Parallel Conservatory | Clare Kirwan

    I never had much truck with all their theories about parallel universes and such like, until I encountered the phenomenon on a much smaller scale. It was the day I found myself in a parallel conservatory.
    It was very much like our conservatory, you might say indistinguishable in almost every way, except that the plants looked healthier and, in this conservatory, my husband had an altogether different wife. 
    This conservatory had a cleaner feel, fewer cobwebby corners where the spiders had come in from the cold, less dust weighing down the parlour palms, fewer biscuit crumbs on the floor – unless they had somehow been swept under the chairs by the writhing of two generous pairs of bare buttocks.
    But apart from that, it was the same square of tiled floor, a familiar yellow light through the blinds, the same garden beyond, identical squirrels peering in. I smelt geranium – they always had a stronger aroma when they were disturbed. I wondered if the same applied to me?
    I stood next to the doorway, one hand clammy on the washing machine, the other still stupidly clutching my handbag. Reality swam and bent in front of me. I was in the wrong place, the wrong life, and definitely the wrong conservatory.
    In our conservatory, John would be sitting there calmly in his favourite chair with his paper, complaining about the news as though I were personally responsible for the emergence of the tiger economy and America’s refusal to act upon climate change. He would have all his clothes on – except perhaps he may have removed his pullover. But nothing else. Not the shirt as well, and trousers. His underpants would not be skulking under the occasional table. And he would not be showing any kind of enthusiasm for anything.
    But here he was, flushed and grunting and suddenly very busy. He didn’t look up like he usually did to ask me, without wanting to know, how was my day and why was I home early?
    It felt as though I had been standing there for hours – as though time behaved differently in this parallel version of my world. She caught sight of me first, and froze – her painted nails digging into the soft flesh of his upper arm. He seemed to take this as some sort of encouragement. It was interesting to watch, really, from a doorway, from an unexpected angle, his great hairy arse shuddering like an overweight race horse. 
    Just as her nails seemed likely to actually draw blood, he realised that something was not right, that some kind of event had occurred, a glitch in the time-space continuum perhaps, universes over-lapping. But he handled himself with such unexpected dignity that I thought for a moment I really was in the wrong house. I half expected him to say: “Who are you, and what are you doing in my conservatory?” But he said nothing.
    He reached for his shirt to cover the woman – though she looked the hard-faced type, not too fussy where her Shiraz came from – and got up, quite slowly considering, reaching for his underpants and trousers in a leisurely fashion.
    And all the time I just stood there, as though I had been carved into the doorpost, a ‘period feature’ estate agents might call me, a little worn but genuine post-war. 
    The woman gathered the rest of her clothes and retreated into the garden. I hadn’t even noticed that the door was open – there was no air at all in this universe. No light breeze bringing a waft of sweet pea, no hum of insect traffic.
    He scratched his neck the way the dog used to – broad fast strokes. I expected him to speak but still he was silent. I expected, not an explanation – how could there be one? – but for him to somehow convince me that this hadn’t happened, that I really had stepped for a moment into a parallel world and that now I was back in this one. And to stop being so silly.
    But suddenly I knew he wasn’t going to. He will answer questions if I ask him. Perhaps he will leave me for her. Perhaps I will leave him. Or maybe we will try to carry on much as before and eventually I will learn what it’s like here in this parallel reality. I will miss the little things in my old world that I never gave a thought to – the companionable silences, the familiar warmth of him, the way the weeks flew past so lightly, sitting in the conservatory of an evening, the unquestioning trust. We will both learn what is different now in this new version of our world.
    It will be easier for him, of course. He has been here longer.

 read about the author Contributors.htmlshapeimage_1_link_0
commentary | poetry | fiction | chicago | winter 2008  
Single Life #8 | Amy Groshek 
Parallel Conservatory | Clare Kirwan
Old & Strong  |  Robert Gibbons
Crow | Ramesh Avadhani
Driving Ninety | Mark Spencer
With Her Own Things | Kristiana Colón
Story of a Hall Porter | Edward Mc Whinney
The Halcyon Days of War | B.E. Hopkins
Three Stories | Laurence Davies

Contradiction | from the editor


On the Contrary
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