Henry Clum was a private man, and a quiet one. He would have preferred to live in a more peaceful environment, but he was a CPA, so he had to endure the noise and hustle of the city where he made a good living. All he could do was control his environment away from work, and that’s what he did.
Henry lived alone, but he was never lonely. Although he had no radio or television in his apartment, which had been soundproofed many years earlier, he had his books and his music, but particularly his silence in which he lived as though he were a fish in an aquarium full of stillness.
He would awaken in the morning and, if it were a work day, he would think about the hours to come with a brief sense of dread, but he was not only private and quiet, he was pragmatic, so he would rise out of his comfortable bed, drop his dreams into the sheets beneath him, and perform his morning rituals. He would walk into his spotless bathroom where, like the rest of his apartment, everything was in its place and ready to be used.
After he had showered he would stand before the mirror and look into the eyes of the person before him. They were a bluish-gray, and as he looked he would say to himself, “It’s going to be okay. Everything will be fine, and the day will pass.” He would continue to look at his image in the glass as he shaved and combed his graying hair, and he would feel the vague uneasiness of his waking begin to drop away. By the time he was through he’d be ready to take on the morning.
Dressed in his robe he would prepare breakfast, eat it, and then, before he dressed, he would wash the few dishes and utensils, sweep the floor of the dining area, and make sure that all was arranged as it was supposed to be. When he was dressed he would glance into the pristine space he inhabited, set the electronic alarm system and close the door. Then he would clench his jaw and walk into the rat race.
His office was in a building that held several firms he served. His small staff consisted of a full-time receptionist cum secretary, an office manager named Morrison, and a shifting group of part-time people Henry used at particular times of the year for various purposes depending on the jobs at hand. Morrison hired and handled the staff as he would specify. There was seldom a problem getting the help he needed, for Henry was well established and known for his efficiency, and the businesses that he served provided a pool of people he could draw on as necessary. These had their own cubicles in a section that could be closed off from the main office and reception area.
Henry and the secretary, a competent middle-aged woman named Ms. Fisher, got on well together, or well enough to suit them both. She was a fine gatekeeper who kept his contact with other people to the necessary minimum. She knew computers as well as Henry did, so she was very well paid and content with her position.
Henry generally ate his lunch in the office. Ms. Fisher would order it up from a delicatessen nearby, and when it was delivered she would leave and lock the doors behind her for an hour. By the time she got back Henry had gotten quite a lot done and was looking forward to four p.m. when their day would be over.
This routine seldom varied, except when Henry had to do a bit of shopping, for food or other items, on his way home. He liked to cook, and he liked his produce and meat fresh, so he got a little exercise walking around the markets with what people would assume was his Walkman on his head, but in fact it was a pair of earplugs in disguise. If he had to converse with a clerk or a dealer of some sort, he’d take them off briefly.
He enjoyed most punching the keypad outside his apartment door, walking inside, hearing the latch click shut, and then listening to the silence settle over him as though it were clear water. He would look around and see that everything was as it should be, put away the items he had purchased, and settle down in his armchair to read or listen to a cd.
One day he came home and realized as soon as he had stepped inside that something was wrong. He glanced around but saw nothing out of place, yet there was definitely something wrong, though he couldn’t put his finger on it immediately. He put the bag of groceries on the counter and began a careful inspection of the apartment.
Not a thing was out of place. He looked at each item carefully, measured it against the image he had of it in his mind, checked its location in the environment where it existed, and came to the conclusion that it was absolutely where it had been left that morning when he went to work.
When he was through with his inspection he went to the picture window that looked out onto the street and the park and turned his feelings and his observations over in his mind. Had someone gotten into his living space while he was away that day? Nothing was missing. And who would do such a thing? The manager of the condo complex? Some workman or other? But how would they get in if they didn’t have the combination? They would have to call him at work, and that hadn’t happened. He had no enemies that he knew of, and no friends either, for that matter, not even relatives who lived anywhere near.
He turned away from the window and looked around him. What was it that was different? And then it came to him, like a revelation, a vision — the things in his apartment were not the same things that had been there when he had left that morning. Identical items had been substituted for each thing!
Henry walked to the coffee table in the sitting room and lifted a book off the table. It was the book he had been reading last evening, but it wasn’t. There was no difference, except that there was. He did another inspection, slowly, painstakingly, walking one step at a time, hearing each of his footsteps beating its name into the air. Everything in the apartment was the same. Everything was different.
Then Henry realized the worst of his
situation. Not only did every thing have its identical substitute,
even the silence was another silence. He walked slowly into the
bathroom to look into the mirror.