The Twin

Karl Odegaard felt there was business to take care of that day beyond errands, and that there was something that needed to be completed. Below no more than a painted blue steel sign half way up a telephone pole, he passed another minute and then shifted to his right foot as he waited on the city bus. With the shift of his weight, the cloth shopping bags he carried swung out for a second and he heard the rattle of a pill bottle in his pocket, anti-psychotics that helped with the panic and the voices. A flock of cars rushed by on the street shaking the world into movement, and the sunlit trees shushed the world in a quiet wind. He saw a man appear on the street half a block away, who had a shock of white hair and flat rectangular glasses with a gray coating on them. Karl gave the man a small nod, as was used in that Midwestern city, although the other didn’t seem to notice, another tone of the less suburban neighborhoods. He wondered where in himself the nod came from for a moment, and only later realized the man looked like somebody he knew. The man didn’t seem old, though he was possibly a little bent from time in a psychiatric ward or poverty, his features ravaged by endless moments doing nothing. The bus topped the rise behind the man, with a lit route number marquis that could be seen in the daylight, and he looked over his shoulder following Karl’s glance to quicken his step toward the awkward and arbitrary bus stop.

Karl bent forward and stepped up into the vehicle, a motion that oddly seemed like falling, limbs akimbo in a consternation of gravity, on to the air conditioned and cool colored interior of the transit. He showed a free ride card he had received from the department of social services. The heavy boned man he had seen, made up the last several steps to pitch also into the space before the toll stand, followed Karl to insert a ticket in the machine, which stamped it and spat it back out. Karl’s step counted three rows before he found seat. The man following him bent for a seat that ran along the side of the bus, his profile visible to Karl. The man seemed even more familiar to him from a place that over time was still comfortable and light, and for a moment Karl inhaled as if to speak and then quieted, confused.

The bus accelerated as he minutely shelved the transit card in a slat lining his wallet. The man across from him seemed to do the same. Karl looked toward the side of the bus, the tinted windows between etching the lazy day in to a more serious relief. He studied the passing houses that under the shaded windows seemed like marble mortuaries and headstones of an ended world. He wondered where the morose sentence of his imagination had been written, only to be replaced with boredom as he turned his glance to the untinted windshield half the transport’s length distant. The bus slowed to a stop sign, and he felt an odd relief at that leg of the bus route having been accomplished. But somewhere between the internal and external world, he saw the face of the stranger, and tried to scry the message that was latent in his features. He felt like he had met the other before, or that perhaps the man resembled somebody he knew. His brain fired delusion for a couple of seconds, discovering the features and the message of similarity to be the same, and knowing he was in negative territory, he distantly wished for the end of the day, to whatever purpose it might come.

The bus turned a corner and made its way along a four lane street. The man across from him stood and asked the bus driver where he should disboard, his eyes blank with the expression of somebody new in town. Again the appearance of geographical distance twisted at Karl’s thoughts. The bus decelerated, finishing in a stop. He and the stranger stepped off the metro transit, the stranger using the front door while Karl used the middle. The coincidence again threw Karl’s thoughts into high fancy of imaginary thinking, this time between himself and the stranger getting off the bus at the same time, and again he felt more oddly related to the man. They parted ways and for a moment Karl felt relief, but the end of the bus trip only offered a temporary respite, and his curiosity still nagged at him.

He crossed the street after hitting the signal button, straightening the canvas shopping bags as he walked. From the entrance to the shopping area he followed a sidewalk for a block and then moved a second block through a parking lot toward the glass portrait windows of the grocery store and pharmacy façade opposite. He stepped through the sliding doors the exchange of outside air for a controlled temperature, a deal done and also inhaled the air conditioned atmosphere of the supermarket, moving with a little more certainty after the weird meeting with the unknown man. He turned off a main aisle toward the pharmacy built into the store and leaned up against a chest high ordering platform. He felt himself encapsulated in a sea of medical well being made of white countertops, medication labels, and smocks as a woman pharmacist moved toward him.

“Can I help you?” she said, a dark haired woman with glasses and green eyes, whose face became artificial with a patent smile.

“Yes, I have a prescription to pick up.” He said, returning the smile, and feeling sympathy for the woman.


“Odegaard,” he said as the woman turned to an alphabetized rack filled with white bags containing any number of medications. Karl stared down at the counter top, becoming myopic and remembering with a dull shock the man he had seen earlier. The pharmacist returned with a stapled sack that had his name scrawled across it. The pharmacist flipped it on to the counter and he pulled his wallet in response, reaching for the dollar necessary for Medicaid co-pay, slapping it flat on the counter top as a done deal. The pharmacist once again smiled, taking the money, and hit a button on an electronic cash register, flipping it into the drawer. He turned from the counter, feeling a sense of completion.

As he turned toward the shopping cart corral at the front of the grocery though, the desire to end his delusion and dismiss thought that was playing in his head resurfaced. The day had not ended. He pushed the shopping cart through the store, loading a five pound bag of staple potatoes and then turning in the corner into another aisle, stacked three loaves of bread in the basket also. He felt oddly trapped for a moment and felt at his pocket for the medication as it turned to a sense of déjà vu. It was the end of the month, and his food stamp benefits were nearly depleted, so he had to buy the cheapest food. He made his way the cash register lanes, rolling the steel cage across the threshold like a finish line.

Karl laid the five pound bag of potatoes on the dark conveyor belt and then the three loaves of white bread. The woman at the cash register smiled at him as he moved forward to the payment stand that shot up next to the cash register, an electronic leaf. He swiped the food stamp card and punched in the personal identification number as the cashier rolled the potatoes across the scanner that beeped dutifully, three then four times with the bread. The bleeping machination reminded him of the white cash register in the pharmacy and then the steel toll stand in the bus that he would see a second time when he took the identical route home. The cash register spat out a receipt, which the Eastern Indian woman handed him, smiling briefly before he turned to load the groceries back in the cart. He rolled the rattling fixture of the supermarket cart outside onto the parking lot, making the distance to a back row. Unloading the groceries, he inserted the wheeled metal cross cables vehicle in a second cage for carts closest to the sidewalk he had followed in. He made for the bus stop where he would wait out the same driver, and the return trip home, and stepped between the verdant turf of summer grass that looked as freshly unrolled as a story. He felt the weight of the potatoes and bread, and leaned into it so that gravity pulled him further and further in a stronger grip.

Turning  a corner, a low brick wall sprung up that carried a black iron decorative fence, and that embellished the two block entrance to the shopping store and parking lot, It counted the regular splits in the concrete line of steps, he glanced up to see a second painted blue steel sign. He placed the bags at his feet and waited for the bus. The sun blinded the day for a moment and then the shape of another walking toward faded into the light. He recognized the stranger he had seen before, and cosmic machinery worked at him once again. Karl spoke for the first time,


“It seems like I have seen you around here before,” he said, his voice weighing out a deadpan joke for the other.


“Yeah,” the other said, and Karl could notice some airiness in the man’s voice, the simple acknowledgement bringing forward a geographical change from city to country. The man spoke, unintentionally becoming the delusion of somebody he knew, and time slowed so that for several moments Karl was flummoxed, and unable to say more. The stranger then continued, “Do you know when the bus comes?”


“I’d say we still have about five minutes,” Karl responded.

 The long multi-wheeled centipede of the bus appeared in the distance, and Karl stood pulling up the plastic shopping bags and stepping toward the strange flag of the blue sign on the telephone pole. Time slowed again as the bus continued to grow larger. Karl looked the man over, who was wearing a green knit cotton short sleeve shirt, and faded blue jeans above tanned work boots that struck a chord.

Evolving from the grass he stepped onto the bus. He chose the seat that ran parallel with the length of the long public transport and the man chose the opposite padded bench. He glanced again at the man’s features, that he could see in profile at the other look at a watch. The face had American Indian lines with high cheekbones and a chiseled nose. He looked through the shaded window of the bus, feeling himself closer to the macabre tombstones and mortuaries. The long rigid snake of the bus wriggled through the angular city engine accelerating and then brakes hissing a greater tension of deceleration. For some reason he didn’t question his imagination. Delusion mixed with primal memory overcame him. He recognized the precincts of the neighborhood being his own, and pulled at the stop cord. The man across from him stood, and Karl followed him so that the bus deposited them both on dry land.

Carl looked  at the grit and dirt mixed in with the grass from the double wide street, and thought about the man who stood next to him. A simple small thought came to mind and he forgave the cosmic machinery for its gears that had opened his soul, and he glanced at the man who was also crossing the street. He recognized as he had barely noticed the wheels on the shopping cart and the bus that he could now hardly ignore the same great wheel in heaven. The man had the same of features his cousin who had recently died, and he wondered why he had never noticed the twin appearance between that relative and patient rural and smiling voice which came from the man’s identical looks. He realized then that he had come to the end of the day and dismissing his delusion and then the hidden loss of his relative, said ‘good bye.’

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