Someone has been replacing his wife in pieces. He first notices it when she pulls a spring dress over her head as they prepare for dinner with her parents, the fabric rustling round her bare legs.
Have you always had that mole there?
She’s distracted, checking her makeup in the mirror. Where?
There. Beside your left knee.
She barely glances at it. I think so. Sure.
Then it’s the scar on her shoulder that she’s had since childhood, crawling under the neighbors’ barbwire fence, tearing her jacket, shirt and flesh. Running his finger along her skin as they lie in bed together in the dimness of early evening, he doesn’t feel its familiar traces.
She shrugs. It faded. Scars do that.
It’s smaller things, too, like one earlobe suddenly thicker than the other, or the pinkie finger on her right suddenly longer, thinner.
Doesn’t the knuckle seem higher to you?
Oh, Carl, she laughs. Oh, Carl.
She brushes him with a feathery kiss on the cheek. I’m the same as I’ve always been.
He digs out their wedding photos and inspects the woman in them: Arching eyebrows, bright eyes, teeth made perfect through orthodontia.
Oh, says his wife when she sees he has gotten the photos out, we were so young then.
He stares at her.
What? she says, crooking one straight eyebrow.
He stores the photos away and lies in bed beside his slowly evolving wife, staring up at the ceiling, eyes wide.
You’re different lately, she says.
She rolls over toward him, and he can’t help rolling away. I can’t put my finger on it.
I am? he says again. Me?
He flicks on the bedside lamp and leaps out of the bed, inspecting his reflection in the dressing table mirror. After a while, the stranger who has become his wife joins him. She kisses him gently on the side of the face — the mouth is still hers, at least, though the eyes are a different shade, the nose a bit wider — and ruffles his hair.
What do you think? she says.
He gazes at his reflection.
It’s nothing, he says. I’m the same as I’ve always been.