through the looking glass
At the quiet beginning of a clear day, a black sedan rolled slowly down the empty street and came to a stop in front of Celia’s house. She had known it would be coming, but it was a tiny shock to see it there, even so. She opened the front door and took long, slow strides down the walk to meet it.
The car’s metal and glass glinted in the morning sun. In the passenger seat window Celia’s reflection looked back at her: a tall, thin girl wearing a little black cardigan over a gray dress. Her skin was pale and her long, straight brown hair disappeared behind her shoulders. She looked past the glare on the glass and found a second girl sitting behind the steering wheel, who was not much older than she. The driver’s razor-sharp black bob shifted and then fell back into place as her gloved hand lowered her sunglasses and she looked out at Celia.
Around them the houses seemed to slumber on their lawns. The morning smelled of dew and grass. Soon it would be fall.
Celia opened the door and took her place in the passenger seat. The air in the car held traces of a perfume that reminded her of forests and spice cabinets and Christmas. “Are you ready?” the driver asked when Celia had closed the door.
“I think so.”
The driver put the car in gear and eased away from the curb. They glided out of Celia’s neighborhood at a stately pace, and in the amber light she felt as if they were driving through honey. A gloomy song played on the stereo, with ringing guitars and crashing drums, and a man singing:One cold damp evening the world stood still
I watched as I held my breath
A silhouette I thought I knew came through
And someone spoke to me
Whispered in my ear
This fantasy’s for you
Fantasies are in this year . . .
“Who is this?”
“The Chameleons,” the driver said. “You like it?”
The warm light flickered through the trees as they rode. Celia tried to imagine what she might have been doing, where she might have been instead, if she hadn’t . . . She wondered which thing she might have done differently, which decision would have sent her in a different direction. It was hard to guess. At this moment she felt as though she had never had a choice, really. There were so many questions she couldn’t answer, but it all seemed so inevitable, regardless. She turned around and looked at the back seat. A gray cashmere blanket lay there on the tan leather, neatly folded, waiting for the first cold snap of the fall.
They drove into a neighborhood Celia didn’t know, where the houses looked expensive and the lawns were wide. The car stopped in front of one of them, and soon the front door of the house released a handsome boy wearing a dark shirt and trousers and a brocade vest. His blond hair was short on the sides and swept into a fifties-inspired peak on top. “That’s Brenden,” the driver said. Brenden waved in their direction before he got into another expensive-looking black car parked in the driveway.
“He isn’t riding with us?” Celia asked.
“That’s not how it works. You’ll see.”
Brenden’s car pulled out in front of them at the same slow pace, and they followed him into another neighborhood.
My whole life passed before my eyes
I thought what they say is true
I shed my skin and my disguise
And cold, numb, and naked
I emerged from my cocoon
And a half-remembered tune played softly in my head . . .
They arrived at the curb in front of another house. Once again a boy emerged: olive-skinned with loose dark curls, he wore a slim gray suit jacket over a matching pair of knee-length shorts, and black loafers without socks. “That’s Marco.” The boy waved to them; then he climbed into the other car. Through its rear window Celia could see the two boys greet each other with a kiss.
“You’re not dating anyone, are you?” the driver asked Celia.
“Me? No! I’ve never dated anyone.”
“Why is that?” The driver sounded surprised, and Celia wished she had managed to sound nonchalant instead of alarmed.
She shrugged, trying to play it down. “I’m taller than everyone.” She looked down at her long legs shrouded in dark tights, and her feet in buckled shoes with higher heels than she’d ever worn before, and she thought that now even fewer boys would be able to look her in the eye.
“You just need to date someone older,” the driver answered simply as they followed the other black car down the street, sounding complimentary and slightly bitter at the same time. It was such an obvious solution, now Celia thought about it, but she never had tried to solve the problem. Telling herself she was too tall was one of the ways she made sense of not getting more attention from boys, but that couldn’t obscure the deeper truth: Celia wouldn’t have known what to do with a boy even if he had been delivered to her in a shipping crate with breathing holes cut into the top.
I realize a miracle is due
I dedicate this melody to you
But is this the stuff dreams are made of?
No wonder I feel like I’m floating on air
It feels like I’m everywhere . . .
“Last stop. We’re late. I hope they’re ready.” The two black cars pulled up in front of an imposing modern house with a huge bed of ivy in place of a lawn. This time two people emerged through the front door. “That’s Liz,” the driver said of a shorter girl with a wavy bob, black with deep blue highlights, wearing skinny black pants and a button-down shirt with long tails. A rosary hung from her neck. “And that’s Ivo.” Celia’s guide’s voice grew warmer as Ivo walked with Liz to yet another black car. He was tall and thin with his black hair severely parted and combed, wearing a black shirt and suit. “They’re fraternal twins. They’re the whole reason the Rosary exists.”
“I didn’t tell you? That’s the name of our group.” The driver turned to look at Celia.
“Are you . . . religious?” Celia asked.
“No. We’re a set of small black shiny beads who string around together, finding beauty the rest of the world has overlooked.” Celia thought this was a description she should remember, but she couldn’t make sense of it. The driver continued, “The Rosary is just the name we’ve given ourselves. But to describe us, I’d say we are the cognoscenti.”
“I don’t know what that means,” Celia said.
“The cognoscenti are ‘the ones who know.’ ” The girl behind the wheel gave her an appropriately knowing look, but Celia still had no idea how to respond.
Ivo and Liz were pulling out of their driveway in a third black car, and suddenly the image of shiny black things strung together wasn’t just a metaphor. Celia felt as if she were riding in a funeral procession, and a familiar pain flared up in her. Only recently had her heart grown closed around what felt like the shards of a bullet that had lodged there when her father died. The pain wasn’t sharp every day now, but the shards were always there. They would always be there.
Like when you fail to make the connection you know how vital it is
When something slips through your fingers you know how precious it is
And you reach the point where you know it’s only your second skin
Someone’s banging on my door ....