A woman slept with her doppelgänger (doppelbanger?) and months later, they went to the shadowy Joy Garden on Broad Street to share a fruity Flaming Volcano. I won’t really tell you about the sex they have had (not to say that it isn’t incredible) except that it has frequently been in a threesome and the other person in their triad is a guy. Both women are called Simone because that is their name, and the man is named John.
One Simone, age twenty-three, was born in 2006 when Simone was the 560th most popular baby name of the year in America. The other Simone was born in a litter of fraternal triplets in 2002 when Simone was the 546th most popular baby name. We will refer to the older Simone as Second Simone because they once played a dangerous game in a bar and she went second. By differentiating her as second, I definitely don’t mean to establish Simone as superior in how she is primary. Logistically, Second Simone arrived on this planet first. Simone also believes with an almost spiritual certitude that Second Simone is cleverer and more beautiful than herself—though they have, kind of awkwardly, been mistaken as sisters by John’s coworkers.
Had this appellation zeitgeist never occurred, had these two women somehow been born with different names but met under the same circumstances, they would still be feeling this confusion over the boundaries of self that has haunted them both since meeting.
Or maybe not, since Second Simone had been teaching younger Simone lately about the importance of time and the tremendous power it has in determining who people are. Second Simone studies anti-humanism as a philosophy graduate student, and so for most of her student career she believed that people don’t possess souls or even a common humanness. The week before the Joy Garden Volcano, she had read to Simone about Hulme and then told her stories about hypothetical chlorine-breathing Martians who look like them—aliens who maybe even have the same black bangs, pale skin, and identical name that these women both have. Second Simone told Simone that these creatures feel the same way that Simone feels when she watches SPCA commercials about emaciated dogs. She concluded that if these Martians have the capacity to feel this way, then the humanity that grounds our understanding of soul and self cannot be said to be humanity at all. Because to be human, according to Second Simone, is to breathe oxygen.
“If who we are is so volatile to change, then we aren’t really anything,” Second Simone said to Simone. “You could have played tennis at University of Richmond instead of VCU, and then you would have been in a sorority and already planning your white wedding to a Brad Bradley. You wouldn’t have ended up this delightful communist with crumpled zines in your coat pocket.” Whereas Second Simone wanted meaning, Simone wanted revolution—she wanted it with her whole being. She put the us in animus.
Joy Garden is another one of those mysteries of nomenclature. It feebly sits off of Broad Street, its façade cracking under a merlot awning and flaccid marquee. The large lake of refuse pooled in its parking lot is less-than-edenic, but it still somehow reflected the moon, which was a red-faced hammer that night. The restaurant was empty and only half-lit, presumably to save money on electricity and to give witch-creatures like these two sanctuary.
The waiter who sat them asked if there was going to be three tonight, which made them laugh and exchange looks between themselves that said: How could he have known about their sex life? Their drink came—its surface on fire, its content red but tasting of something synthetic and blue. Canned pineapple stabbed by skewers balanced on the edge of the fishbowl pyre. Simone asked for fortune cookies, which they cracked like eggs on the edge of their drink’s bowl.
Second Simone read hers: A MAN WITH BROWN EYES HAS A SURPRISE FOR YOU
Simone: NEW OPPORTUNITIES IN THE MEDICAL FIELD AWAIT YOU
“You’re going to be a cadaver,” Second Simone joked.
Second Simone had called Simone that night because she had wanted to talk about their project, which involves a loose plan they had made three days earlier to one day get high on amphetamines and walk through a toy store together while listening to the calls of extinct birds. A lot of Simone’s artwork revolves around trying to locate a relationship between commodity fetishism and object permanence while articulating feelings of loss in the Anthropocene. Second Simone once described Simone as a “milleneristic millennial” because everything Simone does in her art is evocative of end-of-time catastrophes, which Simone feels are just around the corner, looming and ready at any moment to grab her by the ankle to drag her back to a bone-littered cave.
Second Simone, the psychopomp that she is, loves that we are living in the final season of America. While in bed with John, the two Simones have been known to look through images of priceless art that have been accidentally damaged. They would bring up a hologram of the $139 million Picasso that an auctioneer’s elbow had split through and display it over their bed while lying on their backs and letting their fingers touch.
Second Simone wears: a black cape and high heels every day of dead winter.
Her speech: concise and refined. The other night, sitting in a car outside the dive-bar Strange Matter with Simone between sets (waiting for John’s band to play), Second Simone looked out at the sea of denim-vested bearded men milling about in a cloud of vape smoke and said: “There are too many Non-Player Characters here.”
Her hair: longer and shinier than Simone’s. Devised.
Simone dresses like a teenager who died in a fight in the food court of a mall in 1992, and she sometimes uses a lint roller to remove stray eye-glitter that clings onto her face from the night before. She is louder, but vocally fried. And one time, when she and Second Simone were out at a gay bar, a man approached her and pet her matted hair and said, “Girl, your weave is fucked up”—but she didn’t even have a weave. If Simone comes off as a cough in a canyon, Second Simone is her musical echo. If she is a sunburnt boy’s belly flop, Second Simone is the pattern of ripples that glide out once he has disappeared underwater.
Simone isn’t the only one who has been overtaken by Second Simone’s ethereality. When Second is riding unbuckled in the car with her, the beeping safety belt sensor does not go off. The touchscreen of Second Simone’s phone doesn’t always recognize the taps of her small, cold fingers. And then there’s John—John, who is normally a Grendel-like, feelingless boy—John is infatuated with her.
Simone actually met Second Simone through John. He’s this tall, heavily tattooed local legend who fronts a straightedge powerviolence band. They met through a corporate app for casual sex. Simone already knew who he was because he had slept with a lot of her friends, and she had gotten the impression that even some of the straight men she knew were in love with him. This made her kind of want to kill him. He messaged her saying that she was beautiful and she responded that she was becoming a lesbian separatist (note: her death-drive is often more pronounced when talking to men). John replied back that maybe Simone should hold off on the decision until after they met. Somehow this line worked on her.
If Simone comes off as a cough in a canyon, Second Simone is her musical echo. If she is a sunburnt boy’s belly flop, Second Simone is the pattern of ripples that glide out once he has disappeared underwater.
He showed up driving a vintage racecar and wearing a suit, his hair slicked back on the top but shaved on the sides. She had only wanted to fuck him to prove that he was fallible, but they ended up talking all night and she discovered on his body (hidden in a word search of snakes, daggers, and roses) that he had the word loquela tattooed on him—a line from one of her favorite books, Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse.
She didn’t find out until months later that he had only gotten the tattoo because it was Second Simone’s favorite book, not his. He and Second Simone had been in an open relationship a year, having bonded over syncopated fetishes that don’t need to be explained here. Neither Simone had really ever wanted a boyfriend.
That first night, John walked around Simone’s room and inspected everything, like he was some newly-adopted cat. He crouched on the floor to look at all of her books, which had long ago overflowed from her shelves into many stacks on the ground that leaned up against the walls. She was surprised to learn that he had more than a dilettante appreciation for art and had read enough to understand communization theory, though she knew he wasn’t the type who would ever be caught dead at her Capital reading group. (She suspected that he, being a very masculine and aloof straightedge vegan, was actually some kind of eco-fascist.) But to his credit, John understood on the night that he met Simone that he needed to introduce her to Second Simone. He knew that aside from their shared name and appearance, they had both done dominatrix work to pay for school and were both into Marxism. And thus the twain met.
The first time Simone hung out with Second Simone, she threw up all over John’s bed while they were in the awful prenatal stages of their first (failed) threesome. Mystical reader, classify this not as a symptomatic danger of the meeting of doppelgängers, but of Simone’s weekend of alcoholism. Not only had her roommate just attempted suicide-by-benzos, Simone had also recently been mugged while feeding raccoons donuts leftover from a gallery opening where her massive wooden triptych, “The Ascension of Riot Dog,” had been knocked by reviewers as “revolting,” “aesthetically abrasive,” and “strangely virginal” (see October 23, 2027 article online in the Richmond Times Dispatch, “Graceless Gravity of Young-Girl Art”).
After that humiliating night, she ran into Second Simone again a few days later. Of course, Simone was in a random alleyway, listening to the last recording of the last blue whale, teetering amongst the litter and the recyclables, when Second Simone burst through a No Exit door. Simone asked if Second Simone remembered her, to which Second replied, “Yeah, I remember you. You told me a story about how you thought owls were mythical creatures.”
Simone had grown up in the city, and, for two decades, owls were something she had only seen delivering letters in magical film-worlds. Which had caused some humbling confusion when she entered into adulthood and realized that they were real and not CGIed. But then after that epiphany and some intense research, she found herself frequently wishing that there had been a recording of the last Laughing Owl’s bark before its extinction.
Seeing Simone’s bashfulness, Second added, “I couldn’t tell if it was true, or if you were trying to break my understanding of reality. You seemed kind of like a mythical creature, a hybrid. A hardline Marxist in a velour tracksuit with talons.” By talons, she meant Simone’s long acrylic nails, which Simone would later have removed after finally sleeping with Second Simone so that she could fist her the way Second wanted. But when she showed Second her new, neutered hands, Second appraised them and said that the gesture was sweet, but that “aside from revolutionary combat,” she “could not think of a better way to incur internal bleeding than by being fisted by you.”
And so for months now, the two Simones have been sleeping together, though neither would ever say that they were dating. When Second Simone called Simone to hang out that night, Simone at first had tried to dodge her—she felt tired and heavy, like one of those boulders with stubborn troll faces that she had hallucinated once while very high. But Second insisted that she come out, and when she picked up Simone she brought her to Joy Garden because “this is the kind of place you go when you don’t want to go anywhere.” The restaurant, with its primordial, cavernous interior did not even seem like it wanted you to be there; everything in its cave was oriented towards the door, and the only light came from the back kitchen over by where the bar was, causing the room to become a shadow-theatre where presences, dim memories, and expectations came and left quickly, quietly.
While they were holding court at their table, drinking the bowl of vital fluid, a man walked in and sat down at the bar, alone. He was tall and older, thin like a folding chair, and wearing the shadowed, serious mien of a peasant farming in the background of a Russian film. Second Simone’s gaze followed him, her flint-colored eyes held glints of rose gold, reflecting the drink’s dying flame.
“What if we both tried to seduce him?” Second Simone asked her double.
Second Simone wanted them to walk up to him one at a time and try to pick him up. She suggested that the first Simone could talk to him and then excuse herself to go to the restroom, and then the other Simone would walk over and replace her, flirt with the man and pretend nothing weird was happening. Simone absorbed some of Second’s excitement and was intrigued. Second Simone suggested that Simone should go first. Simone wanted to prove that she could, so she slurped back the brackish Volcano and sauntered up to the man.
She pulled out the stool next to him at the bar and sat down and said, “Hi,” just like that. He held the menu in one hand and his index finger of the other next to his temple in a classic, early twentieth-century author pose, as though he was pulling thoughts from his brain or draining liquid from his ear. When he flashed Simone a downturned grin and introduced himself, she saw that his lips were badly cracked and that his eyebrows merged together above his brown eyes. She immediately blanked on natural topics of conversation, and badly wanted to turn around and make eye-contact with Second Simone—but she didn’t want to ruin the game. He offered to buy her a drink and she accepted, and soon the old waiter brought her a frosty can of Sapporo. The man gestured behind Simone and asked, since she is “an artist,” if she knew “anything about the print by the front door” that he liked so much. Simone craned her body around, nearly cracking, and she saw Second sitting nearby, watching them, smiling.
The piece was a cheap reproduction of a very famous eighteenth-century Japanese woodblock print depicting Mount Fuji and an enormous, blue wave curling over two long boats, with the many frothy capillaries of the wave’s white crest reaching towards the doomed mariners with tentacular awareness. She stared at it and described to this man the artist: a guy who had changed names thirty-six times, who let his less famous students use his old names once he discarded them, and who suffered from frightening financial precarity that had always threatened to drown him his whole life. She took a few more long sips of her drink and the man thanked her for sharing, saying he was impressed that “any girl could know so much about art” and that she was “pretty as any picture.” That comment suddenly made her feel ill, and she excused herself and went to the bathroom.
She followed a long, dim corridor that snaked through the building. She walked with her hand trailing along the cold, wet-feeling wall so that she could stay upright. She was stumbling. The bathroom was at the end, next to the emergency exit that opened out onto an alleyway. Shadows in front of her grew or shrunk, jumping around suddenly, and she felt as though she had just received capital punishment on a space station and was being vented through the void—this is what she imagined in that vertigo and moist darkness. Panicked, she tried pulling out her phone to call Second Simone, but the words on her screen were too blurry to read and the phone scattered to the ground, hiding itself in the Cimmerian gap underneath a stack of booster seats.
Suddenly, she felt Second Simone touch her shoulder, but Simone’s tongue was too thick and heavy to speak, and she couldn’t distinguish Second Simone from the shadows—her black hair billowed around her face like stirred-up moths and her signature cape unfolded as if all along it had been concealing huge, black wings.
Simone’s knees buckled and Second caught her, diagnosing Simone’s slurred speech and blurred eyes as a side effect of something more than alcohol. Remember, Second had seen Simone wasted before and so she knew this was another poison. Second Simone told Simone that the man must have roofied her drink, but that she was going to be okay. She walked Simone into the bathroom, sat her gently down on the polished cement ground, pet her hair, and told her to wait for her there. And then Second Simone ghosted back to the bar.
The shadow-man was still there, opening his wallet to pay for his tab. Second Simone smiled and introduced herself, telling him that she had been watching him all night and that she had dared her girlfriend to try to seduce him. She asked if he wanted to go home with both of them—she reached forward, grabbed Simone’s beer, and pressed it to her lips for a long, discreetly simulated chug. She told him that Simone was still in the bathroom, primping and getting ready, but they could go meet her by the exit because their car was out back anyway.
She led him through the winding hall and past the bathroom. She held the rear door open for him, saying that their car was “just around the corner,” and that “Simone was probably already there,” and the man stepped past her and out into the cold night. “By the way,” Second Simone started to say. And then the man turned around and looked directly into a stream of pepper spray from a pink canister that she always kept in her leather bag.
He yelled out and his hands covered his eyes. She shoved him to the ground and he curled to his side and then moved up onto one knee as though he was about to try and get up in the style of a sprinter at a race. But Second Simone picked up an empty wine bottle by the door and hit him over the head with it. The bottle, being made out of some weird, futuristic garbage, knocked him back to the ground without breaking. Second Simone tossed it to the side in frustration and picked up a rusted piece of the rain gutter that had fallen off the building. She swung again, this time making contact with his long, roman nose. Crunch. Incapacitated, the man lay on the ground cowering, calling Second Simone a “cunt” and a “bitch” until she swung again and then again, these times aiming for his thin kneecaps.
She stood over him, holding the piece of rusted gutter, and looked at the crumpled bleeding man curled before her. Shaking, she thought about what it would be like to kill him, to be responsible for time ending for him. But something inside of her pinged like an alert on her iPhone calendar, and it stopped her. She felt her human heart pound, and her small hands dropped the metal to the ground. Its edges left thick red imprints on her palms as though she had been rowing against a great wave for her life.
She spat on him and left him there, and then she walked back to gather Simone and take her to the emergency room. Simone was half-awake with spit bubbles drooling on her parted lips. When Second Simone looked in her eyes, Simone looked back at her and they held each other in a strange moment of mutual unrecognition—Simone was too drugged to understand who Second was, and Second Simone was taken aback by the uncanny emptiness of Simone’s eyes, whose pupils had dilated from fear and Rohypnol. Her eyes had lost all of the softness, Simoneness, that made them human.
Both are okay. When Simone was released from the hospital, Second buckled her up and drove them home. They lay in bed next to each other underneath a hologram livestream of play-wrestling baby raccoons, with Second Simone constantly looking over at Simone with something akin to wonder, searching her face, checking something—making sure—with Simone always saying “what? what?” self-consciously each time. But Simone would just envelope her in a hug, holding her like a hole holds light.