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Tin and Mercury, Gilt and Glass

Lane Robins was born in Miami, Florida, the daughter of two Lane Robins was born in Miami, Florida, the daughter of two scientists, and grew up as the first human member of their menagerie. She attended the Odyssey workshop, the Center for the Study of Science Fiction novel and short story workshops, and has a BA in Creative Writing from Beloit College. She is the author of Maledicte and Kings and Assassins, and the romantic mystery Renovation. Under the name Lyn Benedict, she writes the urban fantasy series beginning with Sins and Shadows. Her short fiction has been published in Strange Horizons, Penumbra, and Nightmare Magazine. She currently resides in Lawrence, Kansas.

42 facts about my wife, Marie:
1) Marie was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1984.
2) She has blue eyes, and brown hair that falls just below her shoulders, not quite wavy, not quite straight. Her features are regular and even, though her upper lip is a little short and always bares her teeth.
3) We met five years ago during a dull business conference mixer. I thought she had a wonderful smile, especially when she turned it toward me.
4) She works as an actuary at a national insurance corporation, crunching people into statistics.
5) We moved to St. Louis together a month after we met. We rent our house, a brick ranch-style with a small front lawn.
6) She has three indistinguishable friends--Jennifer, Linda, and Patricia--called-Patsy--with whom she attends book club readings, gym classes, and goes out for lunch.
7) We were married at City Hall four years ago. I brought her pink lilies which made me sneeze, and she wore a white dress. We had a small reception with her family and mine, a few friends. It was the best day of my life.
8) She stands 5'5" in bare feet, 5'7" in her work heels, and weighs 150 pounds. 20 of those pounds bother her, but not enough to prevent her from eating dessert. She's not vain. There is only one mirror in the house and it's in the bathroom.
9) We don't use birth control; we have no children.
10) She carries about three thousand dollars worth of debt on her credit cards. She buys the usual stuff; new styles in clothes, groceries, meals out, movies in, and tiny, glossy bottles of pink nail polish. Her nails without the paint are soft grey, almost silvery--which used to worry me, but she says that's just her.
11) She sweeps the house more often than I do, but leaves me the dishes. Neither of us likes to do laundry, and we should change our sheets more frequently.
12) We have sex twice a week, on date night, and whenever else we can find the time.
13) She frowns at hipsters, heavily tattooed men, retro girls with scarlet lipstick, or anyone who stands out as "counter-culture."
14) Her parents are teachers at a rural school in Wisconsin.
15) I found a list of statistics hidden in her lingerie drawer--97 pages of numbered facts about the "average" woman in America. And they're all checked off.
When I showed Marie the list, she stared at me for a long moment, her expression smoothly blank. I stammered an explanation, I wasn't snooping, I was looking for the sewing kit, I trusted her, I wasn't looking for secrets, I just didn't know what this list was.
Finally, she gave me a wry smile, a half shrug. "It's from work. I was curious to see how I lined up against the average."
She threw the list into the trash like it meant nothing to her.
I know better. 97 pages long, some pages yellowed, some reeking of fresh toner, the facts ticked off with a whole series of different pens. The list means something to her.
It means something to me. I wish I hadn't found it.
16) Marie has no peculiar habits or hobbies. Nothing to make a funny story of, or complain about. My brother James's wife took up origami, and leaves tiny, stiff paper creatures all over the house. My friend Michael's wife is a stay-at-home Mom who got fired when she got too pregnant, and now she embroiders "Screw Patriarchy" on children's onesies and sells them on Etsy.
17) Marie reads lifestyle magazines, several a month.
18) When Marie sweeps, she always collects tiny splinters of broken glass from every room of the house, wedged in along the floorboards, skidding and ringing beneath the broom's bristles. I've bled more times than I can count, sliced by shards left behind from a whole I never see.
19) Marie speaks French fluently, but denies it. She whispers liquid
syllables in her dreams. Qu'est-ce que vous voyez?
20) She calls her parents every month and talks to them in the kitchen with the door shut tight, while I rewatch The Thin Man.
21) Marie was not born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1984. The private detective tells me her birth certificate is a forgery.
22) I have never met her parents. Marie does not call them once a month. Dave and Emma are a pair of actors who aren't even married. They also aren't rural schoolteachers, which, frankly, is a relief. Dave's spelling on Marie's birthday cards is atrocious.
23) Marie pays them a thousand dollars a month to take her phone calls. God only knows what they actually talk about.
24) Marie has bank accounts I don't know about.
25) My wife is a liar on a scale I can't imagine. The private detective shepherds me through the embarrassing realization: I don't know my wife at all. I don't even know her name.
26) She smiled at me when we met, and I fell for her.
At night, Marie asleep beside me, sleep-whispering, I study her face, and consider labels for the inexplicable: Witness Protection. Robot. Neurosis. Spy.
She wakes under my silent accusations, her lashes fluttering, eyeshine like tears in the moonlight, like molten silver. She looks at me, unspeaking, and I think of childhood stories--the woman with the velvet ribbon around her neck, warning her husband away. All my questions freeze. Eventually, she rolls away, and takes the blankets with her. I lie exposed and cold in the dark.
27) My wife was not born in America, in 1984.
28) Marie was not born in 1984. Or in the 20th century. Julio, the detective, has found her fingerprints in a tiny museum that specializes in archaeological fingerprints. My wife's fingerprints are embossed, buried beneath century old glaze, on ceramic pots made outside Versailles in the 1800s by an unknown artist.
29) Marie's hair, given to Julio for drug testing, contains high levels of tin and mercury.
30) I do not know who I married. I love her. I don't know anything about her.
31) Marie is better at uncovering secrets than I am. She found the detective's invoice. Now, Marie peers at me, cautiously, trying to see what I have uncovered. I imagine my reflection in her eyes, a endless recursion of suspicion: Who is she? What does he know? Where did she come from? Who has he told? Who did I marry?
Doubt makes me cruel. We've always had our fights, the usual explosions spurred by petty irritants. Now we fight less, but mean it more. I test her, pick at her, try to catch her in a lie. Try to prove anything I know about her is real.
The only thing I know is that she strives to appear average. I assemble statistics like bullets, spit them at her over our meals together.
"Do you know the average woman has at least one sibling? I wonder why you don't."
"The average woman changes her job every seven years. Guess you'll be leaving yours soon."
"The average married woman your age has one child by now. I always wanted children."
At breakfast, I break our silence to say, "Guess your blue eyes are going out of style." I wave my tablet in her direction, the news feed clear across the screen. "Better get some contacts. New demographics say the average American woman's going to be brown eyed, brown-haired, Latino--"
Her hands clench on her fork, and I'm satisfied that I've landed a blow. Then her eyes flush dark and stay dark. Her blue eyes turn as brown as tree bark in a secret forest, brown as river cobbles beneath dark, fast-flowing water.
My breath vanishes. "What are you?"
She sets down her fork and tells me.
32) My wife was not born. Marie was created.
33) Marie was made in 17th century France by an alchemist for the King's menagerie--the Silver Lady, created to reflect the woman you most desired. She was a test for courting lovers, a revelatory dream for lonely others.
34) My wife is a mirror.
35) To escape the court, she learned to control her image, become blank, overlooked. Average.
36) In her natural form, she is a crashing rapid of silver over a veneer of woman, endlessly fracturing, mending. Her footsteps ring like struck wineglasses, and leave splinters sprinkled across the floor.
37) When she left, her kiss left tiny slices in my cheek that bled freely.
38) When she left, she stepped out of the house a ringing, sun-spangle dazzle, a kaleidoscope reflection of green grass, car, roadway, sky, my gaping face. A shimmering woman who raised her arms and melted like quicksilver, rolling into the earth.
39) I always thought Marie was special. That's the way marriage is supposed to work. You find that one special person who loves you for you, who sees something in you that no one else does.
40) Marie really is special.
41) She chose me because I am not. She saw in me an amalgamation of averages, a man who would never be the best, the brightest, the most interesting man in the room.
42) My wife is a mirror, but I'm the one that's shattered.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, January 29th, 2016

Author Comments

"Tin" combines two of my favorite things: exploring the way people perceive each other according to their own inclinations, and the potential revelatory nature of ephemera. Her list betrays her secrets, and his list betrays his vulnerability.

- Lane Robins
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