It is said that everyone has a double, someone who resembles them physically in every single way, hair, eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth and body. Only the character is different. In one body may lurk the soul of a saint, in the other the machinations of a devil. These beings, so one legend goes, are the two halves of a complete being and all its life one is searching for the other. Once found, once moulded together they will become whole and satisfied.
Another legend says that, if you meet your double, your doppelgänger, then this is a forewarning of your own death.
Me, I don't believe any of it at all.
Or at least I didn't.
Not until a few months ago when one morning I was walking through the park to my job at the library. I met my friend, George, coming the other way. We often met like this. He lives on the other side of the park and works in a men's clothing shop on my side. We tend to meet in the middle or thereabouts and query each other about the sort of evening entertainment we had the previous one. George is small and slightly elfin in form but wiry with it. He needs to be; he has dangerous tastes in partners.
"Hi, George," I said in a friendly enough fashion.
I was rather surprised when he replied rather shortly. He was usually the most sociable and congenial of people. "Ah," he said, "you're talking to me now, are you?"
"Yes, George, of course I'm talking to you. When did I ever not talk to you?"
He looked at me slightly askance, and a blackbird sang from the branch of a silver birch over our heads.
"Just now, that's when. Coming down Carlton Street."
It was now my turn to look at him oddly. Carlton Street is the other side of the park, where I was aiming for in fact because the library is in that road. "Poor lad," I said. "You'd best get yourself some glasses. I haven't got to Carlton Street yet. I'm still on my way there. Look," and I pointed ahead, "I'm going that way."
George doesn't need glasses. He has the sharpest of vision, especially if there's any young male, even moderately good-looking, in the area. George is gay and is always on the lookout for talent, with a particular penchant for those with muscular forearms, dirty shirts and closely fitting jeans, the filthier the better.
I suspected that he'd been gazing after one of these and, out of the corner of his eye, he'd seen someone who looked a little like me, given a casual wave his mind being elsewhere and, quite rightly, been ignored. But George wasn't having any of this. No, he hadn't been salivating over a bit of rough trade. Yes, he had seen me quite clearly, had passed by as close as we were now. Had spoken to me, saying, something like, 'Hi, Oliver, you're up early, or are you going home?' and been ignored.
"What was I wearing?" I asked. "This?" I indicated my clothes which, in fact this morning I'd been extra special in choosing, today being Tuesday and Simon making deliveries.
Ok. OK. A bit of background would probably be useful here. Yes, I'm gay too. I'm in love there's no other word for it with Simon who delivers books every Tuesday to our small branch library from the main one in Swindon. Simon is tall and blond and elegant, with the brightest of blue eyes and is much too beautiful to be straight. But straight I fear he is, because the only person he looks at is our new assistant, Pamela, who is just out from college and too scatterbrained to be true she even gets confused running a scanning pen over a bar code and someone has to help her sort out the resultant mess.
But hope springs eternal, as they say, and I always try to look my best on Tuesdays with the possibility that eventually Simon will see what a desperate loser our Pamela is and settle for the more butch well slightly attractions of Oliver Speed that's me.
So here I was sporting some really expensive designer gear and indicating its full glory to George who looked at it in some bemusement. Eventually he shook his head. "No," he said. "You weren't. The other you was wearing something different, something smarter. Looked really expensive."
"Thanks a lot," I said putting in all the sarcasm I could muster.
"Very smart," he said. "Strange. I really thought it was you." He prepared to go on with visions of inside leg measurements no doubt in mind. "Want to meet up for lunch?"
"Not today. I may be busy." I knew it was a pretty forlorn hope but I wanted to keep my lunch hour free just in case the beautiful Simon had a miraculous conversion. Tuesdays anyway is our half day so that we can work all day Saturdays. I vaguely wanted to do some shopping and I knew that lunch with George would probably cut well into the afternoon.
We parted and I went out of the park, past the huge circular bed filled with scarlet salvias, white geraniums and blue lobelias very patriotic into Carlton Street, breaking into a little trot the meeting with George had made me late to arrive on the steps of the Library where Miss Blaystoke was just opening the doors.
I liked Miss Blaystoke (even though I called her behind her back, Miss Bluestocking, or Miss B) and I think she liked me. "Just in time, Mr Speed," she said.
"Better late than never, Miss Blaystoke," I said.
"More haste, less . . ." she said wittily.
We are very formal at the Library.
There was little to do first thing as we always cleared up last thing at night (Miss Blaystoke's orders) except wait for the first customers, and I for the arrival of the book van driven by the beautiful Simon. In fact I was staring out of the window when he pulled into the car park. I watched him get out, lithe and graceful, from the diver's cab and walk round to the back. He opened the doors and took out a box which, from the way he carried it, was heavy and was about to go out and help when I saw him talking to someone whose back was to me but who was watching from the pavement outside. I saw Simon shrug and turn towards the library. He'd have difficulty getting up the stairs so I went out to help.
He stopped as I went out and looked at me with his mouth open. Now I know that I wanted him to be struck dumb with my beauty but it didn't usually happen like that so I assumed it was just a facial tic and went down to help.
"Oliver," he said in a strange rather unbelieving voice.
I was pleased. Generally he noticed me so little that I didn't actually think he knew my name.
"That's me," I said. "Let me give you a hand." I grabbed hold of the other side of the box and there we were, face to face barely a foot apart, certainly near enough for either of us to lean forward and plant a chaste kiss on the other's lips. Fat chance! But at least I expected a smile of gratitude for my assistance.
"I thought," he said and looked towards the road, but there was no one there. "I thought you were outside. There was a guy who looked exactly like you. I said, 'Hello' but he didn't answer."
"It wasn't me," I said unnecessarily.
"He looked like you."
Could it be that Simon was actually upset when the person he thought was me ignored him? I dared to give him a broad smile which he returned, but when we got inside, he made straight for Pamela and started chatting. Oh well!
I wondered what was going on. Of course Simon hardly knew me at all unfortunately but George had known me for ages. Who was this guy whom they both had mistaken for me?
It was a puzzle but a slight one and I had more important things to take my mind off it. People were coming into the library, demanding my attention and of course I had to keep an eye on Simon.
I could see that Miss Blaystoke also had her eye on him but not I suspected for the same reason. I assumed that she could see Pamela becoming even more daffy with the attentions of the blond bombshell. I know, had he been hanging round me, I'd have lost most of the will to do anything else.
Eventually Miss B came over to me and said, "I wonder, Mr Speed, if you're not too busy whether you could help young Simon with the box of books to return to Head Office, and also I think there's another box to come in."
I willingly complied and we went out to the van together, only a cardboard box filled with books keeping us apart that of course and my presumption of his sexual orientation.
I found it slightly odd that he should return to the subject of my double as we pushed the heavy box into the back of the van. To rescue the other one we had to climb in as it had slid right against the back of the driving seat.
In the gloom I realised he was staring at me. "What's wrong?" I asked.
"That guy. He was very like you, you know."
"What did he look like?" I asked, perhaps foolishly as obviously the answer was - like me.
"Dark hair, short like yours. Brown eyes. Thick eyebrows." He paused for a moment and then said, sounding a little embarrassed. "Good-looking."
Good-looking! He thought I was good-looking? What did that mean? I looked at him, seeing the light nimbus of his blond hair surrounding his face. He was so close. I only had to reach out a hand to touch him, touch his face, his body, his leg. I wondered but could not guess what thoughts were going on in his mind and then he put out his hand and grabbed hold of the box pulling it towards the rear. I helped him and the moment was past.
We climbed out feeling embarrassed, brushing down the knees of our trousers free from the dirt from the van floor. So much for my designer clothes. Simon's jeans didn't seem too much damaged.
In silence we took the box into the library where Simon went to talk to Pamela and I retired behind the counter and checked in returned books. He left soon after, giving a general wave in which I supposed I was included.
I discussed the situation at some length with George when we met at the weekend at Silvano's, the Italian Restaurant, an unpretentious little place with plastic flower decorations but food which tasted pure Tuscan. I told him that he hadn't been the only one who had mistaken this other person for me, so he mustn't worry about it. He said he wasn't.
I told him about what had happened or rather what hadn't happened in the van on Tuesday and he stopped eating, mouth open. He'd ordered lasagne and it wasn't a pretty sight. I poured him some wine as a hint.
"You mean you didn't make a pass at him," he asked. Incredulity wasn't in it.
"No," I said.
"Didn't even casually brush your hand against his butt or his crotch?"
Such incredulity made me feel slightly ashamed and then defensive. "What if I had, and he isn't gay?"
"You might have lost a couple of teeth," he said, "but at least you'd have known,"
"And my job, when he complained."
"Miss Bluestocking would have sacked you for being gay? That's sexual discrimination. You could have sued them for millions."
"For sexual harassment of the staff," I said.
"OK," he said, forking another large helping of lasagne in. "Now this is what you do next Tuesday. He comes over every Tuesday, doesn't he?"
"When he arrives, you keep a look out and then get down into the car park before " He stopped and I wondered whether the lasagne had been too much for him but he was staring at the door leading to the gents. "Look," he said, "there you are. Your double. He looks exactly like you."
There was a guy just going through.
"There, doesn't he look exactly like you from the back?"
"I've never seen myself from the back," I said. "How would I know?"
The door closed. We gazed at it.
"Follow him," George said.
"See what you think. You don't have to say anything if you don't want to. Or you could say that people have been saying the two of you look alike and you wanted to chat about it."
"So I follow him into the bog and say I want a chat?"
"Just go," he said.
I walked between the tables and through the door. It led into a corridor which went into the back of the restaurant and there was a door to the left with the male icon and one to the right with the female. Feeling a bit of a fool, I went into the gents. At any rate I could do with a piss so I wouldn't be standing there feeling a complete dickhead and nothing happening. A man stood at the urinal but if he looked like me, I'd really let myself go to seed. He had grey hair and wore glasses. He must have been at least sixty. The door to the only cubicle was open and there was no one inside.
The man grunted, zipped himself up and went out.
I had my piss and did the same. Where had the guy gone? The only other way for customers was the women's toilet. Could he have gone in there, and if so why? Feeling even more of a dickhead I listened at the door but could hear nothing.
Suddenly there was the sound of someone clearing his throat and I jerked upright to see a waiter coming along the passage from whatever was out the back. Again it was no one who looked like me being plump and florid with a large moustache. "Signore," he said. "Is there a problem?"
Flustered and feeling foolish, I said, "Er. I was just looking for a friend."
"Is she not feeling well?" he asked. He knocked on the door and listened. There was no answer. He tentatively opened the door and peered in. "There is no one there," he said and looked at me suspiciously.
"Sorry," I said. "I must have made a mistake."
I went back into the restaurant, angry with George. "He wasn't there," I said. "And I got caught snooping round the women's toilet."
George looked at me almost reprovingly. "I sometimes despair of you," he said. "We both saw him. He couldn't disappear into thin air."
"Apparently he changed into an old man with grey hair and glasses or a waiter with a moustache. And I'm never going to be able to come here again. Come on, Finish up. We're leaving."
After that incident, I really tried to push the idea of my doppelgänger completely out of my mind but it/he resolutely refused to go. Especially after George phoned me on the following Monday to say he'd seen him again.
He sounded a bit breathless. "About your double. No mistake at all. I met him face to face. In the High Street. Still thought he was you, so I said, 'Hi, Oliver', and he said 'Sorry I think you've got the wrong person.' Then I asked him his name. Bold! And he said, 'Nicholas'. I think he thought I was coming on to him as he got a bit shifty and went off."
I really didn't want to hear, so I said, "Thank you, George," and rang off.
As I did so I realised I'd never found out his advice as to what I was supposed to do with Simon when I saw him on Tuesday. All I remembered his saying was to get down to the car park when he arrived, which I'd intended to do anyway. George's ideas are often so brazen that I decided I didn't want to know and didn't ring him back.
Tuesday dawned fine and clear - a beautiful day and I thought this was a good omen. Also I didn't meet George as I crossed the park another good omen? Miss B was in a good mood and chatted away so that I could only keep half an eye through the window but I saw the van pull in. I interrupted her to say I'd help Simon with the books and tripped gaily down the steps. The driver's door opened and I looked in to see a stranger! A guy with greasy hair and a sneer which revealed yellowish teeth. Rather like the famous description of life in medieval times nasty, brutish and short! Halitosis and stale sweat. So much for good omens.
Where was my blond-haired god? "Where's Simon?" I asked.
The guy shrugged, clearly completely unsympathetic to my grief. "Dunno, mate," he said. "I just been told to bring the books. You giving me a hand?"
Well, after rushing down like a frenzied fanny, I could hardly turn my back and leave him in the lurch, so we manhandled the box seemed twice as heavy that morning, but I allowed him to take the returns back on his own.
Pamela wasn't showing any signs of loss at the non-appearance of her admirer, so I wondered whether she knew something about it. She was sorting some non-fiction books into Dewey decimal order - don't ask she didn't seem to know either so Miss B asked me to give her a hand.
"No Simon this morning," I said, stating the very, very obvious.
"He's got flu," she said. Clearly she had other means of communication rather than this weekly visit. My heart sank even lower into my boots. Perhaps he went out with her over the weekend.
"Oh dear," I said bravely. "Not seriously, I hope. Have you er have you seen him?"
"No, but my mother has."
"Your mother!" This was even worse than I'd imagined.
"Yes, Simon's her nephew. He's my cousin."
Joy unconfined! But then I remembered that cousins DO get together on occasions even though there's always the chance that they'll produce offspring with six fingers on each hand or two heads or something. Perhaps I'd mention the dangers next time I saw him. "He'll be back next Tuesday," I asked anxiously.
"Sure," she said. "Mum says he's got to look after me, though I don't see why. I can manage on my own quite well."
So I left her to cope with the Dewey decimal index on her own.
There was nothing I could do about Simon for the moment except wish, so I was left with thinking about Nicholas, my apparent double. I wondered about the name and why it was so familiar. Not that I'd ever known anyone called Nicholas not in real life, that is. And then it struck me. Oliver that's me; Nicholas that's him. Oliver, Nicholas Twist, Nickleby. Of course two of the most familiar characters from Dickens' fiction. Coincidence, of course, but for a pair of twins, named by a parent who loved Dickens, surely they were the sort of names that they might choose.
They might have chosen Philip, or Edwin, or Barnaby, or David, or Martin, or from a host of other names, but Oliver and Nicholas sounded like a nice pair. Or so I thought in my fever-ridden imaginings.
Free in the afternoon, to find out, I phoned my mother. Bit more of background. I'm not the best of sons, Yes, I see my parents at birthdays, theirs and mine, Christmas, sometimes at Easter, but my visits are comparatively few and far between and so, when I ring, and it's not one of the great holidays, my mother tends to panic.
"What's the matter, darling?" she said. "Are you ill?"
"No, of course I'm not," I said. "I just had a question to ask you." I paused. When it came to the crunch, it was an odd question. It might have been an embarrassing one or a painful one for her to answer. I wasn't quite sure how to express it. I should have thought about this first. My silence obviously alarmed her more.
"There's something wrong, isn't there?" she said.
"Are you fond of Dickens?"
"Not particularly. Never read any. I've seen a couple of films but never been a fan. Was that the question?"
"No. No. It's just that I wanted to know. Was I ever one of a pair of twins?" Coming out with that made me realise how gauche and stupid I sounded. Clearly it astounded my mother.
"Twins," she said. "Of course not. Whatever put that idea into your head? Are you sure you're all right. Perhaps you should come and stay here at home for a couple of weeks." She was always trying to get me back. She thought I couldn't look after myself properly. Basically she wanted me to get married or something. I'd never come out to them but I suspected they knew deep down that I was gay. Mothers always do or at least they say they do.
"Mother," I said, "I'm twenty-six. Why should I need to come and stay with you and Dad?"
"Because you're asking questions like kids do when they're eleven or so, about whether we're your real parents or if you're really the son of royalty or the local M.P., or if we had twins and then got rid of one of them. That's why."
I had to explain a suitably edited version of course but when I did, it sounded very weak and implausible, and I rang off with her sounding a little uneasy. I had to promise to go over there at the weekend for Sunday lunch.
Tuesday again. And this time, barring accidents, Simon would be arriving I'd checked with Pamela, and he'd recovered.
So here I was again, tripping lightly down the steps to the library towards that van which held my future and this time, I'd find out for sure where Simon's inclinations lay. No more shilly-shallying, no more hesitancy, no more queeny dithering. Faint heart never won fair he-male.
First though I had to check. Door open. Vision of male pulchritude, hard muscles in all the right places, blond loveliness, slight scent of vanilla after-shave.
"Simon," I said. "Good to see you've recovered. I missed you." Was this going too far? Big smile from demigod and a touch on the arm. To the back, opening the doors, crawling into the gloom where the box waited. He first presenting globes of such seduction encased in denim so that I nearly swooned. I followed so close that my nose nearly disappeared up his arse. Careful. That would be taking it too far, too fast. He sat and turned to face me. I scarcely far enough away for a hands width. His knees apart. My hand hovering over enticing bulge. Would I? Could I? Descended on warm place and knees closed so that I was entrapped. I felt the softness and then a hardening. His hands in my crotch. His lips searching for and finding mine. No time for kissing. Just rubbing and unzipping, plunging in and finding.
My sanity returned. We couldn't remain here in a van rocking to our rhythm with Miss B peering from the window.
"I've wanted to, for so long," he said.
"We can't stay here," I said. his cock hot and hard in my hand.
"I don't have to get back this afternoon," he said and I groaned with frustration, two more minutes and I knew I'd shoot.
Then Pamela's voice from outside. "You all right in there? Need some help?"
We sprang apart, forcing reluctant flesh back inside suddenly too tight trousers and zipping up with more care.
"Heavy box," said Simon as we emerged.
"You look flushed," said Pamela. "Must have been quite a struggle."
"It was," I said. "Oh it was."
Taking the box in allowed us to calm down a bit. Simon chatted to Pamela, which I didn't mind a bit because his hand was holding mine under the box.
Before he left he asked me, "Do you want to meet for lunch?"
Did I? Did I? Of course I did. And the rest of the afternoon, and the night and tomorrow and the next day and possibly for at least a month. "Sure," I said. "Will you really be hungry?"
"I'll need to get my strength up." he said.
Oh yes. Strength! Strength of that cock, that body.
"What sort of food?"
"I like Italian," he said.
"So do I."
"I'll be back at one." Closing time!
"I'll be waiting." A whisper.
"Mr Speed, are you planning on doing any work this morning?" Miss B's voice.
My plans are none of your business, Miss Bluestocking, I didn't say.
The morning crawled. While outwardly helpful to all those people who wanted the latest Minette Walters, who kept on asking who had written 'the Da Vinci Code' sorry all the copies were out I thought about lunch.
It would have to be 'Silvano's'. OK I'd said I'd never go in there again, but it did serve the best Italian food in town and probably that particular waiter might not be there. 'Silvano's it is,' I decided.
"Are you sure? I thought it was someone Brown," said the elderly lady in the blue hat.
One o'clock came eventually and Miss B opened the cage and let us out. I had to hang around outside until Pamela and Miss B went off in different directions. Then I sat on the wall of the car park and looked fetching, I hoped.
In fact I hadn't been waiting more than a couple of minutes when a winged Pegasus ridden by a Nordic demigod (OK mixed myth systems but who cares actually it was a Nissan Micra) drew up at the kerb and took me into Heaven, and then to 'Silvano's'.
I don't know what we ate because I was dining on the bluest of blue eyes, curved luscious lips, white teeth, the cutest of noses, the broadest of smiles, the music of his voice . . . Can you bear any more of this slush? OK. I'll stop, but I must tell you the ending.
We had been staring at each other for most of the meal when I suddenly noticed that his gaze shifted over my right shoulder and focused somewhere else.
"What is it?" I asked.
"Don't look now," he said, "but your double is sitting at the table behind you."
Of course I immediately whipped round to see a dark, young man who looked something like the person I usually saw staring back at me from the shaving mirror every morning. "Nicholas," I said.
Startled, he looked up.
"You know him?" asked Simon.
"I know of him," I said.
Nicholas, for obviously it was he, deserved an explanation so we invited him to our table and he sat next to me.
Simon looked from me to him and back, and then said, "He's not an exact copy. Your eyebrows are a little closer together; your nose is slightly longer."
I interrupted before he could turn me into Pinocchio telling a lie. "Is he as good looking?"
"Not quite," and I felt his hand under the table touching my knee and then crawling up the inside of my thigh.
At the same time, though, I felt a warm thigh resting against mine, pushing very gently from the side. I had heard that the other half of a doppelgänger was wicked - and this one obviously was.
"I saw you in here once before," I said. "You went out through the door over there and disappeared."
"It leads to my flat above the restaurant," he said. "Perhaps you'd like to see it." He included both of us in the invitation.
As I said, wicked!
And we were about to find out.
* * * * * *
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Date started: Thursday, March 30, 2006
Today's date: Thursday, April 6, 2006
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