August 03, 2015 11:38:49 PM





“The sun rose and everything fell.” The words were perfect, almost too perfect for David Rivette, a resident of Bertrand, Quebec. He was a painfully average man, living a painfully average life in a painfully average town. Of course, his crushing averageness made him too average to realize this. There were two things interesting about him: the fact that had an epileptic identical twin brother, and the fact that the arches of his feet were terribly warped. David’s job, slaughtering chickens at a local meat processing plant, was mind-numbing work. In Bertrand, it was either this or the rubber plant. The previous month he had received gel shoe inserts for his birthday, which alleviated his chronic pain. Although caked in chicken blood, they were his most prized possession.
Anyway, David did this Friday what he did every Friday, driving his sickly green compact home from his job, reeking of vague dissatisfaction and poultry viscera. Just like every Friday, he pulled into the parking lot of a small convenience store, run by a sheepish Korean couple, whom David had come to know personally. As he entered the store, a blast of Freon and liquid cheese product greeted him. As a courtesy to the owners, he made a point of perusing the aisles conspicuously. When they turned away, he scuttled off to the children’s magazine section.
David’s fascination with coloring books was not based on nostalgia, as he never received them as a child. Rather, he was so good at coloring inside the lines in real life metaphorically, that he simply applied that skill to the literal act. Usually, David liked to hide his weekly coloring book in The Economist, so that other shoppers would not be able to see his guilty pleasure. It was the perfect magazine; dry, businesslike, and always in stock. No one had ever opened The Economist in Bertrand anyway, why would they start now?
The town was split down the middle by a lazy creek that was half chicken runoff, half rubber byproduct, washing up upon the shore in tiny Superballs from hell. On one side was West Bertrand, a blue collar community of drab single story dwellings. On the other side was East Bertrand, a blue collar community of drab single story dwellings. West Bertrand and East Bertrand hated each other with a passion. The town’s sole therapist, located in a strip mall between a Chinese restaurant and a 99¢ store, would tell you that this rivalry was an outward manifestation of an intense self-hatred the two communities shared. No one listened to her because she lived in North Bertrand, a blue collar community of drab single story dwellings, a place the residents of West and East Bertrand hated equally.
David’s plan to cloak his secret shame in business was a victim of its own success. The plan hinged on a complete lack of interest in The Economist among the townspeople, and this is the precise reason the convenience store stopped carrying it earlier this week. Spying the empty rack, David reached for the next magazine to the right, The New Yorker, clumsily knocking over a copy. He picked it up by the back cover, revealing the last page. A cartoon, done in black and white pencil, lay captionless, the headline imploring the reader to find one as part of a caption contest. That’s when it hit him.
“The sun rose and everything fell.”
David quickly made his way to the checkout, abandoning his coloring book, and bought the magazine. He hopped back into the car, and drove furiously down the country road that lead him home. The caption was so clever, so succinct, it evoked the cartoon so beautifully, how could he lose? For once in his life the muses had decided to cast their benevolent light upon him. “O, sweet inspiration!” David thought as he hastily stumbled out of the car to his front door, his irregular feet kicking up loose gravel from the driveway. He kicked off his shoes in the mudroom, and shuffled to the study. Here he turned on the ancient computer his late Grandmother had left him over his twin brother, the white matte finish tinged with soot from her pack a day cigarette habit.
She lived by the cigarette, and she died by cigarette. One grey February day, she awoke with a cough that wouldn’t go away, accompanied by acute chest pain. On her way to the doctor’s office, she was hit head-on by a semi carrying about a ton of Marlboros. She lived by the cigarette, and she died by cigarette.
Though limited by the speed of his machine, David made his way to the website of The New Yorker, and read the rules of the caption contest:
To enter, fill in the information on the page entitled “Enter Contest” and include a caption of 250 characters or less for the featured cartoon (the “Submission”). One entry per person or e-mail address. Any legal resident of the United States or Canada (except residents of the province of Quebec), Australia, United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, age eighteen or over can enter.

“Except residents of the province of Quebec.” David’s heart sank. He was, in fact, a resident of the province of Quebec, rendering him ineligible. He cursed himself for not being able to escape the town of his birth, barring a semester abroad in Lisbon. He cursed the Rivette clan for settling in the oddball province in the first place. He cursed the French for not putting up a better fight against the British, who took over the area only to leave it an outcast, highly susceptible to the Francophobic bullying of The New Yorker editorial board.
In frustration, David slapped the computer’s monitor, making the screen go blank. It was the only thing he had left of his grandmother; everything else went to Alex, his identical twin brother. Although the same in appearance for obvious biological reasons, they differed in personality. They went to the same high school. Alex always had something charming or witty or interesting to say, and people naturally gravitated towards him. David spent most of his time mouth agog, head resting lethargically in his hands. Alex’s friends were teenage aesthetes, discussing Ibsen and Chekhov over stolen Madeira on the weekends. David had but one friend, the feckless McKenna McKenzie, whose headless body was found by the side of the interstate a couple of years back. Although they dated for three months, her death left him relatively numb, which is probably what she would have wanted. Her funeral was the last time David and Alex saw each other.
The two had a falling out the month before, over misappropriated funds and a carbon monoxide leak. Alex took one look at the coffin, which was closed for everyone’s sake, then gave David a hard look and told him the news. He was moving to Toronto to work for the Toronto Star as a theater critic. Alex gave him his new address and implored him not visit, unless it was “an absolute emergency.”
The black screen held a strange reflectivity, and David immediately saw his brother in the dusty glass. His twin brother, who abandoned him here while he spent nights out in cosmopolitan Toronto, living it up with the cognoscenti, treating his mild epilepsy, perfectly eligible for…
“Wait a minute.”
It was the first time David had spoken in a couple of days. He took out his wallet and pulled out the weathered paper that held Alex’s address. A lightbulb went off. Perhaps he could use his striking resemblance to his twin in order to submit his entry. What qualified as “an absolute emergency” anyway? Here sat David, with a killer caption, one province away from receiving everything he ever wanted. He would have the respect of everyone at the slaughterhouse, and perhaps a chance with the pale and resigned Hélène, who slit the birds’ throats in the most graceful and alluring way. The signed print of the cartoon he would win as a prize would look utterly endearing on his teal parlor wall, distracting from the chips and dents that made it look like a bombed-out Lebanese nightclub. If this wasn’t an emergency, what was?

The morning was cold and damp as David blew five dollars on a bowling arcade game in the Bertrand bus station. The bus to Toronto was an hour late, and he had to keep his hands busy to deter any potential second thoughts regarding his scheme. Now full of self-loathing and lacking the required coinage, he slumped down dutifully onto the hard wooden bench and drifted off. When the time came to board, he did so dutifully, and drifted off again.
Alex lived Downtown in a small flat in a soulless condominium complex. David told the doorman who he was here to see, embarrassed as always by his harsh and guttural Quebecois accent when speaking English. The doorman (Chad, a hateful name) said that he should stay in the lobby, and that Alex would be right down. The “lobby wait” is the ultimate sign of estrangement, thought David. Alex entered the lobby, wearing a tan duster and a tweed cap, which made David sick. He straightened it and motioned to the exit.
They took a walk in a thin strip of highly manicured park by Lake Ontario, which glistened stealthily in the reflection of the gently humming city. David spoke first. “I know this might sound strange, but-” Alex cut him off. “Is it money? With you it always comes down to that. I’ll have you know I left my wallet at home.” David thought about the signed print. “Kind of.” Alex had seen enough bad plays to know how cliched this dialogue was. David quite liked cliched dialogue, and felt the conversation was riveting. Alex balanced upon a beam by the lake’s shore. He stared at his patent loafers.“Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to go to my apartment, I’m going to go to sleep, and when I wake up, you’re not going to be in the metropolitan area, OK?” David knew that this was an angry “OK”, an all caps “OK”. The nature of the conversation dictated that David was bound to say the following, and since was too tired to play against type, he found it easier to lie through his teeth: “I’m really sorry about everything. You do know I love you, right?”
The platitude was enough to make Alex gag, which he did as he went into an epileptic seizure, swallowed his tongue, and went flailing into Lake Ontario.

David stood there, wide-eyed, for about an hour. Seeing as how most of his associations with death involved chickens or Ms. McKenzie, he felt famished. He wandered the solitary blocks back to Alex’s apartment. A new doorman sat at the desk, and smiled as he walked past. David shuffled into the elevator, out of the elevator, down the hall the wrong direction, up the hall the right direction. He went to the door bearing the apartment number from the crumpled note wrote on yellowing funeral hall stock. He had no keys, so he banged his head against the door, which was opened by a young man wearing thick glasses.
“Hey, Alex.” David eyed the kitchen, and told a terrible lie. “Hiya!” Who the hell says “hiya”? Certainly not Alex. Then the young man leaned forward and kissed him. David’s eyes were wide open, darting back and forth. Of course, the family would speak in hushed tones regarding Alex’s sexuality, but there was no formal declaration. South Bertrand, a blue collar community of drab single story dwellings, wasn’t exactly the most tolerant place. But times change, and here David was, being kissed by Alex’s husband while pretending to be his dead brother. The march of progress made David feel very optimistic about Canada’s future, and also very confused.
David made himself a bowl of cereal, downing it quickly. The apartment was large and very stylishly furnished. He relaxed on a slate colored couch and stared out the window, until Alex’s husband went to bed. He tiptoed in his shocked state to the bathroom, and rooted around in the medicine cabinet until he found sleeping pills. He took two, and lay down in the oversized clawfoot tub. He stared at the fashionable black tiled ceiling. This was going to be hard work. He would have to be Alex until his caption won the contest, which was inevitable. Then the escape needed planning, organization. Then the mess to clean up back home, where he left the faucet on…?
David awoke with a start. Alex’s husband stood over him quizzically and shook him. “What are you doing in here?” “Weird night” murmured David. “Breakfast is on the table, you’ll need to move it if you want to get to work on time.” “I’ll try” said David getting up slowly, socks damp from the leaking faucet in the tub. “There’s a first time for everything,” Alex’s husband prodded gently.
They were very good scrambled eggs. Perhaps the greatest David had ever had, although it was not something he had thought about before. Wiping his mouth, he went to the closet and ran his hand across the sweaters, fingering the alternating textures of cashmere and cotton. Everything felt very expensive. He picked out clothes that he thought were appropriately “theater critic”-esque. He settled on a black turtleneck, which he recognized from a picture of Samuel Beckett that the Drama Club hung in the hallway. He put on a tweed coat, and discovered his brother’s wallet fat with cash and theater membership cards, as well as all his photo identification. David was in too much of a hurry to think about the consequences of this.
After a cursory Google search and a short walk, David made his way to the offices of the Star. After a cursory directory search and a short walk, he found “his” corner office, which was lavishly appointed with a large mahogany desk, a glass coffee table, and several plush leather armchairs. The main feature was a massive picture window, giving a view of Lake Ontario, where David’s mirror image was floating around, dead. He rummaged around the desk, looking for the day’s schedule. Coming up empty handed, he turned on the computer, which was surprisingly sooty. David saw his grandmother’s initials carved into the console, a bad habit of hers. The computer was certainly larger and newer than the one David had at home. Rolling his eyes at his grandmother’s favoritism, he found that he had a matinee performance to attend and review that afternoon. Having nothing to do until then, he submitted his caption to The New Yorker under Alex’s name and address.
David thought the play was boring. Seeing as he wasn’t a theater critic, nor a writer of any kind, that was pretty much the only word he could find. Disappointed in himself, he sat at a bar near the theater nursing a Canadian Club, purchased with funds acquired from the late Alex’s surprisingly large bank account. A stocky man in glasses tapped him on the shoulder. “You must be Alex Rivette.” David hesitated. “Yes.” The man smiled “What’d you think of the play?” “Umm-” The man cut him off “You thought it was riveting, a tour-de-force.” David gave another non-committal “Umm.” The man thrust an envelope into his hands and walked away.
Back at the office, David tore it open, and found $5,000 and a prefabricated review. He considered the ramifications of this: Plagiarism, bribery, defiling the sacred art of journalism. It dawned on him that these were Alex’s problems, and compared to the last 24 hours, relatively small ones. So he submitted the article, flying in the face of everything his brother stood for. He couldn’t even stand that well. David drew the blinds, and took a nap on the soft shag carpet.
Alex’s husband was not home when David returned home from “work.” Feeling good about his rebellion towards his dead brother, David decided to watch television for several hours, as he did in most any situation; as celebration, as therapy, everything except entertainment. He heard a firm knock at the door. “Police.” announced an authoritative voice from beyond. Oh Lord! Wondering what the sentence for “defiling the sacred art of journalism” was, he went slowly to the door, making his footsteps loud enough to signal his forthcoming arrival. Two cops stood in the hall, hands resting on their belts. The cop on the right spoke. “Are you Alex Rivette?” David still hesitated. “Sure.” The cop on the left looked puzzled. The cop on the right continued: “We recovered the body of your brother David Rivette, and we need you to identify it.” Although hearing these words provoked a gut reaction of disgust, David nodded calmly and went with the officers to the morgue.
David sat in the sterile waiting room, his heart pounding. He had to admit the truth. Sooner or later, his cover would be blown, and he would be on the first bus back to Central Bertrand, a blue collar community of drab single story dwellings where the station was located. He thought about the dirty tiled floor and shivered. David reflected on the day. The huge apartment, the luxurious office, the respect, the bribery, the excellent scrambled eggs, the bank account, a thoughtful, attractive (male) spouse. The past 24 hours were the best of his pathetic life. Better than the day when he and McKenna murdered butterflies at the botanical gardens. Better than the day he was promoted at the slaughterhouse. Better than the day he won $50 in the provincial lottery. He couldn’t leave this behind. He knew there was only one way he could hang on to it, and it was disgusting and false and dishonorable. It suited him perfectly. The mortician called his name: “Alex Rivette?” He did not hesitate. “Yes?” The mortician motioned to a tinted glass door. Alex Rivette walked across the waiting room to identify the body of his late twin brother David Rivette, formerly of Bertrand, Quebec. Alex stared at the door handle and slowly turned the knob.