One night Larry discovered a naked man who looked exactly like him. He was lugging a bag of trash out through the staff entrance of Mr. B’s Roast Beef when he saw the man stir by the dumpster. He was startled at first, then annoyed, assuming the man was one of the belligerent homeless guys who sprawled in the booths until closing every night and who Larry, moments before, had roused and prodded out the front door. But then the man stepped forward, out of the shadows.
“What the hell?” Larry cried. During the day he worked the stockroom at Sears and his nights he spent here, at Mr. B’s. Two jobs, and he still barely afforded rent, utilities, groceries, a phone bill, and six hundred and seventy-one dollars a month in child support. His last day off was what? Nine days ago? So he wondered now if he was confused, maybe even hallucinating from exhaustion. Still, he took another look at the man. He did, indeed, have the same thinning brown hair as Larry, same pockmarked face, same skinny, stark white legs, same sad flab of belly fat, and — yes — same timid, left-leaning coil of flesh between hairy thighs.
“Who are you?” Larry said.
“Who am I?” the man asked with a sheepish grin, embarrassed, it seemed, that he didn’t understand the question. “No,” he said. “I’m here.” He grinned again, as if wanting only to please Larry. Across the parking lot the homeless guys were slouched on the curb. There were five or six of them, muttering obscenities, hurling bottles into the bushes, cackling when the glass burst.
“That your boyfriend?” one of them called over to Larry. The others looked up, squinted, noticed Larry and the naked man for the first time, cackled some more.
“Fine,” Larry said to the man. “C‘mon.” He tossed the trash in the dumpster and opened the staff door. As the man brushed past, Larry’s eyes were inexorably drawn to the mirror-image extremities and he couldn’t help but shudder, though whether with shock, revulsion or pure existential befuddlement he wasn’t sure.
“Seriously,” Larry said when they were both inside. “Who the hell are you?”
“Yes,” the man said to Larry in Larry’s gravelly voice. “Yes, I am.” He appeared to be having an entirely separate conversation. That, or he was mentally ill.
“Hold on,” Larry said and dug through the lost and found box below the register. He found a pair of flip-flops, nylon shorts, an oversized promotional t-shirt from a local bank. The man cowered idiotically from the grubby heap of clothes, so Larry slipped the shirt and shorts on the man himself, then slid his feet into the purple flip-flops. Awed and elated by the footwear, the man lurched about, growing more ecstatic with each clumsy step, as if Larry had bestowed upon him some advanced, life-preserving tool.
Should he call the police? Larry wondered. The hospital? The newspaper? Should he tell anybody at all? Who knows? Maybe the situation wasn’t quite as strange as it seemed. Maybe everybody had a naked look-alike, waiting to be discovered out by a dumpster somewhere. Then again, maybe Larry had something no one else had. His ex-wife, she had the house, the car, a decent job. She even had the kids, except every other weekend. But Larry, he had an inexplicable, impossible twin.
“Take this,” Larry told him and handed him the mop. The twin backed away from the object in terror, but Larry grabbed his hands and forced them around the handle. “Now do this,” he said and mimed the act of mopping. The twin was still visibly upset, but did as he was told, tentatively dabbing mop to floor.
Larry watched him, hunched pathetically over his labor, and wondered if this was how he, Larry, typically looked. He was a near middle-aged man with two menial, low-paying jobs and two sore knees from standing on his feet all day. He was a father of two miserable children he saw twice a month. Derrick was a scowling, pug-faced nine year old who hung out with acne-ridden boys four years his senior. They shot squirrels with BB-guns, threw rocks through car windows, cornered other kids on the playground, pushed them down and farted in their faces. Derrick himself had boasted to Larry of such deeds.
“It smells like ass in here,” he would announce when he and his sister came to stay at Larry’s dingy basement apartment. Lizzie, eleven years old, would slump on the futon all weekend, pulling on her stringy hair and whispering to herself while Larry and Derrick watched TV.
“I’m sorry for calling Derrick a jerk and telling mom I hate her and laughing at that retarded kid after school,” Larry had heard her mumble.
“Stop doing that!” Derrick had cried at her.
“I’m not doing anything!” Lizzie shouted back, then returned to her glassy-eyed trance. “I’m sorry for yelling at Derrick,” she muttered, “and thinking about sex yesterday and getting mad at Hannah Weatherbee.”
Dumbfounded, Larry was unable to intervene. Was Lizzie praying? Confessing her sins? Was she insane? Should Larry be disappointed she hadn’t mentioned his name in her little incantation or relieved? Who the hell knew?
“Is it this?” the twin asked meaninglessly, grinning again, swabbing the floor now with the same clumsy glee he had shown the flip-flops, happy, it seemed, to obey Larry’s orders.
“Sure,” Larry told him, wondering if perhaps this was the twin‘s purpose. Perhaps whatever obscure god to which Lizzie incessantly muttered had sent the twin to do his bidding. Or perhaps Larry himself, without knowing it, had somehow created this being, fashioned him in his own image and culled him forth from the void, godlike. Perhaps all deities were like Larry — oblivious, dour, paid by the hour.
“Let me in!” one of the homeless guys suddenly hollered, banging on the front door and causing Larry and the twin to both recoil in fright. “I gotta use the bathroom!” the guy hollered, wildly-bearded face pressed to glass.
“Get him,” Larry barked at the twin, heart thumping. The twin hesitated, looking at him confusedly. “Get him,” Larry commanded. The twin’s face went blank and he lurched into action, rushing around the counter and swinging the mop into the window. The glass cracked and the homeless guy backed away, cackling. A moment later a bottle sailed out of the darkness and shattered against the door.
“Jesus Christ,” Larry said, body trembling with the unfamiliar shock of adrenaline. The twin, too, appeared shaken, staring at Larry, mop still in hand. Larry found some duct-tape below the counter and ordered the twin to tape up the crack. Then he had him wipe off the tables, switch off the deep fry and grill, clean out the grease trap, watch him as he clocked out for the night.
“Do you understand?” he asked the twin. Already he was formulating a plan to send the twin to work in his place. What he would do with his free time he didn’t know. Maybe get another job. “Do you understand?” he repeated irritably. The adrenaline was wearing off and his head was beginning to throb.
“If I can,” the twin replied nonsensically. Larry turned off the lights, ushered the twin outside, locked the door behind them. He scanned the parking lot, but it was empty. He and the twin started towards the apartment, five blocks away. Halfway there, the homeless guys appeared behind them, a shuffling, foul-smelling band in dirty parkas. The wildly-bearded one pushed a rusty bicycle with overfilled shopping bags swinging from its handlebars.
“I’m talking to you!” he called to Larry, though he hadn’t yet said anything.
“C’mon,” Larry told the twin and hurried down the sidewalk as fast as his sore knees would allow. The twin lurched after him. The homeless guys hastened their shuffle. The bags rattled frantically. The twin’s flip-flops flapped foolishly. As Larry and the twin crossed the street to the apartment a bottle burst on the pavement beside them. The twin gaped at the glass as if it had appeared there by magic. Another bottle exploded. Cackling was heard. Larry dug in his pocket for his keys but a third bottle struck him on the back of the head. The sound of it shattering seemed far away, a distant, innocent tinkling. He dropped to the ground, feet from his door. The twin appeared, looking down at him mournfully. Cautiously, the homeless guys shuffled up.
“It was just a joke,” the bearded one said defensively.
“Get him,” Larry croaked at the twin, grabbing a shard of glass and placing it in the twin‘s hand. This time the twin didn’t hesitate. His face went blank and he whirled on the bearded one, stabbing the shard into the guy’s arm with unthinking, mongoloid strength. The bike clattered to the ground.
“Shit!” Larry cried, trying to raise himself. “Never mind!” The twin whirled on Larry, face still blank, arm still stabbing. The shard punctured Larry’s neck. Blood spurted ridiculously from the hole and he fell back down, eyes closed, wondering if he had misjudged the twin. Perhaps he wasn’t here to do his bidding at all. Perhaps he was the agent of some dark, mysterious force. Perhaps Larry was paying for some unknown crime. Perhaps there was no logic to it whatsoever. A naked man who looked exactly like him had appeared by the dumpster in order to murder him. Simple as that.
When he opened his eyes, it was far too bright for night. The twin was looking at him repentantly, questioningly. Somehow it seemed fitting to be gazing into his own uncertain face as he died.
“Sears during the day,” he told the twin, barely choking out the words. “Mr. B’s at night.” He coughed on something thick and wet — blood, presumably. “Rent on the fifteenth of each month. Derrick and Lizzie every other weekend.”
He pulled the keys from his pocket with a trembling hand and passed them to the twin. This must be his purpose — to take Larry’s place. But would he follow Larry’s creed? Could he survive, godless?