On the wall during my job interview I notice a piece of art by Bill Love, although it is not Bill Love's room, and Polly, whose room it is, has never set eyes, or anything else, on Bill Love. She found it in the attic of her Westchester apartment building. I try to maintain eye contact with Polly as she conducts my interview, but I keep catching her eyes pointing emphatically toward Bill Love's drawing; she cannot help it.
I have known Polly only for as long as I have been applying for a position in the Physics lab she runs. I am applying to help with cleanup. Polly is skinny and sharp, and she looks worried through the entire interview. I want to thank Bill Love, because it looks as if he had done his part to help try to keep her a little stable. During the fifteen minutes since I first saw the drawing, I have decided beyond all reason that this drawing is Bill Love. I refuse to acknowledge the possibility that anyone else would produce this portrait. Although it is difficult for me to discern whether Bill Love the being actually has sloppy hair and a tussled suit, or if Bill Love the artist was simply in a hurry (or if that is Bill Love the artist's style), what I notice is his smile. It is not exactly uplifting, but it is confident and serene in its bold, smudged permanence. This man, however briefly, was an artist and Polly, I think, wants that smile. Bill Love looks powerful. The interview goes well, and I'm told the job is mine, and I start tomorrow, and Polly asks if I have any questions. I have one.
"This might seem strange, but do I know you? Have we met before?"
"This is your first interview, right?"
"Ever go to the computer-repair shop in Hartsdale?"
"Nope. But I've been to Hartsdale. Maybe I've seen you around?"
There is a pause.
"Carla. You probably met Carla."
I've met Polly's double. Her name is Carla Henze. I am unsurprised, and feel a little foolish for asking.
Everyone has a double. It's a fact. Everyone looks like someone else, often within the smallest geographical parameters. The degree varies. Sometimes your double can only be mistaken for you from a distance or in passing, but sometimes the resemblance is disturbingly striking. I'm told my double, for example, could pass for me handily. I've never seen him, but my friends have, and they say it's uncanny to the point of being unpleasant. My cousin Elliott approached him once on a commuter train, and even cajoled him into paying the twelve dollars I owed to Elliott's twin brother Samuel, which Elliott kept (a double is not the same as a twin; two doubles can remain oblivious, but at least one twin always knows something). Later, on the phone, Elliott asked me when it was that I went to law school, combed my hair, and grew an inch and a half. Even close doubles are not exact.
"I'm not sure what I think of this Carla's life. I hear good things. She seems to be doing quite well for herself. I almost want to ask her for tips," Polly says, joking a little.
"You're very fortunate," I say, "to know your double."
"I don't really know her. I just hear her name a lot."
- - -
I work there for about a week. Physicists, as expected, are clean. The lab is near Polly's apartment complex in Garland, New York, one of many hamlets bleeding into one another, endlessly, until Westchester County eventually recedes, over bridges into the city on one side, and into properly upstate New York on the other. I ride the train to work after lunch, I move equipment in the late afternoon, and dust tables, often unused since the previous day's dusting. I arrive after everyone is already hard at work, and lock up after they leave. Polly inevitably leaves later than she'd like. I watch Polly, calculating furiously, firing words and symbols onto chalkboards, and retreating to her office to furrow her brow a little while trying to widen her smile. A handful of times, our eyes have met, and she looks just about as startled outside as I feel underneath. Occasionally, I have a fantasy on her behalf; she seems very busy. I feel limited in imagination that the only figure of fantasy I can conjure for Polly is Bill Love (her coworkers are pleasant but indistinct). I picture the two of them talking, relaxing, over coffee, and Polly smiling to herself over Bill Love's smugness. That's about as far as I take it; I hope that if I start a fantasy in my head, perhaps Polly can pick it up when she has a spare moment, and do with it what she pleases. I just want to get her started.
After about a week at work, the following Tuesday, I show up a few minutes late, and there is a bloody man on the floor. Strangely, the blood doesn't look severe; it looks like the man has stopped bleeding, but hasn't yet cleaned himself up. Polly and her coworkers have gathered around, and, in a reflexive gesture of remorse at my unnoticed lateness, I grab some paper towels and try to clean a little. The man does not seem to be in pain, but he is frantic, and babbling. I wait for a pause in his ramblings, and in the multiple attempts to decipher it, before asking, to no one particular on my left:
"Who is this man?"
The man himself answers: "William Martin Dean."
The assertion of his identity calms him, and Polly, her coworkers and I soon find myself talking to William Martin Dean. William Martin Dean, Bill Martin Dean for short, Martin Dean for shorter, looks a lot like Bill Love, or at least the Bill Love I imagine, but nothing like Dean Martin, who is not his namesake, because, as he tells people, if his parents were so inclined, they would have correctly namesaken him. Martin Dean, it turns out, is looking for Bill Love. He has been to Polly's building, Polly's apartment itself (the super told Martin about the painting), and now Polly's workplace, attempting to locate his potential double.
Polly is able to carefully explain that she is not connected to Bill Love, and the determination in Martin Dean's eyes strengthens. When Polly hastily gives him Bill Love's forwarding address, she immediately regrets it, and feels guilty, and concerned for Bill Love's safety. As she focuses her steely resolve on measures to prevent Martin Dean from doing anything rash, he runs for the door, and is gone, leaving a trail of blood dotting the floor, the hall, and out the door. I grab some more paper towels. Polly tilts her head slightly. I can practically see the sense of obligation rushing over her. Having worked with her, it is not an uncommon sight.
"I should go after him," she says. I go too, because I have the paper towels.
- - -
I wonder how I look, hurrying down the sidewalk, across the streets outside of crosswalks, mustering a sense of importance and staring down cars. I think: I am not an adult. Polly may be an adult, but I am not. I walk briskly— Polly is a brisk person, and her walk is no exception— paper towels in hand, useless and ready to help. I wonder if we are still in Garland, or if Martin Dean has bled us into Tuckahoe, or Longwood, or Hastings. Westchester towns begin and end in an instant. Some of them have doubles, too: there is Ardsley, and there is Ardsley-on-Hudson. I wonder if businessmen commuting to the city ever mistakenly return to the wrong home.
Occasionally, I think I see Martin Dean three or four blocks ahead of us. Polly, not saying much, makes it her job to look as if she absolutely sees him. Finally, we follow the trail of blood into a building (moderate in design, price, and, by extension or not, drabness; mostly brown), and notice the name Priscilla Love on a mailbox in the corridor. Somehow I expect things like: amnesia. Or: a trap. We ascend briskly to the third floor, take a right, and see a trail of red leading to the open doorway. Polly's instincts, at least two paces ahead of mine, stop us short of entering as the conversation inside becomes audible. Martin Dean is speaking to Priscilla Love.
"Where is he? Where's Bill? Is he here?" Martin Dean asks.
"He's gone. Weeks ago. Finally."
"I've been looking all over."
"For me, or for him?"
"I... you. I mean... it's..."
"I know. It's a delicate situation. I've been thinking of you. But he's gone now."
"I've been hiding out, trying to figure out what I should do. I was afraid of him."
"Who's afraid of the Big Bill Love?"
"I am, I guess. His brother saw you and me on the subway together, remember."
"His brother had no idea. He thought it was me and Bill."
"Still. Left me feeling paranoid. You know, you feel like you've been living the wrong life."
"You mean you feel like you've been living the wrong life," she says.
"I've been right here."
"But now you're here, too... My God, what is that you're covered with? Are you bleeding?"
"A juice truck jackknifed down on Hastings Avenue. Spilled all over the place. I was right there."
"Are you okay?"
"It's sticky, but I'm fine."
"I love you."
"I love you."
"I hope so."
"We'll see. Bill's gone, and that's what's important." She pauses. "Jesus, in the right light... you really do look like him."
"Is that gonna be a problem?"
"I doubt it. You're nothing like Bill. You're the kind of man I thought I was marrying in the first place."
Polly and I have moved over slowly, until we can see into the apartment. I cough, and suddenly the couple is looking back at us. Mrs. Love is thin and worried, like Polly, and her face struggles with a smile as her eyes narrow a little, peering into the hallway. I feel that I have seen this woman before, but maybe I'm confusing her with Carla Henze. I am not familiar with triples. I'm sure if you lined up Polly, Priscilla Love and Carla Henze, it would become clear that two of them are doubles, and the third merely has a passing resemblance. It might turn out that they don't look alike at all, that they share only sadness or worry. For now, it's impossible to tell. Polly looks up to Priscilla Love, and as their eyes meet and lock, the world bulges at the seams.
About the author:
Jesse Hassenger grew up in Saratoga, NY, and currently lives in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in, on, and around PopMatters, Dirt, PulpLit and Filmcritic.com. He enjoys many things, including pie.