In the second bedroom of Sara's boyfriend's apartment is a mirror.
Or perhaps in is the wrong word. The mirror hangs on the outside of the door, facing the rest of the apartment, and Sara can see her reflection in it as she passes it on her way to the bathroom. The mirror is full-length, with hinges, all smoothly painted black wood and carefully assembled IKEA hardware. The handle to the bedroom door does not open, has never opened, is as solid and unshakable as the concrete floors of the building's basement laundry room. The mirror opens, though, and most of the time when it opens it reveals an eclectic collection of jewelry, all glistening glass earrings and waist-length seashell necklaces and delicate silver ear cuffs that look like they ought to belong to elves.
Most of the time.
During certain cycles of the moon—Sara can never remember which—and in certain navy-purple hours of the morning—sometimes midnight, sometimes three (and it never seems to be the same time frame twice, sometimes stretching until the sun creeps up from the earth and sometimes flitting by in a flickering quarter of an hour)—the mirror opens into a room.
The mirror is not as large as the door, is maybe two-thirds the size of the door, give or take, but during certain cycles of the moon and certain navy-purple hours of the morning, Sara can open it to reveal a darkness the same shape as the doorframe and twice its size. She can step into it as though it were an ordinary door, can step into a room with white walls and linoleum floorboards the color of sand, a room that looks, on its edges anyway, exactly like her boyfriend's room next door.
The first time Matthew took her into the room, it was empty, had echoed even more than the cavernous garage of the house Sara grew up in, and while her boyfriend assembled furniture she called out nonsense words just to hear them bounce off the walls. She did not think to question the door then, with three glasses of sangria and daquiri in her system and her senses all soft around the edges. Her boyfriend asked her if she could hand him a screwdriver and she giggled and listened to the room repeat her laughter. Her boyfriend assembled a bedframe, a nightstand, a dresser, a bookshelf—duplicates of the smooth black IKEA pieces in his own bedroom, and Sara hardly took notice of them, as mundane and expected as they were.
When Lilah moves in, Sara does not see her do so. She is out of the apartment for a while, her days at work long and her duplex closer to the office and easier to collapse into for a few hours before rising again, still groggy after three cups of coffee, to shuffle back to her infinity of paperwork and meetings. A month passes between Lilah's arrival and Sara's return to the apartment, and even after several visits, she does not encounter the woman, who is some distant relative of Matthew's, a second cousin, maybe, or a step-niece. Sara is not alarmed by this, not until two months after she moves in and Sara asks Matthew when he'll introduce them, and he frowns in a way that Sara has not seen in their three years together.
"You'll meet her soon," he promises. "When the time is right."
Sara assumes he means a time when their schedules line up, when the three of them can sit down to dinner or Netflix together instead of Sara and Lilah running into one another awkwardly, unexpectedly, on the way in or out of the kitchen or bathroom. Sixteen days pass, and Sara is about ready to ask about Lilah again when her boyfriend asks if she would mind staying up later than usual that night.
It's Saturday, and Sara has nowhere to be tomorrow, having given up Sunday morning church when she stopped living at home, so she flips on HGTV and watches couples who make twice as much as she does renovate houses that were fine to begin with. It is 2:32 am, her phone says, when Matthew puts his hand on her shoulder and says, "it's time."
She follows him to the door, and he reaches for the edge of the mirror instead of the handle. She opens her mouth to protest, but before the words escape her lips the mirror swings open and rectangular darkness that is black but glowing all at once swirls into existence, and Matthew takes her hand, her mouth still open, and leads her to the other side.
The structure of the room is everything it should be, is the size and shape that fits into the floor plan, looks almost exactly like it ought to. Except that the furniture is upside down, and it is glowing neon green like a bar sign, and it is not touching the ceiling but hovering a few inches below it, high enough that Sara can step beneath without bumping her head but low enough that a hand could pass between each piece and the ceiling above.
Lilah is there and she is upside down, too, is glowing, too, but blue instead of green, the blue of the sky on a deceptive winter's day, the kind of day that looks perfect through the window but bites at skin and tears warmth from bones. She is cross-legged, reading, and slightly transparent, solid from a distance but seeming to fade when Sara looks too long at the edges of her figure. She drops her book and squeals with the delight when she sees them, her glow shifting from blue to lavender to rosy pink and back again, cycling so rapidly that Sara's head begins to ache. Lilah's book hovers in the air, lying shut as though it has hit the floor. Its cover has no words, only a large dark stain.
"Sara," says Lilah, and her voice is like the hum of a dishwasher or the rush of air through a car window cracked open on the highway, "At long last."
They talk, the three of them, mostly Matthew and Lilah, but Sara chimes in occasionally, much to Lilah's delight. After a while, Sara's neck hurts from craning it to look at the other woman, so Matthew suggests they lie on their backs as though they are stargazing, and Sara finds that it helps. Helps with her neck, yes, but helps too to process the floating girl above her, the step-niece or second cousin who is her boyfriend's roommate and is also maybe probably a ghost or a spirit or something not human.
Almost certainly not human, Sara thinks, for at times when Lilah speaks it is of things she has no business knowing, like Sara's childhood cat, or the words Parisians tutted at the construction of the Eiffel Tower, or the gossip among the servants of Cleopatra. Sara does not ask how she knows these things, does not asks how she and Matthew are related, because asking seems—not rude but wrong somehow, like asking a doorknob whether it enjoyed its line of work. Like she would not get an answer even if she asked, only an odd stare and silence.
When their visit is over, when the mirror no longer permits their entry, they do not walk back the way they came, but are simply returned to the kitchen, as though they had never left it, and the microwave clock reads 3:07, though Sara is certain they talked with Lilah for several hours.
Over time, their visits become regular, or as regular as anything can be that follows no fixed pattern or schedule, any concept of linear time. Sara does ask, once, how Matthew knows when the mirror will open to the room instead of the jewelry, and Matthew tells her that he just feels it, the way Sara feels when her period is about to start or a headache is about to form. Sara writes this off as nonsense until one night, when Matthew is asleep and she is up late, drafting a tricky email to a tricky client, and something behind her navel or maybe within her hips or maybe in the space between her eyes starts to hum or buzz or throb or something and she knows, without knowing how she knows, that the mirror will swing open if she touches it, will show her a rectangular darkness that is black but glowing all at once.
Sara thinks that she could ignore this feeling if she wanted to, could stay and stare blearily at sentences and semi-colons until the hum or buzz or throb fades from her awareness, but something compels her to open the mirror, to have a chat with Lilah, who is, after all, extraordinarily pleasant for all that she is eerie. Who smiles wide though her teeth are her most transparent feature, who laughs loud and often though her laugh sounds like creaking hinges and the dark space inside her mouth swirls like a galaxy.
Lilah is thrilled to see her as always, and they dive into discussion of the latest issue of Cosmo, of plays by Aphra Behn, of women in physics and women in music and the color of the ocean on stormy days. They talk about global warming, and about boy bands they had crushed on and pretty girls they had crushed on, and which few of Earth's landmarks are visible from space. They talk about tattoos, and lesbian pulp novels from the '50s, and the evolution of Arabic numbers. They talk until Sara's voice feels raw, until her words are more rough edges than syllables.
"What time is?" she asks, for it feels as though days have passed since she first lay on the hard linoleum floor, and her back is aching, and her teeth ache, too, and she really ought to get back to her email.
"Silly Sara," Lilah tells her, smiling. "Time isn't real."
Sara forces a laugh, but something in Lilah's eyes says she isn't joking.
"I should get back to Matthew," she says, looking too long at one of Lilah's earlobes and seeing the stark while wall behind it clearly.
"Oh, darling," says Lilah softly. "Matthew is already here."
Sara sits up and looks around the room, seeing her boyfriend nowhere and knowing he is in his bed, is sleeping, has not followed her through the door and cannot possibly be here, but she searches anyway, knowing without knowing how that Lilah does not lie, that Lilah cannot lie, that every impossible thing she has spoken since Sara met her is absolute and undeniable truth.
"Where?" says Sara, so quietly she can barely hear herself. "Where is he?"
And Lilah smiles then, smiles to wide to be physically possible, and she floats over to the door, and she reaches for the handle, and Sara does not open her mouth to protest, only watches as she presses the handle with ease and cracks open the door, and light that is black but somehow glowing slips through the slit between its edge the doorframe.
"What," Lilah says, "Did you think it only led to one place?"
Sara thinks that she could stay if she wanted to, could keep on making idle conversation with Lilah until the door spits her back into the kitchen as usual, but she also knows without knowing how she knows that when it spits her out, her boyfriend will not be on the other side, will not be sleeping in his bed where she had left him and that maybe, maybe he would be in the apartment at all, and that maybe he never would be again.
Sara understands everything and nothing all at once, and she knows that if she walks through the door and into the light that is black but somehow glowing, she will not come back the same, may not come back at all, and she thinks of her filing cabinets and her email inbox and her contract templates and she thinks that she would not miss any of them after all, that what she had built for herself on the other side of the mirror was as temporal as life itself. She thinks that even if whatever Lilah is offering her is as terrible as death or worse, the risk she takes in walking through will define her more than any paperwork ever had, and that alone is worth the permanence the choice implies, the danger it or Lilah might turn out to hold.
Lilah swings the door open, and Sara steps forward into it.