The fellow was nice-looking. It was hardly cricket to look thus upon yourself and pronounce favorable verdicts. Simultaneously, I had grown quite cold. I took back the opera glasses and nodded, fascinated. “Crew cut. Horn-rimmed glasses. Pink complexion. Blue eyes-“
“Your absolute twin!” cried my wife.
And this was true. And it was strange, sitting there, watching myself onstage.
“No, no, no,” I kept whispering.
But yet, what my mind refused, my eye accepted. Aren’t there two billion people in this world? Yes! All different snowflakes, no two the same! But now here, delivered into my gaze, endangering my ego and my complacency, here was a casting from the same absolutes, the identical mold.
Should I believe, disbelieve, feel proud, or run scared? For here I stood witness to the forgetfulness of God.
“I don’t think,” said God, “I’ve made one like this before.”
But, I thought, entranced, delighted, alarmed: God errs.
Flashes from old psychology books lit my mind.
“Smith! Jones! Helstrom!”
Onstage, in bland drill-sergeant tones, Miss Quick called roll and handed back the stolen goods.
You borrow your body from all your forebears, I thought. Heredity.
But isn’t the body also an environment?
Environment, they say, surrounds you. Well, doesn’t the body surround, with its lakes, its architectures of bone, its overabundances, or wastelands of soul? Does not what is seen in passing window-mirrors, a face either serene snowfalls or a pitted abyss, the hands like swans or sparrows, the feet anvils or hummingbirds, the body a lumpy wheat-sack or a summer fern, do these not, seen, paint the mind, set the image, shape the brain and psyche like clay? They do!
Well, then, trapped in the same environmental flesh, how fared this stranger onstage?
In the old fashion, I wanted to leap to my feet and call, “What o’clock is it?”
And he, like the town crier passing late with my face, might half mournfully reply, “Nine o’clock, and all’s well
But was all well with him?
Question: did those horn-rims cover a myopia not only of light but of spirit?
Question: was the slight obesity pressed to his skeleton symbolic of a similar gathering of tissue in his head?
In sum, did his soul go north while mine went south, the same flesh cloaking us but our minds reacting, one winter, one summer?
“My God,” I said, half aloud. “Suppose we’re absolutely identical!”
“Shh!” said a woman behind me.
I swallowed hard.
Suppose, I thought, he is a chain-smoker, light sleeper, overeater, manic-depressive, glib talker, deep/shallow thinker, flesh fancier…
No one with that body, that face, could be otherwise. Even our names must be similar.
“…1…bl … er…” .
Miss Quick spoke his!
Someone coughed. I missed it.
Perhaps she’d repeat it. But no, he, my twin, moved forward. Damn! He stumbled! The audience laughed.
I focused my binoculars swiftly.
My twin stood quietly, center stage now, his wallet returned to his fumbling hands.
“Stand straight,” I whispered. “Don’t slouch.”
“Shh!” said my wife.
I squared my own shoulders, secretly.
I never knew I looked that fine, I thought, cramming the glasses to my eyes. Surely my nostrils aren’t that thinly made, the true aristocrat. Is my skin that fresh and handsome, my chin that firm?
I blushed, in silence.
After all, if my wife said that was me, accept it! The lamplight of pure intelligence shone softly from every pore of his face.
“The glasses.” My wife nudged me.
Reluctantly I gave them up.
She trained the glasses rigidly, not on the man, but now on Miss Quick, who was busy cajoling, flirting, and repicking the pockets of the nearest men. On occasion my wife broke into a series of little satisfied snorts and giggles.
Miss Quick was, indeed, the goddess Shiva.
If I saw two hands, I saw nine. Her hands, an aviary, flew, rustled, tapped, soared, petted, whirled, tickled as Miss Quick, her face blank, swarmed coldly over her victims; touched without touching.
“What’s in this pocket? And this? And here?”
She shook their vests, pinched their lapels, jingled their trousers: money rang. She punched them lightly with a vindictive forefinger, ringing totals on cash registers. She unplucked coat buttons with mannish yet fragile motions, gave wallets back, sneaked them away. She thrust them, took them, stole them again, while peeling money to count it behind the men’s backs, then snatched their watches while holding their hands.