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Last updateTue, 06 Aug 2013 2am

Wednesday, 15 December 2010 04:30

Gray Davis vs. Agent Orange

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Her moaning brought me out of a lazy-Sunday sleep, flinching hard enough to unsettle the obese, pear-shaped tabby in the crook of my legs. Agent Orange waddled off the bed, stopping every few steps to glare. His feet sounded like four hammers hitting the floor.

Her cries continue. Every Sunday morning, a familiar sound filtering through the laundry room when it used to ring out in stereo.

I know I should have put on the headphones my other self bought me as a feel-better gift, but the ugly curiosity overwhelmed. Some people can’t leave a scab alone.

Feet gliding in a quiet heel-to-toe step to keep the noise down, I slid open the folding laundry room door revealing another door just like it on the opposite wall, the two sets framing a washer and dryer.

Gray Davis, a cat in all ways identical to Agent Orange save one, rubs against my legs. Just like my cat, he does not like lingering in the room when his master has sex.

Through the gap in the bedroom door left for the cat I watch an ass identical to mine buckling inward as the body thrusts into Chelsea. She never liked sex under the sheets. I watched a girl genetically identical to the one who broke up with me via a social networking message rapt in pleasure with the me I’m not.

I snuck back the way I came, through the laundry room which serves as the lamest Narnian closet, and made two cups of instant chai. I did this because I know myself.

Ten minutes later the kitchen smelled significantly spicier and my tongue had a minor burn from over-eagerness. My doppelganger opened the laundry room door, dressed in a plain gray shirt and boxers. He sat down at the opposite end of the cheap card table I used for dining.

“You were watching again,” he said with my voice, a feeling I had never grown comfortable with.

“'fraid so. Are you upset?”

“Not really. Just feels like being in third person, so nothing new.”

The apartment had a feature everyone saw but only I registered as significant. People acknowledge the door at the other end of the laundry room, one that should lead out into the open air, and their brains could not acknowledge it as meaningful, and would refuse to open it or take an interest if I did.

I had the same effect as the door did in his world, and vice versa. We registered as unreal in the opposite universe.

When opened, it revealed an apartment in all ways identical to mine, just mirror-flipped. Two universes joined by a need for clean clothes.

“How’re you holding up?” he said.



“And you know this why?”

“Because I’d still be devastated.”

“You can only speculate about how you’d feel. I get to know.”

“Might help to talk about it,” he suggested.

“I talk to myself enough.”

And we had indeed spent a fair amount of time in each other’s company. We represented the only major interaction the other could have with the alternate universe. If I tried leaving his apartment, it snapped me back to my own. At first it looked like a new world of possibilities until I saw the orange cat sitting in the window.

“I’ve been saving up some money,” I said.

“You’ve got the extra income, too. We live cheap. And dating is expensive.” He thought for a moment. “Sorry. What are you saving for?”

“To break my lease.”

Neither of us spoke for several minutes.

“Is it really that hard to deal with?” he said.

“We’ve compared notes. You made all the same choices, we had all the same experiences, and she didn’t leave you. She. Left. Me.” I didn’t pound the table, or stab my finger or anything. I have little power to express my anger beyond emphasizing words.

“This isn’t a situation you’ll ever get to come back to. Think about how unique this is, how much there is to learn.”

“Neither of us can wrap our heads around the even the Wikipedia beginner's guide to quantum mechanics. We’re just not smart enough. We can’t get anyone else to see it, there’s no way to prove it. We barely graduated high school, we’re flat out unqualified.”

“So that’s it? Just move?”


He stood up, gulping down the last half-inch of lukewarm chai, wincing from the grit at the bottom.

Putting the cup in the sink, he said, “What if it was just the cat. Would it hurt more or less?”


“If the only initial difference was cat color. What if maybe she had a cat like mine as a kid, or was scared of a cat like yours? What if that was the only thing? Better, or worse?”


“I figured. It would hurt to think it’s that damn arbitrary.” He shook his head. “We want to think it’s love, overwhelming all odds, but people get pushed by a million petty little things.”

He opened the laundry room door, the hinges creaking.

“Just think it over before you give the apartment management a thousand dollars.”

“Yeah,” I said it so quietly I never knew if he heard.

Through the day I could hear them laughing in the living room, chatting over the scent of takeout Chinese food and bad television. When the sun went down, the same moaning returned. The approaching workweek always made her more eager.

As the cries entered a familiar crescendo, I walked to the white door, inhaled, and screamed as hard as I could.

The stereo came on just loud enough to drown me out.

I moved out two days later, dropping off a check at the office before climbing into a moving truck. Ready to move into my new place. It had a laundromat adjacent.

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Last modified on Thursday, 15 March 2012 16:59
Nicholas Merlin Karpuk

Nicholas Merlin Karpuk lives in Denver, Colorado. He spends his time analyzing databases, working on his novel, and conversing with his cat. His work has appeared at the website Colored Chalk and he contributes an ongoing serial to the anthology Sideshow Fables.

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