On the day of her mother’s book launch, Harriet Sparks unlocked her second self. This was convenient because she had previously cancelled an important date, in fact a romantic date with a boy, so as not to disappoint her mother. While she didn’t care much for her mother’s free verse she cared deeply about their relationship, and so she would not miss it, this singular event in her mother’s life.
Harriet decided that she would attend her mother’s launch and her second self would be instructed to attend the date. Harriet wanted to go on the date, but the second self, who was otherwise near-absolutely identical in every physical respect to Harriet, right down to the last freckle, did not have braces on her teeth. This detail was important and Harriet believed it would be to her significant advantage in getting the romantic attachments of the boy she had wanted to name as hers since school began.
The second self of Harriet Sparks sat across from her at the kitchen table and listened to Harriet’s briefing. The second self of course had no knowledge of the boy, who was Lamont Parkinson from Harriet’s English class, and so Harriet gave a tour of a terrain she knew well, using the boy’s social media photo albums. Harriet also had to instruct her second self in her crush’s tastes in music, television, movies, and literature. Harriet patched together a taste profile from a combination of stickers she had seen on his laptop, graffiti on his library bag, and questions he had asked in class.
Lamont Parkinson had reportedly seen a movie on the only other date he was understood to have ever been on, with Elinor Ransom. The boy’s movie review, which circulated verbally among Harriet’s nearest and dearest, was three words, “Just so menacing,” and the friends were unanimous in their opinion that the review wasn’t really about the movie, but was a review of Elinor Ransom herself, who had chosen the romance comedy in question.
Neither he nor she had asked the other out again and Harriet had jumped at the opportunity.
Harriet instructed her second self to meet the boy at the downtown cinema and to insist that he choose the movie, at any cost.
Harriet then picked an outfit for her second self, and took no shortcuts giving the girl her distressed denim jeans, her coolest leather heeled boots, and her new biker jacket that she had spent her entire work check on last week from her job in the mall. Last, she sprayed her second self with what she thought of as her signature scent, and gave her an old mobile, a vintage device with a tiny screen.
Harriet also gave her second self her only house key, with the implication that she was expected back at the house at date’s end.
Off the second self went, completely at home in the borrowed outfit.
A few hours later at the book launch, Harriet was to be found in a cotton dress that her mother approved of. She had snacked at the food table and was conscious of food particles potentially clinging to the braces on her teeth, and so grinned at people closemouthed, which turned acquaintances away, interpreting a scowl.
Standing towards the back of the small gathering, while her mother delivered a treatise on words in freedom against the barricades of language, Harriet texted her second self to check how the date had progressed. By Harriet’s calculations the movie credits would have rolled by now.
The bookseller announced that Harriet’s mother’s book would be available for purchase, that Harriet’s mother would be signing imminently, and that the bar was open, aplenty with wine and spirits.
The short threshold that Harriet used to measure a normal text message response passed.
She went outside and phoned, to no effect.
Back inside, she pretended to listen to a man hold forth on the value of highly structured, traditional verse.
The long threshold passed. No reply.
Then Harriet’s head became a site of chaos, and a twinkling later, when clarity returned, she saw things anew, what her English teacher had called a moment of truth.
She suddenly realised that her second self, her expansion, her paradox out there in the world doing business for her, in her very own clothes, with her very own scent, was not her herself at all, Harriet Sparks, but a different person, a closed circuit, a self apart, on the very date Harriet herself set up with the boy.
Harriet imagined Lamont Parkinson falling in love with this self apart, instead of her herself, or worse, suffering a repulsion that meant she herself would never get another date with the boy.
She felt like someone had pulled out and stomped on her guts.
Harriet left the book launch, her oblivious mother’s head down, concentrating on the perfection of her cursive dedication and signature, and walked all the way home, in the dark. Taxis slowed for her but she didn’t have the money, having spent her last check on the self apart’s outfit. Nor did she desire home; indeed, she took zigzag steps to delay her arrival.
It was a long walk across town, then all the way up the hill, around the perimeter, and down to their family property with the long drive. By the time of her arrival, utterly distraught by walk’s end, it was past midnight and the house was asleep. She didn’t have a key. At her bedroom window she peered in and saw two figures crashed out in her bed. The biker jacket and distressed denim jeans on the floor.