Augustus retreats to his room in the Winchester hotel on Parliament Street. White halogen light from a lamp in the corner. Mirrors catching the light and him. Pieces of him scattered across the room.
His thin bony arms. Bleached skin. A scar like a worm tunneling the hairless right forearm. His long legs stretched out in torn black jeans. Shaved front skull. Straw blond hair touching broomstick shoulders. A face with sculpted lines. A strong mouth inclined to quick grins. But a little boy's face too, left out in the cold.
He picks up the diamonds of safety glass from the car accident in his right hand, throws them down on the kitchen table. Takes one between his left index finger and thumb and sees the room through it.
The stains on the walls. The kitchen chairs leaking foam. The faded curtains moving in the breeze, and himself when the diamond is against the black-painted fridge. Another mirror. And small like a drop of her blood.
She had been sitting on the park bench when the car mounted the curb and knocked the bench and her dead flat. The driver died on the way to the hospital.
The emergency crew left behind one rubber glove, the plastic nipple from a needle, and bits of safety glass.
He collects these accidental relics that make up his memorial along with the newspaper clippings. He repeats those prayers he said at that boys school in Uxbridge. Prayers for all soft, captured souls disappearing on days and nights like these.
Wooden totem masks. And colour photos of more masks on the green walls of her bedroom. Dead writers. A pinhead of flame floating on a liquid pile of red wax sitting on a metal packing trunk. Queen-size bed as operating table. Coming out of passion. Another anesthetic.
Dark brown eyes now open to see the world. Her own reflection in the overhead mirror. Shadowed knees up, hands and arms under head. Breasts flat. Graying black hair gathered loose in a bun.
Her mouth. Grim. Determined. Now smile. Smile. Just for an instant. Amused, at how she's going to tell him off. And she has every right to do that. She deserves more than being taken to the brink. Left hanging.
Owed that expectation because of...at least, what?...genetics. How did the old novels put it, a fine handsome woman. That image. Reflected back. Her. Was it really her? Or part of the manipulation. What have they given her to date?
Straight, long nose from father. Knowing and mysterious eyes from mother. Could have used more chin from somewhere. After 37 years, still had something men wanted in a candled light. But lines. All sorts of lines. The poetry of unprotected skin.
Washed up next to her is an even softer pile of flesh. Stink of cologne and old money.
He has failed her.
“She didn't come."
Stuart rolls away. Disturbed. Let him be. Served him right for being that self-possessed, then having it all stolen. Driven away in a Jaguar or some other confusion, maybe a Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Perhaps now he was some recombinant robotic searcher...John Wayne and Natalie Wood deadjoined at the hip.
She listens for Stuart's screams from the tomb. She hears her own squeeze of heart. That's all.
She starts to finger herself, examine the pleasure that this thing still owned, possessed. Why not?
He rises and shadows into the washroom light, shutting the door, leaving the room semi-dark. Her own afterimage—the blonde checkout girl at the no-name store. Her rough tongue there. Kissing and licking the words as they break from the skin. Centuries of decaying skin. The eyes shinning. Always the eyes.
She remembers the eyes of the Jews in concentration camps photos. Her Anne Frank period. The blood and the story. Her own terror that made her pretend a fatal wound and stuff it with Kleenex.
Back then the astrologer Jeane Dixon had predicted a virus would wipe out half the teenagers in North America. And who were the chosen ones? Her classmates? Herself? And that panic, that inner bleeding, fantastic blood, and who was going to die?
She avoided school dances, football games, crowded hallways and classrooms waiting for the good-looking, happy ones to fall over dead.
She hears the door to her apartment open and close. Good. He’s gone. All that handholding, lovemaking, and soft words, were just stuff that fed the actor anyway.
Then they bring in the double. She didn't know this substitute, this new Stuart, brought in to finish the game and finish her off by telling her lies about love. How one day they’d make this perfect baby, create a genius.
A genie out of a bottle, preferably gin. That baby would grow teeth, eat her from the inside out.
Another flesh-eating monster with two heads.
Drifting…from the pleasure.
Touch with these same moving fingers but not too much the same spot.
That little bulb. The tonsil of the talker.
Moan and moon. My twin sisters.
Her double grows in the back seat of a rusted Pontiac LeMans in an auto wrecking yard. Phantom hand struggles to crawl out of hairy cunt to shake her hand.
Covered in slime, it carries a dagger. Her assassin.
Stop all finger love. What did the nuns say? Robbing Jesus?
Fingers touching, make a church, make a steeple. Christ. Horse’s dick. A Polish kielbasa hanging in Lepenski’s butcher shop. The vulva turning green and gangrenous.
Hands up where the good sisters can see them. Never again.
Next time in the cemetery, look for Stuart's name on a tombstone. Probably been there, a couple of rainstorms, how did she miss it? The flowers already decayed, carted away, the mound smoothed over. Maybe the stone not yet in place. Or if there, the name not yet carved.
(excerpt The Double)