Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Popcorn Girl, Chapter 18: Doppelganger

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I am fortunate to have a job near my patient. I climb the stairs every fifteen minutes. Jasmina sleeps as though she’s in a mild coma. Finally, at noon, I find her with eyes open, studying her bandage.

“Paul? What happened?”

“You don’t remember?”

“Were we in an accident?”

“How’s the pain?”

Her eyes are heavy-lidded, touches of red. “Dull. Achy.”

“Would you like some Ibuprofen?”

“Sure. That would…”

“Be right back.”

I rifle the medicine cabinet for some pills and bring them back with a glass of water. “Be sure and let me know if the pain…”


“…gets any worse and I can…”


“…get something stronger from…”


I stop.

“Tell me.”

I scan the far wall for useful deceptions, but decide I had better speak the truth.

“The thing you did on that arm. Deeper.”

Her face develops new creases, the look of a lost child. “I… Oh God. I don’t remember a thing.”

I’m dying to ask questions, dying to know what’s going on in there. But I’m afraid of what else I might set loose. I kiss her on the forehead and ask her what she wants for breakfast.

We have, of a sudden, become a jazz band. It’s Pamela’s mystery song, a melody that seems to have come from the ghost of Billie Holiday. We’re working on a solo piano roll that hangs in the space between the chorus and the third verse. The overhumble Smeeed (who’s a better musician than he will ever admit) is anxious for Anne to pin the thing down so we can move on. But Anne does not respond well to pushing. Fortunately, in the tricky turf wars of a rock band, I am allowed to intercede in matters of timekeeping.

“Go ahead and stretch that pause for as long as you want.”

Anne’s got the figuring-out look, brow furrowed, eyes on the keys. She finds a path from the roll back to the verse intro.

“Yeah,” I say. “That works. So the vocals are back on four?”



Hours later, I ask Smeeed for a cup of driving coffee, but it’s a ruse. We sit in the living room, surrounded by the sci-fi miniatures of his housemate Wayne.

“You and Anne are pretty funny.”

Smeeed smiles. “I know! I can’t help it. She’s like my big sister. Every once in a while, I just have to poke her.”

“Watch it, man. You’re like a helium balloon toying with a cactus. I love playing brushes again. It’s like the song is small dog, and I’m just stroking its fur, coaxing it along.”

“Well! If the rock thing doesn’t work, we can play a cocktail lounge.”

“Yeah. Metalhead.” I take a sip of coffee. “So. You know that flyer you found at the street fair?”


“No. It’s her.”

Smeeed and I kid around so much that it takes him a moment to realize that I’m serious. “No shit!”

“No shit. And when she saw it… You know those scars on her right arm?”


“She did the same to her left. Only, this time she cut so deep that she had to get them stitched up.”

“Damn! Is she okay?”

“Yeah. I asked her landlady to keep an eye on her.”

“So… I’m sorry, but why are you telling me this? Isn’t this a little personal?”

“I have to tell you, because I can’t have you or Landa mentioning the flyer to Jasmina. I’m afraid of what she might do.”

Smeeed paces to the window, which is lined with Christmas lights year-round. “Is she seeing a shrink?”

“That’s what the doctor suggested. But I’m afraid of what she might dig up.”

He puts his fingers to his forehead, that funny thing people do when we’re trying to summon thoughts.

“Okay. But try this out. That flyer’s already in San Francisco. Who’s to say it doesn’t get to Marin County? Who’s to say Jasmina doesn’t bump into it? You can stand on top of the land mine and hope it doesn’t go off, or you can start looking for a way to defuse it.”

I drive home with this thought in my head. I know he’s right. I keep going back to a line in Pamela’s song: How can I expect people to be their own heroes?


I cannot trust my own thoughts. As they pass by, I tack little tracking devices to their ears. I interrogate every reality, narrating the most mundane actions: Pick up brush. Apply paste. Brush teeth. And I know why Anna cancelled her shift at the gallery. She has to keep an eye on the crazy girl, to make sure she doesn’t cut her wrists.

In the case of sleep, the narration does not work: Close your eyes. Drift. Fall. Dream. But I can’t. Every few minutes I wake up and give my right hand an accusing look.

I hear the release of air caused by my door when it opens. I feel familiar arms. The relief is so great that I begin to cry. Paul touches the side of my face. I drift, fall, dream.

Photo by MJV

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