Hi, Honey, I'm Home!
Part of an original self-portrait photo is up top. The two bottom shots consist of one half and then the other of my face, each mirror-imaged and combined with its original counterpart.
My weekly free-writing group takes prompts home, in addition to writing off-the-cuff during our meetings. Over the years, several members have brought in collections of prompts. Thursday's writings followed sequentially from a short phrase ("the big lie") and a single word ("ownership"). There's no "wrong" way to handle these; they are meant only to get one's creative juices flowing.
Several websites offer ideas, among them CreateWritingPrompts.com, WritersDigest.com, and WritingFix.com.
Our take-home assignment had come from a collection of situational prompts courtesy of a member who prefers to be known only as "Esmeralda." This was her offering:
"While at the grocery store you bump into an oddly familiar face -- it's your evil twin! The evil twin follows you home and tries to convince your family (or friends) that she's (or he's) you. How did you prove to your loved ones that you are the real you and the twin is an impostor?"
I dashed this one off Wednesday night....
I noticed the smirk first. The smirk hid secrets and machinations. Indeed, my evil twin had kept herself hidden in the bread aisle, her back to me as I bent toward the crackers. She was fidgety, pacing. Only a glimpse of her three-quarter profile revealed her to me and gave me a moment's shock, the feeling of gazing into a dark mirror.
She didn't stand behind me at the checkout counter; that would have looked too strange to the cashier. Instead she left without making a purchase, but I wasn't to know that until later. At first I thought she waited in a different line, then thought it had all been my imagination. But my walk home was short, with a plastic bag in each hand, and I was halfway to my door before I realized I heard not one but two sets of footfalls on the darkened road, and saw too many sets of shadows thrown by the streetlamps around us.
I heard her chortle behind me, and the soft words, "I'll have you out of the picture in no time."
"Really," I said.
Red light pulsed, similar to the light I wore around my neck to make my presence known to traffic in the dark. But hers was different. I turned around and saw that the red beams joined others: silver and blue, an unearthly green along the rim of a medallion inscribed with symbols that looked part Rune, part abstract sand painting.
"Passage to my universe," she said, slipping the light into the left pocket of jeans that looked just like mine. "That's where you're going, once I've established my foothold here."
"Nice toy," I offered. "Obviously your Wal-Mart is more sophisticated than ours."
"Nice try," she answered. "You don't set foot in Wal-Mart." She pursed her lips, cradling her chin in her hand. "Except for that one time when the battery in Mary's truck died and you needed a quick replacement. You bought a one-year battery there, as I recall."
I said nothing, feeling for the first time that I had something to worry about. But she had that interdimensional toy and I didn't, and that meant something was different between the universes. That is, in addition to our temperaments.
We walked past the retention pond around the corner from the house. How different were we? Had she come out here at two in the morning to record the frog songs during the rains of Tropical Storm Alberto? Had she photographed the dragonfly perched on a high, bare branch, or the flowers catching the light of a setting sun? What did evil twins do when they weren't being evil?
"What sent you here?" I asked.
"An assignment," she said. "And yes, I did record the frogs and take the photographs, just like you."
I frowned. "Then what makes us so different?"
"The assignment," she said again. "Trust me, I can't tell you anything more than that."
I didn't know if she posed a question of free will or of imagination. Would a simple command, three lines of typed text on a strip of paper, be enough to free my own darkness, enough to make me unself-consciously challenge my non-nefarious counterpart?
She quickened her pace and took the lead. I began to despair, seeing that she knew which driveway to turn up. She shoved her hand into her right jeans pocket and drew out the same key fob as mine, with the same collection of keys. She knew to open the screen door so that it didn't slam against the wall, a change in the piston that had occurred only a few days ago.
I wanted to run past her, screaming to Mary, "She isn't me! Don't believe her!" But something stopped me. Instead I ducked to the side, almost falling over the unruly piles of dried and decayed artemisia that we hadn't put out with the yard waste because Mary had plans for it, though what plans I have no idea. I stopped myself from falling against the hurricane shutters and making a racket.
From inside the house I heard Daisy hissing a blue streak and smiled with tears in my eyes. You can't fool a cat.
Then I heard a resounding crash, followed by the dissonant chorus of piano keys being hit all at once.
That didn't make sense. There were posts separating the entranceway from the piano and its cover was closed anyway. If anything, my evil twin would have instead tripped over the bowls of coffee grounds I'd planned to spread around the holly bushes, or the old wooden shutters still lying on the floor, or a mess of gardening tools, or stannous fluoride tooth gel, or piles of books, or the plastic trash can I'd brought in that morning. We had no end of clutter, whose configuration changed on a daily basis. If my evil twin was truly my twin, she'd have known that and been prepared, flipping the switch by the door to turn on the fluorescent light in the corner in order to find her way in the dark. Because if Mary weren't sleeping, she'd be using a minimum of light as she trolled online for the latest news.
I rushed inside and flipped the switch myself, then stared along with Mary as my evil twin lay half-in, half-out of both the posts and the piano. We watched as eerie medallion light blinked through denim before my other self faded like a dream and vanished entirely. Daisy gazed from the entrance to the hallway, fully puffed. Red whined for food.
Mary asked, "What did she want?"
"To take my place," I said.
She shook her head. "Never happen." She turned toward plaintive meows. "Are you going to feed him?"
I ducked into the kitchen and started opening a can. "How could you tell it wasn't me?"
"It was you," she said. "I've just learned to ignore you when you get like that."