The night air was dense with dew and crickets serenading one another with a song that vaguely resembled two bars from the Hallelujah Chorus. It was the kind of late night I often drove through on my way home from my private practice in Greensboro after seeing five to eight clients in a row.
I frequently dropped by Jada's house after leaving the office. Sometimes we sat in her half finished den and watched a movie, sometimes we drank hot chocolate in her 1920's style kitchen, and on Friday afternoons she had no classes to teach and usually I closed the office early, and we went bowling. On Tuesday nights we bowled on a women's league, and Jada felt we needed all the practice we could get. I concurred.
Tonight was Monday. We usually watched an old movie on HBO after my Monday night women's group. I forget now what we watched that Monday. I remember that I had only been marginally interested in the movie, and I remember it was a critically acclaimed star-studded comedy. I was bored with it, though, and Jada was confused at my boredom, and I was confused at my boredom. I left her house when most people are already sound asleep.
Usually on my drive home from town late at night I tended to be tired and invigorated at the same time. Tonight I felt unusually drained, tired but not invigorated. The Mamas and Papas were sharing their dreams about Southern California as my Volkswagen bug purred quietly through the country night.
I stopped at the red light at the intersection where you turn off old 220 onto Highway 62. The bug idled nervously and I switched the station to WMAG. Barry Manilow. I think Magic was the only station who played him anymore. I pressed the third button and got an ad for aluminum siding. Their offer didn't apply to mobile homes. In mock indignation, I switched back to the final strums of Mama Cass et al. The light turned green and I turned left.
Five minutes later I was pulling into a lane of trailers lined neatly next to one another, sentries of the old converted farm. I slowed down to the compulsory ten miles an hour. I usually went at least twenty, maybe even twenty-five miles an hour down this stretch, but tonight I kept firmly to the limit.
I could feel the dusty gravel crunching under the VW's tires; the mirror reflected dim outlines of gray clouds spewing behind me. The tidy barren yards looked like they belonged in a scene from Little House on the Prairie, not central North Carolina.
I turned to the left at the mail boxes and turned right at the driveway reflectors. From there a canopy of trees was an umbrella over me as I drove down the short curved lane that ended at my house. I pulled in between the stately old black Cadillac and the slightly less old but considerably less stately red Chevy van. I turned off the VW and sat for a minute.
The old trailer was dark. I could hear Marvin Gaye in the livingroom complaining about a grapevine; I had left my stereo on for the dogs again. I had this theory that listening to the DJ's talking and playing music all afternoon comforted them while I was gone during the day. They never said any differently.
I opened the car door and stepped onto the damp grass. Clouds shielded me from the stars that usually greeted me. As I opened the gate into the front yard I heard Bennie bark. It wasn't until I turned the key in the doorknob that Deuk acknowledged I was home, too.
On most nights I find them in the kitchen behind the screen gate where they roomed while I was at work. Tonight, though, they both greeted me at the door, with obligatory wagging of their tails as they raced past me. I tossed my worn briefcase onto Big Blue and reached behind my shoulder to switch on the light.
The next few minutes were a blur. I noticed two things simultaneously. The first was that there was a woman in her mid thirties, about my age, sleeping on my couch. The second was that with the exception of her having more white in her hair than me and being somewhat slimmer, she was identical to me. Her hair seemed very windswept, as if she had just come in from a ride in a convertible.
I'm a therapist. Over the years I've had the opportunity to hear a great number of rich stories, often detailing extraordinary situations. Many people have shared their most private thoughts and fantasies with me. In my own life I seldom experience much more than normal, routine scenarios.
Yet, there she lay. The light over the desk roused her, and she yawned, eyes that, still closed, I knew would be brown. She stretched a little, inhaled deeply, propped herself up on an elbow, and looked at me with a smile that seemed instinctive. We stared at one another, she with laughter sparkling from her whole face, and me with an expression that registered somewhere between terror and curiosity.
"Well, you certainly are late getting in. Where have you been?" We haven't even been introduced and she's already nagging me.
I don't know how it is in your world, but in mine it takes a few minutes to warm up to being confronted in the middle of the night in my own livingroom by someone who bears a frighteningly similar resemblance to myself. I realized retrospectively that I should have asked her if the accommodations were to her liking or would she like to have a Natural Light or was the glare from the lamp bothering her. But things seldom happen in retrospect, and instead I floundered around a hybrid question that sounded like "Who the Sam Hill are you?" "What the Sam Hill are you doing in my livingroom?" and "Why do you have more white hair than I do?" all wrapped loosely together. The question, when it came, was sanitized and free of any uncouth slang.
"Hmm. Not very original, answering a question with a question." She winked at me.
I must have lost some sense of time in these first few minutes with her, because Deuk was already back at the door wanting to come in. The door was partially open, and he stuck his right paw through it, then pushed stubbornly until he could squeeze through. A rush of cool summer air snapped the door against the outside of the trailer and Bennie bounded up the steps behind him, sprinted past me, leaped into Big Blue, pushed the brief case out of the way, made two circles, and nestled with a heavy sigh into the old, worn chair. Deuk scratched in the corner behind the blue chair, then leapt for his tennis ball, and returned to the corner with it. These two old dogs seemed oblivious to this woman sitting in our house in the middle of the night.
It wasn't that they didn't notice her. Deuk wagged his tail in a half-hearted gesture of goodwill as he walked past her to get his tennis ball when it slipped through his front paws. Bennie lazily shifted her eyes between this woman and me, closed them, and sighed again.
The woman was still smiling at me. I had occasionally wondered how I would react if I ever came home and found someone sitting in my house, like a scene from a 1940's detective movie, the kind you might find Humphrey Bogart in. But this was 1990, it was no movie, and she certainly wasn't the late Mr. Bogart.
She didn't seem immanently lethal and I found my fear sliding into bewilderment. For all my skills of subtlety it must have been registering on my face. She jerked up and replaced her smile with a frown of concern.
"I've startled you, haven't I, Kit?"
Two tracks of thoughts registered at the same time. The first was that she knew my name. I was initially impressed, then noticed the electric bill lying on the edge of the rolltop desk. Any snoop could have figured out my name within a minute from walking in the door. In fact, the more I studied it, the more obvious it was that my name was Kit. I had sprawled the fantasy words Kit Duncan PhD on the tablet that hangs on the refrigerator. I had at least twenty books piled in little stacks in the livingroom, and more in the bedroom, and even a couple in the kitchen, all with my name scribbled in the front of the book and the date when I got them logged inside the back cover. The most obvious giveaway was probably the name plate on the desk:
KIT DUNCAN ACSW
Okay, so she wasn't an Einstein just because she knew my name.
I studied her appearance. She was nearly my mirror. Her hair was a whiter shade of salt and pepper than mine, her arms and face tanned. And yes, I could see now. She was definitely thinner than me.
She was wearing thick olive green pants with side pockets, a white sweatshirt with several small stains on it and the sleeves cut out, and red high Converse top sneakers.
My clothes, I realized in a huff. I didn't wear them much, but nonetheless, I recognized them as mine. I could see, even with her sitting down, that the pants and sweatshirt were a little too big for her.
And the red high tops - I had bought them on a lark maybe eight or nine years earlier. Whatever possessed me, I did not know. Why I kept them, I don't know. And now they were on her feet.
Her face was gentle and relaxed. She seemed unnervingly calm and at home. I was toying with the idea of liking her when I noticed her right hand.
"My class ring!" Manners, what little had survived to this point, bolted out the open door. I reached for her hand and she casually allowed me to grasp her finger and turn the design back and around. It had the original smooth amethyst stone.
She smiled with a hint of coy as I stared at the ring. Squeezing it off, she handed it to me, already knowing the knowledge I was resisting.
Minuscule letters were printed around the small stone: Elizabethtown High School. On each side were the numbers 1974. Underneath one side was the facial profile of a cat presumed to be a "mighty panther." On the other was a triangle of images so tiny that I could never make out what they were supposed to be. On the inside, under the stone, were the initials KAD. I turned it back over and looked at the purplish-blue stone.
It was my high school class ring. But it was my ring as it had been for the first sixteen years I'd had it, not as it was now. Over a year earlier, sometime last March, I'd belted the ring to my leather watch band and stuffed them into my pocket as I was rushing from my house to an early afternoon appointment
Hours later I realized the watch and ring were missing, and I spent two months searching for them. Finally, in late August, just before I moved out to the trailer, I found the ring. More specifically, my lawn mower found it while I was mowing the front yard.
I never recovered all of the watch; somewhere on Shady Lawn Drive, Greensboro NC, burrowed deep in the weed-infested grass, are little tiny springs, little tiny hands, and a little tiny face.
The lawn mower blade had sliced the triangle of indecipherable images on the ring and the impact had reshaped the roundness into a mangled oblongish distortion.
Until last summer I had worn this ring nearly every day since I was a high school senior, had worn it through three states and four graduation exercises, over a decade as a social worker. And now it was destroyed.
The details of how I was finally, after six months, able to get it repaired, are tedious and annoying. Let's leave it at this: the "life-time guarantee" was operationally translated to me by the company as, "We'll give you $17 toward the purchase of another ring." No retail jeweler would touch it because they didn't have the equipment. Finally, when I was at home with Mom and Pop in Kentucky over Thanksgiving, we took it to a private jeweler in Leitchfield, and by my birthday the first of the year I had it back.
The new stone was beautiful in its own right but it was different. The Alexandrite's color was much lighter than the original amethyst stone and it shifted between shades of green and rose, not blue and purple. It was faceted instead of the original's smoothness. And the jeweler had been unable to erase the slash across the panther's throat. Still, I was glad to get it back.
And now this familiar stranger was sitting in my house and wearing my original high school class ring. I reluctantly handed it back to her and she slipped it on her finger.
Sometimes when people get real perplexed they wipe their hands across their face in a scrubbing motion, like they're trying to smear some clarity back into their head. I did that motion just then, squeezing my forehead slightly in an effort to wring away the absurdity. That failing, I clenched my eyelids tightly and ran my index finger and thumb from each side of my face until they met at the bridge of my nose. This didn't ease my confusion, so I opened my eyes, stared at the woman, and slumped onto Big Blue's footstool in a pout. Behind me Bennie sighed.
"That's my class ring - before it was destroyed by the lawnmower last summer. How did you get it fixed?" The illogic of asking this kind of question, knowing that it was impossible, suddenly confronted me. She sat quietly, waiting for me to redirect.
With a rush of confusion, I leaped from the footstool and sprinted into the bedroom, rounded the footboard of the bed, and fumbled through the small red velvet lined piano-shaped music box. There was my class ring, retired for the summer because the heat swelled my fingers. I grabbed it and returned to the livingroom. She was gone.
I heard the refrigerator door shut and she re-entered the room, carrying two beers. "Here," she offered. She was still smiling, I was still frowning. Not as harshly, but I didn't want to be pleasant just yet. I took a beer and we unscrewed the tops at the same time. She reached for my cap and tossed both caps around the corner to the sink, then turned back and faced me. I heard one of the caps bounce out of the sink and onto the linoleum.
"Look!" I shoved my ring in her face. She squinted, pulled back her head, and softly held my hand, pushing it down enough to focus on it.
"Well, yes, that's definitely your ring."
"But the one you're wearing is also my ring. Or was my ring." The more energy I put into understanding this scenario, the less I understood.
I sat down again, this time on the end of the couch. She pulled the desk chair around, and swigged her beer, then sat it down beside the coaster on the desk.
"Use the coaster, will you?" I demanded, and she grinned and complied. After a short time she looked back at me and said, "Okay, so you've got some questions about the ring."
"Not just the ring," I corrected, and I noticed my pitch was escalating slightly. I'm not a yeller and I'm not easily provoked, but I was willing to make an exception in this case.
"Let's try to be calm, shall we?"
"Fine. Fine. You want calm, I'll give you calm. First, you tell me who you are and what you're doing here. If I like your answer, maybe, just maybe, I'll give you calm."
"Well," she started slowly, looking at me, then Bennie, at the carpet, then back up at me. "I think you're overlooking the obvious."
I can be as adroit as anyone about complicating simple matters, but "the obvious" was too blatantly impossible.
"I don't understand what you're getting at."
"Just this, Kit. I'm you. Well, not entirely you, but a piece of you. Or maybe you're a piece of me," she smiled a puckish smirk. "I don't have all the answers right now, either. A few tiny insights perhaps."
She paused to take another sip of beer. I took a gulp, and nearly choked.
"So who are you then?" I stammered after recovering. "I mean, what's you name? You got a name?"
"My name's Kit," she said. "But for now, to reduce confusion, you can call me Corban. Can we turn that music down or off or something?" Not waiting for my permission, she walked to the stereo, pushed off the power, and returned to the desk. "Okay. Corban." My voice was slightly mollified. At least she was being cooperative, and there was something rather pleasant about her, even if her mere presence was a bewilderment to me. Then I snapped back, "What kind of name is that, anyway?"
"Just something I pulled out of the air," she said. "A word I remembered, I liked the sound of it. Nothing more."
I wasn't sure I believed her but pressed past her thin explanation. "Go on," I encouraged her.
"I guess we're two parts of the same person. I'm surprised you made it through the day without me. I mean, you've put me on hold lots of time, ignored me, overridden my influence and potential, but you've never gone through the day physically separated from me."
It was senseless to me. Still, she was probably not going to be able to give me any kind of explanation that could satisfy me, one that could balance my intellectual reasoning with this impossible reality sitting in my livingroom. I decided that with the likelihood that none of this was going to bear any remote resemblance to sanity anyway, I'd play along, just to see where it might go.
"So what'd you do all day - watch soaps and eat bonbons?"
"My, we're a little testy tonight, aren't we?"
I ignored the rhetorical question and waited for her to continue. She challenged my silence with silence of her own, and won.
"Okay, so you're me. Or a part of me. Fine. So how did you get out of my body?"
I had a vague sense that by asking this kind of question I was party to a conspiracy. I make my living encouraging and training people to try on new options of believing, perceiving, behaving - whatever it takes to get out of their deeply embedded ruts. And for the most part I give myself high marks in applying these skills to my own circumstances. This particular situation, however, seemed to be pushing my limits way off balance.
Bennie woke up, jumped off the overstuffed chair, and wandered into the kitchen. I heard the kind of sound water makes when it's being lapped by a Doberman tongue. Another thirty seconds and she was lying next to me on the couch, her head in my lap. I absently noticed that her lips were wet.
"Our body," she corrected me. "I'm not a hundred percent sure," she conceded. "I first noticed it as you were leaving this morning. One minute we were on the deck on the way out the door, and then you stopped and turned back, and picked up your watch. Which, by the way, I can't stand. I prefer the big Timex; you can actually see it. That little dainty thing you wear with the Spiedel band - very pretty, not very cool. And then you left."
I had owned a series of bulky Timex watches, all with leather bands. I also had a Seiko with a little oval shaped face. Mom and Pop had given it to me the first Christmas I lived with them when I was seventeen. I had put a Speidel band on it; the original band felt clumsy and the tiny chain kept catching on things I didn't want to catch.
Occasionally I wore the Timex, mostly I wore the Seiko. I had never thought about why I selected one of the two styles on any given day.
And some days, especially when I wasn't working, I just didn't wear either watch. When you don't have a lot of responsibilities clogging up your day it's nice to not be bothered with keeping up with the time.
"You have a point to make besides criticizing my taste in watches?" I asked.
"It was when you slammed the front door," Corban continued nonchalantly.
The door. The door that is slightly warped and requires a minimum of three heavy slams per successful closing.
"I was just standing there with my back to the door." I could tell she was starting to enjoy the narrative. Or maybe it was the expressions on my face. Anyway she was becoming increasingly animated and, I suspected, amused. "I turned around and realized I wasn't carrying the case or the watch or the keys. I was also baffled because I was stark naked - you took the clothes with you, which I imagine was the socially acceptable thing to do. I watched you get into the VW and drive off. Are you with me so far?"
I didn't want to appear too friendly yet, so I grunted an invitation for her to continue, trying to conceal any sense that I was buying this story. Still, it occurred to me with some discomfort that only someone who had seen me that morning could have known I had nearly forgotten my watch. I live in the country, and from my front door all I can see in the yard is a thicket of trees and brush. Sometimes I can hear a small herd of cows on the other side of the woods.
"I looked at Deuk and Bennie and pondered my next move," Corban continued. I was certain of it now. She was definitely enjoying this story. "Kit, I was as confused as you are now. Well, the first order of business, I surmised, was to get dressed, which I did."
I looked at the red high tops Corban was wearing. I seldom ever wore them but I knew they were mine. The right shoe had a small oil stain between the rubber toe and the first set of eyelets. I walked briskly down the hall to the back room, opened the closet door, and began scratching through the mound of shoes on the floor. No red high tops.
Corban took my interruption in stride and continued speaking as I returned to the livingroom and sat down, frowning. "I let the dogs out and sat on the deck awhile. I thought about calling you but decided against it. Anyway, I watched a couple movies and had a sandwich, and loafed. That's about it." She reached for her beer.
Three minutes passed. The crickets buzzed, Deuk was kicking behind the chair, scratching again. Bennie was snoring softly.
The silence was too loud and the questions raging within me too persistent.
"This is a cruel, bizarre, and, I might add, inhumane joke."
"You're using some kind of trick to project my image and trying to make me think I'm going crazy."
"I'm trapped in a hideous nightmare."
"Wrong again. Thanks for playing. Next!"
She paused for only a second this time. "Look, we can come up with all kinds of theories about how this happened. Personally, I suspect that the slamming of the door jarred the fabric of reality as we know it and I slipped out into a glitch in the weave."
I looked at Corban with wide, incredulous eyes. "Okay, I'm not crazy. You're crazy." I finished my beer and took the empty bottle into the kitchen, picking the cap off the floor as I passed it. I was more interested in designing a brief respite for myself than being tidy, though I like being tidy, too. Another few minutes and I was sitting back on the couch again. Bennie, grumbling in a canine language, had resettled herself in Big Blue and was ignoring me.
"Fine, don't buy it. Let's hear your explanation."
I didn't have one, not one that fit this scenario. Each possibility dead-ended in the unrelenting face of logic, at least the kind of logic to which I had subscribed all my life.
"I'm not sure I like you very much." I was trying to divert and put her on the defensive.
"Don't get off track. I'm on to you, Kit. Besides, I'm adorable, and you know it." Her eyes twinkled and she winked at me, then said, "You're the smart one. Give me your analysis."
"I don't have one. Yet."
"Fine. It doesn't matter all that much how it happened right now anyway. The fact is it did happen and we're stuck with this for now. Let's look at how to make the best of this situation. And lighten up a little, will you? You're so, I don't know, rigid. Relax a little."
Corban was rocking back and forth in the chair and drumming her right fingers in an inaudible rhythm. And I was not moving. Jada had pointed out to me months before that when I was relaxed and at ease I was always moving, always in motion. When I first videotaped my Monday night co-dependency group and we played it back together several of the group members commented on how that I was not moving and that usually, when we were not filming, I was. So I had become aware when I was uncomfortable I did not move but when I was relaxed I moved a lot.
"You're tapping." I confronted her. I was still feeling irritable and decided to attack her. She took the assault in stride.
"I'm tapping. And you're not. Do you have a point to make?"
Some more silence. She was swinging her left foot slowly, and still tapping. Still smiling. Still amused. The clock read 1:45. I usually go to bed by 2, and I was beginning to feel very sleepy, and more tired than usual.
"You're not leaving tonight, are you?" It was more a statement than a question, and I saw the foreshadow of an invitation coming on. I wasn't sure if she was going to suggest it or I was, but I knew it was coming.
"Look," she said, "you've had a long day, and I'm kind of worn out myself. What about we both get some sleep and we can talk more in the morning." She stood up and turned to the door. "Come on, guys," she was wooing my dogs. "Let's go outside. Come on, Bennie-Belle, let's go Deuko-boy!" and they both lazily sauntered into the deep night. Corban stepped onto the porch behind her and pushed the door behind her, leaving it slightly ajar.
Bennie-Belle and Deuko-boy. My pet names for, well, my pets. So many things didn't add up. Each set of questions acted like little rabbits and multiplied, and I was more confused than ever. Still, I didn't seem to be in any real danger, even if she was a little strange. I decided to get ready for bed and hope that it was, in fact, a weird dream. What Jung would do with this one, I didn't know. Anyway, it would be another three years before I began studying Jung.
I wasn't feeling particularly hostess-like and wasn't really concerned about getting her anything to help her sleep more comfortably. After all, she'd found my clothes, surely she could find the sheets and a pillow.
I walked past the kitchen and laundry room to the bathroom and turned on the water to brush my teeth, wanting to deny what I knew was happening, if only for a minute. I switched off the bathroom light and retraced my steps through the house that dead ended in my bedroom, put my repaired class ring back in the piano shaped box.
I heard the door slam four times before the click of the lock. Dog toenails met kitchen floor as they raced for the "cookie jar," re-enacting a nightly ritual for milkbone snacks when they come in for the last time each evening. I was sitting on the bed kicking off my Birkenstock Arizonas when she stepped into the bedroom.
"Mind if I use your toothbrush?"
"That's repulsive," I snarled, too tired for much more than a snap sans eye contact. I got into bed, slammed my face on the pillow and squeezed my eyes shut.
"I don't see what's so awful about it," Corban countered. "We've been sharing toothbrushes for, what, thirty-two, thirty three years. Why quibble about it now? I only asked out of respect."
I didn't answer. Maybe if I ignored this person she would go away.
She turned, no hint of annoyance, just a matter-of-fact turn. I sat up, switched off the light, and yanked the covers protectively around my shoulders. I could hear water running in the bathroom, followed by the sound of cotton swishing when it's being rearranged on the human body, two thuds of rubber soles bouncing on the linoleum, and bare feet walking across the kitchen floor and then hushed by carpet. I expected those bare feet to stop at the couch. They didn't.
"Window or aisle?"
This woman was pressing her luck. I bolted up in a rage. "What do you think you're going to do now?" I was yelling, and I didn't care.
"Don't look so surprised." How did she know how I looked? The lights were out, the only light being a sliver of moonlight that had pierced a tiny slice through the clouds and into my window. I didn't have time to contemplate a response. Corban was talking again.
"You and I have been sleeping together for thirty-four and a half years. And if you think I'm going to spend the night on that lumpy couch, you're seriously deluded." There was a faint hint of edge in her voice. I guess she was getting weary, too. For only a second I considered feeling sympathy for her, then discarded the notion.
"So," she had been talking and I had not been paying attention, and now she was summarizing her argument. "You can either move your big butt aside or you can sleep on the couch or the floor or wherever else you want, but I've had a hard day, too, and I'm going to sleep, and I'm going to sleep in our bed."
Corban crawled over me, rumbling the sheets and bedspread. She sandwiched her body between the sheets, turned her face to the wall, smashed her head into the pillow twice. In a huff equal to or greater than the one I had only moments earlier exuded, she reached over and snatched the feather pillow from under my head and replaced it with the down pillow that had been on her side. She jerked back to the wall, hit her pillow twice, and sank deep into the bed.
I was too spent to wrestle with her anymore. I turned my face toward the door and closed my eyes. Her feet were beating a little rhythm against the oak footboard. Bennie came into the room and slithered quietly up the side of the bed, turned twice, and collapsed between Corban's and my legs. A minute later I heard Deuk's panting beside the bed as he lay in front of the antique washstand. In the distant night a dog howled a mournful dirge, and an exhausted sleep heaved itself on me as I moved beyond the day.