The Fourth Wall by Kim Hagerich
My neighbor broke the fourth wall. It started innocently enough when we both found ourselves on our verandas watering the plants and she asked about the music we were playing inside: classical, so we didn’t feel too worried. It’s not as if she started quoting lyrics; that would have been a bit much. Then one night we heard a scratching in the walls and thought it might be rats. But my wife said it sounded too steady to be wild. It seemed to be participating in our conversation in a kind of Morse code, though this sounded preposterous, so we let it go. Then came the day when we ran into her at the bus stop. I nodded my head in greeting and she asked me what had happened after they entered the vortex of light, and I thought a minute and was on the verge of asking if she was referring to 2001 Space Odyssey, which we had been watching the previous night, when she said, I couldn’t hear everything, but it has a very distinctive soundtrack. I know in this world there are people who are so lonely, they feel compelled to insinuate themselves into the lives of others and who lack sufficient social skills to realize how this might come across, but when I was pouring some food into the bowl we leave outside for strays, she asked me if I had heard the yowling with a mischievous wink (Not us! That would have been brazen even for her), the implication was clear. My wife and I don’t have sex anymore. I press myself against the small of her back and she says, I can’t stop thinking about her. It used to be that I sometimes imagined, while making love to my wife, the face of the woman I lived with before her – Jaqueline, who left me – but now I see my neighbor, chained up on the floor like a prisoner enduring our sounds. I hope you understand there’s nothing kinky about this. I’m not even being metaphoric: the wall is gone. It’s true the walls are thin; it didn’t require brute force. Nonetheless, we feel its absence.
Kim Hagerich is a writer, English teacher, and intermittent bookmaker. Her stories have appeared in DecomP MagazinE, CutBank, and NANO Fiction. She won the 2015 Montana Prize in Fiction and the 5th Annual Gigantic Sequins Flash Fiction Contest.