Matt Hollingsworth

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FICTION

The Other Vincent

The members of our house church had left and Mishel and I were cleaning our apartment when my clone arrived.

I opened the door and my clone stumbled into my arms, dropping his glass bottle which clanked to the floor as he sobbed into my shoulder.

Not knowing what else to do, I hugged him back, saying, “It’s okay. Everything’s okay.” I helped him inside and sat him on the couch at the center of our modest living room. I mouthed to Mishel to close the door. We didn’t need the neighbors questioning the identical looking stranger. I held his head as he cried into my chest. He smelled like vomit and liquor.

He mumbled something.

“What was that?” I asked.

“Connie’s dead.”

***

It took Mishel and me nearly an hour to get the other Vincent calm. He passed out on our couch, and we covered him with a blanket. He wouldn’t say another word about Connie.

When he was asleep, Mishel said in her Spanish accent, “I’m so sorry.” She knew all about my clone—though she’d never seen him before—about the accident, about Connie. She hugged me. “I wish I knew what to say.”

“It’s been a long time.”

“She was your wife.”

“I said I’m fine!” I shook my head. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have snapped like that.” I brushed her dark hair. “I just need a minute.” She nodded understandingly and disappeared into our bedroom, leaving me with the clone.

I hadn’t seen Connie since the accident over five years ago. We were never certain what had happened. Our best guess was that the experiment had sent one of us microseconds back in time, creating temporal duplicates (which would mean we weren’t technically clones, but the word made things easier). Either way, we couldn’t determine which Vincent was the original—if one of us could even meaningfully be called the original. We knew we couldn’t go public, or we’d probably be shipped off to some government facility. One of us would have to go into hiding, start a new life. With no better option, we played a game of chess, winner take all. He went home to Connie. I left for South America. I hadn’t seen anyone from my old life since.

I sat beside the other Vincent. It was uncomfortable, staring at my own drunk, unconscious face. He was heavier than me, paler too living in Tennessee while I was in Quito, Ecuador. He looked like he hadn’t shaved in days.

I knelt to pray.

“Father—” Father, what? What was I even supposed to say? My eyes stung, and I reflexively bit my lip to keep from crying.

Connie’s dead.

“Lord Jesus, be with me.” But I felt alone.

***

I spent the night in the chair beside the other Vincent. The nearby window offered a beautiful view of rows of houses running up the slopes on either side of the city. I stared out, trying not to think about Connie, but eventually I gave in. I got out my phone and went to her Facebook page. Friends and family members had left posts grieving the loss, reminiscing about fond memories. She looked so much older than when I’d last seen her. Her red hair had faded grey. I couldn’t look for long.

***

I woke to my clone helping himself to the coffee maker while massaging his temples.

“Good morning,” he said. “Sorry about barging in on you last night. At least I think I barged in. Pretty hazy. I needed a drink before I could see you, and I got carried away.”

“Why are you here?”

He closed his eyes, exhaling. “Vincent, Connie is…”

“You told me. But why come here?”

He stared like I’d just asked the color of the sky. “Because you’re the only one who understands. Because we share memories before the accident, so I know you loved her too.” He poured a cup of coffee, spilling some onto the counter, then collapsed onto the couch beside me. “I just don’t know what I’m going to do.”

I wanted to tell him that he could leave me alone, that he couldn’t just show up whenever he wanted. But, of course, I wasn’t going to say that.

“How did it happen?” I asked.

He tapped his chest. “Heart.”

Mishel entered from the bedroom. The clone’s eyes widened.

“Hello there,” the clone said. “I’m sure you must be confused. I’m…”

“She knows.” I motioned to her. “Vincent, this is my wife, Mishel.”

“You got married again?” he asked.

“It’s been five years.”

“I know it’s just…”

We were silent for a moment.

“I’m very sorry about your wife,” Mishel said.

“Thank you,” the other Vincent said. “Where’s your shower?” His smell had been nearly making me gag, so I pointed.

When he was gone, Mishel said, “We should let him stay as long as he needs.”

“But if someone sees him…”

“We’ll say he’s your twin. Love your neighbor as yourself. And in this case, your neighbor is yourself.”

“I just remember what I was like before I came here,” I said. “Part of me was anxious to get away from him. He reflected everything I hated about myself.”

“If you could change, maybe he changed, too. Besides, he just lost his wife. And so did you.” She touched my shoulder. “It’s okay to grieve. You know I’m here for you.”

I nodded, but there were things about Connie that I wasn’t ready to discuss.

“I don’t trust him.”

“We don’t have to. We just have to love him. Try talking to him. He needs you. He wouldn’t have flown 4,000 kilometers if he didn’t.”

***

My clone emerged wearing my clothes. Mishel had left for work, so we were alone.

“What’s with the cross?” He motioned to my necklace.

“I became a Christian.”

He looked like I’d just said I’d become a flat-earther. “We’re scientists.”

“I know.”

He chuckled. “Fine. If that helps you deal with life.” I cringed.

I’d never been good about opening up or talking about things that didn’t have graphs and hard numbers attached. But I had to try.

“Vincent, do you want to talk about Connie?” I asked.

He frowned. “She was the light of my life, the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met.”

I fought a scowl. Those were the same empty nothings I’d used when I was trying to cover up a fight.

“You remember meeting her?” I asked.

“Sophomore year anatomy. First day.”

“That monkey in lab almost bit my finger off, remember?” I said. He attempted a smile.

“I wanted to ask her out right then.”

“I feel so bad for the way I treated her,” I said.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“I constantly ignored her, putting work first. I wanted that stupid prize so badly.”

“Our work was important. It could—it has—helped people.”

“I know, but still. Do you remember what I—what we—said to her that night after Thanksgiving?” It was clear from his expression that he did. “I’m not saying our work wasn’t important, just that we could have been a better husband.”

“Speak for yourself.”

“You don’t regret any of the things you—we—said? We almost missed our wedding because we were busy checking the effects of radiation on moss.”

“That research was more important than some ceremony.”

“Was it more important than your wife? You know the thoughts we had about her. We thought she was holding us back.”

“Well maybe she was.”

I almost hit him. It was like seeing my past self. All the arrogance, that smug superiority that made me think I was Prometheus, fetching fire for the poor mortals.

“You haven’t changed a bit, have you?”

“Oh, and you have? Fly down to Ecuador and go native. Find Jesus.” He rolled his eyes. “You know, maybe I like who I am. Maybe it’s Connie who has—had—the problem, not me.”

I punched him, and he stumbled to the floor, cradling his jaw. My knuckles throbbed. I didn’t know who I hated more: him or me.

The clone glared. “So much for turn the other cheek.” He stood, spat blood onto the carpet and marched out, slamming the door behind him.

I didn’t even have time to process the anger before the phone rang. I reached for mine before realizing it was the other Vincent’s. I shouldn’t have answered, but I was so angry.

“Hello.”

“The report is in.” It was my—more accurately, my clone’s—lawyer. “The police confirmed that it was a suicide.”

I almost dropped the phone.

“What?”

“The gunshot matched up or something. I didn’t understand all the technical details, but you can come back now. Why’d you go anyway? Running just makes people look guilty.”

“So, you’re telling me that my wife committed suicide, and the police have been investigating me for murder?”

“Are you okay?”

I hung up.

***

The clone returned an hour later.

The moment he stepped through the door, I asked, “Did you kill Connie?” My hands were clenched into fists. The clone glanced at his phone beside me.

“Did someone call?”

“Did you kill her?”

“Of course not! Who do you think I am?” His head dipped. “She grew distant. I tried to get her to talk to me, but…”

“The lawyer said you came here to hide.”

“I came here to talk. I thought you’d understand.”

I shot to my feet. “Stop lying to me!”

He raised his hands, taking a step back. “Okay, the neighbors heard us arguing the night before, and I didn’t trust the police. But I promise, I never touched her.”

In that moment, I could have killed him. Grabbed a knife from the kitchen and stabbed him. As if killing him would kill the darkness in my own heart.

“Get out!”

“Vincent…”

“Leave!”

He left.

I sank to the floor and cried.

***

When Mishel got back, I told her everything.

“He drove his wife to suicide,” I said. “I would hate him except he’s me. So maybe I should hate both of us. If he could do that to her, that means I could do it to you.”

“You are a wonderful husband. You would never hurt me.”

“When he told me, I almost killed him. That’s who I am.”

She held me. “You’re a child of God. That’s who you are. Clean and forgiven.”

***

By the next morning, I knew what I needed to do.

It took me hours to find the clone in a small hotel near the center of the city. Even after five years, I still wasn’t used Quito’s thin air caused by the high elevation. I was breathing hard as I reached his room. I knocked and he opened the door. His jaw was swollen and bruised.

“Come to finish the job?” he asked.

“I’m sorry for hitting you and for what I said. May I come in?” He kept his eye on me but stepped aside, and we sat down across from each other.

“When I lost that chess game,” I began, “I thought my life was over. I lost my family, my work, my prestige. Everything. I contemplated suicide. But all that time God was preparing me.”

Salty tears ran down my cheeks into my mouth. “We’ve both lost her now. I wish I could have done things differently. I wish I could have apologized, but it’s too late. But it’s not too late for everything. God helped me. Maybe he can help you, too.”

“Your God wouldn’t want me.”

“Of course he would. He took me, and I am you.”

He shook his head.

“Please stay with me,” I said. “For as long as you need. I want to help you.”

“Your religion is a lie, and I don’t need help. Go away.” His expression was fixed.

“Please, Vincent, I…”

“Go away!”

I nodded. “All right.”

I walked out, and when I was in the hallway, I wept.

I wept for Connie, my wife who I loved. I wept for the darkness of my own heart, for what I was capable of. And I wept for the other Vincent.

For years, I’d thought I’d lost that chess game, but I’d won. I could have been him, ignoring Connie, neglecting her, and who knows what else.

I didn’t believe in chance anymore, but why had God worked in me and not in him? I had no answer. All I could do was rejoice in gratitude for God’s mercy and weep for the other Vincent.

Rejoice and weep.


Matt Hollingsworth is an author, freelance editor, and English tutor from Knoxville, TN. He has a short story forthcoming in an anthology from Owl Hollow Press. He enjoys discussing C. S. Lewis books and Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves. Follow his blog at https://jmhollingsworthblog.wordpress.com/.


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Artwork: “La Reproduction interdite” by jan saudek, Flickr.com.

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