Fall! Jump in the pit! Crawl away! I thought.

The orchestra sawed at destiny with violins and Valkyrian trumpets in full flood.

With one last snatch, one last contemptuous wag of her body, Miss Quick grasped my twin’s clean white shirt, and yanked it off.

She threw the shirt in the air. As it fell, so did his pants As his pants fell, unbelted, so did the theater. An avalanche of shock soared to bang the rafters and roll over us in echoes a thundering hilarity.

The curtain fell.

We sat, covered with unseen rubble. Drained of blood, buried in one upheaval after another, degraded and autopsied and, minus eulogy, tossed into a mass grave, we men took a minute to stare at that dropped curtain, behind which hid the pickpocket and her victims, behind which a man quickly hoisted his trousers up his spindly legs.

A burst of applause, a prolonged tide on a dark shore. Miss Quick did not appear to bow. She did not need to. She was standing behind the curtain. I could feel her there, no smile, no expression. Standing, coldly estimating the caliber of the applause, comparing it to the metered remembrances of other nights.

I jumped up in an absolute rage. I had, after all, failed myself. When I should have ducked, I bobbed; when I should have backed off, I ran in. What an ass!

“What a fine show!” said my wife as we milled through the departing audience.

“Fine!” I cried.

“Didn’t you like it?”

“All except the pickpocket. Obvious act, overdone, no subtlety,” I said, lighting a cigarette.

“She was a whiz!”

“This way.” I steered my wife toward the stage door.

“Of course,” said my wife blandly, “that man, the one who looks like you, he was a plant. They call them shills, don’t they? Paid by the management to pretend to be part of the audience?”

“No man would take money for a spectacle like that,” I said. “No, he was just some boob who didn’t know how to be careful.”

“What are we doing back here?”

Blinking around, we found we were backstage.

Perhaps I wished to stride up to my twin, shouting, “Half-baked ox! Insulter of all men! Play a flute: you dance. Tickle your chin: you jump like a puppet! Jerk!”

The truth was, of course, I must see my twin close-up, confront the traitor and see where his true flesh differed from mine. After all, wouldn’t I have done better in his place?!

The backstage was lit in blooms and isolated flushes, now bright, now dark, where the other magicians stood chatting. And there, there was Miss Quick!

And there, smiling, was my twin!

“You did fine, Charlie,” said Miss Quick.

My twin’s name was Charlie. Stupid name.

Charlie patted Miss Quick’s cheek. “You did fine, ma’am!”

God, it was true! A shill, a confederate. Paid what? Five, ten dollars for letting his shirt be torn oft, letting his pants drop with his pride? What a turncoat, traitor!

I stood, glaring.

He glanced up.

Perhaps he saw me.

Perhaps some bit of my rage and impacted sorrow reached him.

He held my gaze for only a moment, his mouth wide, as if he had just seen an old school chum. But, not remembering my name, could not call out, so let the moment pass.

He saw my rage. His face paled. His smile died. He glanced quickly away. He did not look up again, but stood pretending to listen to Miss Quick, who was laughing and talking with the other magicians.

I stared at him and stared again. Sweat oiled his face. My hate melted. My temper cooled. I saw his profile clearly, his chin, eyes, nose, hairline; I memorized it all. Then I heard someone say:

“It was a fine show!”

My wife, moving forward, shook the hand of the pickpocketing beast.

On the street, I said, “Well, I’m satisfied.”

“About what?” asked my wife.

“He doesn’t look like me at all. Chin’s too sharp. Nose is smaller. Lower lip isn’t full enough. Too much eyebrow. Onstage, far oft, had me going. But close up, no, no. It was the crew cut and horn-rims fooled us. Anyone could have horn-rims and a crew cut.”

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray