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Lee Robertson
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doppelganger.jpg
Art by Jeff Karnick 2010

Doppelganger

Lee Robertson

 

          Sylvie sped through the night in her little green Frog.

          The Frog had been a present from her dad for high school graduation: a sleek, compact little vehicle; a 78’ Ford Mustang, its vanilla interior contrasting with the outer green. The green looked hot in the summertime. Men stared over at Sylvie whenever she was stopped at a red light.

          “Amazing,” she’d say to herself and check her lip gloss in the rearview mirror, a brilliant wave of her hair teased by the wind. She’d frown and adjust her big sunglasses. “It must be the car.” At green, The Frog leapt off and slammed down the road.

          “You need to drive more slowly,” Sylvie’s dad told her. “Always be prepared for the unexpected.” 

          The Frog was small in body but Sylvie’s girlfriends all squeezed into it, their big David-Lee-Roth hair crowding in with the sweet girl-scent of mousse in the backseat, cigarettes held locked between their fingers – a red hot glowing head of one sometimes falling off and landing on The Frog’s vanilla floor carpet. “Shit,” one of Sylvie’s friends once said, scooping up hot glowing embers and then rubbing the smudged spot with her saliva. “I’m sorry, Frog.”

          “What’d you do?” Sylvie asked up in the mirror, her hair all a-swirl.

          “I burned The Frog with my butt. I’m sorry.”

          But Sylvie was cool and forgiving. She never held a grudge against anyone. She smiled confidence in the mirror and told her friend, “That’s okay, Dre. It’s not the first time. And it won’t be the last.”

          They lived in a small East Coast town. All American. Flags whipped down the main street. People barbecued on their perfect lawns. Teenagers slid down shopping mall escalators for adventure. There was nothing to do at night. There were a few bars that looked only for the lonely and desperate. And Sylvie and her friends were too young to order drinks, anyway.           That’s why, if someone had a car, it was common practice to simply drive around town all night. Listen to music. Possibly listen to the same song, over and over and over. They drove around till their legs felt wobbly, till their foreheads chilled from the rush of air. And if Sylvie’s friends didn’t have time, or didn’t feel like it, Sylvie drove out alone. That summer, with high school gone and a future there but dim, and her parents already asking what she was going to do for a living – Sylvie liked to escape in The Frog.

          She extended her radius that night. The Frog left town and hit the bucolic surrounding region. “I kissed your honey hair,” she sang. Sylvie loved Simon & Garfunkel. She didn’t really like the black leather music she played when her friends rode with her in The Frog. It was mostly for their benefit. “With my grateful tears.”  Alone, she could listen to whatever she pleased and sing right along.

          At first she still roughly knew where she was. She was by the bubbling brook, she was where snakes slashed sideways across the road, she was by the farmhouse, she was where well-to-do people had their shady homes. No lurking police beetles this night. The Frog raced around the curves, its tires crushing grit. No streetlamps out here. Just the occasional melty orange one.

          Sylvie switched her headlights to high beam and the dark still swallowed them up. But she could see, and she was in control, though her speed blasted her hair and made The Frog’s body shudder. Just once, a spook of a gnarly tree made her catch her breath, but she held on tight to The Frog’s steering wheel and turned sharply before it. Adrenaline pulsing in her veins, she had actually made the inner decision to start heading back home and go to bed when it happened.

          A loud pop took The Frog out of its equilibrium; the car violently swerved and wavered, its tires screeching, a horrible cracking sound coming from beneath it. Sylvie screamed. Then all was still.

          Sylvie got out and saw that The Frog stood diagonal. “Fuck.” The headlights burned angelic tunnels into the dark. “Shit. I can’t believe this.” She realized that Frog’s left tire was flat. “Fuck.” Like, really flat. Like, in shreds. “Dammit.”

          She had a spare tire but she sure didn’t know how to put it on.

          She stood in the middle of the road, crickets ticking in time to her confusion, and then she wandered off in search of the next best house. The next best house was a good walk away, down roads without sidewalks and past spice-scented bushes: it was a large wealthy house with intricate lawn lights. Sylvie briefly feared there might be a guard dog. She hated dogs. She saw light on the side of the house and stepped around to what was a glass door. She peeked in and saw what appeared to be a very fancy kitchen. All the latest appliances. In the middle stood a table that looked like the kind of table an architect might have. Some papers, maybe drawings. She saw expensive-looking copper pots. And she saw a shiny counter top, some kind of granite something that looked fancy too. “I want a kitchen like that someday,” Sylvie thought.

          She was about to knock when a couple entered the kitchen, oblivious to her presence. The woman was slender and wore white pants and a red sweater. She had short brown hair. The man wore neat jeans and a dress shirt in navy blue. He was fair-haired and handsome. The modern kitchen light they stood under made the woman’s hair look chestnut and the man’s slightly silver. They spoke and nodded. The man rested his hand on the countertop.

          Sylvie tentatively knocked on the glass and the woman turned and waved at her with a brilliant smile. “What the – heck?” Sylvie wondered as the man looked up and smiled and waved at her too. She did not know these people. The woman approached the door with a smile, but as she got closer her smile changed. Then it disappeared.

          The door slid open and the woman stared at Sylvie with a frown.

          “Could I use your phone?” Sylvie asked her. “My car, my little Frog, broke down.”

          The woman frowned even deeper, until it was almost a look of dismay.

          “I need to call my parents. Is it ok?”

          The woman regained composure and nodded. “Yes of course it’s okay, come in. What was your name again?”

          “Sylvie Bisson.”

          The woman lipped the name in repetition and stared, aghast, at her husband.

          “Phone’s right here,” the husband told Sylvie. It was a black, fancy, cordless phone.

          Sylvie phoned with her father while the couple stood shoulder to shoulder and watched; they stared at her. Sylvie’s dad’s voice had an edge to it, that sharp “take action” note it always had when there was trouble. To Sylvie’s ear, though, the voice was comfort. She wanted her daddy to come rescue her. And fast.

          Sylvie’s dad asked her if she’d turned on the Frog’s emergency lights. “Oh. No. I didn’t.” He asked her if she’d managed to at least get the car to the side of the road and her heart thumped. “I didn’t,” she kind of helplessly huffed. Her father cursed. Sylvie stammered, “I don’t know. I didn’t have time. I guess I was in shock.” She took the phone below her chin and asked the couple where she was and the woman gave her the address; the woman’s face pursed with worry. Sylvie’s dad gave final instructions and Sylvie tried to click the phone off but didn’t know how because it was so fancy; she simply handed it back to the man.

          “We apologize for being impolite,” the woman said and approached Sylvie with a couple of photographs. “We’re just amazed. We were expecting our niece, Kelly. And you look just like her. Doesn’t she, John.”

          Her husband nodded, then shook his head. “The similarity is amazing. It’s uncanny. Show her the pics, Dotty.”

          Sylvie looked down at a photograph of a girl who looked just like her. “My God.” She gasped. The hair was different. Not quite as styled as Sylvie’s. Not teased up with hair spray. More proper. But the face, and even the expression, was the same. “That’s incredible. She looks just like me.” Sylvie wondered if, unbeknownst to her family, they were somehow related to these people. She glanced down at a piece of paper on the counter with a letterhead that said “Architect” and “John Grangely.” Not related. Then she heard the distant loop of sirens. She looked up and red flared in her mind.

          Kelly Grangely crashed into the stationary green ’78 Ford Mustang left in the middle of the road. She died instantly. The Frog went up in flames.

 

Lee Robertson's fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Thuglit ("Pink Champagne"), The Absent Willow Review ("Emma Bovary"), and Boston Literary Magazine ("Special"). Visit her blog at www.writerleerobertson.wordpress.com.

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