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I SAW MYSELF today.
It was on the way home from work. Rush hour traffic. Cars bumper-to-bumper on the winding back roads in Scotland, Connecticut. We were at the light: me in my new car and you in my old pickup truck. Who could mistake it? White with black stripes on the hood. A couple of choice bumper stickers on the tailgate.
The stickers were what got me. I’d put them on crooked. It was one thing to see what looked like a similar vehicle, but to see the exact one you sold three years ago was another. I felt a sense of nostalgia for the old beast. I used to take it out four-wheeling with the guys for Friday night beers and wheels.
When the light turned red, I took the turn with you. Around the corner, the lady in the red Ecco hit you from behind. You got out. That’s when I saw me. Same hair and face. Same red flannel I stole from my grandfather’s closet when he passed away. Same scar on the right cheek from falling off the gym bars in second grade. You had the goatee, the one I shaved off a little over a year ago when I married Carrie-Mae.
But I wasn’t convinced. No, it’s not like I subscribe to that New Age mumbo about alternative dimensions, quantum leaps in time, or voodoo magic that we all have a twin. I mean, come on, it just had to be a coincidence. There had to be an explanation.
The cars were gridlocked as we waited for the police to arrive. You looked uninterested and casual, just like I would be, sitting on the tailgate, talking on your cell. We even laughed the same, a deep grunt, then a windfall of chuckles.
I started going through scenarios. What was I really looking at? My long-lost brother. As far as I knew I was an only child. But what did I know of the affairs of my mother’s sex life. I called her.
“Do I have a brother? A twin? A young father that you didn’t tell me about?”
Mom asked, “Are you doing drugs again, Dalton? You’re not driving, are you?”
I pressed. I didn’t tell her I’m watching myself have another conversation. Then I blurted, “You’re not on another call are you?”
She hung up shortly after that. Shortly after I told her she was hiding something from me, lying to cover up some tryst. I’ll call her tomorrow and tell her I was drinking.
The police came and took your license. I rolled down the window to hear the conversation. I studied your mannerisms. The way you leaned like a bow being stretched. Your laces untied, typical me fashion. I hated tying my boots, couldn’t wait to take them off. I studied the truck some more: sunglasses hanging off the mirror, crack in the cab window, the milkcrate I kept for sand in the back—all of it identical to what I was driving three years ago.
David. Looking up from the license, the cop calls you David. My legal name. I stopped using it when grandpa died. I was his little man, and everyone started calling me Dalton after him. But David, that’s my legal name. It’s you. It’s really you—it’s really me.
I’m supposed to be home tonight to watch my two-year-old son, while Carrie-Mae goes to the gym. If she doesn’t make the gym, her one thing for herself, she gets pissed and irritable. I call her and tell her I’m stuck in an accident. I fib a little and make it out worse than it is. She’s concerned that I’m okay. “I’m a little shaken up,” I tell her. It’s the truth. It’s not every day you see yourself.
When the accident clears, I pass you, but pull over up the road. I need to see where you’re going, where you live. I need to be super-sure I’m not crazy.
I follow behind you. It’s surreal. I start to think about clones and scientific experiments, alien abduction, and times I blacked out and didn’t know where I’d been all night, or with whom. Identity theft. That’s the next solution to this marvel. Someone had plastic surgery, changed their name, and inch by inch was moving in on my life. I think I saw it in a movie, the clone takes over and none of his friends are the wiser.
You pull up to the curb in front of a blue two-level. I park a few houses down and watch. It’s a modest house, nearly identical to mine, except there are no toys on the lawn. If this was three years ago, then there wasn’t a kid.
You get the mail, paw through it, and toss most of it in the recycle bin. You have my backpack slung on your shoulder, the same one sitting on the seat beside me. They both have an Anarchy patch sewn on the front. Mom sewed it while we watched Evil Dead 2.
You go inside. I hear our dog, Bristow. He jumps on you, barking, then runs into the front yard. He died in February after eating a towel. My buddy. Here he is doing circles, finding the right poop spot. He perks his head up and starts to bound for my car. You call him Benny, but I know it’s Bristow. He listens and you let him back in the house and turn on the TV.
I wait and watch, going through what I’d do if I were you—even though I am you. Bathroom. Kitchen. Living room. It happens in that order. When the beer is finished, eight minutes later, back to the kitchen. Shit, it really is me!
Carrie-Mae calls. I tell her I’m on the way. I linger a few more minutes and then head home, remembering the address. At home, I’m distant and foggy. I play the accident card all night, right up till I go to bed, not wanting any sex. I wonder if my other self is having any.
On the way to work in the morning, I stop by your house. You’re still there, so I secretly wait, and call my boss on the construction site to tell him I’m puking Chinese food, but will be in soon.
We cross town. I almost lose you behind a semi. You get on the highway and cross the border into a sleepy Massachusetts town. The roads are just as narrow and winding. But I stay far enough behind that you don’t notice. You lead me to a different house, a multifamily. On the porch you get the mail, junk half of it, and go inside. Another dog, a two-bit mongrel pees on the porch. You give it a little kick toward the grass. A nice looking blonde dressed in a big flannel comes out. I watch your hands go under her shirt. You almost forget the dog outside.
An hour goes by. You come back out, a little disheveled with that after-sex skip, and head off. We go to lunch at the diner. You eat my favorite, a three-egg omelet, Vermont cheddar, bacon and tomato. You head out to the boonies and drive into the Stevens construction site. Your hard-hat has an Anarchy symbol like mine. But here you’re the foreman. Workers rush to you with plans. I think back. I almost got a promotion, but I screwed it up by sleeping with the boss’s daughter. Maybe that’s who you were just with.
My cell phone rings. It’s Carrie-Mae. “Where the hell are you?” My boss called, said he needed me double time. She told him I left hours ago. I make an excuse of stopping for an egg omelet and have been in the bathroom since. Carrie-Mae doesn’t buy it. She’s pissed and thinks I’m up to something evil. I tell her I’m on the way to work and have to concentrate on driving.
At work, I’m a deadbrain zombie. I play the part of the sick fool well. After a few hours, my boss sends me home. I swing by your house, but you’re not home. None of your neighbors are either, by the look of it. I sneak up to the window and look in. Bristow—or Benny—barks. I go to the back. My snowmobile sits covered on the porch next to the grill. Through the sliding-glass doors I see more of your things: a jacket, the pocketknife dad gave us, dirty dishes in the sink. We hate dishes. I try the door, but it’s locked.
At home, Carrie-Mae tries to corner me into some bullshit about having an affair. She’s still having a hard time getting the extra baby fat off. She starts to cry. I tell her I’m just sick and crawl into bed, daydreaming about my other self.
In the middle of the night, I check the Yellow Pages. I’m the only address listed. I Google myself, David Brenner. I see only my stuff there. I Google-Map my other house, and the multifamily in Massachusetts. I want to open the doors and windows and see more.
In the morning, I call out of work again. But I don’t tell Carrie-Mae, or I’d be stuck home changing diapers, while she does a double workout at the gym. No, I leave and go to your house, but you’re already gone. I stop by the multifamily, but you’re not there either. You’re actually at work putting on a roof.
I tool around town, trying to figure out what to do next. Should I go up to you? What would I say? “Hi, David, it’s me—you!” Yeah, not likely. I can send you a letter.
Dear David: I know this will sound strange, but I think we’re the same person, just three years in time apart. Yeah, I know—crazy, right? But maybe something happened, a rift, a ripple that caused us to split off …
I see I’ve jotted it down on the side of my empty coffee cup. I scribble it out, crinkle the cup, and toss it on the floor.
My car has a mind of its own. I drive to the multifamily. Park and walk to the porch. I poke at the mail. None of it’s made out to me, but to Carly-Ann Stevens. Like Stevens construction, I guess. The blonde answers the door. She looks at me a little funny, but pulls me inside. “I thought you were at work,” she says, leading me to the couch. Two kids play with Leggos on the floor.
“I left,” I say. “I wanted to see you.”
“Oh?” She kneels on the cushions and combs my hair with her fingers. “I know what that means.” She studies my face. I think she’ll suspect that I’m not you any minute, but her hand is down my pants. Her breathing gets heavy in my ear. She leads me into the kitchen, where I straddle her on the kitchen table. Is it cheating if I’m taking over for the other me?
Over peanut butter sandwiches she talks to me about our life. She wants to get married, even picks the same day Carrie-Mae and I tied the knot. She wants to go on vacation. Aruba, I guess. She laughs, “Of course, Aruba.” It’s our favorite place we’ve never been.
It’s getting late. She has things to do. She kicks me out. I tell her I’ll be back soon, just in case my other self comes in behind me. On the way home I stop off to fill my gas tank. I get a little on my hands and rub it on my clothes to cover up her smell. It’s not cheating, I continue to reason, though I feel like a skunk.
I call out of work the rest of the week, even corroborate it with a phony doctor’s note. It is easy enough to fake. I make a show of puking up breakfast for the nurse. Each day I stop off at the diner for an omelet, then head over to Carly-Ann’s for sex. Afterwards we make future plans. Aruba. Marriage. A kid of our own. Four-wheeling behind the construction site. She never notices I don’t have your truck.
A month goes by. I start back at work doing second shift. I tell Carrie-Mae that I am working overtime. She never scrutinizes my paychecks. I borrow money from Mom a few times to make it look like I have some extra.
In the mornings, I go to Carly-Ann. It becomes natural for me. I look forward to it. I’ve fallen in love with her. She tells me her dreams. I tell her mine. Before long, we have the same dreams. I start to forget all about you, until one day I take a little too long to leave. Carly-Ann is waiting on a pregnancy test. It turns out negative, so she starts to cry. I console her and lose track of time.
You see me crossing the lawn. You just stand there. I hide my face. I wasn’t expecting you. I drive away fast. Take some crazy streets making sure you can’t follow, if you are following. I go to work, looking over my shoulder the whole time. But you never come. At home I keep one eye out the window. Carrie-Mae asks me what I was doing. I tell her a neighbor’s dog is doing its business on our lawn. She doesn’t question me.
The next morning I go to see Carly-Ann. She lets me in. Her face is bruised and she cowers from me. I ask her, “Who did this to you?”
“You did. Don’t you remember?”
I cradle her in my arms and kiss her bruises, saying, “I would never do this. Never.” I stay with her. She doesn’t let me near her, until I’m ready to go. Then she takes me fierce, right against the front door. “Make a baby in me,” she says.
When I leave, I tuck tail against the bushes, looking out for you. I pull away, and then I see you in the white pickup, black-stripes freshly polished. You speed up, banging my bumper. I blow a red light to get away. You follow. You’re all over the pavement, swerving to drive me off the road. We head into a school zone, but it doesn’t stop you. Sirens are close by. You back off and take a side street. I’m shaking. What the hell were you trying to do to me? ME!
Carrie-Mae is pissed you scratched the back of the car. I lie and tell her it happened in a parking lot. She doesn’t talk to me all night. “Lies, it’s all lies,” she yells and slams the bedroom door.
The next morning, I park a street over from Carly-Ann’s. I sneak through the back yard, and crawl in the bedroom window. But she’s not alone. The other me is with her; they’re sitting at the kitchen table. Carly-Ann is sobbing, begging to go to Aruba, like we had planned. You tell her that you don’t have time. Her father has you busy building houses. That’s when I get the crazy idea to buy tickets and take her to Aruba, and leave my other life behind.
But I don’t have time to really think it through. I hear you slap her. I hear her body hit the floor. More sobbing. Then comes the threats. You say, “If I catch you with that other guy, I’ll kill you, Carly-Ann.” You sound serious. Are you really capable of killing? I’ve never heard you so angry. Now the kids are crying.
You leave. I wait a few minutes, and go to her. She’s confused and scared of me. She takes a nerve pill. I try to tell her the truth, that the other guy, though it’s me, is me three years prior. The pill makes her sleepy. I watch her sleep and book us a flight to Aruba—one way.
Three days go by and I don’t see Carly-Ann. You’re with her instead. I watch you kick the dog off the porch and collect the mail. I watch you take out the trash, big bags of stuff. But you put them in your truck and not the trash can. When you drive off, I go inside. Carly-Ann isn’t there. Nor are the kids. On the table is a note. It’s written in my handwriting, but it’s like Carly-Ann wrote it. It says how dull her life is and how she needs to end it. A sick feeling washes over me.
At home, I try to put that funny feeling out of my head. Carrie-Mae comes back from the gym. I notice she’s a size three. She calls me into the shower with her, where we spend hours turning to prunes. I sleep like a rock. Right up to the point when Carrie-Mae is shaking me awake saying the police are at the door.
I’m arrested and cuffed. I have the right to an attorney. I’m charged with the murder of Carly-Ann and her two kids. Three if they count the one not born.
In jail, I tell the lawyer everything. I tell him that this other me did it. He says that an insanity plea won’t work because kids were involved. He tells me to come up with something else, something believable, or I’ll get the death chair.
Mom is devastated and won’t come to see me. “It’s all those drugs you did as a kid,” she tells me on the phone.
Carrie-Mae comes to see me once. She won’t let me look at our son. I tell her it wasn’t me, but there are pictures of me leaving Carly-Ann’s. There are witnesses who saw me there every day. The stupid letter on the coffee cup. The plane tickets discovered. The cops think I booked a ticket for her to make it look like we were planning a trip, but in the end, it was my getaway.
I don’t back down from my story. By the time we go to trial the really sick and twisted part happens. The part when you come to testify against me. You testify that I tried to steal your life, even went as far to look like you in every way. Even changed my name. The jury is convinced, made you out as some kind of victim in all this. I still don’t know how you managed to switch our bags. The police found a backpack with an Anarchy symbol stuffed with Carly-Ann’s fingers. You bastard.
I’m facing death by injection. You come to watch, a little smirk on your face. You shaved your goatee. I take a few last moments to consider this other side of me, this cunning, murderous side. Carrie-Mae is sitting next to you. Suddenly, you’re holding my baby. Now, you’re holding her hand, cradling her. You kiss her forehead. You wink at me, making sure I know you’re taking over my life.
I scream that you’re the murderer, that you’re the phony. I scream that they’re letting you get away with it. I try to warn Carrie-Mae, but she looks past me, eyes on the injection tubes. Slowly, the sedation enters my veins. Please, I beg. Please, it wasn’t me.
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About the Author
HUNTER LIGUORE earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. Her work, nominated multiple times for the Pushcart Prize, has appeared in The Irish Times, Empirical magazine, and more; her story “Momentary Forgiveness” was featured in Spark: A Creative Anthology, Volume I.
Hunter is the editor-in-chief of the print journal American Athenaeum and revels in old legends, swords, and heroes. — www.skytalewriter.com