You Don’t Belong Here

by Bob Thurber

Last week I received an invitation to a surprise fiftieth birthday celebration for an old friend. I don’t have many friends. I could chop off my thumbs and still count my true pals on one hand. So when the invitation arrived, I decided I would make a genuine effort to attend this celebration.

I’m neither shy or gruff but I really hate parties. Over the years I’ve blown off dozens, hundreds of get-togethers, offended scores of people. The upshot is I’m seldom invited to anything anymore. When I am, I usually consider and reconsider, mulling it over for days, trying to persuade myself to go, but ultimately I don’t attend. I’m constantly fearful I might run into myself.

If I do end up attending this event, I’ll arrive early. I’ll remain watchful, alert. Then, I’ll make some excuse and leave early. It’s safer that way. My doppelganger tends to show up fashionably late.

The last time I ran into him was eight months ago, at my aunt’s wake; I bumped into him in the funeral parlor’s restroom. He was rubbing his hands under the blow-dryer, wearing the same suit as I was, though his jacket seemed to fit better.

“Ah,” we both said at the exact same time, “my evil alter-ego.”

After a long accessing stare, we both said, in the same tired voice, “You don’t belong here. You should do yourself a favor and leave.”

Another time, years before, at a wedding, I didn’t actually see my doppelganger, though I’m certain he was there. I know because my wife disappeared for forty minutes while dinner was being served. The waitress kept asking, “Is anyone sitting here?”

I nodded each time.

I made excuses, gastronomical in nature, to the other guests at the table.

When my wife finally returned, her soup and entrée were sitting there, ice cold. Everyone else was waiting for dessert.

A woman seated beside her said, “Feeling better now, hon?”

Another woman said, “You look a little flushed. Drink some wine, dear.”

When I leaned and whispered, “Where the hell have you been?” she simply smiled.

No explanation. Just a dumb smile and a lingering gaze. Such an odd, tranquil, look, as though we shared some secret.

On the ride home I asked again. “What were you doing all that time?”

She was silent, slumped low in the seat, eyes closed.

I decided she had fallen asleep so I focused on the road.

After a while she murmured, “You’re a naughty boy for doing that.”

“Doing what?” I said.

She was grinning again. “You might have at least allowed me time to put my diaphragm in.”

I surmised the rest. I envisioned the scene and I felt myself heating up. I steered the car to the side of the road.

“What is it,” she said. “Did we blow a tire?”

Too angry to look at her, I held my face in my hands. I said, “You mustn’t confuse me with him. Not ever. You of all people should know better.”

“Who and what are you talking about?” she said.

I was about to answer, ready to confess. I slowly removed my hands from my face. That’s when I saw my car, or rather a car identical to my own, pull off the road and park a short distance ahead. I saw my doppelganger leap out and start toward us. He was waving one arm, dangling his keys. “You’ve gone too far this time,” he shouted.

I glanced at the woman beside me. Her face was distraught. She couldn’t have looked more confused and I felt genuinely sorry for her.

“Who is that,” she said.

I didn’t answer. I sat there, nervously silent, understanding my mistake. I don’t have many friends but anyone who knows me understands I live alone, a solitary man who never married. You’d think I’d be able to remember that.

 


Bob Thurber is an old, unschooled writer widely published in literary journals, magazines, and on the Internet. He resides in Massachusetts. His short story, "The Cat Who Waved," appeared in Issue #5 of The Cafe Irreal; "Shuteye" appeared in Issue #15; and "The Bartender Story" appeared in Issue #32. Paperboy, his first book, will be be published and released in the late spring of 2011.