[don't miss the special note from james stegall about the publication of the brick]
it is the sky, the true wall mirror, no? eh, who the fuck cares? submit!
THE WALL MIRROR
BY JAMES STEGALL

Quiet now. At the hospital there had been beeps and rolling carts, clicking pens and the hollow echo of voices paging doctors. Now the night slid past the car windows in smooth black waves, segmented by yellow street lamps gliding up the windshield.

Brian held the wheel with both hands and let the road lead them home. It was four in the morning and he was tired. He didn't want to think about the work coming in three hours.

He glanced at Megan but she was dead to him.  She held herself in the blanket he had torn from their bed five hours earlier and stared through her black eyes. Her skin was pale as moonlight. One lock of hair divided her wide forehead.

She sniffled and he turned up the heater.

Later he pulled into the driveway and went around the car to open her door for her. She accepted this and walked past him toward the house, huddled in the blanket. He followed, searching through his keys.

Brian switched on the kitchen light and squinted against the glare on his sore eyes. Megan went to the table and sat down. She stared at the wooden napkin holder in the center of the table.

Brian stood watching her. Then he put a hand on the refrigerator and leaned his head against the cool metal. His wife had her back to him.

Vomiting? the doctor asked.

Not that I've noticed.

Does she seem depressed lately?

I don't think so, Brian said.

Have you noticed any changes at all?

Changes.

Brian felt the floor heave suddenly but realized his knees were collapsing under him. He caught the hard corner of the refrigerator and balanced himself. When he saw that her back hadn't moved, that she hadn't registered his fall, Brian pushed away and moved down the hallway to the bathroom. Inside he gripped the sink and stared at himself in the mirror.

Is this some kind of suicide attempt?

I don't think so, the doctor said. But I can't be certain. You would have to tell me. Look, does your wife have an eating disorder?

What?

She said all she took recently were diet pills.

They pumped her stomach. Twenty times the recommended dosage. Baby? Twenty times?

She's acutely dehydrated. I think that's what caused the fainting spell.

That could be anything, right? Not enough water?

Have you noticed her using laxatives excessively?

He stared at the mirror before knocking his face out of focus by opening the medicine cabinet. Brian studied the white shelves. Tylenol. Midol. Advil. Comtrex. Milk of Magnesia. Ex-Lax.

Green bottle with a white label. He selected the bottle and turned it in his hand, reading the label. He opened the cap and shook a few pills into his palm. Then he dumped them all down the sink.

Lists of things he should have noticed, billboards he should have read. Only a week ago, he recalled their conversation as he lay on the bed watching her dress for dinner out. Her frown in the mirror.

I look fat.

You don't look fat, he said. You look great.

I'm fat. How can you look at me?

You're beautiful. Look at me, Megan. You're so beautiful to me.

She only glowered in the mirror, ignoring his reflection beside her.

You're blind.

His fatigue had a brittle edge and it was rising, scraping inside his head. Brian left the medicine cabinet hanging open and went into the bedroom. Clicking on the lights he stood in the doorway and searched silently for her private spaces. His eyes fell on the bottom drawers of their dresser.

The drawer screeched as he wrenched it free and flipped it upside down. Lingerie fell on the carpet and Brian pawed through it. Finding nothing, he reached for the lowest drawer. This one was heavier. Dumping it revealed books, photo albums, empty bottles of perfume, letters, her high school yearbook, her college diploma.

Three red and yellow boxes of diet pills.

He grabbed them up. They were light but stubborn to tear open. Brian ripped the first package apart and studied the shiny foil blister pack and its rattling red and yellow capsules. He turned back to the packaging and read the instructions, indications, side effects. His eyes burned into the woman in the swimsuit on the front of the box.

She eats. She eats dinner with me every night. I work days, so I guess I don't know if she eats then. But-- I don't know.

You're wife doesn't work? the doctor asked.

No, we-- I just got a new job. We just moved here for it and she hasn't found anything yet. She's been looking.

How long?

Six months now, I guess.

Since they had come here, it seemed that instead of growing closer, he was losing her.

Megan looked up at him slowly when he threw the pills on the table in front of her. Her eyes were black holes. She looked at him as if he had hit her.

What are these? Brian asked.

Pills.

Why do you need these pills?

Megan lowered her face and squeezed her eyes closed. Tears filled her eyelashes. Because I'm fat, she said.

You are not fat.

She didn't look at him, but readjusted her grip on the blanket around her shoulders.

Megan cried out as he grabbed her arm and pulled her to her feet. Halfway down the hallway she struggled, clawing at the antique radio. Its hollow body cracked as it hit the floor, a gasp in the quiet house. Two steps away, Megan's forearms moved in awkward jerks against him, as if each movement expended a deep reserve of energy. She sobbed, hitting his chest, scratching his face. Then she surrendered, slumping against him as he
pulled her into the bedroom.

Brian jerked her in front of him before the wall mirror and pulled the blanket free. A second movement tore the neck of her nightgown and revealed one pale breast to the mirror. She resisted. But he succeeded in ripping the rest of the gown from her
body and then he held her with both hands.

Look at yourself, Brian said.

Megan turned her face away, clenching her eyes closed. Her cheeks were streaked by tears.

No.

Look at yourself, he said, and forced her chin.

Megan refused to open her eyes.

You don't understand, she said. Her chest jerked with sobs.

You're right, I don't understand, Brian said, shaking her. I love you. I love you, Megan. I tell you how beautiful you are to me, how much I want you, and still you eat those pills. Why are you doing this? What am I doing wrong?

Her voice was muffled: It's not you.

What is it then? he demanded. Who are you doing this for, if it's not for me? You would do this to yourself?

She wouldn't answer.

Brian closed his stinging eyes and focused them again on the mirror. He saw that her arms were splotched scarlet from his grip. He relaxed his fingers and really looked at her, looked at the combination of the two of them.

Brian saw himself, eyes bloody. Megan sagged in his grip. He moved his eyes down her body slowly, studying collar bone and belly button as intently as he had read the medicine labels. She looked no different to him. He felt a stirring of desire and suddenly he wondered if she wanted him to make love to her.

Don't look at me, she murmured, crying.

Brian stared at the mirror. He blinked and looked at her bowed head. Kneeling slightly, he picked her up and held her against his chest. Her face fell against his neck, smearing his skin with hot tears. She was so light that suddenly he felt a sob well in his throat and his eyes blurred, burning.

Megan, he whispered. Oh, Megan.

He looked at the sight of himself holding his wife in the mirror. He looked at the line of her bare calf and how graceful her neck was with her face turned toward him. He looked at the bandages inside her arm from the IV drip.

He looked at his own progressing belly, his retreating hair. Brian turned slowly and walked to the bed, lowering her into the covers. He kissed her forehead before turning out the light.

*

Megan tried to swallow and gagged instead. The stomach pump had made her throat ragged and the reflex left a tang of blood in her mouth. So she stared out the car window at the images surfacing from the strange dark of this unfamiliar route home from the hospital. Back to their new home in this new place she had come to live in with Brian, requirement of his new job. Of course there was more money, which meant nicer drapes and a new washer and drier set but she had been perfectly happy with the old drapes
in their old two bedroom apartment. Now they had a house.

Out of the dark came the neon glow: Live Nude Dancers! And she wondered what dead nude dancers looked like.

She glanced at Brian but he was intent on the road, both hands on the wheel. She sniffled and snuggled deeper into her blanket. In the edge of her vision she noted that he turned the heater up. A warm wind blew on her face from the vent.

But it felt too hot, so Megan pressed one side of her face against the cool window and tried to define the line down her face where cool and warm met, dividing her into two pieces. The cheek against the window was the cool side of her self, and it was sliding away into the dark outside, with the Strip Club signs and street lights glowing as they passed. She imagined herself flowing away into the dark like a piece of paper lost in
the wind of passing cars on the expressway, drifting and looping and dancing wherever the exhaust might take her. Maybe she could fly high enough to catch a wind, and then a jet stream, and then she could disappear in the gray clouds making a halo around the moon. Cold and clean as white toothpaste or Cool Whip.

The warm side of her reached uselessly for Brian. She felt as if the hot air formed a wall between them, pushing them apart in stifling gusts, choking her and making him more distant. The car was growing hotter. She felt the engine grinding and the wheels grating against the asphalt. She saw Brian's white knuckles on the steering wheel. His tension was like a taut wire. They were on a high wire act and she feared they would fall.

The road slid by. They were leaving the hospital.

And she wondered what all this was about. She had taken some diet pills. A few diet pills and then gone to sleep. Next, she remembered Brian waking her, his face moon-white. She watched him rip the blanket she now wore from the bed and then she was in his arms and then in the back seat of the car, the material rough against her cheek, listening as he changed rumbling gears like a race car driver. The hospital: on her back watching
the ceiling lights flash by, the nurse shoving the plastic pump down her throat, like an impossibly swollen twisty straw. Gagging forever. People murmuring over her like bees buzzing.

Quiet now. The lights slid by, surfacing from the dark, floating past. Street signs. Traffic lights. Other faces ghostly in cars alongside in this slow silent regatta. . . of lives racing down yellow-trimmed lanes. How close they all were, she thought. How dependent upon trust was this road system. . . what if she just wrenched the wheel? Reached out and jerked the car sideways in the street and smashed their car into an iris of wrecked metal, split open their cocoon to the night air?

Would Brian frown then? Would he notice her? His presence seemed swollen in the small space of the car, pressing her against the cool glass, forcing the warmth out of her skin until she had no recourse but to escape through the glass into the cold, where the people on the street corners lived their lives in this wild new city, so much bigger and angrier than what she had ever known.

They were parked.

Megan lifted her face and saw their new house dark and silent outside the window. Brian was opening his door. He came around the car to open her door, and she thought she wouldn't be able to move until her support swung away from her and the cold air reached inside the car and grabbed her. She swung her feet out and stood, turned without looking at Brian and walked toward the house. She heard him close the car door and begin searching through his keys. She recognized the familiar jangling sound: the same sound she heard when she was sitting in the living room and, coming home after work, he thought the door was locked. In the three little windows at the top of the door, she would see the top of his head, and she could almost feel his bulk against the door, poised to press into the space she had been creating for herself all day alone the keys would jingle  and the lock would click and roll and the door would swing open. He would come in with his head bowed, before looking up to see her, and he would always ask: Why didn't you open the door?

It was unlocked, she would always answer. She took comfort in this. Because as long as he cared that she hadn't opened the door when in fact all she wanted was to bask in the moment of him wanting to enter their house she knew he was coming home. Brian was coming home.

She loved Brian in a way that terrified her. Megan felt that without him she would cease to exist. He was the baseline of her life: more so in this new place. She had nothing but him to connect her with her old life, nothing but him to prove that she was even real. She couldn't even trust mirrors anymore. She knew she could fool herself, if necessary, into
believing she was there. She needed Brian to come home and be angry with her or happy with her or anything at all, to prove that she existed in this world. She couldn't talk to her mom. Her college friends had disappeared into their own lives. She felt like a ghost.

Silly diet pills, she thought, waiting for him to unlock the door. They were food, that was all. Wood to keep her burning. Just like speed, she and her friends had joked in high school. Keep you cooking all day long. Running on a Diet Coke and diet pills. Thanks, but I'm okay.

She couldn't recall how many she had taken before going to bed. She was hungriest in the middle of the night, when she knew Brian was asleep beside her, and she woke up with the black hole inside her aching to be fed. Endless, tireless black hole. That was the only reason she had taken those diet pills. Just to feed that hunger screaming inside her from her toes to her fingertips.

He had said he woke up and she wasn't breathing. But she didn't see how that was possible.

Now the kitchen light was glaring in her eyes. Megan sat down at the kitchen table. There was another reason, too: she didn't want to recognize this reason, though, because it was selfish. And their future depended on this job Brian had now from here he could transfer anywhere. He was doing just the type of programming he loved, he said. Was it so important that she couldn't find a job, then? Wasn't he making enough money for them
both? 

The first interview they said she needed more experience. She could accept that. The second interview wasn't a panel but one man. A man named Dave in his mid-forties, whose eyes kept sliding down her body when she talked. Megan knew the exact cadence of his eyes. They fell from eye-contact to her lips, then to her chest, then to her crotch, then her legs, his desk, and back to her eyes. He might throw in a glance at the wall for good measure. This went on for half an hour.

She didn't think much of not getting that job. But when the third interviewer gave her the same treatment, this time sitting beside her rather than behind a desk and actually reaching over at one point to pat her knee, she wanted to scream inside.

And when she didn't get that job, she could only assume it was because she wasn't pretty enough. Sitting at home all day wasn't helping. She tried to go for walks. She wanted a puppy but Brian wouldn't have it. Her pants didn't fit anymore. She ached inside.

Brian had gone somewhere. Now he was back with a package of the pills in his hand, all mangled.

What are these? he demanded.

Pills.

Why do you need these pills?

Megan lowered her face and squeezed her eyes closed. She felt tears fill her eyelashes because she knew she had hurt him, but she hadn't meant it to be that way.

Because I'm fat, she said.

You are not fat, he asserted.

He said it as if by making that statement he could fix how she felt in one stroke. But he hadn't been sitting at home for four months. He hadn't seen the eyes of those men as they studied her breasts that were too small and her fat calves, her round belly. She had been pretty only a year ago. She knew that. If only she could get back there.

Instead he grabbed her. She gasped, surprised by his violence. She didn't start to fight until halfway down the hall, when she was already crying uncontrollably. He didn't understand. He had somewhere to go, something to do, people to talk to. He didn't wait until he heard keys jangling outside the door.

She tried to hit him but it was no good. She loved him and hated him all in smashing waves. She felt as if she were lost in the ocean, fighting vast uncaring currents: her life spiraling away. This wasn't where she had thought she would be. He wasn't who she thought he would be. How could he be so blind? Why couldn't she talk to him? Where had this wall come from?

Megan tried to hit the wall but her fists felt like pillows and they fell short. Instead she sagged against him, because at least he cared enough to fight her, until he lifted her in front of the big wall mirror in their bedroom.

Look at yourself, Brian said.

She refused to look at herself. Again he surprised her by grabbing the throat of her nightgown and ripping it half down her front. With another movement he left her naked. But she wouldn't look. She knew what was there. She had studied the troughs and ridges of her body for hours, pulling and pushing, willing herself to be different, to be smaller, to not seem so distorted and disgusting. Did the mirror show another world? Was she really so horribly fat?

No.

Look at yourself, he roared, and forced her chin. His strength hurt her.
She had never thought him capable of this.

You don't understand, Megan said. She couldn't explain to him. Being in this place was too important. She hated herself for taking too many pills.

You're right, I don't understand, Brian said, shaking her. I love you. I love you, Megan. I tell you how beautiful you are to me, how much I want you, and still you eat those pills. Why are you doing this? What am I doing wrong?

It's not you.

What is it then? he demanded.

Don't look at me, she murmured, crying.

He knelt and lifted her in his arms. She knew she must be too heavy. She felt him strain under weight.

Megan, he whispered. I love you, Megan.

She let one IV-scarred arm fall away from him. But he wouldn't let her fall. So she turned her face into his shoulder and let her husband carry her to the bed. She was tired now. Her throat hurt and she was tired of crying.

Megan felt him kiss her forehead. But his hands were dumb on her skin. She wanted to sleep now. He didn't understand.

She turned her back to him, and listened as he stood over her a moment. She felt him sit on the bed beside her. She wanted to imagine his face in his hands. But she couldn't look at him to see. Her husband might have been smiling, she didn't know. She pressed her face into her blanket, catching a sob. Then she rolled over and wiped her face, looking at Brian.

His tears were silver in the dark.

[Forever after at http://eyeshot.net/stegallmirror.html]
*

*

SPECIAL NOTE FROM MR. STEGALL
ABOUT THE PUBLICATION
OF HIS BOOK,
THE BRICK

I work an average of sixty hours a week, so a lot of The Brick was written on sleep deprivation. That brought about some weird stuff. Essentially the book is road trip story with a spy plot as fuel. A sort of Kerouac meets LeCarre. The conspiracy concerns Separatism in California (Northern breaking free of Southern), and how Chinese Restaurants, Japanese Internment, the National Reconnaissance Organization and the band Pavement all play into the mix. The road trip stuff winds around Kevin Costner, Khobar Towers, Wal-Mart and Marfa, Texas, with lots of other stuff in-between that may be influenced by the Beastie Boys.

Mostly I think the book is fun to read, which was my goal. Serious stuff leaks in Ė the story is meant to have an effect Ė and I think something gets said about our generation and the choices we make. Iím very proud of the book; thatís an accomplishment for any writer, I think.

The Brick is the first full-length novel in So New Mediaís catalog. It started as a thousand words a week on Uber.nu and later at Serialtext.com, spanning more than three years. I wrote the book entirely online, and though itís gone through several major rewrites since the last online version, the encouragement and in-process critiques I received during the writing process played a major role in its completion. 

It was important to me that the book find an independent outlet. Selling a lot of copies isnít nearly as important to me as contributing to this community, and I hope my book is only one in a long line of works that prove online media has staying power to be reckoned with. 

Thanks for your support.

 B R A V E   S O U L S   R E C E I V E 
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PLEASE REALIZE THERE WILL ALSO BE A BOOK CALLED

Incidents of Egotourism in the Temporary World
by the Eyeshot editor & that there's a site for
this book wherein you can now peruse
FOURTEEN deleted chapters
(consisting of about 40,000
otherwise expunged words)
& other stuff/things
as well
too

*

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