I took myself out to lunch at a place I’ve been to before. The waitress saw me come in and looked at me strangely. She said, “Sit anywhere you’d like.” So I took the last table along the wall of windows, even though a discarded tip and old water glass was still there, and I stared out at the street for some time.
When the waitress came to gather the tip and remove the dirty glass, she bent down to speak to me. “I know you,” she said in a low voice.
I looked up, startled—I mean, I have been to this café before, so that must be how she knows me—but no, she insisted, she knows me from somewhere else.
“Do you know me?” she asked.
I said I didn’t think so (not that my memory can be trusted). She did look familiar, familiar as in she works at a place where I’ve been before, nothing else.
She left the table frantically, letting me sit awhile before bringing the menu. When she returned at last with the menu, she asked what my name was and where I was from. “No,” she insisted. “The person I know is not named Nova. I would have remembered that.”
I assured her that Nova is my name. She shook her head, leaving the table at once—although eyeing me from across the room—and then coming back with her order pad.
But before she took my order she said, “The person I know looks exactly like you, but she’s not you.”
I said, “So I have a double then? That’s creepy.”
She nodded. “A doppelganger, and you do. You should stay far away from me because I know her and if you two meet it could be very bad.”
“Why?” I asked.
“I’ve always heard that if you meet your doppelganger it means you’re close to death,” she said, with some authority.
“My husband saw his doppelganger once,” I said. “A few years ago.”
“Is your husband still alive?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “He’s fine.”
She shook her head, dismissing it as if he’d just been lucky. “Really,” she said. “She looks just like you. I just can’t remember her name or where I know her from.” She studied me, disturbed and obviously speechless. I wondered what my double had done to her—it must have been terrible, seeing as she’d blocked it out.
“So…” I said at last, pointing at the menu. “Could I get the gnocchi?”
Now, what am I to do with this information? It’s bad enough that I found someone with my username on a writing bulletin board posting romance stories (!), but now a person who looks like me, too? There are only so many flavors of people, I suppose. I wonder if she’s as much of a mess as I am, my double. Is my double’s hair uncombed and growing out? Are my double’s socks mismatched? Did she avoid putting on makeup this morning as I did? Does she have chapped lips? Does she have high triglycerides? Does she get pins-and-needles in her left leg and is it happening right now? Did she keep her wisdom teeth and if so was there no point in my getting them out? Does she hate pickles? Does she like gnocchi? I must keep track of these questions in case I run into her. Or maybe we’ll pass each other someday on a crowded train platform and she’ll see me and I’ll see her and that moment of recognition will stab straight through our identical hearts. But it will go by so fast that I’ll have the chance to ask her only one thing. “Are you happy?” I’ll ask her. Just that, because I’m curious what life in my body is like for her. She can just nod yes or no. I don’t want to hear the sound of her voice. I don’t want to know her name. I don’t want to shake hands because I don’t want to touch her. In my double life, I just want to know if I’m okay.