I ran into my clone again yesterday up on University Ave. It was uncomfortable as always. I saw him coming out of Pagliacci Pizza as I walked up the hill and I considered turning around or ducking into a coffeeshop but heíd already seen me. And besides, Iím sick of feeling hunted by this guy. Having to always look over my shoulder every time I go out. Itís my city too. So I just took a deep breath and kept walking straight toward him on the busy sidewalk. We avoided eye contact, gave each other polite nods as we passed, hands stuffed deep in our pockets.

As usual a few bystanders did double takes. My clone and I arenít like identical twins, similar but still distinct. We look exactly the same. I spent a year trying to convince him to adopt a different look. To dye his hair, get some tattoos. I fought bitterly for custody of my beard. Bastard wouldnít make the slightest concession. Said he had just as much right to it all as I did and wasnít going to change who he was just to make things less awkward for me. Iíve given up on him. I know exactly how stubborn he is, so I know he wonít relent. Which is sort of paradoxical, since I have.

So we pass each other on the sidewalk and itís like walking facefirst into a mirror. Our unkempt mass of curly brown hair. Our squinty eyes, light blue and scary like wolves. Our beard, messy but short. Heís still using the level 3 setting on his trimmer. Motherfucker wonít budge an inch.

In the first year, back when we still talked, we tried to work things out. He moved to Capitol Hill, I stayed in Ballard. I kept my job at the Ballard Cupcake Royale and he got hired at the store on the Hill. We agreed to stagger our nights out with friends, the ones that were still calling anyway. Most of them were too spooked and rather unsubtly dropped us both. We kept a positive attitude. Living on opposite sides of Seattle we figured we could carve out our own scenes, make new friends that didnít know our situation. For a few months, it seemed like maybe we could pull it off. Like maybe our life contained enough empty space to fit another person, and we could just share it all between us. Neither of us expected it to be easy, but it didnít seem impossible. We hadnít really done the math.

To be fair, we were young. I was only twenty-five when I woke up in an alley in Beijing with tiny bleeding holes encircling my head. I didnít remember anything at the time, but months later my clone and I started having dreams about the facility. These answered a few questions but mostly just scared the shit out of us and we wished theyíd stop. Iíd gone to Beijing because a free plane ticket showed up in the mail claiming to be some kind of sweepstakes. Finally, for the first time in my life I was a winner, and after the Olympics and all the buzz about China being the new America, I thought a trip there would be fun. I didnít know theyíd been growing my clone in a big jar for the last ten years after stealing my DNA from my familyís trash can when I was fifteen. Donít know why they chose me. Maybe they were just in the neighborhood. They used my toenail clippings.

Once they had me in the facility they just stuck some copper rods in my brain and copied it like a DVD. I didnít know this technology existed, but I didnít know dolphins fuck for recreational pleasure either. Iíve learned a lot since I was twenty-five. Anyway, they studied my clone for a couple months and then dumped him in the same alley they dumped me. He found his way back to Washington and just showed up at my apartment one day, thinking he was me. It was awkward.

We didnít know where to go or who to call first. Hospital? Police? NASA? Eventually we just dialed 911. We couldnít agree on which one of us was the anomaly, so the ambulance took us both. A few weeks later the scientists had done every test they could think of and they had to send us home. There was some legal scuffling between the U.S and China over us, but no one could find the people behind this little bit of black science, so they let it drop. It was in the news for a while.

To be honest, I didnít think my clone would make it. I thought heíd go insane, or at least sink into unfathomable existential depression and kill himself. It was hard enough for me and I was the original. I certainly didnít expect him to bear up under the weirdness, thrive, excel, and surpass me. But look at him. As soon as we passed on University Ave I couldn't help but turn around and stare at his back. He has my messy hair and beard but while my skin is pallid and blotchy his glows. My clothes are ratty and ill-fitting, his are expensive and perfect. He doesnít shop at thrift stores anymore, or if he does theyíre the kind that cannibalize lesser thrift stores, handpicking the gold from the dross and marking it up four hundred percent. He looks amazing these days. Another paradox. We are the exact same person, yet he is moving up in the world and I am stationary if not sinking.

When he first appeared, we were identical in every way. We had the same brain, same thoughts, same skills, same plans. But somehowósomehowówe went out of sync. We diverged. He focused more, he got more sleep, he started reading better literature, he took B vitamins. He finished my novel before I did, took the story in a different, better direction, and landed a publishing deal while I looked on in horror. I had to scrap the whole thing two hundred pages in. It felt criminal, but how could I call plagiarism? He was me. There were no rules for this. The traditional moral code looked at us and said, ďUmÖĒ

That was probably the final blow to our relationship, such as it was. He offered to split the advance with me, to do readings together as a team, calling ourselves twin brothers, but we both knew it wouldnít work. Neither of us were willing to change our name, so a dual author credit would be meaningless. And the book just wasnít mine anymore. The last few hundred pages, the ones he had written, were more subtle and intricate and postmodern, and the meaning of it all eluded me. He had hijacked my book, my great labor of the last two years. Literally stolen the words out of my mouth. I was so angry and confused and bitter. I knew it wasnít his fault but it didnít matter. I could see him erasing the path in front of me like that broom-faced dog in Alice in Wonderland. Soon Iíd be lost in the woods.

I havenít written anything since then. Not even a short story. Not a single line. I stand there in Cupcake Royale, where my clone used to set up his laptop and write, back when we were trying to be friends. I serve coffee and cupcakes and stare at the wall for hours. I have no idea what to do next. No path. No vision. Itís as if Iíve been bumped off the rails, displaced in time. Apparently there is no room for fractions or decimals in this equation. Just whole numbers and zeroes.

So my clone took my name and face and thoughts out into the world and did great things with them. The book is a big success. Lionsgate is doing the movie. He went on a book tour for a month and that was nice; I could roam the streets without fear of a run-in. But when he came back he was famous. Writer-famous, anyway. Now if I walk around in the right neighborhood, Capitol Hill or U-District, anywhere with a high concentration of young, hip pseudo-intellectuals, a few people will recognize my faceóhis faceóand stop me on the street. No, I say, thatís not me. Iím not him.

I punched a guy once. Wouldnít leave me alone so I punched him in the face. It felt great. Didnít hurt my hand at all like people always say it does. It was so satisfying.

I wonít lie, Iíve thought about killing my clone. Legally speaking, it would be easy. When we were in the news, everyone was expecting it. That one of us would kill the other or himself. I could probably even pretend I was the one who had died and just step into his role, take his place. Do some book signings. Seduce some willowy, bookish girls who would leave their glasses on while we fucked...

But morally speaking, itíd be a little more difficult. You could say my clone is an aberration that shouldnít exist at all, a tumorous growth protruding from my own body. To kill him would be like surgery, just setting things back to right. But now that so much time has passed, the equation has changed. If Iíd killed him the moment he showed up at my door I probably could have swallowed it, but not now. He came from me, but he has three years of his own thoughts and experiences branching off from mine. That makes him a person, a three year old person. Heís like my son.

But of course heís not my son. Heís still me, and this is what keeps me awake every night. How did he do it? How did he succeed while I failed? He had the same genes, the same memories, the same experiences, which means we had the exact same potential. Anything heís done, I should have been able to do. So why didnít I? Was it just blind deaf dumb chance? A cosmic coin-toss to settle a bet? God flips, Jesus calls, Holy Ghost bears witness? Or was it my fault? Something I did or didnít do when I should or shouldnít have done it?

I could easily drive myself crazy with this.

Imagine precisely knowing your own potential and watching someone else reap it. I suppose I could start living my own life and just forget about him. I could start a new novel. Or maybe some other pursuit. Iím a pretty decent musician. I could get the band back together. My clone has done a better job with my life than I ever did; I suppose I could just let him have it, cut my losses and start over.

I probably wonít do that, though. Whatís more likely is Iíll do what Iíve always wanted to do and just utterly surrender. Close my eyes, shut off my brain, drift out of my job and home and society and just float gently into oblivion, from the street to the gutter to the sea, and let myself be forgotten. After all, Iíve been given a free pass, havenít I? No guilt for not contributing, no shame from my family, no sense of loss for wasting my life and vanishing from the earth without ever leaving a mark. Thatís all been taken care of already. Heís out there doing it for me. Iím just the leftovers, the flakes of dead skin shed away and settling into motes of household dust. You could say Iím free. That would be the bright side. The glass half full. Iím free to do and be nothing, and when I stop breathing no one will cry or lament or probably even notice. Theyíll just nod and look to my clone, who will smile wistfully and tell them that Iím happier now. And heíll be right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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