back – that he shouldn’t have left in the first place: “Don’t be such a wuss,” she’d said. “Go and sort it out.” That’s why he’s here now: to sort it all out. And, to his surprise, he feels rather happy, hopeful about everything. “Chloë?” he calls into the dark house, “I’m back. I’m home.”
He takes his shoes off, steps towards the kitchen, and then stops – brought to a halt by another crunching noise, which he does notice this time, because of a simultaneous stabbing pain in his foot. He looks down, but can’t see much in the dark. He reaches over – trying not to move his feet, unsure of what he is stepping on – and switches on the hall light.
The floor is covered in shattered glass – the hallway mirror in a thousand pieces. One of the pieces has cut through his sock, into his heel. Blood is already seeping onto the glass, painting it in strange patterns. “What the fuck … Chloë? What’s going on?”
He hops over to the bottom of the stairs, and sits down. Tentatively, he takes off his sock, and looks at the heel. He pulls out the piece of glass lodged in it, and winces. The room swirls around him for a moment, all of the shards on the floor reflecting bits of light, ceilings, walls, blood.
Taking a deep breath, pulling himself together, he decides he needs to wash the heel, put something on it, stop the bleeding. So he turns and slowly hobbles upstairs. “Chloë? Are you around? I need some help. Chloë? What the fuck is going on?”
He’s only feigning surprise, though: nothing really surprises him any more – well, apart from, maybe, the pain in his foot. He’d forgotten it was possible to hurt physically, as well as mentally, emotionally: “Chloë? For fuck’s sake, where are you?”
He manages to hobble into the bathroom – but then realises the floor is crunching again. He pulls on the light switch, and a hundred pieces of smashed mirror, scattered across the floor, are illuminated at once. Let there be light, he thinks, rather incongruously, and switches the light off again – as if light is, was a mistake all along, revealing things no-one wants to see, no-one can cope with.
He backs away, out of the bathroom, and then inspects the soles of his feet to check there’s no more damage done. There isn’t much, though there are new splinters in the blood, which he tries to flick off.
Still balancing on one leg, he pushes open the study door, which is next to the bathroom. It swings open into darkness. He reaches round and flicks on the light, already knowing what he’ll see: a worn pink carpet covered in the remains of another mirror, the fragments reflecting a hundred photos, two hundred faces, half a dozen holidays, numerous parties, happier times, on the walls.
Finally, he hops over to the main bedroom. Standing in the doorway, he flicks on the light here too. The room is wrecked: two wall-length mirrors, the dresser mirror and the mirrors on the wardrobe doors have all been smashed.
Chloë isn’t here.
She isn’t where he left her, staring at the ceiling, a week ago. All that remains in her place are shattered reflections.
He kneels, and then sits down for a moment, among the wreckage. He doesn’t know why he does this: perhaps his foot is hurting too much for him to remain standing. Perhaps the loss of blood is making him feel a little light-headed. Perhaps he wants to feel part of the debris – as if it’s like being close to her. Perhaps he’s upset, because he paid a lot of money for the mirror on the dresser. It had a gold trimming, and their names were embossed on the frame.
He looks down at the smashed glass around him. In the thousands of shards, the room is a collage of flickering lights, rainbows, images within images: his trousers, his hands, the wardrobes, the bed, the rucked-up duvet, the light fitting, her self-portrait on the wall, with its smiling face cut up, distorted, like a Picasso. He wants so much to piece it all together, to recognise himself among it all, to see his place in this shattered world. But with the light directly above him – as if interrogating him, as if accusing him of something – all he can see in the shards is a gap in the light; all he can see is a silhouette of a face he doesn’t recognise – reflected, mutated, dissected, blacked-out.
And when the tears finally come, it feels like his own eyes have shattered, the tears falling like broken glass.
Jonathan Taylor is an author, editor, lecturer and critic. His books include the novels Melissa (Salt, 2015), Entertaining Strangers (Salt, 2012), and the memoir Take Me Home (Granta, 2007). He is director of the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. His website is here.