by Melodie Corrigall
Laura hadn’t seen such eyes—watery, blue and riveting—since her great aunt died 20 years earlier. The resemblance—particularly the popping eyes—was uncanny and unnerving.
Lured down the street behind the double, after five blocks, Laura was enticed into the public library. She sunk unto a chair near the ‘look-alike’ and, head down, glanced at an open book abandoned on the table.
She rustled through the crisp pages of what was a botanical tome. While pretending to admire the delicate plant drawings, her eyes fixated on the elderly woman nearby.
She had heard of doppensomethings: a German word for a person’s twin who existed somewhere. But her great aunt Edie was long dead, as presumably would be her twin. Maybe this woman was a daughter her spinster great aunt had hidden from the family. No. Any daughter would be in her sixties; this woman was at least 80—the age at which Edie had died. Laura had been in France when it happened and hadn’t learned the details. Later she regretted never telling Edie how much she had admired her. How her courage had inspired Laura to take risks and travel far. (Although unlike Edie she hadn’t stayed strong, and returned home to work in the family business).
It was difficult for Laura to see the woman clearly in the dimly lit room; the sun that seeped from the roof dome gave the scene a ghostly aura.
But even with the woman’s head bent over a book, the popping eyes were dominant: like large marbles that threatened to burst out of her aunt’s head. As a child, she had asked her mother in a frightened whisper what was wrong with her aunt’s eyes. Her mother had hissed that they would talk about it later and that evening had explained it was a goiter.
Goiter and stocky figure notwithstanding, Edie was the one in the large family who had made a break for it. Left the small farm, left the dusty nearby town, left the province, and, most daring of all, left the country to head for the glamour of New York. New York, the city the family only knew of from the narrative that followed in Edie’s letters written on thin flower-edged writing paper. The message sprawled across white expanses and riddled with “ha-has” designed to soften criticisms.
At 17, Edie had settled in an apartment in New York where she lived for the rest of her life. Laura had forgotten the street name but the apartment was 3H.
Discussions about Edie—always in hushed or horrified voices when Laura, consigned to bed, eavesdropped from her seat at the top of the stairs—revealed a glamorous world. Her grandmother—Edie’s sister—had only ventured 25 miles to a nearby town which had no redeeming features.
Edie had landed a job as a sales clerk at Macy’s department store and over the years settled into her role as part of the store’s ‘family.’ On retirement, she was lauded at a staff party and received some treasured token of appreciation.
There had been talk of a gentleman friend—John—but for some reason they had never married. But the most extraordinary news shared in an early letter was that Edie had attended a party where men had boyfriends who were men. “That’s New York for you,” Laura’s grandmother had said.
And now, some forty years later, here she was sitting down the table from Edie’s look-alike. Even the flowered floating dress seemed like one her great aunt had worn on her annual visit.
Noting the time, Laura couldn’t decide whether to leave the building or wait. But wait for what? Then the woman looked up, eyes popping in question. “Can I help you, Judy?” she asked.
Judy? That sealed it. Great aunt Edie always called girls or women Judy no matter what their names’ were. Laura decided to ask a question.
“I’m sorry to bother you but you remind me of someone. Can I ask your name?”
“Maybe, what’s yours?”
“Ah Laura, I’m Edie.”
“Did you live in New York?”
“No secret there.”
“And was your apartment 3H?”
Before Laura could blurt out “I thought you were dead,” a bell clanged. Startled, she swung her head to the side to hear the announcement. At the sound of a swish, she turned back to find the look-alike’s chair empty.
Then she laughed. A week earlier Laura had slipped on the icy sidewalk, a kind stranger had helped her to get up. Except for a few dizzy spells and the initial black out, she had been fine. But this obviously was a side effect. When she had told her fussy husband Adam what had happened in the library, he was furious.
“You’re hallucinating. I told you to go to emergency for an x-ray,” he yelled. “You’ve had a concussion.”
“Are you a doctor?” she asked, sticking out her chin.
“Oh get a life. Edie was dead years ago. A look-alike wouldn’t know her details.”
Maybe Adam was right; she should go for an x-ray. But if she did and showed any signs of ill health, it might jeopardize her chance of promotion.
She went to the hall phone. When she fumbled for the doctor’s phone number in her address book, a slip of paper fell out. It looked just like Edie’s with pastel flowers along the top and her scrawled handwriting.
“Great to see you, Judy. Hope you’re up to one more adventure. Ha. Ha.”
“Ha, ha,” Laura murmured.
“Are you phoning the doctor?” her husband roared from the living room.
“Sure, sure,” Laura called.
She leaned into the wall to steady herself. When she opened her clenched fist, the paper had disintegrated, leaving only a golden stain.
Was she up for one more adventure? Or, more accurately, her first adventure. Although tempted, she had no idea how to make it happen. ✦