‘Hello?’ he says.
‘Chris, it’s me. Do you have the paper?’
A heavy pause. ‘Which one, Nic?’
‘Local. Look at page three.’
‘Yeah, all right...’ I allow him time to follow my demand. I hear pages sliding over others, a sigh. ‘What am I looking for?’
‘You tell me. Does anyone look like me on that page?’
‘I don’t know... maybe this guy, David Homes?’
‘Thank you! Exactly.’
‘What’s this about?’
I say, ‘Nothing, thanks for your help,’ but he may have missed it because I am already hanging up.
I have decided this is going to be a project for me, so I move bits of notes and pens from my desk and lay the newspaper on it, open at page three. My laptop whirrs gently as it begins work, and I place it next to the article on my desk. Waiting for the computer to fire up, I absently sip what’s left of my breakfast coffee while reading the page again. The coffee is cold, but I don’t mind.
Adrenaline shivers through me with the caffeine fix. Finally the laptop catches up and I am able to open a blank document and create two lists. The first is headed David Homes, the second is Nicolas Clarke. No, that doesn’t feel right- I change the second heading to Me. I begin to list his attributes as I find them in the article.
I read the caption below his photo first, because it catches my eye: David Homes, up and coming. The first thing the paper tells me about him is that he is forty-four. I type his age into the column beneath his name, then move the cursor to my own column and type the same. We are the same age.
...journalist who started out in this paper... He used to write for the same paper that now publishes my weekly column. This goes into the list.
...’I keep in touch,’ Homes says of his ex-wife, Valerie. I too am divorced. We don’t keep in touch, we have no reason to, and I don’t think Kathryn would like to hear from me, but that’s not the point. We’re both divorced, even if he does claim to still speak with his ex-wife.
Homes has suffered with eczema for years. It’s not eczema, but I have adult acne. ‘Bacne’ Kathryn used to call it, in a voice she described as affectionate, but sounded like scorn. Dozens of the offensive sores, red spots up and down my spine, over my shoulders. I understand David’s affliction. It goes into the list as skin condition.
I pull out four more similarities and type them into the list, then move the paper to the floor, spread open on the right page. I start the internet. A search for David Homes brings up results for a house that has some architectural significance or something, a MySpace profile for a different David Homes, a literary journal, and several results which, as far as I can tell, have no relevance. I type journalist after his name and search again.
This time I score a direct hit: he has a blog. On his site I find several more photos of the man in question. He looks somewhat younger than his age, but he still looks like me, I’m sure of it. I skim his blog entries, every so often taking in a bit of information. He has won three- no, four- awards for his journalism. He recently went to New York for some business trip or something. I haven’t been to New York but- I check the dates- yes, I was on a business trip at the same time he was in New York for his. I was interviewing a couple in the next town for my column. David has a book being published next month- the reason he had an article about him in the paper. I haven’t actually finished anything, but I have always wanted to write a book. Several chapters in the drawer of my desk prove that.
My coffee is now far too cold and bitter to drink. My thoughts need gathering. I take my mug and its dregs of dark liquid to the kitchen and refill the kettle. What could these similarities mean? What is their significance?
The word erupts suddenly into my mind and I drop my mug in the sink, barely aware of the crash of food-stained dishes it creates, and rush back to my laptop. Another internet search, this time for doppelganger, finds exactly what I’m looking for. I click on a site and the information is laid out before me. In folklore, a doppelganger is a physical double of a living person. Not a twin, not in existence by any ordinary, natural means, but a tangible manifestation of- the next word lingers, frozen in my vision- evil.
I continue reading. Doppelgangers are considered harbingers of bad luck. They can be portents of ill health or danger. Wait, that’s only when someone else sees your doppelganger. What does it mean if you see your own? There it is. An omen of death. Fantastic.
I shake my head, sighing. David Homes would not approve. Doppelgangers, bad omens, these are the contents of ‘lowbrow’ fiction, not the literary fares written by his hand. The evil-twin plot is for us common folk. The problem is, Mr Homes, that there are ‘common folk’. If there is a demand for writing he may not consider worthy or intelligent enough, why deprive those asking for it? I pick up a pen from the edge of the desk just to toss it at his smug photo grinning from the screen.
The alarm clock in the bedroom announces eight o’clock- I was up inexplicably early today- and I accept that it’s time to work. I sneer at his photo one last time as I close the window with his blog in and then open the document I’ve been working on. In front of me is a title. I have been struggling to add an article to it. The words are there, in my head, all the time actually. When I shower, take a walk, drive to town, do the ‘real work’ for the column, I find myself continually drifting into the mix of potential phrases, possible angles, fresh ideas. Then I sit to write it, as I do now, and all I can think is, You haven’t paid the electricity yet. Or, How many days worth of groceries is this going to buy? That’s right, probably none. I struggle for a while- against the pull of bills, of being ‘sensible’, against my anger at the situation- and I close the writing I haven’t done to do the ‘real work’.
It happens again this morning. I sigh wearily and give up without a struggle. I’ll do it later this afternoon. Or tomorrow. I open the template for my column and look at the notes I’ve typed up from the interview with the couple in the next town. They’re being shunned by their neighbors for having sued the mayor for firing the husband when he revealed his status as an atheist. The overtly religious mayor and his town’s populace were unhappy with the couple. I feel the town needs to get out of its ass and leave them to their beliefs. I’ll have the first draft done in a few hours, it’s just a matter of writing up some quotes from the couple, taking a few sardonic shots at the mayor, maybe call him a fundamentalist, no one likes that these days, and that will be the piece. I’m losing faith in what I do.
Another sigh, I click the cursor at the first line, below the heading of the column- Everything Wrong With This Week- and begin writing.
David Homes had also risen early that morning, although it was expected; he felt anything after seven o’clock was a lie-in. He put on his housecoat and went into the kitchen, widening his eyes and twisting his head to rid his neck of kinks. He drew his hands down over both cheeks, grazing the stubble there, and then reached to the kettle and switched it on. The process of waking would not be complete until that first mouthful of Columbian blend.
When the coffee had been brewed at last he took his mug of it through to his office. It was a small box-room on the opposite end of the hall from the living room. He closed the door as always, not for himself but for Vanessa, who woke just hearing the tapping at the keyboard.
While waiting for his laptop to start up, he found the local paper that had been placed on the shelf yesterday. He’d not had a chance to look over it, but was eager now to take a few minutes to read his favorite section. He went as quickly as he could past page three, feeling a hint of the same embarrassment glimpsing his photo as he’d felt when he learned they were going to run an article on “his sudden rise to the top”. He held two deep-seated contentions with their phrase: first, the top of what? While there were undoubtedly trash pieces written by tabloids to make news out of nothing, those aside he felt uncomfortable with any perceived hierarchy of literature. Who was deciding it? The white, male, middle-class perhaps. Second, there was nothing sudden about his career, his recent ability to rely solely on the income of freelance work, his completion of his novel. He had been working at it for the better part of two decades.
David Homes left these thoughts aside as he took another sip of coffee, still searching for the segment he was after. He found it. It was a column he had first written for, years ago now, called Everything Wrong With This Week. When David Homes had been its writer, he had used it merely to rant about things that had pissed him off, traffic tickets, new films, over-pricing at the supermarket. The alleged humor was in how angry he could sound. This new guy, this Nicolas Clarke, was hilarious. More importantly, he had taken the column in a new direction. He still had the sarcastic tone, the biting quips, but he wrote about things that actually mattered. Three weeks ago he had written about the “piss-poor facilities for recycling” in the town, and the following week the local recycling system was improved.
David Homes read this week’s column and drank his coffee. He laughed at several lines and thought about the author’s point. Then he closed the paper, folded it away, and turned to his computer, ready to work. He began typing.
WHOSE STORY IS THIS, ANYWAY? READ ON AND FIND OUT!