They say everybody’s got a double, right? Still, its weird to find your picture in the paper with somebody else’s name under it. So you Google this Jeffrey Carson on the Internet. Weirder still when everything you find out about him matches yourself–your birthday, the university you attended and when. He even lives right here in Chicago. Spooky.
I got as far as the lobby of his office building before acquiring a serious case of cold feet. What would I say to an important corporate type? What would he say when his double walked in? I felt pretty conspicuous standing there with all those people coming and going with such purpose. The marble walls rang with voices and footsteps and those little elevator chimes. I sidled over to a concession stand and pretended to contemplate the selection of chewing gum.
“Hey, Carson, how’s it going?”
I wouldn’t have noticed in the general din, if it hadn’t been accompanied by a slap on my shoulder. I looked at a face I had never seen before. “Carson,” he’d said.
“Same as ever,” I muttered.
The man waggled his head with a knowing smile and went on.
A sense of being where I shouldn’t be engulfed me, so I got the hell outta there. I told my shrink about it at our next session.
“You were at State with me. Did you know this guy Carson?” I noticed he hesitated, his hands made little furtive movements. “Come on, Mike, you’re fiddling like a man who wishes he still smoked.”
“Actors. Always watching everything anybody does.”
“Shit, you were the one told me to take that acting class.”
“To help you get over your shyness and meet chicks, dumb-ass. Who knew you’d get hooked?”
Later, I realized he’d used the old joke to deflect me without answering. I went online again. For days, I spent odd moments following links about Carson. Mike had laughed the time I suggested I had an addictive personality, but this compulsion to learn everything about something was an asset for acting. I was now addicted to researching Jeffrey Carson. I studied his gestures in photographs, his phrasing in quotes. So much of it fit myself. He would be ridiculously easy to play, downright boring in fact.
“Jeffrey Carson and I are twins,” I announced at my next session with Mike. “That explains everything. I’ve read about twins getting separated at birth and growing up totally unaware of each other’s existence. Until sometimes, somehow, one of them feels something. I’ve been feeling that something ever since I saw his picture.”
Mike sighed. “Give it a rest, K.J., or I’ll have you committed for sure this time.”
“No joke, Mike. I mean it. I’m going to go see him and check it out.”
“Oh for heaven’s sake, K.J., get over yourself! Fantasizing that you’re the long-lost child of some wealthy family is common enough for orphans like you. We’ve invested too much effort in filling the holes in your memory for you to go off down that road now.”
Two days later I found a message from Mike on my machine. “Surprise! Richard’s coming this weekend. Drinks Saturday. Old home week. Eight.”
I arrived my customary five minutes early, but Richard’s Bloody Mary was already due for a refill. Rich is a pretty stand-up guy for a research scientist, although he tends to peer at you like you’re some kind of specimen. I’ve used that look as a character tag on stage. True to form, he was peering intently at me now.
“Mike says you got called back for an important commercial. Any word yet?”
“Naw, probably not before next week.”
“I should get your autograph before you’re too famous to remember old pals from school. Mike, my glass is empty again, and Kevin hasn’t even got one. What kind of joint are you running here?”
By the time our glasses needed refilling again, there had been more talk of the old days at State than ever before. We’d lived in the same apartment house. While I was flattered to be friends with grad students, I realized I knew precious little about them beyond their being insanely intelligent and dedicated. One reason I love theatre, it lets you see behind other people’s closed doors. I’d never seen behind their doors.
Rich waved his celery stalk. “I still say Kevin’s brain was hardwired for success, no matter what field he chose. Same as Jeffrey Carson.”
Bang! “That’s it,” I almost shouted. “You guys talked about him.”
“What do you remember?” This time it was Mike giving me the specimen stare.
“I dunno. Just the two of you always arguing–”
“Debating,” Rich corrected.
“Debating ’til all hours of the night. Scribbling diagrams that looked downright cabalistic to me.”
“Do you remember what it was about?”
“I was never sure in the first place. You were grad students in sciences, way out of my league. Half the time you didn’t even use any English I knew.”
Mike snorted. “You should have seen us as undergrads. By the time you came along, we’d been at it for years.”
“Kevin,” Rich said. “Have you ever heard of the debate between nature and nurture?”
“Well, yeah. Nature means you do things because you’re–what did you call it?–hardwired that way, like being right-handed or good at math. Nurture means everybody starts with a clean slate and develops from external influences.”
“Rather simplistic, but it will do,” Mike said.
I was getting the specimen look from both of them now. “Let me guess. Richard, the genetics researcher, says its all determined by DNA while Mike, the brain basher, says it comes from life experience.”
Mike looked at Rich, “Why did we waste our time on graduate school?”
It’s hard to give the specimen look to two people at once, but I tried. “That’s what you were so het up about? How the hell did you find time for school work?”
Rich handed his empty to Mike and motioned for me to do likewise. Mike dutifully retired to the kitchen with them.
“That WAS our school work. We both did our doctoral theses on the controversy, each from his own viewpoint.” Rich smiled at the memory. “We tried to get our committees to let us present and defend together.”
Mike laughed loudly in the kitchen. “What a circus that would have been. Probably would have turned into a brawl.”
“Has anybody ever settled the question once and for all?”
Rich turned pensive. “Close, but no cigar.”
“You think you get fixated, K.J.!” Mike put in. “Before the end of our junior year, we decided that between us we would do just that. Write the book–I mean THE book–on it. We would prove which theories were correct, once and for all as you say. We’re still at it.”
“You see,” Rich said. “What kept us up nights, was figuring out how to set up iron-clad control conditions. It needed exactly matched pairs of subjects growing up in different circumstances.”
“Don’t identical twins come from a single egg and have the same DNA?”
“Yeah, but their phenotypes are different, so it gets expressed differently.”
“Oh well, of course,” I said. “Drat those darned little phenotypes.”
Mike handed me my bourbon and Coke and explained, “Like different fingerprints.”
Rich continued, “Even in identical twins genetic variables would compromise the findings.” He pulled the celery out of his glass, licked it and put it back in.
Mike set down his own drink. “We needed two individuals with exactly identical DNA. When his genetics professor went on sabbatical and left Rich in charge of the lab, we saw our chance.”
“Hold on,” I said. “How could you get that without human cloning? I thought that was illegal.”
Rich suddenly found his Mary terribly interesting. Mike watched him and then nodded.
“It wouldn’t be the first great breakthrough in science that involved illegal activities in its beginnings. Cultures outlaw what they fear, and they fear things they don’t understand. Wasn’t all that hard once we accepted the idea, was it, Rich?”
Rich gestured acquiescence with his glass and returned it to the focus of his stare.
Mike continued. “The researchers at State were a lot further along on cloning than was commonly known. Rich collected blood samples, supposedly for a genetics study.”
I found I needed a good hit of bourbon before I could speak. “He took my blood. More than once.”
“He developed a few viable embryos, chose the healthiest one, destroyed the rest.”
“Wait a minute. Wouldn’t a clone take just as long to grow up as a normal baby?”
“I said the lab was making significant progress. Somebody developed an accelerator factor that was extremely effective.”
Either Mike had gotten better at making technical stuff intelligible to the average bear, or I was learning their language. This made some sense to me–monstrous, but sense. “Wouldn’t your accelerated clone keep on growing and die of old age?”
Rich spoke up. “That’s what was so elegant about the accelerator. Its efficacy depended on continuous administration.”
“A built-in on-off button, if you will,” added Mike. He took a huge breath. “I don’t pretend to understand a bit of it, Rich was in charge of developing our subject. We had a teenager in a matter of months. Yes, his mind would have been blank, more blank than you can imagine. My part of the job was to bring that mind along with the body.”
Rich intervened. Mike had been notorious as a graduate assistant lecturer. “Easy, Mike. Bottom line it, the kid can only take in so much techno-babble.”
“Okay. By various processes known to my science, I implanted language, childhood experiences, and a high school education in that blank mind.” He grinned triumphantly. “Succinct enough for you?”
Rich raised his glass in tribute.
I flopped back on the couch, and stared at a crack that ran across a corner of the ceiling. Bourbon made the crack jiggle. I needed something to eat.
Mike cycled three plates of nachos through the microwave. Nothing like nachos to restore your connection to the real world. Enough jalepenoes can clear the sinuses all the way to your skull. The ceiling crack settled down.
“Kevin.” Rich waited for me to look at him. “You and Jeffrey Carson are more than twins.”
So many questions piled up in my head, I choked, couldn’t get a single one out.
Rich didn’t seem to notice. “We’ve been watching both of you all along. We got a little alarmed when you both ended up in Chicago. Mike moved his practice here to stay close.”
Mike snorted. “We never expected either of you to become prominent enough for the other to notice him, like him spotting you in some commercial or play. We certainly didn’t expect you to find him first.”
I managed to let one of the questions out in a dry croak. “So Carson is a clone of me?”
I have no idea which one said it, but it was the biggest word in the history of the world. It filled the room like acrid smoke that threatened to push the walls apart, with heavy metal music turned to full volume. I tried to hide from it with other words. “So that’s why my memory’s so spotty.” Oops, that led to something darker. “None of my memories are real.”
Mike said, “Oh, they are real, just not yours. I gave you mine. My parents died while I was in high school. The insurance put me through college, and later, you, too.”
I could no longer ignore the elephant in the room.
“So… I didn’t exist before I moved into that house where you guys lived.”
“That’s right, K.J.”
Funny how, when faced with something too overwhelming, the mind will deflect to a trivial detail. “Why have you always called me that when everyone else calls me Kevin?”
Rich answered, “He likes Prokofiev.”
“Oh, that helps.”
“Prokofiev wrote some wonderful music for a movie about a soldier who didn’t actually exist, Lieutenant Kijé. As for your last name, I love the irony of your becoming an actor.”
“McDuff,” I murmured. “As in Macduff, none of woman born.”
All of my questions backed up and sat down. They could wait. A new one, the only one that mattered now, stood alone, so monumental I could hardly get my mouth around it, yet it came out in a tiny whisper.
“Do I have a soul?”
Pepper Hume is a refugee from professional theatre design in scenery and costumes. She has a novel and several short stories – some actually published – under her belt and is working on a reference book on 20th century clothing for writers. Besides writing, she makes one-of-a-kind art dolls and has designed several published book covers. Loves reading and classical music.