Dinner With My Better Self

Submitted into Contest #225 in response to: Write a story about someone coming across their doppelganger.... view prompt

6 comments

Contemporary Drama Fiction

Who the fuck owns a home in Brooklyn? And in Greenpoint? What a slap in the face. Here I am, slaving away at this meaningless sales job, just trying to find a studio in my budget—a single room!—and this asshole owns an entire address doing God knows what. Can you imagine placing a delivery order and not giving them an apartment number? No way this guy is leaving the house for takeout.

His address stands in stark contrast to the rest of the block, which is lined with rows of beige and brown houses most assuredly built during a world war. This building looks like it’s never even been touched. A virgin home. Flat, from top to bottom, with massive rectangular windows spanning the majority of each floor. It’s begging you to look inside. Weaving through the mahogany edges that surround the windows is a glowing beam calling out for attention. It’s like the building is saying, please, anyone, anything, enter me.

I make my way up the concrete steps, the last relic of whatever building came before, and ring the bell. He answers immediately and again I’m stunned by the sight of him. Robin egg eyes, bags underneath, wavy light brown hair above, oblong ears beside, a nose with the slightest crook, eyebrows neat, and just enough scruff to remind you he’s a man. It was like looking in a mirror. How could he not see it?

“Bryan!” he says, just as jovial as when we met.

“Ryan!” I respond, matching his candor.

Even our names are only a letter apart. Is he illiterate and blind?

“Come in, come in,” he says.

Every inch of the house is just as immaculate on the inside as it was on the outside. All of it pales in comparison to the private rooftop terrace he takes me to, though. From the shrubbery to the couches to the bar to the fireplace, it’s like a miniature, private version of the nicest rooftop bar I’ve ever been to. No cover charge, no crowd, just a couple strangers and the Manhattan skyline watching us from across the river. And then there’s his wife. Oh my God, his wife. The decor is only half as beautiful as she is.

“You must be the famous Bryan,” she says, her smile sparkling in the sun. “I’m Claire. Forgive me, I’d give you a hug if it weren’t for all the paint.”

She raises her hands to me, showing off the cascade of color coating her skin. Beside her is an easel with a portrait of a man. The man kind of looks like me, kind of looks like him, and kind of like no one.

“I just can’t get it right,” she says, noticing me staring. “Something is just…off.”

“I see what you mean. I can’t place it either.”

“She’s been working on it for months,” Ryan says.

“And it’s looked like this for weeks!” she adds. “No matter what I try, there’s always something. I’ve never had this problem with a portrait before. And to have it with my own husband! So frustrating!”

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”

“You sound like him.”

Sound? So, she’s blind then too. Wonderful.

“The food should be here soon,” Ryan says, covering the coffee table with a burgundy silk cloth.

“Delivery?”

“Of course.”

Of course!

“I hope you like sushi,” Claire says.

“I love sushi. I’d eat it every day if it didn’t give me mercury poisoning.”

They both laugh.

“Us too,” Ryan says.

“We order from here at least once a week,” Claire adds.

“Must be nice,” I say.

“Sometimes you just have to treat yourself, you know?”

Sometimes?

“Sure, of course.”

Claire asks how we met and I tell her how I just so happened to run into Ryan while transferring at Court Square. How the sight of him made me nearly fall into the tracks. How he saw me stumble, grabbed my arm, and possibly saved my life. I told her how his image looked like a reflection. I told her how it still does.

“The one day I take the subway!” Ryan blurts out after I finish. “I still think you’re just flattering me, though. Handsome guy like you and all. I see you.”

“I really don’t see the resemblance,” Claire adds. “I mean, you’re both moderately attractive white men, but that’s about it.”

“Moderately attractive?” Ryan asks with a smirk. Claire smiles.

“How can you not see the resemblance?” I ask.

I start listing all the features we share in common. With each one I share, their smiles only widen, as if I’m merely committing to some elaborate bit. Perhaps they are the ones playing me.

“Trivial similarities, at best.”

“I must be crazy then.”

“It’s always possible.”

“Well, thank you for letting a crazy person into your beautiful home then.”

A familiar chime echoes out from inside Ryan’s pocket. He takes out his phone, nods, then heads for the door.

“Be right back!”

The door closes and I look back at Claire. How could someone like that marry someone like this? It feels even more far-fetched than this man being my doppelganger. The glow around her eyes melts me.

“How did you two meet?”

“We met on the subway too! Isn’t that crazy?”

“It really is.”

Even her voice is as sweet as sugar. I can’t help but be drawn into the tone while missing all the words.

“Don’t you think,” I begin before being cut off by Ryan, re-emerging with a big brown bag in one hand and a bottle of sake in the other.

“Shall we?” he asks.

We take out the food together, family style, then begin to eat. Every bite is incredible, as I knew it would be. Like this house, I do not want to know what it cost. But I have to know how they pay for it all.

“So, what do you do then, Ryan?”

“I’m a screenwriter.”

“Of course you are.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I’m a writer too.”

“Really,” Claire chimes in. “What do you write for?”

“Not for money!”

“Well, not yet at least,” Ryan is quick to say with a smile. “We all have to start somewhere.”

“Right.”

I continue eating, trying to control myself, but how can I?

“How does it feel?” I ask, snider than I intended.

“It?”

“It,” I wave around. “Everything. You’re living my dream over here. Everything I’ve ever wanted in life, you already have. How have you done it? How are you so successful?”

Ryan looks deeply into my eyes. I nearly shiver in the summer air.

“I don’t know if I am,” he says. “Maybe if you’re only looking at everything on paper. But life is nothing but a matter of perspective, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, and my perspective is that your life is way fucking better.”

“I’m sure you have something we don’t,” Claire adds.

“And I’m sure you’re wrong.”

Ryan takes a long swig from his glass, then pushes what remains of the sushi over to me.

“I think you should stop starving yourself. Here, have the rest before I do.”

November 25, 2023 04:55

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6 comments

AnneMarie Miles
14:03 Nov 30, 2023

Hi Dylan and welcome to Reedsy! This was a smooth and entertaining read. I was immediately drawn in by your first paragraph. I live in the Bay area so I find myself in awe of the homeowners here, too, lol. This was an interesting idea, meeting your doppelganger but being the only one who really sees it. It gave Bryan a bit of a glance at a possible alternative for his own life (a better one, as he sees it). The fact that Ryan and his wife don't see the resemblance suggests that their "superior" lifestyle somewhat blinds them or makes them ...

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Dylan Martin
18:22 Nov 30, 2023

Hi AnneMarie thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts! Love to hear them :) Definitely much to consider for future drafts! I was literally editing this up until the final minute before submissions were due, unsure how I wanted to end it, so this will give me a lot to consider if/when I come back to it (my stories usually go through at least 5 drafts and many months before being submitted anywhere, so this was a fun challenge)! Fun fact, the "home" I found on Zillow to use as inspiration for the setting, was listed at 5 million. It is wil...

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AnneMarie Miles
13:54 Dec 01, 2023

It was definitely unusual for me at first to write a story in such a short time span, but it gets easier the more you do it (kind of, lol. Does writing ever get easier?). I was always more a poet than a short story writer, and from your website I see you write poetry, too. That explains your elegant pared-back style in this story. It was really lovely. As for your Zillow house of inspiration, nothing shocks me anymore. One million dollar homes are now "fixer-uppers" in my county. My daughter is going to school with all those homeowners, lol!...

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Dylan Martin
18:20 Dec 01, 2023

Aw, thanks for the kind words, it means a lot. I was/am more of a story writer, funny you mention it, but I do love some flowery prose so occasionally I will try throwing it into a poem. A teacher of mine once said writing is "90% revision, 10% skill," so having such little time for revision is a real challenge! But a good exercise in learning to make necessary cuts quicker. Less is more, after all. Happy writing this week to you as well! :)

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Mallory Jones
13:54 Nov 29, 2023

I like your description style: creative without being pretentious, I guess? "just enough scruff to remind you he’s a man" "a virgin home" "the last relic of whatever building came before" I'm curious about the painting-- why was she having such a hard time?

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Dylan Martin
19:25 Nov 29, 2023

Thanks, Mallory! Definitely a difficult line to walk there (creative but not pretentious). I took the painting idea from one of the other prompts ("Write a story about someone trying to paint (or otherwise create) a self-portrait."). My thought was that it would add an extra layer of mystery. Why can only the narrator (Bryan) see the similarities? Why is the portrait so blurry? And so forth. I also thought it might mirror the narrator's (Bryan's) struggles with identity well, as that's one of the main motifs I was going for.

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