By Simon Barget
I was walking in my neighbourhood when it happened. A car rounded the corner and from that car, the unmistakeable sound of my voice. My own timbre and cadence. My slightly huffy way of forcing the words out. I froze. I froze in the realisation of hearing yourself suddenly as if on cassette or on video. It was something certain and direct, as if witnessing your own death. It was like I’d left my body and no one had told me.
I had no time to see the car. It whooshed past. I’d just been able to make out my burly figure taking up the back seat, my thick curls. I had no time to match the voice to the face. I noticed that the back window was down. I saw myself spread across carelessly and languorously. I thought, if anything, that I looked a bit boorish. I was disappointed. But I hadn’t looked in order to see if it really was me. I knew incontrovertibly that it was. I looked more to see what I looked like. I already knew myself from the voice.
And then when I heard it I had two thoughts, but I can’t say which one came first. They were very close to each other perhaps even coterminous. I thought, well: that was me a few minutes ago, since I’d been in that car, in that back seat, we’d turned precisely that corner, but as I was thinking the thought, I started to feel I was conjuring up the memory, like I couldn’t be certain that I had in fact been in that car with my friend, and then as a sub-thought to this thought I wondered whether the sight was pointing to something that was about to happen rather than something that had just happened. And then the second thought, on a very different note altogether, that for better or for worse, this would make a very good story, and I so rarely had ideas for stories that it behoved me to use it.
In any event, there was a second ‘me’ going about and I tried to conceive what this entailed. I wanted to tell my friend Alec; I felt that he would be able to say something germane to the matter, as well as of course me receiving that fillip of excitement you get when imparting something compelling to a third party.
It had been a warm summer’s day and I’d gone out for a walk in the evening. The neighbourhood was quiet. It always was. It felt distinctly suburban but probably wasn’t exactly that. It was too close to the city to be a suburb. But it still managed to retain that quaint family-safe feel although I was probably the only person not within a family. The air was very calm and soft as if wanting to settle everything in a blanket. There was no one around and I could hear my own footsteps.
I came up to the corner. There is a junction of four roads in my neighbourhood and one of the roads you continue into is slightly offset from the one you approach from. It is a quirk of roadbuilding, of town-planning. I’m not sure why they just didn’t build straight. It was through here that the car came. It had to veer slightly to the left as it crossed the junction so as to be able to enter into the continuation of the road without hitting the pavement. I watched it veer. This seems like a trivial detail but it is an image that has stuck in my mind.
I went home but I didn’t phone Alec. I didn’t phone anyone. I became more concerned about writing the story than wondering where the person in the car was. What I might have told Alec was something I wasn’t sure he’d understand, something in the order of: what does it mean to have someone slightly in front of or behind your own time frame? Had this happened before in the world? How had this ‘me’ broken off from the real me? And now that it was going about doing exactly what I did or was going to do, wouldn’t that cause some confusion?
I was very concerned with the minutiae of having a second, concerned in a general way, but not in the specifics. I spared no thought for where this ‘me’ was at this very moment, for example. It didn’t seem to matter. I knew he’d always be there, or had always been there. I wasn’t going to start following him. I wasn’t going to waste my time. There was something about it that made complete sense; that felt like nothing had really changed, that to react to it would acknowledge something false, pretending it didn’t make sense when it did.
It made perfect sense. The second ‘me’ was perfectly me. It was my reflection. What I mean is that when I saw myself in that car, I wasn’t remotely judging if that person was me, I wasn’t able to. What was happening was that I was being shown what exactly I was. There was no question of demurring. I have already said this, but I feel I need to make myself clear.
And then as I started thinking about the story, I got so caught up in it that I forgot this was real life. It was my life. I started re-evaluating the merits of making it. What was I trying to achieve? Why was the real relatively unimportant to me? Why not try to recall my time in that car and what had happened just before being there? Wasn’t that the key to all this, the moments leading up to the sighting? Why this snapshot and nothing else? Why not be practical? Everybody is practical and I’m just a dreamer.
As the days went by, all I could recall was this image. A few moments or even just the one itself, the car’s open window, the voice, my thick curly hair. All I could see was the corner, the warm evening air. I became frozen in time. I couldn’t worry about the second ‘me’ because there was only this moment, no follow-up. I was stuck with the momentary image. I couldn’t do anything let alone actually chase this man down. I had no capacity to imagine him beyond the street corner. I knew nothing about him.
And because I was stuck in this moment, I started naturally to speculate on it. I started to tell myself I’d seen right into the car, seen the upholstery, the head-rests, the clunky steering column. I imagined a shirt that I’d been wearing, though I knew exactly what shirt it had been. It was my brown and blue plaid one that I’d had since I was sixteen. I invented things that weren’t there. I instilled the car and its driver with a fake sense of urgency. I imagined that they were chasing or being chased, that they’d been evading pursuants. I rebranded them as criminals. And the more I speculated, the more real these scenarios became though I knew I was creating a false narrative.
But I understood what all the speculation implied. I was so keen for a story. I wanted to understand and make sense. I knew the best answers were the ones derived from questions I’d had good time to compile. Who knows what sort of irresponsible things might have come from this second’s mouth? Would he have had the compunction to tell the truth? No, he couldn’t be trusted. I’d be somewhat let down.
So I have carried on in the way I know best. I will find the story somewhere, eventually; I am sure that it’s there. Meanwhile, I don't expect to hear from my second. I can be sure of that too. He remains an imprint, a figment, a passing wind on the quiet street corners of my neighbourhood.