Shaving one morning, his steamed skin awash in the scent of his mother’s tobacco, Nadie blinked into the mirror to discover he was under attack. His first thought — god must have run out of faces. Of all ugly mugs that could possibly curtain the front of his murderer’s skull, this guy bore an identical face to the one Nadie wore, down to each mole and freckle, his bluejeans nearly shredded at the kneecaps, just as Nadie’s were, his undershirt loose, the only perceptible difference between them being that Nadie sported half a beard of shaving cream.
The replica tapped a steel knifepoint against Nadie’s shoulderblade. His tone was serene, contemplative. “Strange — I don’t remember this.”
Nadie attempted to process.
The replica crouched, waving his blade like a flag.
Blinking twice, Nadie bit his lip. He punched a bullseye in the mirror and he grabbed a bloodied shard. Knuckles laced with glass, he parried with his replica.
“Let’s pretend that you and I are perfect strangers,” said the replica. “Observing your grip on that glass, two facts are immediate. One — you spend more time alone with your hand than is commonly regarded to be healthy, and two — you’re a blue-blooded rookie.”
Sweat beaded through Nadie’s shaving cream.
The replica juggled the blade as he parried, snatching it out from the air in a masterful icepick grip.
Nadie back-stepped. “Who are you?”
The replica nodded his head toward the glass shard that Nadie possessed. “I’m the man in the mirror.”
Nadie adjusted his grip. He breathed, closed his eyes, and lunged forth.
The replica dodged, catching Nadie by the neck. He dragged Nadie out of the bathroom and into the bedroom, flipping him onto the mattress. Both weapons fell to the floor. Arm numb in a sleeperhold, blood streaking down from his palm to the base of his forearm, Nadie tried to toss his head to uppercut the replica. Resistant, the replica planted his palm on the crown of Nadie’s scalp.
Almost asphyxiated, Nadie’s mind produced a second thought— whenever his mother returned from her excursion to the co-op, her arms full of locally-sourced organic groceries, to find her only son engaged in bloody duel with his perfect replica, it would make for a strange afternoon.
The replica loosened his grip.
Nadie caught his breath. “Wh — who are you?” he blustered.
The replica stared. “I’m you, you jackass.”
Nadie attempted escape, but the replica was faster to the doorway.
“Face me. This isn’t a choice.”
Nadie pushed, falling short.
“I know exactly where you’re going, what you’re thinking. I’ve been there and I’ve thought your thoughts.”
Nadie slunk into his mother’s sofa, bleeding in the fabric, his neck hot, his lungs playing catchup. “Why are you here?”
“Why else? For a girl.”
Nadie would’ve laughed were he not so befuddled. Instead, he coughed. “That’s funny.”
“Hard to believe, given your so-called experience with women — but, yes, there’s a girl.”
Nadie eyed the blade on the blood-drenched rug.
“I recommend that you refrain,” said the replica.
Nadie dove, shoulder-first.
The replica stomped like an anvil upon Nadie’s fingers, boot-heel grinding the bones of his knuckles. Victorious, the replica stooped for his blade. “Will you listen to me now?”
Beaten on the rug, Nadie rubbed at his knuckles. He shook out his hands, shaking pain like a dog shakes the rain. “Did you hurt her?”
“Did I — what?”
“Or did she—
“No one did anything, Nadie. It’s not always that somebody does something. Sometimes nobody does anything.”
Nadie bit his lip. He shook his knuckles out and faced the replica. The physical fire and shock of his pain passed through. In the moment that the shock escaped his system, the absurdity of Nadie’s predicament, an absurdity that had been awaiting recognition with a calculated patience, launched upon him. Nadie tugged at his hair, screaming, rolling on the rug. “I can’t see you. I can’t see you,” he repeated.
The replica stepped over Nadie’s rolling body, catching Nadie’s face between his palms. “I didn’t want to come here—
“Listen to me.” The replica slapped the shaving cream off Nadie’s face. Nadie’s teeth led a revolt against his gums. “I have to ensure you never get a chance to meet her.”
Nadie fell to the rug, understanding now what he was facing. “Don’t kill me. Please, don’t kill me.”
The replica gripped Nadie’s collar, lifting him and throwing him against his mother’s wood-paneled walls. His voice gained aggression — “Enough.”
Nadie’s voice rose to a shout. “My doppelganger shows up in my bathroom with a knife, talking all about a girl I’ve never met, saying I can never meet her—
The replica launched a hard elbow against Nadie’s throat. “Shut up and listen to me, Nadie. You can’t meet her because she is perfect.”
Nadie gasped, his complexion turning purple. “She’s—
“Perfect,” the replica spat, releasing Nadie. “My god, is she perfect.”
Nadie tasted blood in his half-beard.
“You don’t deserve her.” The replica pushed off of Nadie.
Nadie wiped his undershirt against his mouth, no longer certain of which parts were bleeding. “I think I need a bath.”
“I’m not finished,” said the replica.
“Look, you’ve done your job. I don’t even wanna meet her — I wouldn’t even know what to say if I did. A perfect girl? I can’t even bring myself to talk to—
Nadie paused. “How about I move? How about that? I’ll move far away from here, and then I’ll never meet her.”
“Always a selfish solution — typical Nadie.”
“Self — you think I wanna move? This would be for you.”
“I’m you, you jackass. If you move, you may still meet her. I need to know you’ll never have the chance.”
Nadie grabbed his mother’s end-table and tossed it at the replica. Portraits crashed down from their hooks on the walls, glass frames shattering along the rubber baseboards. His eyes stung with tears, his face purple with fear.
The replica looked at his own feet, checking for damage. Facing Nadie, he thrust with his blade.
Nadie ducked to the right. He dodged two more attempts.
Third try — the blade slashed Nadie’s forearm.
Nadie watched the gash expand. Another thought struck— if the replica was telling the truth, if indeed he did remember Nadie’s every move and every thought, then he would’ve predicted that Nadie ducked right on the first thrust— he would’ve aimed to where Nadie dodged.
Nadie’s heart skipped. Breath left his body. He rubbed at his eyes, measuring the demolition he had wreaked upon his mother’s living room. “I just want to know what her name is.”
“Are you crying again?”
Nadie raised his voice. “Please— just tell me what her name is.”
The replica tucked his blade into the sheath at his waist and he pulled Nadie close. Hand over his mouth, he whispered into Nadie’s ear the sacred syllables that would forever guide his journey.
Nadie gazed upon the replica, repeating the name. He smelled the ashtray on the coffee-table, and he closed his eyes. “There’s a scar on your arm.”
Entering her living room to find her only son upon the rug amid a squalid storm of blood and broken glass, unconscious in his undershirt with half a beard of shaving cream still plastered to his face, a shard of mirror in his flaccid grip, bleeding at the cutting-point, Nadie’s mother dropped her grocery bag, rolling hand-selected citrus on the blood-and-glass-strewn carpet.
When the EMT’s arrived, Nadie’s mother followed in her blue sedan, for she could never bear to look upon the blood that marked her son, the insignia that somebody, for it must have been somebody who broke into her home and violated all that was sacred to her, had carved into her son’s bleeding forearm and sealed with ash.
Lying on the stretcher, Nadie looked up at the medic. She leaned to check his vital signs. Basking in glorious pain, a smile cracked through Nadie’s crusted lips. Blood tunneled between his teeth and he pursed out a small puff of air, the closest he could muster to a laugh, for he could not help but chuckle as he read the golden lettering engraved into the nametag pinned upon the medic’s uniform.