Divided I Stand

Not just a suit
Red eyes as she opened the door. I was surprised that Cindy was in tears and angry too. "How could you say such things?" she asked plaintively in that slightly Nordic accent I found so beguiling. "What things?" I asked, taken aback. "Your phone call yesterday, you were awful." I had no recollection of ringing anyone, least of all her.

Anxious to pacify Cindy, since she was so upset, I didn't challenge her claim of my ringing her, despite having no memory of doing so. The main thing was to make her realise I still felt as much for her as before. At last she seemed convinced.

She left the room to change into her going-out jeans. I sat in her wide leather armchair and thought about what she had said. She claimed I had told her I didn't want to see her anymore. How could that be?

The truth was that I thought Cindy gorgeous. Had I been so drunk yesterday that I rang up to abuse her? I couldn't imagine this happening. The only other possibility was that she was lying. But why would she make it up, and how could she expect me to believe I had spoken to her when I hadn't? I suspended judgement since neither explanation made any sense.

Our evening together passed without any other hiccups, though we were both subdued. The film was mediocre Hollywood. Back at her place we sat enveloped in the warmth of Mozart, discussing our future cross-country ski holiday.

Due to strong coffee the previous evening and the consequent bad night, I was sleepy and lethargic at work the next day. Luckily I had a lot to do, so time sped by. When I looked up at the wall clock it was almost lunchtime, I put the print-outs aside. Just as I was getting up, the phone on my desk made that queer electronic beep that simulated ringing. As often as not, it would be for someone else.

"Hello," the voice said with easy familiarity. "Who is this?" I thought, struggling to place her. "Looking forward to tonight?" This was bizarre - I had no recollection of planning something for the evening. It's true I was absent-minded but I wouldn't forget a date with a girl. I had no idea what to say. Did she mistake me for someone else? "This is Roger Warner, do I know you?", I asked, feeling stupid and defensive. "Of course you know me, don't be silly!" This was no help at all. "What's your name?"

"Marion," was the confident and amused answer, followed by a laugh like that of a small bird. Was she someone from way back, university, or the sister of someone I had known? I felt badly, as when a person knows my name and I have forgotten theirs. Marion's obvious confidence about our familiarity made it worse.

In these situations I would normally pretend that I knew the other person, hoping that something would tip me off where I knew them from. This time I did not have the option. "Where do I know you from?" I asked at last. "From tennis, silly!" That was no help either. I decided to humour her. "So what is on tonight, or is it a secret?" I enquired.

She was waiting outside the cinema. I vaguely remembered her from some doubles matches, though more by sight than anything else. I had done no more than exchange pleasantries with her. She gave me a kiss on the lips, which surprised me. Did she fancy me as more than just a friend? The idea made me uncomfortable. Marion was a nice girl alright, but I didn't find her attractive. My impression of a new intimacy on her part was confirmed by her holding my hand during the film. I liked the physical contact but I began to worry about consequences. Would she force me to tell her that I wasn't interested in her as a girlfriend? Unrequited attraction is highly unpleasant, no matter which side of it one is on. I played with excuses in my mind, such as that I had just begun an intensive course in horticulture.

"Let's go for a cappuccino," she suggested after the happy resolution and the credits. "Sure," I said, not liking to disappoint her eagerness. "So what are we doing this Sunday?" she asked over coffee, trying (I thought) to sound casual. I was taken aback, as much by her tone as by the question. I listened to the faint crackle of my cappuccino foam before answering. "Did we have some plans together?" I asked neutrally. "Well," she began, "you did say you'd have a look to see what is on in the paper." "I did?" I asked, floundering, "Sorry, I don't remember." I tried to think of how to get out of this. "How about a harbour walk?" she pressed, as though to retain the advantage.

I rallied. "No, I need to see my parents and I've got badminton in the morning. She looked both surprised and disappointed. I had the impression she was weighing up whether to put more pressure on me or whether to make a tactical withdrawal. If so, her fighting instincts won, though they adopted humorous armour, saying, "Surely you can't get out of it that easy? This isn't half the Roger I know." Which Roger was that? I thought momentarily, before moving to defend.

"No, really, it doesn't suit me at all." Firmness seemed needed at this point, though I hoped not to have to resort to honesty, ever the last resort in these situations. The light died in her eyes: "OK, sorry I asked." She sounded hurt. My instinct was to comfort her but I realised the danger of that. Better her feeling rejected than my feeling trapped. Since she had obviously made unwarranted assumptions about me I felt my attitude was justified. We parted stiffly. I was uneasy; the situation felt unresolved.

By contrast, Sunday evening with Cindy was terrific. She could talk and she could listen. What a confident girl! I congratulated myself on being able to attract someone like her. I loved the way she would smile fleetingly for no reason. I didn't try to take any liberties with her as we said goodbye at her door, since I felt secure in our friendship. It was more important that she trusted me. Sex could wait. Though not long, I earnestly hoped.

Wednesday evening. Stuck to the fridge was a large sheet of paper:

        Would you kindly clear out of my life?
        No-one asked you to join me in my head.
        You're a thief, stealing my life. So beat it man!
        I don't want you, do you hear?
        This is my body and my life you are intruding on.

        I don't care who you are or where you come from.
        I just want you OUT. It's either that or going mad.
        Or am I mad already?

It was a real shock to read this, especially since it was my own hand-writing. Who wrote this and to whom? Not I. Could it be addressed to me? I dismissed the thought immediately. Definitely my hand-writing. So someone went to the trouble of copying my writing and planted this note here? Seemed most unlikely. Who would bother? And such a weird note too. More likely that it was something to do with the amnesia I seemed to be suffering from.

Could I have written this and then forgotten? If so, I wasn't just losing my memory but also my marbles. I screwed up the note, rolled it into a tight ball and threw it contemptuously at the bin, missing, as usual. Ten minutes later I picked it up, smoothed the paper and read it again. And again and again. Comprehension did not come. I couldn't imagine writing such a note. What for? Above all, to whom?

I woke up early the next morning and couldn't fall asleep again. I went to the kitchen and stared at the mindless whiteness of the enamel. Standing at the benchtop I wrote on my yellow scribble pad:

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

        I don't know who you are, what you want
        or why you abuse me. If you want me to pay
        attention to you it is better if you explain things.

        At least sign your name.

Roger

I stuck the note to the enamel with blue-tack.

Strangely, I felt better after this absurd action. As though I had done something concrete about my problem. Of course I felt stupid, but no-one except me would know.

The next morning, just as I was turning to reach for my car keys, a patch of yellow dashed past my eyes. Something was stuck to the fridge. Not the large sheet of white paper I had affixed there but a small note in yellow. A shiver went through me. Half afraid, half eager, I walked slowly to the kitchen.

"So he pretends ignorance does he?" I thought. At least the note was not hostile. Defensive, but not hostile. Maybe I had better be a bit polite till I knew where I stood in this. No point in angering him when I am so much in the dark as to what is really going on.

All day at work my thoughts returned to that yellow paper. I would write a reply, but what could I write? I had said it all already. It was up to him to explain who he was, where he came from and what he wanted. And then get the hell out of my life.

Back home I was too depressed to cook, so I ate sardines, which I don't like at all.

I noted down my questions:

        Who are you?
        What is your name?
        Where do you come from?
        How did you get into my body?
        Where are you normally?
        What do you want with me?

Roger Andrew Warner

These questions were simultaneously reasonable and nonsensical.

Two days later, yellow struck again.

        I am Roger Andrew Warner, born in Wales on August 3, 1959.
        I have always been in this body.
        I don't want anything with you.
        I don't know who you are, or even whether you exist.
        Would you tell me what the hell is going on instead of asking me questions you probably know the answers to?

Roger Andrew Warner

My reply:

        I didn't ask you about me, I asked about you. All you've done is describe me as though you were me - tell me something I don't know. I don't need you to tell me where I was born for god's sake! Stop pretending you're a clone.

Roger

There were no more notes for a week. The interchange left me as mystified as before. The only advance was that I had dismissed the possibility that someone was playing a joke on me. I was sure no-one had entered my flat during my absences. That led to a disturbing conclusion. Not only was I amnesic but while in that state I seemed to suffer from some sort of paranoia. This gave me an idea. I wrote:

Dear Roger,

        When you read this, Roger, you will not remember having written it. That is because you (I) suffer from amnesia. What is equally disturbing is that you seem paranoid about some non-existent person invading your own body. That's nonsense. Get a grip on yourself!

Yours

Roger

Well, that seemed to sum up the situation pretty well. I went to bed content and eager to receive an answer. My increasingly ludicrous-seeming message to myself mocked me for days. Each time I took something from the fridge it reminded me I wasn't all there. Part of me was somewhere else.

I decided to give it another two days. Maybe my amnesia was cured. Yet a pessimistic voice within me warned that I had no reason to think that this bizarre disease was gone. Why should I be better when I had done nothing to get better?

These musings were interrupted by the sight of white on white, instead of yellow on white. With a familiar beam of excitement and dread I approached the fridge.

This time the note made some sense. I did suffer from amnesia. Obviously I somehow lost the memory of having written this note. I didn't like the accusation of paranoia. Let he who is innocent cast the first insult! "Getting a grip on myself" seemed a particularly useless piece of advice. What a twit! Maybe I had been drunk when I wrote this. Apart from confirming my belief that I suffered from amnesia, the note told me nothing. Cryptic bastard!

I wrote on white paper,

THE SITUATION AS I SEE IT

        1) I suffer from recurrent amnesia every few days or so.

        2) This is proved by the notes, only half of which (the white ones) I remember writing.

        3) Let's forget about the idea of body snatching. Reasons: Occam's razor and the fact that I prefer to be sane.

        4) I need medical help for the amnesia.

        Come in Roger yellow!

        Over and out -

Roger White

I liked the part about 'Roger yellow'. It was time he showed his colours.

That same evening I had my reply:

        I agree on all points. Let's see a quack.

Roger Yellow

Progress at last.

The next day I was examined by Dr Ernest Fauerbach, who determined there was nothing wrong with me. He kindly added that even if there were a problem with loss of memory, nothing could be done about it. His one suggestion was to get more sleep.

Frustrated by his unhelpfulness, I resolved to do something to help myself. At Dymocks I bought a blank book. Each afternoon, literally the first thing I did on closing the front door behind me was to write up all the events, in note form, of the last 24 hours. I didn't even trust myself to walk to the table, but sat down to write on the carpet. On leaving for work I would leave the book lying in front of the door, so that I could not miss it on returning.

Eight days later, on Thursday, I read back the entries. My first realisation was what a predictable life I lead, reminding me of the question scratched onto a school-desk, "Do you live or just exist?" No-one would want to read about me, that was for sure. There was nothing indicating amnesia though, since I remembered all the incidents described.

On Friday evening, I read Thursday's entry. All was fine except for, "Arranged to see Cindy on Sunday at 7 pm at my place." I had no recollection of having spoken to her except about work matters. At last I had proof! I excitedly circled the sentence with a thick red marker.

Why would I want to see her anyway? She was a pushy bitch, though a good-looking one. Frosty Swedish blondes were not my forte.

There was no break in my memory trace between that moment and the one in which she appeared in front of my door smiling at me. Since she stood there at my door I had no choice but to show her in.

The evening with Cindy dragged, though the restaurant was good and the wine even better. On the plus side, she was a hearty eater and no amount of sea-food or Belgian chocolates seemed to add an ounce to her streamlined form. She liked to talk about her future trip to Italy and Spain, and the books she read, mainly biographies. It was intelligent conversation alright, but romantic it certainly wasn't. She had none of Marion's warmth. I was convinced Cindy needed de-icing.

I decided yellow Roger was jaded and too rarefied for my liking, judging by his choice of woman. Cindy had too much brains and not enough bust for my taste.

Outside the office she habitually wore jeans and her hair was too short. When I remarked on this, she rebuffed me angrily. She had one advantage, however. Cindy could make herself ready in thirty seconds, reminding me how intensely it had annoyed me to see my ex, Sylvia, dressing herself elaborately and agonisingly.

I thought I could have some fun with Cindy, at yellow's expense. What did I care if she took offence? Yellow would suffer the consequences, not I.

"I haven't even seen your legs, Cindy," I ventured. She was visibly taken aback but did not show annoyance, as I had expected. "OK, I'll change into something more feminine when we return to my place." This surprised me.

Indeed, back at her flat she swapped denim for a skirt that showed her knees and sported a modest split on the side as well. "How do I look?" she asked timidly. I complimented her sincerely. This assertive career girl could be feminine too.

I now knew enough to call myself the yellow Roger, an identity he, the white Roger, also recognised. We were like an aeroplane with two pilots, alternately guiding the craft, each ignoring the flight-plan of the other.

There was a period of conflict, but gradually, he and I decided to co-operate since neither of us could get his way for long. Using the fridge to communicate, we engaged in horse-trading, and signed a pact of non-aggression and non-interference with each other's divergent amorous lives.

Marion irritated me no end. Her cute-little-girl act disgusted me. She wanted a father, not a lover. True, she had a certain charm, but I kept getting annoyed at her indirectness, her dependence on me, her lack of character. Roger white must have liked her for some reason, probably to polish his fragile ego. Yet I had to admit that I did enjoy her looking up to me, as Cindy almost never did. When I was with Marion I felt taller, smarter, stronger. I also felt a fraud, seeing I was impersonating her boyfriend, the one on the white Clydesdale. I half wanted and half feared being exposed.

I was too jaundiced to find her amusing for more than short spurts. Sometimes she said interesting things, most often she would prattle on about trivia. I didn't want to hurt this girl-child. Yet what could I do? It was beyond me to pretend to love her, so I feigned depressions. This worked quite well because Marion used to suffer from depressions herself. Of course it was boring to act apathetic and depressed, but it was either that or acting energetic and amorous.

Why couldn't that twerp Roger white turn up for the dates he had arranged?

Marion must have been born with a gene for shopping for shoes, if not an entire chromosome specifically dedicated to this dubious evolutionary advantage. Luckily for her, I am by nature patient. I learnt enough about women's shoes to secure a job in the industry.

Marion liked to dress up, which took time, reminding me that her elegance was also about the only thing I still liked about my ex. My life with Sylvia had been a classic marriage of inconvenience and I was far from eager to repeat the experience. Spending time with Marion did not seem matrimonially dangerous.

The enforced dates with mousey maid Marion had compensations. I learnt that she would easily submit to my will. So I asked her to wear the sort of clothes I wanted to see Cindy in, but dared not ask. We bought sexy underwear and a short mini together. Cindy had the better figure, but I didn't imagine she would wear stockings with a suspender belt for my benefit. Marion, bless her, did. To be fair to Roger white, his taste was quite good. Marion was pleasant-looking, though slightly overweight and short. Good taste but not great. I liked her long hair. No-one would put Marion in the same class as Cindy, who, being tall, blond and striking, could have been a cover-girl, though admittedly not chesty enough for Penthouse.

As I got to know her more I began to see the adult woman emerging in Marion, seemingly needing my permission to come out. At the same time I began to sense there was a vulnerable girl hiding inside Cindy's armour.

The biggest surprise of all was last Saturday. Returning from a lunch of oysters and profiteroles on the harbour, I noticed a garter strap peeking through the generous split in Cindy's flouncy mauve skirt. Once inside her door, she began to tongue-kiss me, something we had not done before - or had we? As she pulled me down onto the sofa I thanked white Roger profoundly in my heart.

Tad Boniecki

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