I Can Walk Through Walls But I Can’t Find Love

"Tunneling," a short story by Josh Denslow

I Can Walk Through Walls But I Can’t Find Love


The man can pass through solid walls.

To do so, he only has to jostle and vibrate the particles in his body. That’s it. This then frees them from the confines of the man’s emotions, specifically the failures (which he has extensively catalogued) and the desires (which he has extensively desired) that masquerade as his soul. Once jostled and vibrated perfectly, the man renders himself something other than alive, but certainly not inert, and he is free to pass through the nearest wall. While in this not inert but also not alive state, he can forget his poor performance review and the extra weight at his midsection and the half-empty bags of last year’s Easter candy in his filing cabinet. It doesn’t even matter that Courtney in accounting turned him down when he asked her to coffee last week, even though she isn’t dating anyone. Single for over three years she’d told Rachel, also in accounting, during a conversation in the office break room that wasn’t meant for the man to hear.

The man fears that passing through walls is perhaps the only interesting thing about him.

Courtney is unable to pass through walls. Her cells cling to each other with a fervency that can never be broken. She learned that the dust that collects on her tiny dresser and along the windowsill in her bedroom is sloughed off skin cells and as she cleans her apartment every Saturday afternoon she mourns the loss of those parts of her and wonders what memories they take with them. She turned the man down for coffee because she likes her life exactly the way it is. She is not interested in change.

The man, who attacks his loneliness with bags of candy, finds it difficult to understand that for Courtney, another day alone is preferable to an hour spent with the man in relaxed conversation. She feels similarly about the conversations she has with Rachel, also in accounting, every day at 3pm in the break room. He longs to banter with someone like that. Specifically, he longs to banter like that with Courtney in accounting. He wants to be past all the introductions and the life-changing electrical charges that leap between two people getting to know each other. To discover if their cells want to share electrons.

The day after the declined coffee invitation, the man heard Rachel laugh when Courtney relayed the information that he had asked her out. Rachel, as it turns out, would have said yes to a coffee date with the man.

What the man and Courtney could never know is that Rachel’s cells have been losing their magnetic pull, drifting away from each other. She feels less like herself every day. She responds to this lack of vibrancy by over-compensating. Laughing loudly at jokes that aren’t funny, coordinating the office birthday parties where everyone shoves cheap grocery store cake into their mouths as fast as possible in an effort to return to work before too much interaction occurs. All while waiting waiting waiting for someone to excite her. Rachel would take a chance.

The man, in his ignorance, can only feel the slight of Courtney’s rejection. He knows at this precise moment, which is 3:01pm, as he struggles to finish a mindless task at his metal desk, Courtney and Rachel are sitting at the white plastic table in the break room. Just on the other side of his office wall.

A wall that he can pass through.

The man’s body becomes quantum waves, loosening from the shape he loathes in the mirror, and he passes through the atomically small spaces between the wall’s matter. Much like a brick of cheese through a cheese grater. Except that on the other side, the cheese becomes a brick again.

It is always supremely disappointing, after so much effort manipulating himself on a molecular level, that the man finds himself completely unchanged. He reassembles himself, atom by atom, each piece in the exact spot as before he propagated through the barrier. His brain reshapes to have the same thoughts, the same uncertainties.

Courtney and Rachel look up. This is not news to them. The man frequently passes through walls to attend meetings and exchange pleasantries and confirm rumors. The coffee machine gurgles. The microwave hums. The air conditioner rattles.

The women each clutch a mug of coffee. The mugs were brought from their homes. Courtney’s is completely white while Rachel’s has a cartoon picture of a cat wearing a sundress.

“You know . . . .” the man says.

Courtney thinks of the breath leaving his body, the skin cells flaking from where his sleeve doesn’t quite meet his wrist, his accumulated memories with nowhere to go, and how she has no room to carry any of it. There is no available space.

Rachel feels a slight vibration. A rogue cell deep inside is activated. All her other cells wait for a message to be passed. On her face is an expectant look.

The man almost says something ridiculous. Like: “I don’t even like coffee.” Or worse: “I don’t like talking to people.”

But then the man’s gaze shifts. How has he not noticed Rachel before? She’s not just Courtney’s coworker. She’s an important member of the company. More important than most everyone else, in fact. She plans every office party, and once when the man told a joke that bombed while everyone was eating cake, Rachel laughed as if it was the funniest thing she’d ever heard. At the time, the man had been too embarrassed to meet her eye, but he will never make that mistake again. Everyone in the company takes her for granted. To be very specific, the man takes her for granted. But he sees her now, and every particle in his body knows he made a mistake inviting Courtney to coffee.

“I was wondering if you’d like to join me for coffee, Rachel?”

The rogue cell deep inside Rachel, the one that has been waiting for a moment like this, alerts another cell and another and another, and they all become charged. The cells dance. There is much to discuss on the molecular level deep inside Rachel from accounting.

The man is waiting. The invitation is nice. It feels nice to be invited. But the man invited Courtney first. If Courtney had said yes, this invitation would have never appeared. It is a secondary invitation. The invitation stops feeling nice. Rachel slowly begins shutting down the charged molecules deep inside of her, one by one. The man seems lovely. He has always seemed lovely. Once Rachel saved him from total silence after he bombed a joke during a party she had planned for a woman who no longer worked for the company.

“I understand,” the man says, Rachel’s hesitation heavy between them. He walks to the door, anxious to leave the break room as fast as he can.

“I’ve never seen you use a door before,” Rachel says.

The man thinks again how passing through walls might be the most interesting thing about him.

Rachel thinks how the man’s ability to pass through walls can’t possibly be the most interesting thing about him. There’s a glimmer of hope. The rogue cell tries one more time to generate a charge.

“Send me an email,” Rachel says. “Let’s set it up.”

Courtney and Rachel share a look. The man can’t decipher its meaning. He expected to feel exhilarated, but he somehow feels even more humiliated.

“A door forces you to go the way everyone else goes,” he says. When the man returns to his office, he’s going to write that email to Rachel. He moves toward the wall that has his office on the other side. Courtney and Rachel watch. He anticipates the moment when he will pass through the wall, back to his cramped office and accumulating work, because he will stop being himself until he reaches the other side. As if he ceases to exist.

It will be a relief.

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