Warning: Controversial subject matter and profanity
Radford was in a herd of people-between-planes, threading his way through the labyrinth that was Newark Airport on his way to catch the AirTrain to Terminal B, when he spotted a man coming toward him along the corridor. He felt his heart do a little Puttin' on the Ritz tap dance in his chest.
There was maybe fifty feet between them and the guy was in his own herd coming in the opposite direction, so on the face of it there was no reason why he should have stood out visually from the others, but then suddenly there was, and as they drew closer together, Radford had an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. No, it wasn’t that, it was something else, a different feeling entirely, a Twilight Zone kind of wonderment. His mind raced; a caged hamster on a wheel. He continued walking and watched the man as he came closer, his brain now a stirred-up mud-puddle of thoughts. I mean, what were the bloody odds?
Radford and the other man were both trolling mid-sized Rollaboards behind them and a wheel on his suitcase gave an audible clack, going over a crevasse that had opened up in a floor-tile. As they met and passed in the corridor like two naval destroyers in separate convoys traversing a narrow canal, the two men exchanged a mutual gaze, each reading the other’s face like a semaphore signal, before continuing along in their respective directions.
Radford went on ahead about another fifty feet before he stopped abruptly and turned about-face to look again at the other man. As he did so, he was astounded to see that the man had done the exact same thing, at the exact same time. It was uncanny. The two men stood, a hundred feet apart, staring intently at each other, unsmiling, for: two, three, four, five beats. And then, something even crazier happened.
Maintaining eye-contact like television gunslingers, they both began slowly walking back toward each other, dragging their wheeled-cases behind them. They stopped, face to face, maybe four feet apart, just outside each other’s personal space. Radford could not help but gulp. What were the bloody odds? He felt that he had to say something.
“Holy shit!” he finally got out.
“Ditto,” said the other man.
“Where you headed?”
“Chicago,” said the other man. “How about you?”
“Boston,” said Radford.
“Got time for a drink?”
“I think we should,” said Radford. He didn’t know about the other man’s schedule, but he still had two full hours to make his connection home from Terminal B. However at this point he didn’t give a rat’s ass if he missed the bloody flight completely and had to walk back to Boston. He had to know! I mean, what were the odds?
Brian Radford was thirty-two years old, and if he had stopped to think about it lately, he would have said that he had a good life. He had studied computer science at Brandeis University and now traveled all over North America for his troubleshooting job with a company that had developed a proprietary software system used by the banking industry. His services were in high demand and last year he had paid as much income tax as the governor of Massachusetts.
Five years before, Brian had married the lovely and intelligent Elizabeth – she preferred Betsy – Callahan, now age thirty-one. After two seasons in a small apartment they had moved into a Tudor-style house with exposed wooden beams three blocks from where she had grown up in a Boston suburb. They had one child so far, a boy, three years-old old. He was named Kelsey, after Betsy’s father.
Betsy was a nurse and had gone back to work not long after Kelsey was born. It hadn’t been decided absolutely, but now that Brian was doing well enough, they were thinking that maybe she should stop work and they would have another one. This time, they were hoping for a girl, and their little family would be complete.
Brian had been orphaned at age two; a year younger than his own son was now. When they had been dating, Brian had told Betsy that if he could change one thing about his life it would be to somehow roll back time and reverse the course of events that had led to the accident that had killed both his parents. Their Chevy Impala had been t-boned at an intersection with a blinking traffic light by the driver of a Kenworth eighteen-wheeler who was taking a short-cut through a residential neighborhood because he was in a hurry to unload his thirty-thousand-pound cargo of lawn fertilizer at a garden supply center. The Kenworth driver was faulted for the accident.
Brian had only one vague memory of his birth parents from before that terrible time when they had been killed. And it was of his mother. He could not make out her face but she was hugging him closely in her arms, swaying back and forth, and calling him her ‘wonderful, miracle child’. Sadly (he thought), he could not call up an image, or remember anything about his father at all.
Also, due to unfortunate happenstance, there were no grandparents or other family members to take him in when his parents were killed. So, at age two, he had been placed by the state into a children’s home, under a foster care program.
Within a year, however he had been adopted by a young, Bostonian couple, the Radfords, who had desperately wanted a child. They had fallen for Brian at first sight, taken him home, and given him back the family life that had been so tragically interrupted by the semi-driver.
Brian Radford had remained very close to his adoptive parents. He felt that he owed everything that he was, to them. There had been an insurance settlement from the accident that came in when he was five years old and the Radfords had invested it in a trust for him. The annual income from the trust had allowed him to graduate from Brandeis debt-free and it had also provided the substantial down payment for the Tudor house. For all that, and other reasons, he considered himself very fortunate.
Radford had occasionally wondered about the lives of his birth parents, and, as a teenager, he had done some probing. Because his birth parents had not had extended families however, his queries had met with dead ends. So that part of his life was a closed book. And, he was OK with that. He had long since fully accepted his fate, and his place in the social order. His adoptive parents were his only parents.
He had never had any doubts about that growing up. But the Radfords had not had any children of their own, nor had they adopted a second time. Once, when he was seven years old, he had asked about why he had no siblings. They had both told him, in separate conversations, that they wanted to give him, and him alone, the full measure of their love. They felt that after the tragic loss of both his birth parents, he deserved to have everything they had to offer. So the matter had been settled. Brian Radford had grown up an only child.
How then, was he now in a bar in Newark Airport, sitting beside a man who undoubtedly was, had to be, a long-lost brother?
Radford took a drink of his Jack Daniels on the rocks and pondered the odds and the possible explanation, while he waited for the other man, who had introduced himself as Jason Ives, to come back from the john.
“Sorry about that,” said Ives, ruefully, as he joined Radford at the bar, parking his butt on the adjacent stool, in an eerily familiar manner. “But when I get nervous, my bladder inevitably acts as an early warning system, sort of a pressure relief valve.”
Radford knew exactly what Ives was talking about because whenever he was a bit nervous, like when he was in college before writing an exam, or making a presentation for his job, his bladder acted in exactly the same way. As a matter of fact, it was presently sending him frantic signals that he should immediately head off to the biffy as well. But he held off. That is, he held off until Ives signaled the bartender and ordered a drink for himself. Jack Daniels, on the rocks.
Radford had ordered his drink while Ives was in the john, so Ives couldn’t have known what he was drinking, and copied him to be polite, or whatever. The JD had to be a personal preference, for both men. Jesus Christ, it was too much. Radford quickly excused himself and went to answer the telephone call his bladder had made.
When he got back, Ives looked at him, bemused, and raised his glass. “Well,” he said, “Now that we’ve both got that out of the way, here’s to similarities.”
Radford dutifully clinked his glass and took a drink of the sourmash whiskey, still unsure how to respond, because it was just too fantastic. He had heard about, read about, mythical doppelgängers, of course. Who hadn’t? But this was reality. What had stopped both men in their tracks in the airport corridor and drew them back face to face, and now to this bar, was their near-identical physical resemblance to each other.
And what had first made Brian Radford certain that he was somehow related to this man Jason Ives, heretofore a complete stranger who lived in a city half-way across the country from his own, was their pigmentation. Both men were flaming redheads; the hair on both their heads was the exact color of the patch of rust shaped like a map of New Hampshire that had formed on the white plaster wall under the drip-pan of the window air conditioner in the upstairs bathroom of Radford’s house.
As a redhead, Radford had been often cruelly centered out when he was young, for being ‘different’, and he had hated his redness. The schoolyard taunts from other children had been merciless; carrot-top, orange-head, rusty-nail, and worse.
Because he also had another unusual feature that set him apart from the others even more; a single patch of pure white hair, at his forelock. It started on the left side of his forehead at his hairline and continued back across his scalp for more than an inch. This got him called another name; skunk. These taunts had stung like nettles when he was young.
His adoptive parents however had counseled him to embrace these differences. Very few people in the world had red hair, they told him, so he wasn’t so much ‘different’ as he was ‘special’, and they loved him for it. And the white streak in his hair? That made him extra special. That positive psychology had seen him through childhood, until he reached his teenage years, when the red hair with the unusual white streak in it was considered cool.
Years back, he had taken the time to find out some facts. That red hair was rare, only about two percent of people in the world had it. That two people with red hair would almost certainly have a red-headed child, but it was possible for two people without red hair to also have a child with red hair, because it was genetic, and the result of a recessive gene. Also, that red-headed people generally had fair-colored skin, lighter eye colors, freckles, and sensitivity to the sun (in his case, Bingo, on all those numbers).
Now, sitting on a bar-stool beside Jason Ives, and looking at both their reflections in the mirror behind the bar facing them, Radford tried to stop the wheels going around in his head. How to open the conversation? Ives had invited him for a drink, but after making the toast to ‘similarities’ (of which there were plenty), he seemed to be waiting for Radford to say something. But, how to start? What to say?
The bartender, however, who had been polishing glasses, and had been casting curious, sideways glances at the two men sitting side by side at his bar both sipping Jack Daniels on the rocks, as if they were some rare and exotic species (which, Radford thought, might not be that far off the mark), spoke up as if he had read Radford’s mind.
“Listen, I have to ask. You guys brothers, or something?”
“Possibly,” said Radford, turning his head to look closely again, at the man beside him.
“Probably,” said Ives, then: “No, definitely!”
“Jesus,” said Radford, taking a gulp of his whiskey. “Sounds like you know a lot more than I do. How about you start? I don’t know what to ask.”
“Take a good look at us,” said Ives, staring straight ahead at their dual reflection in the mirror. “Wouldn’t you say it was obvious?”
Yeah, thought Radford. Anyone looking at them side by side would say so. Forget that they both had bladders that doubled as petcocks for stress. Forget that they both preferred Jack Daniels on the rocks and slid their asses on to a chair in exactly the same way. Those little similarities were just small potatoes. The big ones were a whole lot more obvious. And rare was the operative word here.
Not only did Jason Ives have the same thick thatch of blazing red hair that Radford did, but their hair both had the same texture of curl, a gentle waviness, and their hairlines were exactly the same, coming straight across a broad forehead with no recession at the temples. Then, to add a cherry on the top of this banana split of what could not be mere coincidence, Ives had the identical streak of white hair growing back from his forehead and dividing the wavy red follicles of his forelock. It was amazing. That was what had stopped the both of them in their tracks and drawn them back together in the corridor. Yeah, Radford was certain that they must be related, but how?
“Yeah, but how?” he asked. “My birth parents were killed when I was two. I am, or I thought I was, an only child.”
“I think I know,” said Ives. “You said that you live in Boston. Were you born there?”
“Well, so was I, well, in Waltham actually, but close enough for government work. So, let me tell you what happened. Are you ready for this?”
“Lay it on me, man, or should I say, brother?”
Ives gave a snort. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. So here’s the skinny. My parents wanted kids, but my father was shooting blanks. So they went to a fertility clinic; there were a few of them operating in the Boston area, back then. After a half-dozen consultations, a bunch of tests and all kinds of other legal jiggery-pokery, and with both my parents’ consent, my mother was inseminated with sperm from an anonymous donor. I can vouch that I am the result of that donation, and, looking at you, I would say, your parents went the same route as well. And I’d bet a bottle of good old Jack here, that we had the same donor-father.”
Radford had an immediate sense of relief at this. It made perfect sense. He thought about the ethereal memory he had of his birth mother holding him in her arms and calling him her ‘wonderful, miracle child’. A miracle, perhaps, because of all those hoops his parents had to jump through, so he could be conceived. So yeah, he could dig it. He had a brother, and that felt great. He drained his whisky, and ordered another one, for both of them.
And so they sat there, side by side, comparing notes and matching each other, glass for glass, of Tennessee sourmash whiskey. After they were well past the times for catching their respective flights, Radford thought he might have to overnight in Newark, but it would have been worth it.
The more they sat and talked, the more similar physical traits Radford could see between them. He noted Ives’ thick wrists and large hands, similar to his own. They also had the same green eyes, and were both left-handed.
He felt himself getting a little squiffy. He thought that Ives was probably well on his way to that neighborhood, as well. They had each had four drinks, the last one being a double, and the bartender was giving them The Look, worrying perhaps that if these two went out and stirred up a shit-storm, and if their behavior was traced back to his bar, that he could lose his license.
Radford found himself infused with the spirit of liquid-good-will. He looked over at his doppelgänger with bleary eyes. “Know what?” he said, “This morning I was an only child, now I am part of a family, and I am thrilled about it.”
Oh, Jesus,” said Ives. “I was getting there, but you don’t know the whole of it. Our biological father was a doctor at that fertility clinic in Boston and I am sorry to say that he took a few short cuts, made more than his fair share of sperm-bank contributions on his own. I found this out two years ago and I’ve done some tracing. So far, I’ve found four-hundred and sixty of us. You’re number four-sixty-one.”
“Holy shit!” said Radford.
“Yeah,” mused Ives. “That man whacked off a lot.” He swallowed down the remains of his whiskey in one gulp. “So, we’re not a family. We’re a monoculture.”
The two men regarded each other silently, trying for sober reflection. Suddenly, as if someone had pushed twin buttons inside their heads, they simultaneously broke into hilarious laughter. After a minute, they stopped for breath.
“Mono,” said Radford, spluttering his Jack Daniels.
“Culture,” said Ives, wiping tears from his eyes.
That set them off again.