Double

Given the limited number of colors, crags, hollows, and other proportions that people’s faces have it isn’t unusual for two unrelated people to look similar if not almost exactly alike. This is not so different from the observation that any two snowflakes for all their purported individuality are indistinguishable in any given fall. The odds of someone meeting his near duplicate on any given day are I suppose slim enough to be considered a coincidence though not a singular event.

I might have better anticipated what happened that Saturday if I’d pondered the above or had a clearer sense of myself. Now that I live alone again, I spend little time in front of a mirror. Thus I’m nearly always confounded by my appearance when I see my reflection in the large plate glass windows of the shops I pass when I go a-marketing.

My double, thumbs and eyes on his device, was as oblivious as me when we first met. I was crossing the street, half-full (for at heart I’m an optimist) shopping bag in hand scrambling not to get run over when a car horn went off. He looked up, virtually ignored me. About a quarter hour later while I was examining the produce in a shop in that nearby strip mall I felt a tap on my shoulder. He could barely suppress his grin. I shook his extended hand more out of surprise than politeness. He was, I saw, taller, stronger, and better dressed than me.

“Do you notice anything unusual about me?” he asked.

I didn’t.

“You must.”

Not wishing to offend I repeated that I didn’t, that he was a good-looking guy. He clapped me on the arm just below my shoulder. “We’re lookalikes!”

The surrounding shoppers and store clerks turned toward us. I didn’t register their various or uniform reactions. He wasn’t abashed. “Come, I’ll buy you a drink.”

I had food to put away, laundry to attend to. Nevertheless, I agreed.

We sat at the bar, burgers and cold beers before us. He was, I learned, a salesman, just passing through, there are better places North, South, East, and West of here. I wasn’t sure what he meant. We gabbed so long the game came on, the first of a double or tripleheader I meant to catch. I excused myself, rose to empty my bladder.

When I returned he was gone.

The bartender approached, asked me if I needed anything.

“No. Where’d my buddy go?”

“I don’t know. He looked at his watch, panicked, said he had an appointment somewhere, ordered a bottle of black and blue label, and went.”

“That’s expensive stuff. He had time to settle up?”

“I put it all on your tab.”

“Why?”

“You’ve been coming here for years, Chuck. I figured you’re good for it.”

“It’s not because we look alike?”

He gave me a queer look. “He doesn’t look anything like you.”

He left to attend to some new arrivals, an impatient pair of yuppie couples by the look of it, before I could say anything. I felt for my wallet. It was still there, all the bank cards intact. I sought my canvas shopping bag. It was gone. I guess he needed something to carry his liquor in.

Relieved and discomfited, one eye on the silent tube, I drank my second or third beer and listlessly twirled an already cool fry in a small pool of catsup. As I did this I heard another twirling. I turned. Charlene — she wanted to be called Lena but we knew her as Charlie and that was unlikely to change — was swirling a dark drink. The murkiness of her drink mirrored my inner turbidity, another false double. I say that though I’ve long been a stranger to both introspection and observation of the world without.

“Do you think I look like the guy who was sitting next to me?”

She crossed and uncrossed her legs. They were still slim though she had crow’s feet and wrinkles round the corners of her mouth when she smiled. She was smiling or simpering now. She touched me. I rooted for her to do well this afternoon or tonight. Did my sodden upsurge of good feeling wash over her?

“I thought you were brothers.”


About Clyde Liffey

Clyde Liffey lives near the water.

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