Ask me if it hurts. Does it sting, singe or tingle? Does it make a noise or is it a gentle unzipping? When my body, like an amoeba, doubles itself and produces its own mirror-image, am I left feeling torn apart? Is it a nuclear heat like atoms splitting or cold like passing through a room in which you’ve never been but seem to recognize?
I have the same questions for him, this other me, this mirror me. I’ve tried to ask him, but he seems mute, deaf, and disinterested. When it happens, this other me spreads himself out of the side of myself, stretching like playdough until he’s clear of my body and hovering there, never entirely complete.
He doesn’t go far and he doesn’t do so with any urgency. He’ll haunt my apartment for a few hours and I’ll walk behind him, observing him observe my things with vague familiarity. He once spent an entire afternoon flipping through my records and he pulled out Jackson C. Frank.
“That was my dad’s favorite,” I told him and felt silly. “But you’d know that.”
Though I wondered if he would.
He dropped the needle on “Blues Run the Game,” Frank’s nostalgic anthem about traveling the world to find love but discovering instead that he can’t outrun his sadness.
(Catch a boat to England, Baby, maybe to Spain. Wherever I have gone, wherever I’ve been and gone, wherever I’ve gone, the Blues run the game).
It had begun to rain outside. He lied on the carpet and allowed my cat to weave her way through his flickering, photon torso. She couldn’t rest on his chest the way she did mine, but seemed just as comfortable resting in it, curled in the bodiless light of his chest rising and falling with false breath.
“Dad sang this to me,” I said. “To you,” I said. “To us, I guess.” And I wondered whether or not we shared the same memories or if he had his own. Although this memory of Dad’s dusty voice singing was a painful one, I’m glad I had it, and I pitied my reflection for not having it.
I asked him once where he came from but he only shuffled around me in the empty grocery store late the night it happened. I felt ridiculous pulling things off the shelf and showing him the items as if to ask if he’d like me to buy them.
“Do you eat sour cream?” I asked. “Of course you do. I eat sour cream.”
But I did this for each item: “Are you a Raisin Bran or Cheerios man? Do you like pita and hummus or chips and salsa?”
In each instance, he didn’t make any indication one way or the other but seemed somehow satisfied when I made the choice that I did.
I’d bought us brisket but by the time I’d made it home, he was gone and I ate leftovers alone for a week.
I tell people about the lookalike that lives in or behind me at all times who seems equal parts a wayward organ and a stranger waiting to be given directions home. But it never happens in front of people so I’ve spent less and less time around others, instead waiting for him to appear.
And while I do, I picture him walking the rooms of someone else’s apartment, scanning the shelves of some other grocery store. It’s possible after all that he has an inner life when he’s not outside me that belongs entirely to himself: Why believe that the person who lives inside me is anything like me? More likely than not, he’d rather be the inner life of a more interesting, well-travelled body.
Still, when he arrives, he’s drawn to the same songs as I am, the same food as I am and my cat takes to him the way she takes to me.
Once, I followed him. I followed him back in. He began to meld back into my ribs, my torso, my gut, brain and bile and I turned inward to chase him. My body, I discovered, is warm, blank and unremarkable and there is surprisingly little in the goo between my chest and my back. So, just as I was following him in, I was coming out the other side.
I arrived into an apartment and felt myself recognizing the coffee-stained carpet and the cracked kitchen tile. It was familiar but, with my other self there, his cat resting on his chest rising and falling, I felt uninvited and intrusive. I searched for something I could call my own and I found only things that belonged to someone I thought I once knew.
The lyrics playing from the record belonged to a voice I’d heard before but couldn’t place.
(Maybe tomorrow, honey, some place down the line, I’ll wake up older and I’ll just stop all my tryin’).
Vague recollection is not, I learned, the same as memory and so I ached to return to the body who lived inside the context of his past. I heard the song end. And I felt myself disappearing.