“Self Reflection” by Joseph Devon

Self Reflection

 

I watched myself find a mug and pour a cup from the coffeemaker on the counter. I had been staring at me for a few minutes now, and you might think the shock of seeing myself in my kitchen through the window might have begun to fade at this point, and that I may have started to act more rationally, but instead the opposite happened.

The surrealness of watching myself didn’t fade, it increased, because the me inside of my house acted exactly like me. He took two sugar packets and pinched them at the top and shook them out, snapping them into the air three times, then ripped them open and poured them into the coffee. Then he swirled the mug against the counter-top exactly the way I do.

Milk was retrieved from the refrigerator and the carton was opened and sniffed for sourness. Then the mug was swirled on the counter-top again and the milk poured in so there would be a little bit of a show as the brightness of the milk mixed with the dark black coffee.

The milk went back and then the silverware drawer was hesitated at briefly before I decided, as always, to not bother getting a spoon dirty and to give my coffee a quick spin with my finger, which was then sucked dry. Then I watched myself insert two fingers through the handle of the mug, wrap my thumb around the other side, and take a sip as I walked out of the kitchen towards the sunroom.

It wasn’t someone else who looked like me that was in my kitchen. I was in my kitchen. And I was outside watching.

Had he shown any signs of subterfuge or duplicity I might have become alarmed. If the act of making coffee with no one, apparently, watching had been broken up by secret communications to some shady figure who had infiltrated my home in such a manner for some reason, or if I had stopped mid-coffee, glanced around, then begun to rifle through the drawers in search of something, that would have made more sense and tripped some alarms.

But none of that happened. The man inside of my house was not in the wrong in any way that I could see because he was me in every way that I could observe. And instead of running for the police, or my wife’s office, or the neighbor’s, I instead began to feel out of place myself. If that was me inside of the house, then who was I? What if I opened the door and confronted the man inside and he stood his ground? What if I was made to feel like the fake?

I suppose in investigative terms, the thing that I was lacking was a motive.

Why was this happening?

And without a motive, and without more information, the argument really seemed to me like it would sway in favor of the guy who was already inside of the house, enjoying a cup of coffee, and reading through the newspaper in the sunroom the way I always did on Saturdays.

My mindset was so mixed up that I had some worries about walking around the house to see more of this other man. I became nervous about stepping off of the sidewalk and onto my property. What if the neighbors saw me? Wouldn’t I look suspicious?

I continued to be nervous as I walked down my driveway, despite realizing that the sight of me walking down my own driveway wasn’t going to make anyone suspicious. I fit right in.

The little path that went past the basement windows and the air conditioning unit was chilly as always. It was a tight passage between mine and my neighbor’s house and the sun rarely shown down on it except at the height of noon. Some of the paving stones that made up the path were wobbly in the mossy mud and they made an array of noises as I stepped across them and they wiggled in their berths. Some made sucking noises being disturbed from the wet earth, some scraped against the nearby stones and the remaining mortar, some stayed silent.

Coming around to the rear of the house I had to open the fence into the backyard. The bottoms of some of the wood posts stuttered across the stones as the fence swung open, causing the whole thing to shudder on its journey. I abandoned the path, as it continued on towards the rear garage door, and stepped onto the spotty grass of the lawn. The sun was stronger here, though trees and more neighboring houses made it a dappled sun at most.

The sunroom jutted out from the house, windows all around and a skylight on top. And there I was, sitting at the glass table with my coffee and newspaper. I stood and I watched as I flipped through the happenings of the day, turning the pages with gusto, enjoying the ceremony of refolding the pages as much as the actual reading itself.

I stood and I watched until the coffee was finished, until the paper was read, until I went back inside to retrieve a pen and began to work on the crossword puzzle, the black and white squares now perfectly centered in a folded piece of newspaper.

I stood and watched until I sat back in my chair, pen in my mouth, pondering a difficult clue, and as I stared out into the yard to think, I locked eyes with myself.

I could see that all thoughts of crosswords and clues left my head as I froze in my chair and my eyes flashed alarm at first, then a familiar confusion.

I decided to take this opportunity to advance towards the windows, and my other self watched. I could tell that alarm was filling his head again as I approached, and I held out my hands to calm him.

I was the one in control for the moment. After all, I had had the past hour to process what was happening, though understanding I still lacked.

I calmly pointed towards the back door of the garage and raised my eyebrows in an asking manner.

Inside I thought this over and to calm myself down I again raised my hands in a peaceful manner.

I nodded, and both of us walked towards the door.

I arrived first, having only to cross a few feet of path. He arrived shortly after, appearing at one of the panes of glass in the door after having navigated the inside of my house.

We stood and looked at each other, both of us, possibly, hoping that the other would do something to explain it all. Instead we just stared until eventually he shook his head and said, “Fascinating.”

“Who are you?” I asked with insistence. “This is my house.”

“No, sir,” he said with an authority that made me fearful. “This is my house.”

“Where did you come from?” I asked.

“Parsippany,” he responded. Which was true.

The strangeness was beginning to fade. Talking to him, to me, was different from watching. There were no longer just my thoughts and him at a distance. Now he was here. His voice sounded like mine when I heard it on a recording, which made it seem silly, almost embarrassing. I supposed I sounded the same to him. But his voice also had a relaxed tone in it as he called through the glass, and hearing him talk about my home town of Parsippany so nonchalantly only made him seem calmer.

“Okay,” I said. “This is all very clever. But why don’t you tell me what you’re doing here?”

Behind the glass he stared, and thought, and his head slowly bobbed. “This is really fascinating.” He said the words distantly, as if it didn’t matter if I heard them or not.

“Is this,” I said, “some sort of…some sort of con? Do you actually think you can convince me that this is your house?”

He laughed.

I tried to push further. “Your makeup and all is impressive, but what about fingerprints, or DNA, or…or anything else I have that can clearly show you as a fraud? What was your plan there?”

I reached into my pocket and withdrew my wallet. Thumbing through it I pulled out my driver’s license. I held it up to the glass. “I’m me,” was all I said, with as much authority as I could then muster.

Surely he would break. Surely this ridiculous game would end. He would bluff his last and then, finally, explain.

Instead he reached into his pocket, took out his wallet, and pressed his own identical driver’s license to the window.

And not only that. We then proceeded to perform a sort of mute dissection of our wallets as credit cards and insurance identification and frequent flyer cards all came out to be compared in the window, all identical.

It was when he pulled out a dollar bill from his and I pulled out a dollar bill from mine and I saw that the serial numbers were the same that I stepped back from the door and stared in shock.

Even the most dedicated of deceivers would not bother to go so far as to counterfeit one dollar bills. In fact, such an act would most likely work against someone plotting against me, adding more danger and more chance of being caught. No, whatever was going on, it was not the person on the other side of the garage door that was to blame.

I watched my twin, still somehow calmer than I could be, open the door slowly and then look me up and down.

For my part I could only stare at his face, my face, with an open look of confusion about this all. He gestured me inside and we both went into the sun room to sit down. I looked over the crossword puzzle he had been working on and something occurred to me.

I stood up and went to the garage and looked through the recycling for an old paper. I found one and located the crossword puzzle, neatly folded into a frame and remembered having had a chance to work a bit on Wednesday’s puzzle.

Returning to the sun room I sat down opposite my twin and held Wednesday’s puzzle up so that he couldn’t see it. “Troilus and…” I said, picking a clue at random.

“Cressida,” he replied.

I nodded, then examined the puzzle further. Thirteen down had given me trouble, I remembered, as I recognized the crossed out letters and how I had needed to fill in a few intersecting clues before I could answer it. “Bitter end?” I asked, making sure to indicate that the clue ended in a question mark.

“Ahh,” I said across from me, my face immediately remembering the clue. “That one took forever…oh! ‘N-E-S-S.'”

I was unsettled as I nodded, and my twin seemed to recognize the oddity of what was happening. I tried one more. “1978 Golden Glove Winner.” The clue was blank on the puzzle in my hands. Sports trivia was a weakness for me and I left those clues for last.

On the other side of the table my twin drew his own blank. “I don’t know,” he said. “I can never get those.”

It was as I expected, although the middle clue I had asked was the most disturbing for it seemed to show that both of us had the memory of working on Wednesday’s crossword puzzle. We were alike not just physically, we were duplicates not just in our wallets, our memories appeared to be in sync.

“This is truly quite strange,” he said.

I nodded, having been about to say the same thing. I could only shake my head. An idea occurred to me.

“How far back can you remember?” he asked from across the table before I could.

“Four years old maybe? I probably have some memories of around then. That birthday party where the wind blew all the plates away before the cake was served.”

“No,” he said, and I knew what was coming. “Those memories are obviously the same. But something must be different. After all, you were outside, and I was inside. So…”

“Our paths parted somewhere,” I said, realizing what he was getting at.

“Do you remember waking up this morning?”

I laughed at the silliness of his question. “Of course. I woke up to my wife getting ready for work. I dozed while she showered, then got up once she was at her makeup table. I showered and dressed and was downstairs in time to kiss her goodbye, like always.”

He looked at me, nodding at first, then with a hint of mockery in his smile. “Like always,” he said.

I raised my eyebrows, waiting, trying to divine what he was getting at.

“What happened next?”

“I don’t know,” I answered, “the usual. I went about my day.”

“Mmm,” he said, saying nothing. He kept his eyes on me across the table and waited.

I gave him a look of impatience. “I went to the study to work for a while and get some writing done. I don’t really see the point of this.”

“Well,” he said, sliding his crossword puzzle towards me. “Today is Saturday. My wife didn’t wake up for work. We slept in and she only went off a while ago to meet a friend for a run. And I didn’t even try getting any work done. I fixed myself a cup of coffee and came out here to enjoy the day.” He smiled at me. “Now. Step by step, how did you wind up in my backyard?”

I swallowed as my eyes looked over the crossword puzzle, which most definitely was Saturday’s. I had known it was Saturday when I saw myself enter the sunroom with my coffee, but my memories of that morning were from a weekday.

I was feeling a little dizzy and underneath this idle conversation there was a fear rising up in me as I tried to put together my day. “I came into your backyard,” I said, and he leaned in ever so slightly to listen as I spoke.”By walking around the side of the house,” I finished with confidence. “I took the path to the gate at the side. How else?”

He smiled. “Did you have shoes on?”

At first I wanted to laugh at this question. Of course I had shoes on. I was wearing shoes wasn’t I? But then I thought back to the path next to the house, cool from the shade. And I remembered looking down and feeling the mossy stones under my toes and hearing the way they moved under my feet.

“I was on the street and I walked–” I blurted out, trying to get back on track and explain my arrival.

“Did the fence skip when you opened it?” he asked.

“Of course,” I said, remembering how it had shuddered along due to sagging hinges.

“That was a nice touch,” he said. “It adds more interesting detail and gives a tactile feeling to something as mundane as a fence opening.”

I stared, thinking over those brief moments of watching the fence move. Something was important there, but I couldn’t see what.

“I fixed the fence a few weeks ago. Replaced the hinges and some of the more rotted boards. No more skipping. But that’s boring that way, isn’t it?”

I said nothing.

“But you have a weekday memory for this morning. That’s interesting…” he nodded to himself. “If I’m recalling a day it does tend to be a day of routine, there’s less explaining and everything already has a reason in place.”

He smiled at me. “So, in detail now, how did you come to be on the street outside my house?”

I was shaky, and my insides whined like a child as I struggled to remember what I had been doing before I was standing outside my own house looking in at myself but I came up with nothing. It was uncomfortable and my face grimaced as I confronted a complete lack of memory for anything before that.

I raised my head, my struggle evident in my eyes, as I looked across the table at myself.

“When I was sixteen,” I said, “I had a crush on a girl named Heidi Richardson who was a grade below me. We–”

“Yes, I’m well aware,” he interrupted. “You are me after all. But you can’t tell me how you came to arrive on the street.”

My mouth felt dry as I swallowed. I shook my head. “No.”

“That makes sense,” he said, “I didn’t really think that part through. But I was standing there, making myself a cup of coffee, and I wondered what I looked like through the window, like if I had been watching myself. What would it be like to be standing outside at that very moment, looking in at myself, not knowing what was happening, while I made a cup of coffee. Would I be confused? Would I be scared? Angry?”

He turned to look at me and smiled. “Turns out I was just curious.” I nodded, agreeing with this as he thought it over. “That sits right. Just a simple curiosity and the desire to know more. I would wait and watch and probably come around to the sun room. I know I’d come out there to sit and do my crossword. And since I would think I was really me, and the other me wasn’t doing anything untoward, I’d be nothing but confident and curious.”

I nodded again as I thought this over, and leaned in to jot down some notes to that effect. I wasn’t sure it was a story I wanted to write, but it could be interesting.

I took a glance at my coffee and realized it was mostly empty and mostly cold by now. Ah well. I leaned back in my chair and took up the crossword puzzle and gave it a brief glance before I smiled and stared out at the trees in the sunlight, and enjoyed the peace and quiet of the empty sunroom.

 

 


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Hailing from New Jersey, Joseph Devon is sarcastic, caustic, abrasive, and yet a surprisingly good cook. As the eldest member of the arena’s cadre, Joseph has come to rely on discipline over flash and dozens of rewrites over bursts of creativity. He also sometimes remembers where he put his dentures. Joseph grew up fighting for attention over loud guidos and even louder New Yorkers and polished a knack for concise, striking imagery. A fan of most anything silly, Joseph also has a depth hidden under his love of talking animals that can rope in unsuspecting readers and make them think before they realize they’re reading anything of substance. Joseph is the author of the first two books of the Matthew and Epp trilogy, Probability Angels and Persistent Illusions and is hard at work on the third.

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6 Comments

  1. Wow.
    I had no idea where this could possibly be going, and I wondered how/if the end would be satisfying. This was too cool.

  2. Simple. Elegant. Mostly with stories like these where a resolution has to answer the whys brought up by the story, that resolution is usually unsatisfactory. I actually thought the end wouldn’t have answered the question as to why the narrator is seeing himself in his house.

    But damn. What a great ending.

  3. I really, really loved this story. Daniel B was dead on when he called it “elegant” – the flow was seamless.

    You really nailed the curiosity aspect – for me, one of the best moments was when the narrator and his double hold up the identical dollar bills in the window. It’s a perfect detail.

    I was slightly confused about the narrator being barefoot at first (and this could just be me being slow); I understood after reading through a couple more times, but maybe there is a better way to communicate how he’s picking up on minute details as he makes his way around the house. I’m not sure how you could do that without losing the “mossy brick” imagery though (which you should definitely not lose).

    The last few paragraphs, when the narrator blends back into his doppelganger (or the other way around), are absolutely fantastic. There are good details throughout the piece, but the ending is what makes it for me.

  4. This story breaks a cardinal rule for me: it’s a…we don’t have spoiler tags. Look, if you’re reading the comments before reading the story then please…don’t be that guy? Please? Go read.

    OK. It’s a writer writing about a writer writing, and no matter how clever and original the approach (and it is clever and original, I really liked the bit about the gate) the central conceit reaches up and strangles any emotional impact.

    I read this and wondered why the narrator had chosen to think, rather than feel, about the situation. When I discovered why I found myself thinking “all this way, for that?”

  5. This was one of the first entries for a while that directly fit the prompt. We always seem to find a way to twist and bend it to fit story ideas when we are under a deadline. Great job keeping with that.

    I’m a little inclined to agree with DocOccupant. The simple melding back wasn’t quite the ending I hoped for. Then again, I’m probably the guy who would cause them to fight to the death, or have some legion of me preparing to take over a small town with pitchforks.

    I still enjoyed it, and always enjoy your style. I just wanted a tiny bit more from the end.

  6. Jon Jones (@dvwhat)

    I also concur with what a couple of other commenters noted about this story being “elegant”. And that’s a very good thing. I have in my library a number of short story collections from the late 19th to early 20th centuries, many of which feature tales of intriguing exchanges such as what the character(s) in this story felt reminiscent of. I love that. These are among my favorite styles and types of short stories to read, and really dug this one quite a lot.

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