Emily was beside herself. Literally, beside herself. She wasn’t sure what happened or how it was even possible. One minute she was on the 2 train sitting between a woman reading The Alchemist (cliché) and a business suit with a cell phone clipped to his belt. (Also cliché. Also tacky and gauche). The next minute she was sitting between the suit and herself. Dressed in the same ill-fitting skirt suit with the same earbud wires spilling out of her ears. (Don’t tell anyone, they weren’t actually attached to anything. Emily held the end in her pocket.)
Emily was just fired. “Millennial,” they accused. Indignant, she used one arm in one swoop to clear her desk off, stomped out saying they’d regret it. She pulled down her ironic kitten-hanging-on-a-branch poster (she told anyone who came into her cube it was meant to be a joke) and left it curled on the floor. Kicked over the trashcan and then put it upright again.
So as Emily sat next to herself on the train, she wanted to say to the person who looked just like her: Who are you? and did you also screw the fuck up? But since she also didn’t want to talk to anyone, she was unsure what to do.
In her lap was a bag with a broken handle. It was filled with the things that had been on her desk (picture frames with stock photos of happy people, an extra sweater knit for her by her mother, an award: Team of the Year! etched in Lucite, a musk candle, and a selection of essential oils).
The train jolted to a stop between 72nd and 96th Street. Almost home. And, Emily thought, her other self was also almost home. Should she invite her in? She had never invited anyone in, except for that one man, that one time, that one terrible broken time, and then never again.
Announcement: track work; a delay.
The other Emily looked up at the advertisements. Emily followed her gaze. Fix your skin. Fix your breasts. If you see something, say something. Fix your smile. Emily wondered who she should say something to. No one else noticed the identical women. And Emily was sick of men telling her to smile.
Emily looked at herself. The same frayed cuticles, bitten nails. The same pockmark scars and heavily watered eyes. Emily always looked like she was about to cry, but then again, she was always about to cry.
Someone began to sing. It was not Emily or Emily’s doppelganger. It was just some guy, singing just some ballad about love. Most of the people on the train ignored it. A few looked up and smiled the thin-lined smile of the appeased.
It wasn’t long before the other Emily rose to her feet, reached for the bar overhead, pulled out her earphones, and slowly started to sway. Emily would call it dancing, in fact. In short time, Emily wanted to be this other Emily and not herself, and drop all the baggage – the stuff she stole and what was taken from her, but she couldn’t bring herself to even smile. Eventually she extended a hand. Emily refused. The song ended and the musician walked up and down the train car, saying nothing, just nodding with an upturned hat in hand. Emily was not going to give this guy money for entertainment she didn’t ask for.
Emily didn’t dance. Not when people were looking. The man began another song, one she didn’t recognize. She watched as the other Emily gained an audience. And then other voices started to sing (off-key). Seemed everyone else recognized the song and at the chorus, she did too. Emily recalled the words and remembered her mother’s bedside radio, perpetually on. She hadn’t seen her mother in a year. Two hours to Bucks County from the city seemed too long of a trip.
The train exhaled, lurched. Soon the doors opened at 96th Street. The singer got off. Everyone plugged their earbuds in again, looked down at phones. Dancing Emily got off. Emily stayed in her seat, transfixed by the sudden return to normalcy. It wasn’t until 125th that she realized she’d missed her stop. But the other Emily, she knew better and had gotten off in the right place.
Jennifer Fliss is a Seattle-based fiction and essay writer. Her work has appeared in PANK, The Rumpus, Necessary Fiction, Hippocampus, and elsewhere. She can be found on Twitter at @writesforlife or via her website, www.jenniferflisscreative.com