Joe Brown did not believe in the supernatural. He believed that things “unseen” were unseen for the simple reason that they did not exist. While others may have sprinted up the stairs after switching off the lights for fear of monsters, Joe sauntered. When something went “bump” in the middle of the night, Joe merely rolled back onto his pillow. In Joe’s mind, there was nothing fantastical about the world, no mysterious powers that could not be explained. His own mundane day to day view had wiped any sense of wonder from him.
However, this evening, Joe was beginning to reconsider that firmly held position.
For you see, sitting in the backseat of Joe’s taxi, was a man with the exact same face as Joe. The slightly crooked nose, the hooded eye shape and most telling, the mole on the bottom of the chin. It was exactly alike.
For a moment, Joe wondered if he was being pranked. By a very expensive TV show that had bothered to get a plastic surgeon to mold someone’s face into his. He quickly dismissed that as silly.
The doppelganger hadn’t seemed to notice. Scrolling on his phone, he hadn’t looked up as he clambered into the backseat.
“Could you take me to Willow Street?” asked the doppelganger, still engrossed in his phone.
Joe wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do in this situation. Should he scream or perhaps throttle the doppelganger and demand answers?
But Joe was, if anything, a practical man and not one given to outbursts of violence. Still slightly dumbstruck, he switched on the engine of the taxi. While he drove, he checked sporadically to see if his passenger’s face had morphed back into nondescript obscurity. Perhaps the lateness of the evening had gotten to him and there was a perfectly normal man sitting in his taxi. Unfortunately for Joe, the face remained the same mirror image of his own.
Eventually, Joe was forced to face the fact that there seemed to be a clone of himself lounging across the leather seat behind him. He needed a game plan, a reasonable way to-
“Are you my evil twin or something?” Joe said, his words coming out in a breathless rush. He winced. That was not what he meant to say.
For the first time since getting in the taxi, the doppelganger looked up from his phone. “Twin?” The doppelganger frowned. Did Joe really have that many wrinkles when he frowned. “Ah I see. I suppose we look a little similar. The jawline, or something.”
As he braked for the red light, the tires screeching, Joe turned to face his doppelganger. “Jaw- what- we look exactly the same!”
The doppelganger flickered his eyes over Joe’s face. “Hm.”
Maybe Joe was having a mental breakdown. Maybe there really wasn’t a clone of himself in his car. And this poor man was-
“Hey, is that a photo of me?” The doppelganger pointed at the Joe’s license photo that was dangling from the roof of his car.
Joe twitched. So he wasn’t having a breakdown. His doppelganger was just an idiot. “That’s a photo of me.”
The doppelganger laughed. “I think I can recognise my own face.”
The red light turned green and Joe slammed his foot down on the accelerator. “Clearly, you can’t.”
“Are you this rude to all your passengers?” the doppelganger said peevishly. Before Joe could reach around and strangle this infuriating clone, a ringtone pierced air in the taxi. It was the same one Joe had but there was no vibrations from his phone.
“Hello?” the doppelganger picked up the phone. “It’s Joe.”
Even the name was the same? Well, he supposed that discounted the possibility of it being a secret twin.
“No, no, I’m free to talk,” the doppelganger continued. “You said you’d have the book ready by Monday. If it’s not ready by Monday, I’m not sure what we can do. I don’t care if your dog is sick. Get that book ready. Okay. Okay. Bye bye.”
Joe 2 hung up the phone. “Sorry about that. What were we talking about?”
“What’s your job?” Joe asked. He had already half worked it out.
“Oh, I’m a publisher.,” the doppelganger said nonchalantly.
It sent this small lance of pain through Joe’s heart. When he had been younger, he always wanted to be a publisher. Dream job. He didn’t have the imagination to be a creative writer but he wanted to be involved in the process of creating books. Of bringing art into the world. Also, he liked reading.
“Oh,” Joe said.
Perhaps this wasn’t a mental breakdown. Perhaps this was a punishment sent by God. Saying, look this is what you could have achieved. Because he never managed to. Life stomped all over his carefully laid plans. When Magda got pregnant, he had needed a job. And fast. And it had tripped and fell into being a taxi driver for ten years.
“Is your wife happy?”
The doppelganger’s eyes grew sad. It was odd, seeing his own eyes tilted downwards. “I don’t have a wife. Haven’t had the chance to start my own family. Too busy building a career.”
Joe couldn’t imagine his life without Magda. And his beautiful children. They were all that kept him going when the days got long and his fingers went cold in his threadbare gloves and he had another drunk passenger yelling obscenities and puking in his taxi.
“Are you happy?” asked Joe.
The doppelganger looked pensive. “I suppose. It was always my dream.”
Joe continued driving in silence, his mind churning.
What if it had been worth it?
“This is my stop,” the doppelganger said. Wordlessly, Joe killed the engine.
The doppelganger reached for his wallet. “How much do I owe you?”
Joe glanced up at the taxi meter, the number 30 flashing on a screen. “Don’t worry about it.”
The door didn’t open. There was no sound of unclicking or slamming.
But when Joe looked back, the doppelganger had disappeared.
That night, Joe kissed Magda a little longer. He hugged his children a little tighter.
And he tried not to resent them a little more.