NEW FICTION – The Split

A little something on the nature of celebrity, and identity.

“It is normal to give away a little of one’s life in order not to lose it all.”

Albert Camus.

“Table for one, please.”

The maitre d’ looks up from his diary at the two men standing in front of him. They are remarkably similar in appearance. Dressed in black, hair high and stiff with wax, artfully tousled. Very tall. Very pale. Almost translucent.

“For — one, sir?”

The taller of the two crooks his head.

“That’s right. My friend here won’t be staying. He just needs to use the rest room. If that’s ok.”

The maitre d’ blinks, and regards the two men for a moment. It’s a quiet night. If he had any excuse, he would have lied to them, told them they were fully booked, that a table tonight was impossible. Their stillness and composure bother him at a primal level, beyond the rational.

But the room is half-empty tonight, and the receipts for the month are down. He does not have the luxury of lizard-brain instinct when his business is wobbling over a pit.

“Of course, sir. This way.”

The two men note the placement of the table (“a little close to the kitchen, don’t you think?”) then move off to the rest room. The maitre d’ quickly clears one place setting, and watches them as they walk away. They were disturbingly alike, yet each carried themselves in a completely different way. Side by side, they were easy to tell apart. Yet if one were to choose to impersonate the other, who could tell what mischief could be done?

It would end in tears, the maitre d’ thinks. These two gentlemen are involved in games that can only end in tears.

The wash room is empty. The two men take up position, and for a minute there is only the sound of water on porcelain.

“Have you thought what you’re going to do yet?” They stand at attention, facing the tiled wall ahead, not looking at each other as they speak.

“No. I thought something simple. Pasta, maybe. She likes pasta.”

“Mmm. Simple. Good. A couple of bottles of red, though. You know how she drinks when she’s upset.”

“Yes. Yes, I do.”

The taller man lets a puff of air out through his nose, a huff of something that could have been amusement.

“Have you thought what you’re going to say yet?”

“The usual. It’s not her, it’s me. I can’t be the man that she wants. I thought I might make up an affair.”

“Well, do what you must. Try not to be too cruel. I do still think highly of her.”

The other one looks over now, his grey eyes calm, analytical. “But not highly enough that you’ll do this yourself.”

“No. No, I suppose you’re right.”

They finish and zip up at the same time. The other one quickly washes his hands, then steps to the door. “Well, then. I’ll be off.”

“Good luck.”

The other one looks quizzically at his companion. “The key?”

“Oh. Yes. Of course.” He digs in his pocket, tosses over a single Yale, unadorned by any kind of key chain. “Will you be long, do you think?”

“I’ll be done by the time you’re onto coffee. See you soon.”

He nods, and the other one leaves. He moves to the sink, and begins to slowly wash his hands.

Behind him, a cubicle flushes, and a short, dark man in a good suit comes out. He takes a place at the next sink. He glances over. Then again, a comedy double-take. He struggles for a moment with an inner dilemma, and comes to a conclusion.

“Excuse me,” he says. “I hope you don’t mind, this is a bit of an awkward place but — you’re Calum Fry, aren’t you?”

He allows his shoulders to droop for a moment, then straightens, and fixes the stranger with a cool, grey gaze.

“Yes, that’s right. Hello.”

“Oh. Wow. Erm, hello. I’m a fan, well, my wife, she’s a really big fan, and, well, blimey, wait till I tell her who I met in the bogs!”

“It’ll be quite a story.”

The stranger brays out an abrupt laugh. Then something comes to him, and the smile drops away.

“Wait a minute, though. Aren’t you playing tonight? In Hammersmith? That’s a bit of a bus ride from here, Calum.”

“Yes, it is. So it’s just as well I went on ten minutes ago.”

Silence, as the little stranger soaks up the meaning.

“Then that guy you were talking to, sorry, I didn’t mean to listen, but I couldn’t really help it…”

“Is a split, yes. I have two. For busy moments in the schedule.”

“Oh.” A quiet, wondering sound. “I know a lot of the celebs have them now, keep the paps off their back, means they can do loads of parties, but I never thought someone like you…”

“You’d be surprised.”

“Right. Yeah, I think I am. Calum, I hope you don’t mind — is it expensive?”

“Very.”

“Does it hurt?”

And Calum Fry looks at the reflection in the mirror, and has to think before he can reply.

“Hard to tell yet.”

And he flicks his cold, grey gaze onto the smaller man, who flinches back at its coldness. At its inhumanity.

“Right, well, nice to meet you, I won’t take up any more of your time, good luck tonight! With erm, everything.”

And he’s backing away even as he says that, and he’s almost running as he goes through the washroom door.

Calum Fry turns back to the sink. With a soapy finger, he draws a circle on the mirror. Then another, intersecting it shallowly. Then a third, forming a kind of loose inverted triangle. He looks at the tiny rounded section in the middle. The fraction that was untouched, unsullied.

Festival season was coming up, and he was booked so solidly that his management were talking about a fourth split. Another circle, and the bit in the middle gets smaller.

Somewhere under a bridge, Calum gently plucks a guitar and sings a song about a girl he used to know. Somewhere near a park, Calum stirs a pot of simmering farfalle while a girl sips wine and chatters about her day. He waits for the right moment to interrupt her.

In a restaurant, Calum looks at the three dots tattooed onto the web between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand, and tries to remember whether that means he is the original or not.

And he finds he can no longer look into the mirror, for the face that he finds there is not one that he properly recognises.

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Published by

Rob

Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

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