We are excited to publish a new story from Olivia Parkes, whose “The Art of Ending” we were privileged to publish last year. “Another Life” follows Magda, widowed, on a blind date with a Dr. Levi at a restaurant in which everything is for sale. The evening that follow is far from expected. Read on below.
Magda was early, seated at the appointed corner table near the back of the restaurant, considering the stuffed tiger beside her, which was standing behind a velvet rope on a shallow stage. She was fairly sure that it wasn’t real, or rather that the skin, which was sometimes stretched around something else and called a tiger, was also fake.
Magda was in pieces again. As she bent to pick up the largest shards, she caught the curve of her shoulder, the palm of her outstretched hand, her nostrils, obscene from this angle, and a thrillingly blank piece of ceiling. Since discovering her reflection, Gracie had been trying to ascertain if it was friend or foe, and the new dog had finally knocked the standing mirror down. Magda had only just settled on its final position in the foyer, having spent weeks shunting the heavy glass from room to room, her own image clasped to her in an awkward embrace. Since the procedure she had been struggling with the subtleties of Feng Shui: You wanted a mirror near your entryway to offer a positive glimpse of yourself on the way out, but not to reflect you within five feet of entering your home, which would cause your chi to bounce right back out the door. It had taken patience to find the place from which she could see herself leave but not return.
Magda herded the quivering sheepdog into the yard, where she promptly began running laps around the freshly laid grass. She would not, she resolved, replace the mirror, which was in fact already a replacement. She had returned the previous one to the eastern imports store a full two years after purchasing it, having one afternoon seen swastikas, or things that were not unlike swastikas, thriving in the elaborately-carved wooden frame. She had been susceptible to signs then, omens and portents, counting the number of flies on the windowsill each day in the year after David had died. At that time such a burst of bad luck—seven years—would have transformed her into a shrew knitting her own nerves.
But this was the new Magda, she reminded herself, and she would not be rumpled by such a thing now. The transformation had begun last year, when, on the fifth anniversary of his death, David had appeared to her in a dream, naked and beaming, borne aloft in a giant egg, and she had woken flooded with radiant happiness. Soon after, Magda had begun. She acquired a puppy and a host of spiritually apposite furnishings: a set of singing bowls, an acacia-wood bodhisattva, and a coffee table that had, apparently, been a rafter in a Tibetan temple in its previous life. She had even begun dating again. Friends set her up with nephews, late bloomers, or men who had married out of the faith and learned their lesson, who had good health insurance, good teeth, and needed only to be delivered into the hands of a good Jewish woman. They had bored her into the same calm suspension between comfort and sadness that she felt in the moments before falling asleep.