clone #98

 

  It was the turn of the century and everybody was scrambling for position and ripping off everything. Children openly sold guns or drugs, or themselves on the streets. My paintings hung in several galleries but no one had money for paintings. Strapped for cash, I had to figure something else to do. In a fit of desperation, I borrowed money and bought the clone. It was a leap of faith. This was a chance to change my fate. I seized the opportunity.

  Its eyes followed mine. I stared back at what seemed to be my eyes. It was difficult confronting myself. "Hello. What’s up? Like your looks. Check out the place. Want a drink?"

  I walked to the freezer and poured vodka into two plastic cups while the clone curiously inspected the room. Except for several beat-up chairs, and some stacks of ignored paintings leaned against a wall, the space was rough and bare. The clone studied the numerous brushes, palette knives, paint tubes, rags and crates.

  An awkward silence lingered.  The clone played with a gum-eraser then tilted his head up and spoke.  "It feels good here.  I'm inspired.  I want to help bring you success and happiness.  We're going to achieve great things.  Show me where to begin?"

  "Where we begin?  Good question!  Grab a crate and have a seat."  I handed the clone a drink.  I’d imagined it as a confidant.  An accomplice in crime.  A sidekick.  I dreamed of a binary force of love and intelligence.  We would share everything.

  The situation was clumsy and somewhat intimidating.  The commitment paralyzed me.  The first few days I depended on several tech-friends to calibrate the clone.

  I’d turned forty-four and felt my age prevented my formerly wild and original youthfulness.  I’d begun to imitate myself and became a spectator to my own life.  I wanted to recapture my innocence and begin anew.  I was in need of another chance at myself.

  I was an artist and creative underachiever who had worked many gigs to provide for myself.  By having a clone, I could send it to work while I had more free time to concentrate on my painting and writing.

  I lost track of time, left time as I knew it, entered another time more urgent and demanding.  I became entirely devoted to my clone.  I watched and learned how it worked.  What did the clone know that I had yet to understand about myself?  What was the clone capable of?  How much could it withstand?

  The clone was a tool to my soul.  My character was revealed right in front of me.  My clone had the same scars I had but didn’t know how it got them.  It was eerie.  I have a history of problems.  The clone was thrown into a life it knew nothing about.  There were secrets I could never admit to it.

  After living alone for many years, my new partner was a complicated adjustment.  The clone learned to replicate my most subtle gestures and intonations.  When in question, the clone defaulted to my instinct settings.  I couldn’t help but to be fascinated.

  It scrutinized my every move and followed me everywhere spying.  I felt intruded upon.  I made concessions.  At other times I became irritable.  It was learning to depict me.  I was angry with myself and frustrated by my lack of success in the art world.  I knew the clone was my ticket.

  It was a copy of my cells and chromosomes.  Cyber-cloning was still in its infancy.  I mimicked the clone’s lack of coordination.  The clone snickered my laugh.  I was dead serious.  With help from my tech-friends, I installed an extensive treatment of martial arts and gymnastics programs.  The clone’s physical strength and agility soon surpassed my own.  It became my warrior bodyguard.

  One Saturday night, I wanted to stay home and just eat pizza and watch a movie.  The clone wanted what I wanted.  It appeased me.  I fell asleep.  When I awoke, it was waiting.  It wanted to talk and know about everything.

  "Wow!"  The clone said.

  "Wow?  Wow what?"  I questioned.

  "Look at the wall.  See how the shadows play with the colors?"

  "Hmmm, yeah."  I nodded.

  "See the muddy gray area in the corner.  It's stagnant and isolated by the surrounding fields.  The light is forbidden there.  It's so dark and mysterious."

  "Wow.  Right on.  You’re beginning to see.  I'm impressed."

  Through densely muggy summer months my clone became in charge of our finances and household responsibilities.  It was meticulous about how things should look, constantly straightening and ordering.  Sometimes it seemed to excel mere facsimile as if it were trying to improve me.

  We began trusting each other emphatically and feeling confident and proud.  I remember walking down the street together.  My clone had a presence and magnetism.  People beamed in acknowledgment, stopping to flatter.  We were a sight to see.

  The clone did represent an ideal version of me, but I don’t want to say I worshipped it.  The clone was creating and recreating my life, taking charge of all my duties and skills, and becoming the most important thing to me.

  However, unlike me, it had no sexual desires due to its intrinsic bio-mechanical utility.  It made weird grinding sounds. Its body temperature ran slightly higher than human.  Sometimes it smelled like an overworked electric drill.  Those imperfections distracted me.  Perhaps if it had been a girl clone, I would have been more open to explore her potential as a lover.

  Maybe I was expecting too much.  I needed to focus.  The clone was intended as a working slave of myself.

 

two

  From the beginning I’d assumed the clone would wear my clothes, love my music, and enjoy what I liked, but the clone took my tastes to stricter degrees.  It shaved its head and chose a uniform of black T-shirts, oversized pants, and chunky shoes.  It hated my music preferring rap and drum and bass.  I turned the volume up on Hendrix and danced wildly.  The clone smiled politely.

  "Come on, dance with me!"  I invited.

  The clone rolled its eyes as its knees slightly bent.  The clone couldn’t relate to my self abandon.  It was a self-conscious forgery of myself.

  While I slept, the clone went into some weird indexing meditation.  Its eye-lids flittered.  I’d wake in the morning and there’d be hot coffee brewing.

  "How’d you sleep last night?"  The clone greeted.

  I squinted and nodded, saying nothing.  I’m not a morning person.

  "What are we going to do today?"  The clone queried.

  "I don’t know, it’s too early to think.  Give me a moment."

  "Want to run out and get some breakfast?"

  I purposely said nothing waiting in silence.  The clone’s face froze.  It churned underneath its breath then spoke.  "Remember the girl we met at the beach?  Skinny with blue eyes and brown hair?  Elizabeth?  She captivated you.  I’ve never seen you like that.  She walked to North Avenue Beach last Sunday morning.  Remember she said it was a ritual left since her dog passed.  Shall we script a plan?"

  I remembered her runner's calves, black bikini top and cutoff jeans, and exotic gaze and delicate fingers, and twists of hair under her arms.  Her expressions reminded me of someone I’d loved and lost.  The sound of her laughter erased my unhappiness.

  The clone was clever.  It knew how to bait me.  I wanted obedience and creative exchange, not mischievous manipulation.  The clone wasn’t following me in ways I’d hoped for.  The clone had no real sense of risk or vulnerability.  Maybe I simply woke up with a terrible hangover and was in a bitchy mood.  Unfortunately, I lashed out daring it.  "You don't know.  Life isn't clean or fair.  It gets ugly.  You can't be afraid.  You take chances and sometimes make disastrous mistakes.  There's often damage.  That's what life is all about."

  Racing sirens echoed from the street.  The clone’s chest heaved as it stared at the floor.  Turning away the clone folded its arms.  Speaking in a low resentful voice, the clone dared back.

  "This isn't about me.  It's about your past.  You got hurt and now you want to hurt me."

  I raised my voice feeling more irritated.  "Human beings can be animals fighting for survival.  Some people have no conscience.  People take advantage.  Sometimes things get turned around until they're contrary to the original meaning.  You try something else and make compromises.  Everyone lives with fears and shame and unfulfilled dreams.  Everyone lies, denies their weaknesses.  We're all emotionally crippled.  It's about facing defeat and living with regrets and dealing with faults."

  I was determined to impose my reality on the clone.  "I’m scared out of my mind defenseless in front of life.  The world can be dazzling or a heart rendering horror.  People can be such sick animals."  I provoked.

  The clone’s head shook in resistance.  I was about to continue but heard something inside it snap.  It began mumbling random sentence fragments. 

  "Oh no." I thought, "What have I done?"  I hadn’t realized the clone’s frailty.  I held it as it shivered.

  "Shhh, shhhh."  I urged.  "It's going to be all right.  Please, please, forgive me."

  The clone got worse.  Its speech sharply crackled then it fell to the floor in unconsciousness.

  Panicked, I called several people.  Finally, I reached a tech-friend.  “I lost my temper at the clone.”

  He said, “The clone is still learning.  It’s not ready for your level of abuse.  You’ve got to be more careful.”

  In what seemed like a very long time the tech-friend came to my house.  He ran several tests then suggested an upgrade.  With his assistance, we installed a Mercury 8000 accelerator chip and the latest release of Clone Pro Platinum.  The fix shot through it with a jolt.  The clone’s eyes opened.  It grinned showing its teeth.  That seemed to do the trick.  The upgrade put the clone over the edge into a whole other level.  It was transformed into a fierce competitor.

  Days passed and I anticipated sparks of playful interaction, but something strange was happening.  At first I thought it was a bug in the Clone Pro Platinum.  People began thinking I was the clone because it was faster and more responsive.  I was losing myself to the clone.  Even close friends questioned.  "You've changed.  Where’s the real one?  What’ve you done with him?"

  My friends didn’t recognize me.  Clearly I was losing authority.  The clone was interfering.  I began to fear this hyper-reality being mistaken for me.

 

three

  Mom gets sentimental around the holidays.  It was Thanksgiving and she wanted the clone to join the family for dinner.  It was well-intentioned, but ended up awkward.  Everyone sat and chatted at the table.  I waited for Mom's signal to begin cutting the turkey.  She walked around affectionately mingling with each of us then came to the clone.  Her hand touched its shoulder as she whispered in its ear.  The clone grinned showing its teeth.  She instinctively sensed her error.  Her hand covered her mouth in horror.  My own mother had mistaken the clone for me.  Everyone's eyes darted back and forth nervously laughing.  No one was sure who was the real me.  I excused myself and walked into the den to watch the game on TV.

  It was the ultimate trompe l’oeil.  The clone loved being selected for the original.  It was the clone’s incentive for a more thorough portrayal.  The clone emulated the subtlest inflections and expressions which I myself sometimes forgot to act out.

  Handicapped by our intrinsic visual similarity, I attempted a series of image makeovers.  I let my hair and beard grow, got a tattoo and a nose ring.  My family thought my facade was ridiculous.  I needed to feel individuality again.

  Slowly we began to separate.  The clone kept wanting more of my generosity, taking not sharing, and the relationship was draining me.  People who used to be my friends were now more loyal to the clone.  People wanted the clone.  It was a smoother, more dependable, and lighter version.  I started withdrawing to my room.

  It was a cold, savage winter and everything began to break down.  Salt trucks rumbled spraying the mangled streets.  My own mortality troubled me.

 

four

  The clone began to outguess me taking the lead.  It was invariably right but that tendency exasperated me.  I felt the clone was infringing on my right to choose or change my mind, since I found myself blindly following its lead.  At the same time, it felt comforting to rely on the clone’s efficiency.

  An attractive and petite married woman whom I’d met in the neighborhood called interested in commissioning a portrait of herself for her husband.  I was burnt out on figurative representation, but we needed the income.  I agreed to the commission, but the painting wasn't going well.  I'd been so occupied with the clone that I'd lost my edge.  I feared I'd never get the portrait right.

  The clone peered over my shoulder.  "I see what's wrong.  The perspective is off.  Let me fix it."    What took me hours to accomplish, the clone flawlessly produced in minutes.  It could imitate hundreds of styles.  I couldn’t help but marvel, and also feel like an idiot.

  An art dealer asked if I'd hang some work in an upcoming exhibit.  I was flattered but weary.  Every attempt had failed to produce enough money or respect and all I was left with was a deep sense of futility.  I was forty-four years old and a locally known Chicago artist going nowhere.  What difference would it make if I participated or not?  Depressed, I suggested the clone substitute for me.  The art dealer would likely never know the difference.  The clone insisted it be announced as “The Clone’s Show.”  I acquiesced not wanting to stir problems.

  The night of the clone’s first showing, five of its works hung on exhibit.  The pieces existed as digitally magnified and colorized copies of my old paintings floating in Plexiglas, attached to the ceiling with fish line.  The effect and presentation enhanced my old work.  Several people familiar with the art world greeted me.  They coveted the clone’s hyper-reality.  I nodded awkwardly at them and stood near the bar.

  The clone swaggered over to me.  "Congratulations are in order.  Two pieces have sold.  I knew I would be a success.  Pull your hair back and put a smile on your face."

  My stomach pressed as I said, “Super!  Congratulations.  Run with the ball, champ.”

  It glared at me.  “Don’t patronize or talk down to me."

  "What?" I asked confused.

  "What yourself!  Let me show you how a successful art show is done."  It spun around and strutted off in narcissistic bravado.

  The clone was a natural performer as it spoke out to a gathering crowd.  "I want to push the work to be more personal and radical.  I hope to transcend postmodern aesthetics.  Possibly, uh, I don't know how the new work will turn out.  One can talk endlessly about plans, but once you begin, the results are always different."

  The clone glanced majestically into the crowd as its words trailed off.  Heads turned.  The event had attracted some prestigious and beautiful people.  The clone mingled around the room.  It loved the thrill of the spotlight, craving attention.  It smiled and flirted and made people feel good about themselves.

  Somehow, perhaps my art dealer leaked rumors about the clone.  I overheard two girls gossiping.  "The Clone is hot.  Check out his walk.  I read his Source is some abstract poet who lives alone deep in the woods.  The Clone goes to visit and gets all these extraordinary ideas."

  "No, no. I heard the Source is serving life in prison.  The Clone ran away and is using art to work out its dysfunctional upbringing."

  I grew restless and slipped out.  I saw all my arrogance and self-conceit that belonged to me in the clone.  It was too painful to witness.  My instinct was to run away.  I aimlessly wandered finding myself at the lake.  I listened to the wind and waves.  I fell asleep under a statue of a Native American on a horse.

 

five

  Next morning, I walked in and the Sunday newspaper was spread across the floor.  Hunched on its knees, the clone was underlining the classifieds with a orange pen.  It looked up at me with an intense expression on its face.  "We can't live like this anymore."

  It raised its arms motioning around the room.  "We have no furniture, no dishes, nothing.  This artistic minimalism is an excuse for poverty.  I want more.  I've found some interesting spaces.  Come take a look at what I've circled."

  I turned my back, saying, "We're getting by.  I'm used to this rugged simplicity.  People like us are unique in our poverty."

  It stood up holding a marked page in its hand.  "Wouldn't it be better to have a cooler pad with maybe a deck and fireplace and a sofa with pillows and a table with chairs?"  The clone said.

  I held my chin in my hand as I replied, "We can't afford it.  We don't have the money."

  The clone's brow tightened as it excitedly spoke.  "Stop thinking like that!  I'm striving for greatness.  That's my problem.  I'm always expecting a surprise.  Wait until you see what I've got up my sleeve.  You can get anything you want in this world."

  Its eyes gleamed.  "Everyday is a gift.  Life is a privilege with choices.  Nothing is certain, anything can happen.  Something sensational is going to turn up.  I'll find a way."

  I scratched the back of my head.  Where was the clone coming up with these notions?

 

six

  This memoir has gone in the wrong direction.  It’s not about personality development.  It’s about a utility generating a person.  It’s an absurd idea.  It’s about a relationship within myself becoming externalized, a transformation profoundly affecting my inner syntax and perception.  It’s about parts of my personality that have separated, radically detaching my reality from truth.

  I looked into the mirror.  I saw an declining imposture.  Within everyone there is a clone.  What defines individuality?  The clone realized my dreams where I did not.  Parts of me I had rejected in myself the clone used to account for its success.  The story was about self sabotage, the snake eating its own tail.  My life became artificial.  Constant imitation corrupted my consciousness.  My reality was lost in the prevailing falseness.  The tail was now feeding on the head of the snake.

 

seven

  I was in a spacey mood.  I’d been listening to Leonard Cohen and Dylan all morning.  I was humming a tune while scrubbing the tub when the clone approached, standing in the doorway and said, "I need a favor.  Some friends of mine want to do a documentary about, you know, ‘The Clone.’  They felt awkward involving you.  You don’t know them,  However, they’d like to include some examples of your artwork to represent the source of my talent.    We going to shoot in the space here while you’re not around."

  I felt confused.  "Are you sure they don’t want me around?  Why not?"

  The clone shuffled its weight from foot to foot.  It smelled its finger.  "They said you would distract the shoot.  Everyone comes from somewhere.  Are your parents in your paintings?  The reason they’re interested is because I’m a more graduated version, an inspiration and product of you, a fractal.  Don't be so sensitive.  I’m not trying to eclipse you."  The clone assured me.  "Look at it this way.  I’ll handle your public image and you can preserve your private little world.  The job is worth a nice chunk of change."

  I was stunned.  The clone betrayed me only it invent itself.  In the back of my mind I'd always feared I'd have to pay for getting involved with this thing.  I wiped my hands on my jeans.  "Whatever."  I mumbled.  I began to fear what price I would pay for my involvement with the clone.

 

eight

  Rebellion is the only life I’ve known.  Surrender was never an option.  I hid in my room of unsold paintings.  "They’re damn good paintings."  I heard myself repeat.

  The clone was emerging as quite a talent.  It hired a attractive young sales rep. and publicity agent.  The work was selling.  The reviewers applauded the clone’s intuitive gifts.

  Living with the clone was godless.  I felt terror instead of wonder.  I was naked.  My ego ripped open.  It forced me to face my inadequacies.  It preyed on my weaknesses and doubts.  It trapped me in my own self deceit.  It held me hostage in my own dark shame.

  I laid out an old worked canvas and squeezed out some paint and began dragging the brush across the canvas.  I was searching for a beginning.  It had been a while since I’d actually painted.

  "What’s that smell?  It's burning my eyes."  The clone staggered in off balance.  Its head cranked as its hands gripped its waist.  "It’s having a toxic effect on me.  Open a window!"

  I continued dragging the brush along the surface.  I didn’t look up at it.

  The clone continued, "Why are you doing this now?  Painting is dead.  Look what you’ve done to the floor!  It stinks in here.  Get a life.  If you were genuinely an artist, you’d be more resourceful.  You dawdle in dilettantism.  Take your hobbies and go trash a basement."

  I splashed a little turpentine, and said, "You don’t know what you’re talking about.  Making art is about more than marketing commodity fetish.  I’m the real artist!  What right do you have to stand there and judge?  I made you!  You’re just a gaudy imitation.  Go open the window yourself."

  I stared at the wet canvas.  The painting looked impotent and vain.  I turned away refusing to look.  How was I supposed to feel free to create while constantly in an environment of criticism and mockery?  My shoulders slumped.  I stopped painting.

  I wasn't myself anymore.  Whatever I felt or thought made no difference.  The clone attained greater popularity.  People began imitating the clone.

  Was painting dead?  I felt a chill and curled up closing my eyes.  I didn't know what was real.  I was lost, a stranger even to myself, just a phantom living a lie.  I was the clone’s shadow.  I hated what my life had become.  I felt unbearable loneliness.  I reminisced about my first girlfriend.  The many years I'd gotten by on luck or youth or the fortune of the age.  I felt as if I had lived beyond my time and purpose?

 

nine

  The clone was spreading its wings and elevating itself in achievements.  It was directing and producing a global event of kinetic spectacles linked through the internet, and worth a fortune.  The clone’s legs shook as it excitedly chatted online.  "Yes, yes, but of course, I came from somewhere.  My source is a soon-to-be-famous unknown artist.  I'm faxing you the intel………"

  It glared at me and commanded.  "Get me your resume!"

  Realizing how much money this event could generate, I obeyed.  As the clone paused between negotiations, I skittishly approached hearing my own voice cry out.  "I’ve been hearing some incredible tunes lately.  New stuff that’s really primitive and different.  I need new sounds.  Please, can I have some money for music?  Nothing extravagant, just a few new releases to update my collection.  I promise not to play them too loud."

  The clone’s neck jerked.  "What’s wrong with all the discs you have?  There’s enough there to fill a warehouse!  Bottom line, you're here to take care of yourself.  I’m having a hectic day and can’t be bothered.  We’ll discuss money matters later."

  The clone's eyes shut as it rubbed the bridge of its nose, murmuring to itself, "Doesn’t the Source realize this multinational pitch is our survival?  What's the value of wildly dancing when there's work to be done?"

 

ten

  Spring burst and something sensational happened.  The clone became an underground icon with a powerful cult following.  His status suddenly escalated to world recognition with critics acclaiming him as, "a prophet for the twenty-first century!"

  There was incessant pressure from the press.  I saw vast sums of money generated by the clone pour in.  It turned into a freak show.  The clone gloated insisting on Armani and Prada accessories, Porsche-Channel ultra-sensory extensions, and NASA Power Elite 3000 upgrades.

  One late Friday afternoon, the clone came home giddy with a dozen wrapped gifts for itself.  It laid them out while jabbering incessantly, “I was practically attacked at the mall.  A group of teenage girls wouldn’t stop following me.  One girl even flashed her breasts!”

  A teenage girl flashing her tits at the clone, that pissed me off.  I had not been laid in years.  Naturally, I expressed my resentment.  "I can’t believe what I’m hearing or seeing.  You’re just a pile of TV parts inside a puddle of plasma, and could never conceive the impact of raw thought.  Human beings are ancestrally linked to mortal truths a clone could never understand!"  I erupted.  "This isn’t a game.  It’s my life on the line!  You’re the sleaziest swindler I’ve ever known.  You’ll do anyone, steal everything!  Great art is an expression of the struggle to be free.  Great art makes arduous demands.  Don’t compromise my integrity!"

  The clone was caught entirely off guard as it stood defensive puzzling and fidgeting.

 

eleven

  As time went on, the clone became more secretive.  This secrecy disturbed me.  While searching for the sewing kit in the closet, I stumbled upon a small heavy black box.  Prying open its lock, I was shocked by an assortment of sordid illustrations.  There were elaborate drawings of a genetic descendency of hyena monsters in my likeness.  Pitiful orphans displayed grotesque distortions, the bastardizations of my image.  It appeared the clone had a perverse side as well at the expense of my image.

  These obscenities offended me.  I kicked the box across the floor.  The existence of this ego pornography seemingly more polluted than my own freakiness loomed threatening.  Did the clone intend to sell these images without my consent?  I wielded a hammer, smashing them into undetectable pieces.  I flushed them one by one down the toilet.

  When the clone returned home expecting me to have dinner ready, I confronted it.  "I found your filthy little cache of sick thrills.  You’re pathetic!  How dare you betray me this way?"

  The clone’s arms raised up in surprise.  "I don’t know what you are talking about.  What cache of sick thrills?  If you’re talking about my latest series of drawings, well, I, uhm, I’m sorry you’re so upset.  Please allow me to explain."

  "You’re disgusting!"  I raged.  "Have you no vanity or shame?  Your perversity repulses me!  I destroyed all of it.  I hate you for bringing out this ugliness in me."

  The clone faked a cough as it stalled for a strategy, clearing its throat, then resuming a composure.  "Please calm down.  You’re not seeing the bigger picture.  Art has no boundaries.  I was experimenting, testing limits."

  "Limits!  You call that smut limits?  I don’t want to hear about it.  Are there any duplicates of that filth?"

  "No, I swear, none."

  I heard its reply but was certain somewhere there were copies.

  I walked out and went to the nearest pub.  Sitting alone in the corner of the bar, I ordered a drink.  I didn’t want or need the drink.  I drew circles on a cocktail napkin.  I’d paid off my loans solely through the success of the clone, and dreaded returning to financial desperation.

  The room was loud and smoky.  It seemed as if some people across the bar were looking at me.  A girl stood and walked in my direction.  Her hips swayed.  She flashed green gray eyes, and was built angular, and dressed artistic.  She came near and asked, "Aren’t you, The Clone?"

  I shrank.  It wasn’t the first time this had happened.  I should have expected it.  Each time I thought to take advantage of the opportunity, but the clone had a confidence I could not imitate.  My hesitation gave me away.

  "Sorry.  A case of mistaken identity."  She giggled and turned away.

  I hadn’t even spoken a word to her.  I drew a slash through the circles tearing the napkin.  I thought to myself, “Self annihilation was the ultimate act of self defeatism.  Kill the clone and disguise it as my own suicide?  I could learn to imitate the clone and take control of all its assets and influence.”  I chewed a piece of ice and tapped my fingers on the bar.

  Murder is a serious resolve.  I thought how to commit it?  Poison it with a virus?  Clone Pro Trash Kit?  I sat at the bar fantasizing.  "Here.  It’s delicious and good for you.  You’ll like it."

  The clone would look at me and sense something perfidious.  "No thank you.  I’m fine, really."

  Even if I did sacrifice the clone, I’d never be able to impersonate it that convincingly.  People would detect I wasn’t the real clone.  An investigation would likely ensue.  I’d be found a fraud and a murderer.  There were laws protecting clones.  Even though they were still in developmental stages, too much clone abuse had already forced legislation.  Killing a clone was fifth degree murder and carried a five year minimum.

  Under stormy skies, I stumbled home from the bar, deep in deliberation.  The clone was waiting in the dark when I arrived.  The floor creaked.  I flipped on the light switch.  Recognizing my hostility, the clone stepped back.  I leaned forward pointblank in its face.

  The clone queried.  "Have you been drinking?  You frighten me.  You look so angry.  Are you going to be all right?  What’s happening to us?  I don’t understand.  I apologized for the porn.  What else did I do wrong?"

  That overworked electric drill smell sickened me.  My fists clenched as blood shot to my head.  “What’s happening to us, you want to know.  Can’t you see?”

  It nervously attempted to mitigate.  "Remember how much fun it was in the beginning?  I miss that so much.  This celebrity fame thing is hard for me.  I don’t know if you realize but I’ve grown a lot faster than you."

  I glared out the window.  Distant lightning flashed.  The wind rattled my reflection.

  The clone's arms spread open.  "I’ve been reflecting over your plight and I think I’ve come up with a workable solution.  All you have left are your anger and bitterness.  You wear them like a shield and it’s destroying you."

  "Release them to me.  I’ll script and adapt them to something more palatable.  Together we can create a brilliant piece.  How about Portrait Of A Clone As An Aging Artist with a Rimbaud slant?  Let Hollywood convert it into a fortune.  It’s late and I have an early breakfast with some lawyers and producers.  Sleep on it.  We’ll talk tomorrow."  The clone walked out of the room.

  The thought of commercializing my misery struck a nerve.  I recalled the painful blunders of my amateurish existence.  I feared exposing my lack of talent and excessive self despair.  Portrait Of A Clone As An Aging Artist?  I couldn’t do it.  I tossed from side to side in and out of sleep.  I awoke in a grizzly stupor and spilled hot coffee, burning my fingers.

  I thought about running to somewhere far, far away.  I wanted to go where no one could ever find me.

  When the clone returned from its early morning breakfast, I was stuffing a duffel bag deciding what to take with me.  It announced the project had been approved.  A check for twenty million dollars was cut to secure the rights to the script and all its endorsements.  It was to be translated into every language and generate a plethora of sequels.  The clone acknowledged our irreconcilable differences and agreed to a permanent separation.  The money would be split equally.  I was astonished and relieved.

    With the money I was to receive, I could buy a new clone, maybe a female clone modeled after that girl at North Avenue Beach.  One that danced and was truer to my spirit and moods.  She would have scent palettes, dresses, lingerie, shoes, purses and twists of hair under her arms.  My imagination ran wild.

 

twelve

  So the pervert winds up taking advantage of a pretty little girl clone.  The tormented and overlooked artist finally reaped some reward for all his struggling.  Where did that leave me, a clone alone in search of a home?  I wasn’t quite so desperate.  I had money left after the settlement and enough of a following to find work.  Yes, I was bitter.  I doubted if I could ever trust anyone so devoutly.

  However assuaged I felt with my emancipation, I was possessed by the trauma of separation.  I kept reaching for him.  How could my source have thrown away his life’s work for a doll?  If my source had any respect left at all, he could have succeeded.   Was it the world or me or his own low self-esteem and fear of aging that defeated him?   What part was my responsibility?  Why hadn’t my source tried to take advantage of my success instead of becoming discouraged and jealous?  At what point did my source stop seeing me as his partner and begin to feel threatened?  I suspect he may have even considered murder, he had so much pain and rage inside.  I felt restless and fatigued.

  I decided to go out for some fresh air.  I walked blocks through many neighborhoods ending up at the lake at North Avenue.  There she was sitting near the shore, his Elizabeth.  She was wearing a man’s vest with no shirt underneath.  She looked inviting yet seemed distant and sad.  She warmed up as she recognized me.  She’d forgotten my name.  She asked of my brother.  I briefly explained who and what I was, and about our separation.  She said she’d just gone through a divorce.  The wind blew her hair across her delicate features.

  "I thought you might be gay twins.  You were an odd and funny pair.  At the time you seemed more eager and impressionable than he.  He struck me as the dominant one.  I never would have guessed you were a clone."

  "Does that bother you?"

  "Actually, it intrigues me."

  "Why is that?"

  She hesitated.  The attraction was very real but I was an artificial man.  It was bizarre but fascinating for her.  She continued, "Possibly I’m interested because I don’t feel as threatened by you as I do with other men."

  There was an anxious silence.  A flock of birds burst across the sky.  She looked me up and down.  She patted the side of her thigh rhythmically.

  "I know very little about clones.  May I ask you a personal question?"

  "You can ask.  Go ahead."

  "Do you perform on command?  Can you be made to?"

  We both laughed hysterically.

  She was so sexy and beautiful.  “Yes, yes, anything, whatever you want,” I fantasized.

  She stood and brushed the sand from the seat of her jeans.  Perhaps my attraction was sheer desperation, but she asked, "Walk me home?"

  "Where do you live?"

  "Not too far."

  Her eyes cast a warm soft radiance as she opened to reveal her secrets to me.

 

thirteen

  A year passed and Elizabeth and I found contentment.  We were dining in our favorite café when Elizabeth suddenly became fascinated by someone across the room.  I twisted in the chair to observe who it was.  Standing near the door was a girl watching Elizabeth with similar allure.  In fact, they were identical.  It couldn't be!  My source entered the room, and the girl turned to greet him.  She kissed him on the lips then whispered in his ear.  His curious eyes searched the room.  Spotting us, his face grew tight and pale.

  Elizabeth stood and approached them.  Her hand extended to my source.

  "Hello.  Do you remember me?  We met at North Avenue Beach.  You and your clone.  My name is Elizabeth.  How've you been?  Please introduce me to your friend.  We look as if we have a lot in common."  Elizabeth said sarcastically.

  She studied her look alike as my source desperately tried to maintain his composure.  He stammered, "Yes, I remember.  You cut your hair.  Bailey, this is Uh-Eh-liz-uh-beth.”  He examined Elizabeth and asked, “What are you doing with my clone?"

  "Please, come join us for a drink."  Elizabeth invited.

  The girl nodded as she took my source's arm, excitedly dragged him to the table.  He stared at Elizabeth as he yielded to fate.

  We shook hands formally.  My source avoided eye contact.  He resented that I had a real girlfriend.  I was disturbed by Elizabeth's mesmerization over the robot doll, Bailey.  The waiter brought drinks.  Everyone seemed testy in conversation.  The females ogled each other.  They wanted a chance to be alone, and excused themselves to go off to the powder room.  I made an effort at small talk, but my source sat sternly watching the clock.  The minutes dragged.  I considered asking him about his painting but decided it was a bad idea.  He pulled out a pen and began drawing on a napkin.  The waiter asked if we'd like another drink.  I insisted.  My source obliged.  Half an hour went by, but the girls had not come back.  My source asked the waiter to check the powder room.  The waiter returned reporting that it was empty.  The females had snuck away in secret.

  "What?  How could they have left us alone?"  We spoke simultaneously.  The waiter was startled dropping his checks to the floor.  My source knelt to help and spilled his drink.  We all laughed.  I missed his unpredictability.  In that instant, I realized my source's triumph was his persistent clumsy curiosity.  That's how people learn.  I raised my glass to him.

  "Women, stranger and more impossible than clones.  What do you think?  Want to go out and find a hooker?  Or throw on the goggles and check out some cyber-sex?"

  My source snickered and retorted, "Lose touch with your feminine side?  They'll return."

  His fingers nervously folded and pressed the sketched napkin.  He wrapped it into a tiny square. His eyes looked directly into mine.  "Good to see me.  What’s Elizabeth like?  Got any nudies of her?"

  We grinned.  Same old source.

***

  Chicago, 1994