The Mirror is Empty
Jody suddenly felt very light.
When he had entered the elevator, a heaviness had begun to move down his limbs, to the tips of his fingers and toes. He was used to such a feeling; like a forerunner it accompanied a foggy sense of doom that often descended upon him from the air. He felt it took a great effort to hold his arms up around his portfolio as they were. He wondered, as he sometimes did, if he were to just let go, simply let go and allow his arms and body fall where they might, how far he would drop. Would he just tumble to the floor, as logic suggested – or, if he really, sincerely let go, would he fall straight, like a stone, through to the core of the Earth?
What a dumb idea. He remembered thinking how glad he was that no one had joined him in the elevator. He was alone. Alone, heavy, and glad.
Now he felt light and empty, nothing more than a breath. He was pressed up against something cold and flat, like solid rainwater. His arms were splayed to either side, outstretched like those of a martyr, and his calves rubbed against the floor through his slacks. His toes were pointed toward heaven. Usually, when he first woke up, he felt like he was swimming, slowly and difficultly, up from the bottom of an ink-well. Now, it seemed as if consciousness had simply plucked him from where he laid and suspended him in its grasp, without transition. His hearing was oddly clear and limitless, pulling noiselessness from all directions. His fingers groped the cool floor; it seemed so flowing and liquid, he expected them to come away moist, but they were dry as stone.
His eyes fluttered open without resistance. Hard, black stone. It seemed to be all there was left of the world. I guess I must be alright.
Indentured in the little elevator, he had been on his nervous way to a job interview, anxiously awaiting the light to illuminate his floor number. For the past five years he had worked as an assistant baker and clerk in the small but well known town bakery; it wasn’t a bad job, he decided, but now that he had a baby he really needed to look for a way to earn more money. And he didn’t like leaving home so early in the morning, before the sun was even beginning to remember his side of the world, afraid his little boy might wake up in the middle of the night and be all alone. Too early to call Tanya over.
God, how Jody hated job-hunting.
Entangled in his thoughts, he had hardly noticed his own panic as the elevator halted mid-movement and plummeted to the hungry earth below.
A memory like the crack of a whip tore through his awareness. Abrupt noise and pain. His upper body sprung forward, clutching at the all too smooth ground. There was nowhere to grab, no spot or limb he could envelope with attention to chase away the pain. Then it was gone like a wisp of fear. Over. He felt fine . . . I can’t believe I survived that. It’s good no one else was in that elevator with me.
As his eyes rose, melted into focus, cold washed through him. Just then he noticed a profound quiet, like death, in his stomach. Poised in front of him, solitary and menacing, was an elevator door, entirely devoid of color.
Is that the elevator I went into?
The door appeared to be the only focal point of the room. If it could indeed be called a room; “egg” would have been more fitting. Beneath him was flat ground, but it sloped up slightly as it spanned away from him, like an obsidian basin. The walls curved inward towards each other like frightened lovers, leaving the ceiling all but nonexistent. The door was the one absolute flat dimension in all that roundness. The room should have been utterly dark; but a milky glow, like the embrace of a phantasm, echoed back from the midnight walls. He saw a faint reflection of himself against the curvature of the ceiling, looking strangely small, pale, and lost.
Ah. Nothing is different.
A tone chimed through the cool, damp air. A small light, like the white of an eye, appeared on the door frame’s edge. Like a mouth opening wide to yawn, the door panels slid apart. Inside, the elevator was a spectacle of intense red velveteen and shining glass. It seemed impossibly spacious and surreal, like a circus caravan. An archaic-looking woven fence pulled out of sight, admitting its passengers.
Someone vertical and black surged through the door. A footstep on nothingness; she made no sound as she entered the room. She did appear to be a woman. Before even a moment passed, she was standing before him. His body felt before his ears heard:
“Rise.” Her gusty command curled around him as swift as a kiss.
From his vantage on the floor, she seemed immeasurably tall. She was covered all in sable; it took him a moment to realize she was wearing an expensive looking elevator operator’s uniform and cap. Her cuff-links were also black. Her skin had the color of sand; her voice, it’s roughness. A smile, vague as a shadow, sprawled across her face.
“I . . . I thought I was alone in the elevator.” Jody wasn’t sure why he said that. He realized by now that that was not the elevator he was in so short a time ago.
He hadn’t even noticed the woman’s companion. By her side stood a young boy, just over half her size, in a similar operator’s uniform, his cap tilted to one side on his head. In stunning contrast to the tiny world around him, he was clad in powder white, clothes trimmed with gold. His hair and skin were dusty, like his counterpart’s – but his silver eyes seemed as solemn as an ocean.
“Come. Rise,” the woman said once more, this time in a softer voice. Her smile had an unnerving quality that he couldn’t place. Almost without volition, he moved to obey her. He expected to feel sore as he climbed to his feet; but it was effortless, painless.
Standing face to face with her, Jody saw that she was slightly shorter than he. Nonetheless, she appeared to fill the entire room with her stature. She continued grinning at him in a wry way, as if she knew what he was planning on saying next and it amused her to pretend otherwise. Her eyes were half closed, half open, like a lizard’s.
“I’m sorry . . .” Jody began. “The elevator fell, and I guess I was unconscious. I’m surprised I survived it. The elevator must not have been very high up.” His voice sounded sheepish, retiring. He felt as if he were sitting on his own shoulder, listening to himself, knowing he wanted to say more than that. There was always more he wanted to say.
“It was quite a fall.” The boy said stiffly. His face didn’t even seem to move as he spoke.
“Yes, indeed,” concurred the woman. Without warning, she turned away, her dark hair flitting about her like a pair of wings. “A traumatic experience, indeed. After such things, one must decide what happens next.”
Jody frowned. “What do you mean? Can’t we just . . .” he had been about to ask can’t we just go back upstairs? but he knew by now that that would be a foolish question. “Where are we?”
The woman grasped the boy’s hand as she paced away, tugging him after her. Jody couldn’t ignore the impression that the room was stretching, growing larger to create distance between him and these two strangers, exuding their quiet like funeral mourners. Without facing him, she said. “I am Monker.”
The boy, still holding her hand, turned the both of them around slowly, as if participating in an odd dance. “I am Nakir.”
Monker smiled again. “Jody Sondheim. We are the black angels. You see, it is our burden to ferry the souls of the dead to wherever they may go.” She spoke so slowly it hurt his ears.
Souls of the dea . . .?
“I’m afraid you didn’t quite survive your fall, after all.” She said nonchalantly, turning her eyes to examine the ground about Jody’s feet.
“It was quite a fall,” Nakir repeated. Jody had a sick feeling that he was dreaming and would never see light again. He suddenly wished he had never stood up. But he seemed too light now to fall any distance, even to the floor.
“I . . . died?” His voice sounded distraught. But there was a presence somewhere in him that noticed how unperturbed he really was, inside.
“You are a spirit now.” So slowly.
So this is death.
“You have a choice.” Nakir intoned. He was a sparkle of rain pattering on a heavy moment that seemed it would never pass. “Three choices, to be precise.” Jody was reminded, strangely, of Alice in Wonderland by the way the two of them spoke in turn. “You may press on from this place, to Heaven, on high.”
“I can choose to go to Heaven?” He was starting to feel numb.
Nakir continued, ignoring the remark. “You may be borne away to the chasm, called Hell. There, any manner of kingdom may be yours. Also, any manner of torment.”
Monker was walking circles around Nakir’s bone-white presence, like a step in an endless and glacially slow ballet. “Or you may remain here.”
Jody shuddered at the idea of waiting in this black place any longer. “Here? In this room?”
“In this world. The world of flesh. As a specter.” Her smile was wiped completely way. In its place was a hypnotic calm. Her eyes were ice and stone.
So this is death, he thought again. More “choices.” But his tongue went on without him. “Why would anyone choose anything but heaven?”
“If no one would ever choose Hell, there would be no Hell. If no one would ever choose the world of flesh, there would be no black angels.” Ice and stone.
“What’s Heaven like?”
“In Heaven there is no conflict. Everyone does what they must do.” Bone-white.
” . . . does what they must do.” Sounds an awful lot like here. He was surprised to feel a hot tear crawling down his cheek. “I don’t believe any of it. People aren’t actually given choices like that.”
“No one is given a choice.” He could no longer tell their voices apart. White, black; it was all cold. “Choices are not given. They simply are, like the sea. It is better to say that you are given unto the choice.”
Another tear. “But it doesn’t make a difference. No one really gets to decide what happens to them. People just do what they were meant to do. And whatever happens was meant to happen. I guess I was meant to die. Surely you must know where I’m meant to be.” Please?
“Everyone is meant to be everywhere, and no one is meant to be anywhere. No one knows this. It would be true even if no one knew anything. Just as the sun is meant to give birth to light, so it also meant to at times be eclipsed. No word can say nor no eye understand when it will be.” Bone. Ice.
Jody felt his voice trailing away as he was being overcome by his new weightlessness. The room seemed to be rapidly shrinking the more deeply it sunk into his awareness that he really was dead. Dead. No more. It still makes no difference. It doesn’t matter where I choose. It’ll all be the same.
“Whether Heaven, or even Hell, is anything like life on Earth, is for you to say. Choice is the absolute power.” White. Stone.
I’m still dead. I don’t remember the last time I was really alive.
“Even despair is a kind of choice. Even death.”
I’m . . . dead.
“And we are angels. As you say, it makes no difference. We must all walk. We must all choose.” Dead.
He carefully raised his eyes to black-pearl ceiling, as if afraid of what he might see. Iridescence burned in his eyes. The angels and their ebon words seemed to cover everything. “What would you choose?”
He was met with silence like the point of a knife. Monker’s grin flashed wickedly as a lit match. Nakir’s stillness was eloquent.
“Wait . . . my baby.” His vision blurred. “I have to get home. Is my baby alright?”
“The living world is yours to see as you please. Is that your choice?” Echoes, everywhere.
“I . . . I need to see him. My sister won’t know that I’m dead. I . . . can’t leave him.” He turned away from them, ignoring the overpowering aura of their joint presence. He fumbled towards the elevator, and depressed the freezing white button.
“Is this your choice?”
Jody looked back once more, and regarded their opaline gazes. “Yes. I guess so.”
The angels were motionless. The elevator doors opened with a creak. Beyond the obsidian panels, he now saw a wash of ash colored fog rushing out toward him. Softly, he turned his back on the black angels, simultaneously lucent as fire and dark as a riverbed. Jody floated outward into a wide grey expanse of loneliness.
As the doors closed, he did not hear the elevator’s tone ring. Nakir looked upward above the door frame as if searching for a floor number. “Ah.” He smiled for the first time.