Friday, February 12, 2010

Doppelgangers and Other Monsters, by Merry Monteleone

Janet stamped on the accelerator. Still nothing. She pulled the keys out of the ignition and held them between her palms. If anyone happened to notice her, they’d think she was praying – ironic really, since god was obviously done taking her calls.

Okay, one, two, three.

Shoving the key back in the ignition, she turned it with a flick of her wrist and stomped on the pedal at the same time.

“You rotten motherfucker.”

For about two seconds, the weight pressing against her neck and shoulders relinquished its grip and floated above her. Swearing might be cathartic, but it didn’t get her to work any faster. Grabbing her purse from the passenger seat, she jumped out of the car and slammed the door. She jogged up the block, until she saw the bus chugging past the next intersection. Bursting into an all out run, she cursed her cute shoes and skidded around the corner just in time to stumble into the last guy waiting to board.

Whoa. Hello.

From the back she only saw wide shoulders, mostly because she came damn close to bashing into them face-first. But when he turned and squinted down at her, all broad cheekbones and chiseled jaw, she forgot to breathe. Something about him was familiar.

“You okay?” He cupped her elbow with his hand, steadying her the way on old friend might, without thinking.

Janet regained her footing enough to pull her arm away and he bit down on his bottom lip, one dimple just peeking out. He was trying not to laugh in her face, which should have annoyed the hell out of her, but for some reason it made her smile.

“I’m okay.” Stop panting, you moron. “It’s the shoes, can’t run in the shoes.”

“That’s why I had to give up the heels,” he said, “ruined me for marathons, it did.”

She followed him onto the bus and paid her fare, and then she grabbed the closest unoccupied seat. She kept her eyes focused on the grungy floorboards and wished she’d brought a book or something. She would have if she’d known she had to take the bus.

“Janet? It’s Janet, right?”

It was him again, sitting in the seat across from her. Her chest contracted and her eyes shot up to meet his before she could stop herself.

Damn, damn, damn.

“No, sorry,” she adopted that blank stare she’d spent the last two years perfecting, “my name’s Marina.”

“Really?” He scowled, and looked above her as if trying to picture something and said, “I’d swear you were a girl I knew back in Milwaukee. You didn’t used to live in Wisconsin, did you? Maybe I’m just messing up the name.”

“No.” She answered too quick but caught herself enough to give him a full smile, “Never been there. Sorry.”

“Huh, well, you’ve got a doppelganger out there.”

He laughed and it was so warm and fun and full of promise that her heart sank. The bus slowed down and she jumped to her feet.

“Whoa, where you going? We just got on.”

“I... yeah...” she fished around for some excuse and came up lame, “stupid shoes. I didn’t think I could make the five-block walk.”

“Oh, well, nice talking to you.”

She didn’t turn around, just waved behind her as she got off and stood at the sidewalk. Through the window she could see him looking down at her, squinting again, as if he was trying to figure her out. She hoped he didn’t try too hard.

She pulled out her cell phone, and dug through her purse to grab her wallet. She opened it up and rifled past the driver’s license that said she was Marina Sandoval, and pulled out the other one – Janet Sierra, issued by the State of Wisconsin. She was supposed to get rid of it, it was dangerous and she knew it. She just couldn’t give that one little piece up. She’d already given up everything else. Behind that last reminder of her former self was the scrap of ragged paper she was after.

She punched in the numbers and waited two rings, putting the scrap of paper back into its hiding place.

“Bitsy? It’s Janet. Someone saw me.”

“You need to come back in. Now. Just grab what you need.”

“Yeah, same place?” It was mechanical. She knew she’d have to move on again, as soon as he called her by her real name, she knew.

“Same place. I’ll make the arrangements to send you on to the next stop today.”

“Oscar doesn’t know I’m here yet. Maybe I can stay.” She knew she couldn’t, knew Bitsy would talk her out of it if she tried, but God, she loathed giving everything up. Again.

“Same place, Jan. I’m sorry, you can’t take the chance. You just can’t. Meet me there.”

“Yeah, okay. My car’s not working, though, I got spotted on the bus.”

“On the bus? There’s a whole new reason public transportation sucks.” Bitsy laughed, trying to lighten the mood, “I can pick you up in two hours. Is that enough time?”

“Yeah. See you then. Thanks.”

She closed the phone and dumped it back in her purse. Walking up the street she kept her eyes open, drinking in every sound, every movement. Amazing how he could still ruin her life without even trying. She stopped at the garbage can on the corner and looked down at the old license, still palmed in her hand. She dropped her old smiling face on top of the used wrappers and garbage and walked on.


LurkerMonkey said...


So I'm first ... woo hoo!

I thought this was very well written, and I was immediately placed in the world and knew this character. It raised tons of questions for me, which is nice ... is this Witness Protection? Sleeping with the Enemy? It felt very much like a chapter of a larger story—as if we had been dropped in midway. Good story ...

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Jon,

Thanks, I'm actually toying with the idea of expanding it to a larger short story. It was fun working with the prompt, too, I love seeing where each writer goes from the same starting point.

Erica Orloff said...

Hi Merry:
This was fun, because you were the first one to have her stamp on the accelerator--and not go anywhere, LOL! I was like Jon. I liked the writing a lot, it was a FUN read . . . I liked the dialogue (very much!). It left me with a lot of questions . . . and I think that's OK for these. It's a great little story, and it would be fun to have my questions actually answered in a longer work.

E. Flanigan said...

Merry, I really like this, too! As was already said, you did a great job of creating a world I believed in, that felt fully formed.

It's funny — at the part with the bus stop and the chiseled-faced guy, when I was still unsure of where you were headed, I desperately feared it was all a set-up for a romantic comedy-type of story. That would have felt like a let-down for me, would have felt like a cliche. Needless to say, it went another direction and I was relieved by the turn of events!

My only question is, would she really throw her old I.D. in an open garbage can after making such a big deal about remaining unknown? What if someone was watching, or trailing her? I don't think this character would be so careless. And if it was intentional on your part to have her do something careless, then I'd like some foreshadowing that this may come up to bite her in the butt later on.

Good story! :)

Jude Hardin said...

Nice job. I agree with E. Flanigan that she wouldn't just drop the old license in a trash can. I wanted to shout, "Shred that thing!"

Love the name Bitsy. Does she have a companion named Itsy? ;)

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Erica,

I'm so glad you liked the dialogue, honestly, that's my favorite thing about writing.

I've been working a lot on getting all of the backstory and telling out of my writing and with this one there just wasn't enough room to show everything you need to answer all of the questions. And I still haven't mastered short stories, I'm never quite happy with them.

Hi E,

Yay, the flirtation at the bus stop was kind of a two part thing, first, I wanted the reader to be wondering what her deal was - I didn't want you to know exactly why she was giving the wrong name until after she got off the bus, and I kind of hoped people would be wondering if it was romance and then hit with the turn. The second reason was to flesh her out a bit, I'm not sure if it came across but that little everyday flirtation that would normally lead to a first date can't lead anywhere for her, and she's mourning that but too afraid to change it.

Normally I'd agree with you about the license, it's like a breadcrumb out there in the world. If I flesh this out to a larger story it will come into play later. The person she's hiding from already knows she's alive, and the information on the license is not going to help him find her, just confirm that she was in that area, and she plans to be gone within a few hours, so in that moment I wanted her to be in that place where she's not afraid to face the future, and doesn't need to hold on to who she was, or probably more accurate, she knows she can't ever be who she once was again.

Hi Jude,

Love the name Bitsy. Does she have a companion named Itsy? ;)

Now she does :-) I'm thinking German Shepard, sounds like her breed of dog.

Natasha Fondren said...

Oh, I love this, Merry! Very sad. And I liked that you twisted things, and she didn't go anywhere when she stamped on the accelerator! :-)

This pulled me in, all the way. It does feel like I want to read the "rest of the story."

Joe Barone said...

“That’s why I had to give up the heels,” he said, “ruined me for marathons, it did.”

Great dialog. It would be hard to have to spend your time running.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Natasha,

So glad you liked it. I think this will be my side project this month, to see where I can go with a fleshed out full short story.

Hi Joe,

Thanks. You know, I don't think the running itself would be so hard, it's the fact that you can't really touch anyone else in any real way without worrying about getting caught.

Melanie Avila said...

Wow, I really like this! I feel like that's how I've started all my comments this time around, but everyone's written such impressive stories. Nice spin on her not going anywhere in the car.

I think this would be great as a long piece. Good luck!