“So you see,” he said, “you have to see, it’s all very reasonable.”
He was adjusting the double Windsor knot of his tie. She was brushing on rouge, free hand cupped around the mirror. She squinted into the silvered glass as if nearsighted, constantly readjusting her fingers.
“He’s a leader among men, and a damn surefire candidate for the Whitehouse if I says so myself. When someone like that says ‘follow me,’ you follow. They want accountability? Fine! He’ll make us all accountable.”
He leaned into his reflection as he spoke, as if he were addressing it and not her.
“Transparency. Helluva thing. Whoever invented it must be a genius. Accountability for the little man, not just the bigwigs. Everyone equal.”
She winced. He looked over at her for the first time since he’d started speaking.
She was still fumbling with her compact. In the past few days she’d acquired a wrung-out look, as if she was aging rapidly and gracelessly into her mother. Thank God they didn’t have kids.
He approached her slowly, kissing her on the cheek while accidentally-on-purpose knocking the mirror from her hands. Light flooded through the see-through plastic casing, rendering the mirror useless again. She looked stricken.
“It had to happen,” he told her, “sooner or later.”
He worked at an ad firm. That afternoon, he swelled with pride as the new walls were brought in. Water-clear, high-impact plastic. Space-age stuff. Scratchless, ageless, peerless. He caught his boss’s gaze for a moment and noticed a split-second grimace. He didn’t understand it. Who could live with secrecy in this day and age? He shrugged it off and went back to his desk. The secretary probably had a matching grimace, no more late lunches in the executive lounge.
He answered the phone in his best radio baritone. “Briggs advertising, coming in crystal-clear.”
One-and-a-half months into the project, and he strutted to work. It had been strange at first, like new shoes or an athletic cup. You saw fewer and fewer people walking hunched into themselves, cowering form their fellow man. He whistled his way down third avenue. No more taking the subway, hiding your nose in a book. He gave a congenial nod to the people in an eighth floor restaurant who followed him with their eyes.
Three months in, he came home to find his wife sitting listlessly on the edge of their mattress, blouse undone and breasts hanging loose. All the bedclothes had been kicked to the floor. Her hair was a brushfire and she was staring through the wall, out past the outlines of neighboring buildings. He spoke to her like a spooked horse, guiding her once-firm breasts back into their control top. He noticed a man across the way watching, right hand occupied by a rapid back-and-forth motion. He cursed him momentarily, before turning back to his wife.
She wasn’t taking it well. Some people just weren’t.
You had those kooks who protested the act by going around in Halloween masks, not even taking them off to shower. In retaliation, they became known by their masks’ moniker. The downtown area was home to several Richard M. Nixons, along with a plenitude of clowns, werewolves, gaunts, ghouls, and even one distressing character who went around in a dyed-black potato sack a la the Zodiac killer.
The people who tried painting their walls hadn’t lasted very long. Nothing, not house paint, not tar, not even wallpaper stuck more than an hour. Some showered fully clothed. Some did all their household tasks facing deliberately away from the street. He couldn’t let that happen to her, let her become a punch line. He coaxed her to lay back, accept the sedative and the glass of water. Her eyes lay open long after she succumbed to sleep, as if traveling up through the floors above them, all the way past the clear skylight of the roof, away, away.
Six months in, a body hit the pavement in front of him.
He was shocked, of course. You heard about it all the time, but you never expected to experience it. She, he, whoever it was, had wrapped themselves in several layers of thick canvas cloth. The paramedic tried peeling it away, but the last layer resisted.
“They’ve sewn it to their own skin!” he exclaimed.
The crowd cried out in disgust.
“Shameful!” one woman called.
The desire not to be seen, even in death, was becoming an epidemic. Even after the first few public dissections. Posters lined the subways and bus terminals: WRAPPING IT UP? NOT FOR LONG.
Yet every day brought more like her.
He reached work shaken and slipped into his cubicle without nodding hello to anyone. Behind the sign “Am I in? See for yourself,” the main office was empty. His boss was still being held for attempted curtaining. A mountain of crumpled tissues dominated the secretary’s desk.
The day the senator was convicted of hiring curtain runners to hide his last conversation with his dying mother, he ran all the way home. He brimmed with news down hallways where all his neighbors turned to look away from him, from each other, to nothing.
“Honey!” he burst in the door. A tap trickled somewhere distant. She was on the bed.
For a moment he dove his face into her hair, inconsolable. Then his brain began working again.
How would the police know he hadn’t done it? Did he have a motive? Had he spoke harshly of her to people? Did he have an alibi? The gears of his mind ground as he found that he could not prove, without a shadow of doubt, that he hadn’t killed his wife. The neighbors hadn’t been watching, obviously, otherwise they would have called him. He could have walked down this hall a thousand times. He shook. He cried. And then he was calm.
They broke down the door after his neighbors complained of the smell. They came across him, still peeling away, in mid-lecture.
“—and you see, the solution was obvious. Transparency. Beauteous! Simple! Trans-par-en-cy!” he flicked red from his fingers at them. “Take away the walls and what are you left with? Nothing but the truth. Nothing but the bare meat of fact. Nothing could be more innocent. You see, gentlemen, you see the whole matter laid out, sans confundi, sans everything but what you observe. Accountability. Look closely gentlemen, do you see any trace of a motive?”