H C Child: Doppelginger

Doors are melting, door handles are turning into knobs, knobs are dancing the fandango in the suddenly-scarlet light of my real daylight energy-saving lightbulbs. I look at the clock and it slips from five to sex… I can’t stop it.

Suddenly I see the vacuum cleaner, the Clark Kent of household appliances. It can take you places you’ve never been.

This is going to get worse before it gets better, I think, as I mindlessly clutch the appliance to my most delicate part and thrust the plug into its socket. One red button is all that lies between me and total fulfilment. A growl spreads out from the machine, making the air vibrate. I hold onto the tube and vibrate too. Then, suddenly, it’s a hit. Rather brief. But a hit. Take my brain away and replace it with a white sheet of paper.

I gradually sit back against the wall, my spine moulding against it like a fold of caramel. Something feels a bit weird. It’s only when I look down and butterfly my genitals that I notice my clitoris has disappeared. There’s a smooth pink plain, but Uluru has flown. This sounds very calm. How do you react to a detached clitoris? It’s just typical, isn’t it? Bloody typical that the one time I get to have any fun, my entire sex organ (the only bit that’s any use) gets lost down a vacuum cleaner.

I open the dust compartment and fustle around. It’s all smooth grey fluff except for one object – yes here it is – surprisingly neat and even-looking, like the nub of a chicken breast, and about the same in texture. I blow the dust off it, then take it into the kitchen to wash.

It looks better after a rinse. It reminds me of one of those fake plastic blemishes you buy in party shops. I squish it between thumb and forefinger for a moment and it is odd to notice what it really feels like for the first time. At this exact moment, my elbow knocks a wine glass from the drying rack, and it topples onto the floor. Curses. I’m still holding the clitoris, so for now I fill a saucer with water (in case it needs to stay wet), and place the organ in it, bean-up.

I sweep up the glass with dustpan and brush, then I see the time. I’m supposed to be packing. As I dig out the John Lewis suitcase, I scramble bras, toiletries, and currency into a pile on my bed. But even when the case is packed by the front door, even when I’m brushing my teeth, much later on, I have this tickling sort of feeling that something important has slipped my mind.

*

Two weeks later, tanned the colour of a Prada handbag, I fiddle through my pockets to find my house keys. Finally I extract them from a clinging mix of tissues, sand, African beer lids and headphones. But as I thrust the key towards my lock, it shies away. Someone is opening the door from inside. I am faced with a ginger-haired woman, about my height, staring out impassively from my flat.

“Yes?”

I don’t recognise her. The half-thought occurs that she could be a burglar, or even a squatter. It would be pretty bad luck to pick up a squatter in a fortnight. She is wearing my polka-dot dressing-gown. The freckles on her chubby forearms, quite faint among the hairs, make me think of a carrot seasoned with too much paprika. I don’t like the look in her eyes, as if she has a right to be there, as if she expects me to just say ‘my mistake’ and turn tail. My spine gives a twinge, and more than anything, I want to sit down.

“Mind if I come in?” I say.

She moves aside and uncurls her hand to motion me into the apartment. It’s a touch mocking, I think, as though she is waiting to see if I have the guts to confront her. Still, I drag my suitcase over the threshold and into the kitchen. She has opened my Tesco Finest biscuits-for-cheese, and there is no wine remaining on the wine rack. The kitchen feels different altogether. It occurs to me that she might have been cooking meat here; a lingering aroma of salt hangs above my hobs. The kettle lid is in the sink, the Venetian blinds have been raised while still tilted (which is bad for them), and where the hell is my clitoris?

I twist round in a rage, my face contracting so violently that a few threads of my ponytail fall around my cheeks. I feel travel-weary, and all I want is a nice cup of tea in my own vegetarian kitchen.

“Have you seen my clitoris?”

She gives me a disgusted look.

“No,” she says, and then, taking the piss: “have you seen mine?” She goes over to the sink and rinses a wine glass. “Do you want a glass of wine?”

I take my coat off.

“Is there any left?”

She removes a bottle of chardonnay from the fridge. There is something ruddy about her, something fresh and ridged and not too clean.

“You can open it.” She hands me the corkscrew.

“How kind,” I say, as I snatch up the bottle and stalk out.

At least my bedroom has been left relatively untouched. Just a mug on the desk and an unfamiliar jacket on the bed. I toss the coat out into the corridor and slam the door. It’s just me and my last bottle of wine. I kick off my shoes and it occurs to me that I could have a shower. The alcohol feels appropriate, and I swig it like a hobo as I undress. Soon I am padding towards the bathroom, picking up knobs of fluff on my sticky feet.

As I open the door a brief cry escapes from my throat. There are acres and acres of bulging red woman in my bath. She looks like something you would find in a rockpool.

“You could have used the bath foam!”

She wipes the water off her mouth.

“Didn’t think you’d want me to.” Steam rises as she lifts an arm and unsticks some wet hair from her cheek. She has pulled back the shower curtain to look at me, making no effort to cover up. “Lost something?” she says, flicking her gaze meaningfully between my transfixed eyes and her nudity. There is something root-like and real about it, her limbs growing through the water, little bubbles ripening against her skin. The steam escapes past me through the open door. I put an unsteady hand on the towel rail and turn to go. Suddenly I feel a sharp digging pain in the arch of my foot.

“Aag.” There is broken crockery on the bathroom floor. “What have you been doing in here?” A saucer lies smashed. It fills me with a sense of helplessness, a feeling that I’ve lost all control. Something has happened in my flat. The furniture has changed its facial expression, closed doors are open, the dustmites have re-grouped. The natural order of things has, in some way, been subverted.

I desperately need more wine. In the kitchen, I fling open the fridge in my search for drink. Then I remember that there used to be a bottle of Kirsch somewhere under the sink. I start tossing out bottles of cleaning liquid, eyeing them meaningfully in case I really get desperate, and then – oh happy day – a big bottle of Kirsch, virtually untouched. I unscrew the top and take a brave slug. It’s just Kirsch and me now. Kirsch, like my cuddly Swiss friend, all almondy and alpine and cherry-cheeked, hugging me with its viscous arms. I want to retreat somewhere, so I crawl under the table, nuzzling against the wall. There is a bit of flaky paint just here by my temple.  A hair is pulled off and stays snagged like a flag I’ve planted on my newly-discovered planet. Planet Kirsch.

But there is definitely something missing. Suddenly it hits me. The vacuum. That stuff of nightmares. I’ve lost my clitoris. I’ve lost my damn clitoris. This is unnatural. All of this is completely unnatural. Did nobody see it before? The saucer! Smashed. Like this idea that’s hitting me, somewhere among the smells coming up from my feet and the empty bottle of Kirsch; there’s a wisp of it rising from its own shattered lightbulb. Holding my fingers aloft from the sticky lino of my world, I crawl out on the heels of my hands. Remember when you were little? Those carrot tops you put into a saucer? No one ever knew what they were meant to grow into. You’d slice the top off, splash too much water into a saucer and primp the two or three shreds of leaves, and then they would grow. I bang my ankle against the still-open cupboard doors. Where is the woman? I’m dragging myself through doorways, hurting my feet on the edges of carpets, slapping my hand against the bass-relief wallpaper. She is coming out of the spare room, fully dressed.

“Stop right there,” I say.

“What?”

I sway a little. The lightbulb twitches on its stalk, or so I interpret the flicker. Her hair is still wet. There is a curve to her cheek, a curve that might, might it be a familiar curve? The moisture in her pores, her healthy, red-pink arms, like growths, like tubers; she’s all the same vegetable.

“You’re all fucking carrot!” I scream, “You’re my fucking clitoris, all grown up into – well – god knows!” Curse my Hoover. If it wasn’t for that I would never have left my treasured organ in a saucer to grow into a woman of its own. It is mine. I want it back. She is looking at me as if I’m a lunatic.

“You’re a total nut job,” I hear her say. “I’m gone.”

Suddenly the panic sets in.

“Don’t go!” If I let her walk out of the door, I may never see my clitoris again. She’s hoisting a rucksack onto her shoulder, striding into the kitchen and shoving a few things from the table into a plastic bag. She eyes the empty bottle of Kirsch rolling towards the bin.

“Nut job.” She repeats.

“Don’t go!”

I try to grab her rucksack, but she pushes me off easily. Her arm feels soft, exactly as though it grew from the tender bud of my sexual organ. Technically I should be able to overpower her easily, as she must be made of highly-sensitive nerve endings. I brace myself against the faux-marble worktop and spring.

Instead of squashing her, I seem to gush against her. For a moment I’m immersed in doubt. I collapse downwards, looking up to see a huge, ginger skull.

“Leave it out.” She says, orally, using her mouth. She takes hold of my wrists (firmly), swings me round, then lets go. She opens the front door. “You had it easy,” she says, casting a last look around the flat. “I kept the place smart, didn’t filch anything, even watered your fucking pot plant.” With a gesture to the living room, she slams the door.

“Come back!”

It’s gone forever. There must be a thousand gingery clitori walking the streets. I slide my knees across the kitchen floor then climb out at the doorway as though it were a pond. My sight follows in the wake of my sexual organ’s final gesture, and I see that there is indeed a thriving houseplant sitting in the corner of the lounge. Just one of those things that made me feel the flat was different, because I never had a houseplant there before. I do the breast-stroke towards it, and arrive in front of its fleshy lobes. Damn fleshy. The roots resemble intertwining Barbie legs, curling over and down and around the sides of what used to be a saucer. Mangrove-like. I reach out and put my thumb and finger around the transpiring, respiring, pinkish leaf. It quivers. It has a strangely familiar fragrance. The plant even feels slightly warm. I cross my legs, shift my position, and start to play with it.

nerd glasses with tape

H C Child lives in Bristol, UK, and writes short fiction for a range of journals and magazines.

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