Unfamiliar

The roads and sidewalks glittered in the morning mist from a storm that had drenched the city the night before. Natalie peered out her car window at the overcast sky on her way to work and decided to stay late at the office that night. The forecast called for more wind and rain in intermittent bursts over the next few days. A nice run or stroll in the early evening was out of the question, and she needed to get ahead on a few projects, anyway.

She stopped at a red light in the downtown area and watched people hurry through the crosswalks on their way to work. Suddenly, a woman who looked exactly like her pierced through the mist and passed directly in front of her. The woman was dressed in what looked like Natalie’s favorite outfit, the one Natalie wore only for special business occasions—dark skinny jeans, a purple sleeveless shirt with ruffles down the front, a black blazer, and heels. The woman reached the sidewalk and disappeared into the crowd. Natalie tried to dismiss this strange distraction and shifted her focus to the first project she would tackle when she got to work.

A few days later, Natalie and her boyfriend Roger were out for dinner at The Guest, an Art Deco restaurant in the heart of the city. Roger spent most of the conversation describing the darkroom he had built in his basement and the black and white nature photos he was developing. Natalie stifled a yawn, tapped her fingers on the table to the Billie Holiday song playing in the background, and peered around a tall-standing floor plant to see if anyone she knew was sitting at the bar. Directly under a large picture of Albert Camus smoking a cigarette sat the woman Natalie had seen in the crosswalk just a few days earlier, the one who looked exactly like her. The woman signed her bill, finished her martini, and peered over at Natalie. Then she stood up and began walking toward the door.

Natalie shook Roger’s wrist and said, “Hey, look quick. Look at that woman over there,” but it was too late. She had already left. Natalie hopped out of her chair and hurried outside. By the time she reached the sidewalk, the woman was gone. Natalie strolled to the bar where the woman had been sitting and studied the empty martini glass still sitting on the counter. It smelled of mango. Chocolate cherry lipstick stained the rim. Natalie had been drinking a mango martini and wearing chocolate cherry lipstick the night she met Roger. The bartender stared at Natalie. She hurried back to the table and told Roger, “Never mind. Let’s go home.”

Over the next few weeks, the woman continued to make herself present in Natalie’s life although she always remained just out of reach, to the point where Natalie gave up on trying to pursue her. One day, Natalie visited a Warhol exhibit at a local museum. As she was leaving, she gazed at the park across the street. Once again, she saw the woman, who this time was wearing jean shorts, a bright flowy tank top, and flip-flops, the casual clothes Natalie wore when she was younger. The woman was throwing a Frisbee to a Golden Retriever that reminded Natalie of her old dog Pacifica, who had been killed in a car accident a few years earlier. Natalie’s face flushed, and she began to tremble. She left as quickly as possible, before the tears came.

On the morning after Memorial Day, Natalie walked through the revolving doors of her bank and onto the sidewalk and found herself face-to-face with her identical other, who studied Natalie’s shocked expression. A construction worker was jackhammering parts of the sidewalk just a half a block away, and police sirens screamed in the distance. The woman ran the back of her hand gently down the side of Natalie’s face and smiled. She began speaking, but Natalie couldn’t hear her in the middle of all the noise. Finally, the jackhammer stopped, and Natalie caught the remainder of the woman’s conversation in mid-sentence: “. . . but no one planned it this way. Who knows what you’ll do next? We’ll take a trip together soon. You choose the itinerary. We’ll tell everyone we’re twins. Goodbye for now, Natalie. I love you.” Then she merged into the crowd and disappeared.

That night, Natalie stared at herself in the bathroom mirror, wondering when she would see the woman again. She wanted to hold her in her arms and just feel the warmth of a kindred spirit, no questions asked. She needed to feel less alone.

Photo By: L.A. Times