Posted by: dougery | April 15, 2012

[FGC #10] Come Feel

The tire has a slow leak. ‘An insidious leak’ is what my wife Tess calls it. She has a habit of ascribing motives to inanimate objects. The coffee-maker isn’t on the fritz, it is ‘obstinate.’ The leaky faucet in the bathroom is ‘despondent.’ Her vocabulary is a bit better than mine.

But back to the tire. Our driveway is a mess. Pot-holes eat away at our Jeep’s tires. And the previous winter had been particularly bad. All that salt and ice. The frost heaves in the road. It has all combined to play hell on our wheels. A colleague of mine at the office by the name of Ben, a man I know about as well as the British Prime Minister, but a man I gave a ride home one evening nonetheless, because he asked and because let’s face it I’m kind of a pushover, this colleague of mine told me ‘those are the baldest set of tires I’ve ever seen.’

I asked him if that made him afraid to ride with me. He started talking about something else.

That was all ago. On this particular evening I am driving back into town from work alone. Tess works on the other side of town at a Museum of some industry that was once vital to this region 100 years ago but has since been outsourced to countries with more relaxed labor laws. Every evening I pick Tess up and we drive home or to the grocery store or to a pub to drown our sorrows. I’ve never really given that cliché much thought but sorrows must live in the belly if they need to be drowned. I’m just kidding about the sorrows. Tess and I are A-OK. Peachy keen. Happy as clams.

I am halfway across town when I remember the slow leak. It has been a couple weeks since I’d last stopped by a gas station and put some compressed air in the tire. I’d just pop over and do it now, it is fortunate that I left the office a little earlier than usual. I hook a left down Center St and make for the GulfCo. Their big orange and green sign is lit up. Tess once described the logo as ‘insolent.’

I pull in, park and hop out. As I walk around to the passenger side where the air-pump and the tire are located I feel uneasy. The same feeling you have when you are doing something illegal or generally not approved of and you suspect someone else might be watching. Or the feeling you get walking to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Where you know your house and everything that is inside of it, know the exact location where everything is located, but it is terribly dark and well what if everything you can’t see is now rearranged or what if something that is not supposed to be there has intruded.

I shake off the unsettling thoughts and feed the machine 3 quarters. The compressor erupts to life. It is shockingly loud. I grab the hose, turn and am taken aback to find the tire with the slow leak is completely full. I could have sworn that it had been almost flat this morning.

I stand there like some fool holding a tool he doesn’t know how to utilize or is an expert with but now has nothing broken to employ it upon. A young woman exits the GulfCo convenient mart, sees me standing there like an idiot and gives me a look. I smile and hesitate, wondering if I should pretend to fill a tire, any tire, just to save face. By then she is long gone and nobody is around and I feel even stupider.

“The hell with it,” I mumble and return the hose to its holster.

Minutes later I am in the Jeep and back at the Center St intersection, this time facing east. The light is red and I sit there impatiently. I fiddle with the radio dial but nothing interesting is on. I stare idly at the busy rush hour traffic filing by, such as it is in our backwater ‘burb, when I spot the ‘imposter’ Jeep Tess and I are always seeing around town.

Vehicle owners will be familiar with this phenomena. You purchase a car and if that car is at all odd or special, an uncommon model or unpopular color, you can’t help but notice when someone else owns and operates the exact same vehicle.

As it approaches the intersection that uneasy feeling returns to me. I have often wondered who it is that has the exact same yellow Jeep that Tess and I drive, have somehow envisioned an identical couple or near enough, a tall young man and a petite young woman, with only minor differences separating them from us. His hair would be blond, say, or she would be wearing glasses. They’d have similar jobs and similar circumstances and similar life that somehow ran parallel to ours without ever crossing.

A shudder of revulsion strikes me as the Jeep passes through the intersection and I see that the front bumper has the same deformation that ours does. Years ago I had failed to break in time on a patch of black ice and dented the Jeep’s front end. And now I discover that the doppelganger Jeep has the exact same deformity!

Yet my revulsion is multiplied tenfold by the sight of the man behind the wheel. My eyes have only a fraction of a second to see him but in that passing moment I am convinced that the man isn’t just similar to me, the man is me. However impossible that might seem. He is even driving in the direction I would have been had I not decided to attend to a tire that hadn’t needed any care in the first place.

The other Jeep drives on toward the edge of town and I stare at the time on the dashboard console. The other Jeep is running on my schedule, or at least the schedule I normally maintain If I had not left a few minutes early. I attempt to get the plate number of the Jeep but a trick of the early summer evening light passing through the elms obscures it in shadows.

I stare up at the red light as my Other vanishes from my field of vision. I grow anxious, I need to make my turn, I need to get back on my normal route, most of all I need to catch up with that other Jeep, I need some explanation. Finally, after an eternity of waiting as Lord knows how many vehicles pass by, an unruly and unknowable buffer between me and my prey, I turn and start toward the Museum.

My left eye-lid twitches. My mouth has a chalky taste. My eyes keep roaming the side streets, driveways and parking lots hoping to see the Jeep. I’d drive in close, ready to peel out and speed away if necessary but sure I’d find that I had been mistaken, that the front bumper of this other Jeep is pristine, that the man getting out of the door is too tall or too fat or not me at any rate. I never do spot the Jeep.

Employee cars line the street leading up to the museum. Summer is the busy season and the parking lot is reserved for patrons. I drive up and see Tess’s officemate Jen keying her door open. I pull alongside and roll my window down needing very badly to talk to another person.

Jen is older than my wife by nearly 20 years but has a youthful and stylish way about her. She and her husband have never had any children and Tess uses Jen’s ‘put-togetherness’ as ammunition against our starting a family. Jen and her husband are always flying off to some exotic locale, using their handsome disposable income to travel and see the world. ‘Besides, the thought of some alien parasite growing inside of me is horrifying’ Tess would add. I couldn’t argue with that.

Jen cocks her head and smiles. “You forget something?” She says. Her brow then furrows and a dark cloud settles over her face. “Say, where’s Tess?” Jen cranes her neck as if she expects to see Tess riding shotgun in the Jeep.

“Well I suspect she’s waiting patiently at the front door for her knight in shining armor,” I joke, flashing a smile. Jen looks to be about to say something when the car behind me honks its horn and I wave and move on.

With the Jeep parked out front and my wife just seconds from returning to me, all thoughts of doppelgangers and Others ebb away. I lean back, close my eyes and let the summer breeze waft in until I heard Tess’s distinctive clop on the concrete walk outside. For such a tiny girl she has an uncharacteristically loud step, especially in her workplace heels.

I wait until her hand opens the door before sitting up and opening my eyes.

“Oh, I simply cannot wait to go home,” she says, leaning over for a kiss.

I rear back, aghast. The woman who has climbed into the Jeep is not Tess. She is not Tess at all by which I mean she is so very almost Tess as to be her exact twin. But a wrongness persists. Something is off.

“What’s the matter, honey?” Not-Tess says, eyes blinking quizzically.

The resemblance between this stranger and my wife was uncanny. Whoever this is has about the same build, perhaps a fraction of an inch shorter or taller. Tess keeps her hair very short, Not-Tess looks to have a similar preference but the style is somehow different. Not-Tess has a good figure, not unlike the real Tess but there is something different about the way that she and my wife do their make-up. And Not-Tess’s outfit is almost identical to one of my wife’s yet, what is it, is it the color? That must be it. The color is all wrong.

“Hon? You feeling alright?” Not-Tess asks.

“I’m just…,” I begin, not having the slightest clue what to say. How about ‘Get out of my car, Almost-wife?’ She turns her head, focusing her left eye on me with concern. I notice she has a kind of birthmark or dark stain on her left cheek that Tess does not. Yet when she leans back it is gone.

I couldn’t tell you why but I decide to play this all off. I reach out my hand in mock introduction.

“Well hello, I’m your husband, it’s nice to meet you,” I say with false enthusiasm.

“Um, Tess Westerly, the pleasure’s all mine?” she says, not understanding my joke.

Westerly? Tess Westerly? But that is my wife’s name! C’mon lady, who do you think you are fooling?

“Let me ask you, ‘Tess,’ is there something different about me?” I ask, starting the Jeep.

“Hon, if you just got your hair cut there are easier ways of fishing for a compliment,” Not-Tess says with a particularly domestic kind of dryness.

“Nothing at all then? I’m exactly the same man who dropped you off this morning?” I ask, my hands sweating on the wheel.

“Why are we going this way, we never take this road home,” Not-Tess says. “And what are you still going on about? Did you hit your head or something? Oh, I get it. Something momentous happened to you today. Did you get a promotion? Or oh, I know, you’re sleeping with someone else.”

In a manner of speaking, I suppose I am.

“I’d appreciate it if you got to the point. I’m hungry and I’d like to start discussing what to make for dinner tonight,” Not-Tess says.

I let it go and just keep driving. Not-Tess folds her arms about her chest. She is in quite a mood. As we pull down our driveway I ask,

“Hey, you didn’t recently fill the tire with the slow leak, did you?”

Not-Tess looks at me with a complete lack of emotion whatsoever before saying, “Cut it out now. I’m tired of this, you are starting to freak me out. You know as well as I do that we changed out that tire a year ago. Why would I have to… Oh, whatever…,” and with that Not-Tess gets out and clops over to the front door.

I get out, pausing several times along the way to the house, each time certain there is some way I can prove to myself that I haven’t gone crazy. Certain that I can explain to Not-Tess that she is the one who is not right. That this isn’t her place. That she is some kind of violent intrusion.

I look at my cell-phone half expecting some text message from the real Tess with a clue to this mystery. Some elaborate prank or practical joke she has cooked up. Yes, she’d be sitting down at the coffee-shop just busting up with laughter. ‘So when you gonna come pick me up? You figure things out yet?’ her message would read. Making the lady in our home some kind of extraordinarily talented paid actor or mimic.

Inside my house is the same as it has always been. Except for when I really concentrate, the serenity of my castle falls apart. The layout of the furniture in the living room, there’s something wrong about it. I could have sworn it is, what, completely mirrored? An umbrella in the foyer stand assaults my eyes. It fills me with loathing when I discover it is tilting in the wrong direction. The pattern inflicted upon the carpeted stairs leading up to the second floor from the last vacuuming is conspicuously different.

My breath comes in shallow gasps.

I ascend the stairs like a man drugged. At the end of the hall Not-Tess is in the bathroom, the door slightly ajar. I pass by framed photos, certain my own personal history is altering in subtle inscrutable ways while I walk by those captured, frozen moments. I pause before the door, hand up, fingers splayed, palm pressed against the wood. I need for it to be solid and firm. I need for something to be what it is supposed to be.

“Tess?” I ask, the name now alien on my tongue.

The door opens inward and there she stands, the lower four buttons of her white blouse unbuttoned, a small but noticeable distension to her belly. How had I not noticed it before?

“Honey, I felt a kick! I felt the first kick!” Not-Tess says with joy. “Here, come feel.”

She grabs my hands, her fingers like wrought iron, pulling me to her body. Inside of her something stirs and I scream.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[2469 words]

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Responses

  1. Oh very nicely done indeed!

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  3. Awesome. 😀 So interesting. I liked this very much.

  4. […] Judge’s Choice: Douglas E Riggs’ Come Feel […]


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