Otto was already having a pretty terrible morning.
Coffee dribbled down the front of his shirt – the one he’d bought last week from the
clearance rack of Nordstrom – and he knew from experience that this type of polyester fabric
never lost stains, no matter how many hours he’d spend scrubbing in the kitchen sink. If he had
remembered his winter jacket while he was scrambling to leave, he wouldn’t have had to worry
about it. And to top that, his bus was fifteen minutes late, so he was probably going to miss the
going-away party for his co-worker, Sarah, who was moving to Sydney. Otto took a swig of his
tepid coffee. The tissue paper in his gift bag fluttered sadly in the icy wind, and his cell phone
rang – a harsh disturbance in the quiet, snow-fluffed neighborhood.
“Hello?” he said, trying to balance his coffee, phone, briefcase, and gift bag.
“Yeah, hey. I just saw you at the bus stop as I drove by. I think there’s been a mistake;
the company called you a couple times last week, but you never answered. I figured you just
forgot,” a familiar voice said.
“Who is this?” Otto asked, his attention suddenly micro-focused on the voice at the other
end of the line.
“It’s you. Otto. Your Double? You scheduled this, remember? It’s December 1. The
agency was supposed to send you a reminder; you must have missed it. Today’s the first day of
your Double Month.”
“That’s today?” Otto shifted his weight from one foot to the other, realizing his toes no
longer felt as there as they were supposed to. He hated the sound of his voice on the other end of the line. Double Month. Shit.
“Yep, today’s your first day of vacay!” the Double sang into the phone, and Otto winced.
Sometimes it really takes hearing yourself talk to make you realize how much of a moron you
sound like, he thought to himself. “And I got the memo about Sarah’s party, picked her up a gift
and everything, so you don’t have to worry about that either.”
“What did you get her?” Otto asked warily.
“Swiss chocolates and a cashmere scarf. I know she’s a classy girl, yeah, so I got data on
all the most favorably received gifts for female colleagues at office jobs, and these had the
highest ratings. She’ll love ‘em, dude, I promise.”
Otto looked down at his gift bag, with its handmade photo album and mixtape, the
singing card he’d known would make her laugh. It was the kind of gift he couldn’t take back, the
one that crossed the line he’d spent the last two years drawing. He’d hid the way his stomach
fluttered when she walked by and closed his eyes when she passed to inhale the flowery scent
that followed her everywhere, scared to ruin the friendship that meant more to him than anything else, until today. Today was the day for home-made, sentimental gifts. Today was the day for declarations he couldn’t take back and saying screw you
to every instinct that told him to let her leave quietly.
Or maybe not.
“Cool, man,” Otto said through gritted teeth. “Is it too late to reschedule? I don’t really
think I need today off, you can start tom–”
“Nuh-uh!” the Double interrupted. “I’m almost there. You’re the only company
employee who hasn’t done Double Month in the entire time you’ve been there. Plus, you can’t
cancel without a 24-hour notice.”
“Oh . . . ok,” Otto mumbled, disappointed. He knew he should be grateful; they weren’t
cheap. Most people never got a Double at all unless it was included in their company’s Incentive
Program, a way to give employees vacations without lowering productivity. Other than that, they were for conglomerate executives who had too many places to be and things to do; they’d send their doubles out and have everything uploaded into their memories at the end of the day. Hardly anyone could tell the difference between Doubles and people anymore. Only if you really knew someone could you place a poorly-timed reaction or a subtle tic out of place. Otto’s boss, Fred, had finally pressured him into getting a Double Day for himself a year ago, and it had been months since he’d sent the hundreds of videos, voice recordings, forms, and DNA. No wonder he’d forgotten.
“Alright, man, I’ll see you later. You have your day. Chill, ok? Put your feet up. There’s
a Harry Potter marathon on for the next 3 days. God Bless the heroes at ABC Family, amiright?
And don’t worry, I’ll do a great job! I’ve got the newest update and everything; no one will even
know it’s not you. I read that you weren’t a fan of the fact-retrieval database feature so I’ve
dumbed myself down so no one can tell it isn’t you.” Otto held the phone away from his ear and
looked at it for a second, wondering if this guy was for real. “Oh, and if you ever want to check
in, it’s channel 0; your TV’s already set up and everything. You shouldn’t really have to, though.
I was literally made for this, dude,” the Double chuckled at its joke.
It was a couple seconds before Otto realized his Double had hung up on him, and as he
started heading back to his apartment, he realized he was failing at shaking off the feeling that he was missing the most important day of his life.
The frigid walk home was slow and treacherous, so despite Otto’s desire to drop
everything and run home to see how badly the Double was screwing up his day, he carefully
stepped over the icy patches and prayed to make it home without any broken bones. As soon as he got to the apartment building, he raced up the stairs. After several fumbled attempts to unlock the door, he fell inside, tossed his briefcase, gift bag, and keys to the floor and grabbed the remote.
“Come on, come on,” he muttered, impatiently waiting for the TV to turn on. Channel 0.
The party was already loud. Otto watched through the Double’s eyes as someone walked in
carrying a large frosted cake, and everyone cheered and whooped. The Double’s eyes lingered on Sarah’s red lips smiling widely at him for a second too long, and Otto felt a thump of jealousy. Idiot, he’s a robot. Get a life.
After all the slices had been distributed, Sarah took a seat in the corner and ate hers,
pretending to choke on her cake at one of Fred’s awful jokes for fake Otto’s benefit. The Double
had kept its distance so far. Maybe it was best that Otto hadn’t gone. A clean break for both of
them. He knew it was too much to hope that she wouldn’t talk to him at all that day, and after a
while, the Double began to approach her. Otto tensed in his living room.
“Hey, Sarah. You look fabulous!” Otto’s voice said from the TV screen, slightly muffled
by static. Otto stood up and gave his twenty-year-old TV a couple of thumps. It returned to
normal. She gave him a generous smile and made a sweeping motion over her dress.
“Thank you, Otto! It’s new. Damn, this cake is awesome,” she said, her eyes rolling into her head.
“Yeah,” The Double gave a half-hearted chuckle. He awkwardly stuck out his gift bag
towards her. “I got you a present!”
“For moi?” Sarah asked innocently, a hand to her chest.
“Por woh!” the Double replied stupidly.
The TV broke into static again. Otto groaned and put his head in his hands. With a grunt
of frustration, he got up to pound on it again, but stopped halfway and seemed to think better of it. What was the use in agonizing over this? It wasn’t as if he’d miss anything if he stopped
watching. She would leave for Australia, and he’d still be here, going back to work in a month to
work a 9-to-5 he didn’t love, now without the corny jokes of his best friend. His emotions were
starting to shift gear from disappointment to anger. If he’d only— Otto shrugged the thought off angrily along with his stained shirt and went to the kitchen sink to start scrubbing, though he
really ought to have known better by now.
Several frustrated swears and a wasted ten minutes later, Otto put on a different shirt,
grabbed his messenger bag and winter jacket, and headed out to the coffee shop two blocks
away, hoping to drown his anger in a hot beverage pretending to be coffee underneath a
mountain of whipped cream. Maybe find himself a cheap flight out of here. He had an entire
month to kill; maybe he could catch a plane and finally do the beautiful Fiji tour everyone at
work was talking about. Either way, anywhere was better than here.
When Otto arrived at the cozy café he commonly frequented, he ordered the most
ridiculous-sounding item on the menu and took it to his favorite seat by the window, from where he could see several snowflakes beginning to fall to the Earth. As he pulled his ancient laptop from his bag and waited for it to start up, he absentmindedly took a sip of the swirly peppermint-something-or-the-other and violently flinched when it burned his tongue, spilling almost a quarter of the cup on the table. His mumbled swears were drowned out by the deafening sound of his laptop coming to life. Brrrraaaaaummmm. Otto nearly went into sensory overload when his phone began to ring as well and patted his pockets, frantically trying to locate it. By now, everyone else in the store was giving him looks. Life handed no favors to Otto Levitt.
“Wait, wait…” he said distractedly, fumbling with the phone while trying to prevent the
coffee from cascading in a waterfall from the table to the floor. Why was it always like this? “Who is this?”
“What, you don’t get caller ID anymore?” Sarah asked.
“Huh? What?” Otto replied, still totally out of it. He gave up on the coffee. It trickled to
the floor, drop by drop, like it was taunting him.
“It’s Sarah. Are you alright? You sound breathless. Are you at the party? What are they
doing to you in there?”
Otto’s irritation from the morning started coming back to him. “You would know; it’s
your party,” Otto muttered huffily.
“Well,someone’s in a mood,” Sarah said.
“Sorry, sorry,” Otto said. “I’m having a pretty crap day.”
“I hope it’s not the party. Did they throw me a shitty party? They did, didn’t they? This is
exactly why I didn’t go. I heard from Bill that Priscilla – you know Priscilla, right? She’s the
fifteenth floor, we never see her – was the one getting the cake, and she always gets the most
awful flavors. Last year for Bill’s birthday she got a banana cake. Sorry, I talk too much. Why is
your day shitty, exactly?”
Otto was confused. “You’re not there? But I saw you.” Well, through the TV, but still.
“No, I threw my own party. It’s got wine, and Harry Potter, and the warmest throw
blanket you’ve ever seen. You probably talked to my Double. I hired one for a day – they’re
really fucking expensive, let me tell you, when you’re paying for them yourself – cause my
flight’s at eleven p.m. and I just really didn’t want to go to that goodbye party. I’ve already said
goodbye to the people I’ll actually miss; they know it’s not me in there. And that just leaves
“Me? For what?”
“My real party! I’m inviting you! You should be honored, no one else made the list. It was
going to be just me, but then I remembered how much you like me and Harry Potter and
good wine, and I thought, hmm, Otto should be definitely be here. So what do you say? You
wanna ditch the gross cake and bad conversation?” Sarah paused, waiting for Otto to respond.
“I’d really like it if you came,” she said, softer this time.
Otto’s smile grew until you could have seen it from the moon. He thought back to his gift
“Sorry. Yes! For sure! I’m coming. There’s just something I have to grab from my
apartment real quick, and then there’s a couple other things I have to take care of, but I’ll be
there in about… oh, I don’t know, half an hour? Don’t watch any without me!”
She laughed and hung up. Otto grabbed a stack of napkins from the counter, mopped up
the mess and threw them away with the ruined coffee. Honestly, it wasn’t much of a loss to him
anyway; his entire mouth was now dry from drinking what had tasted like a liquefied candy
cane. That’s what he got for trying new things.
As Otto walked out of the café, lost in thought, he couldn’t help but wonder if the
universe screwed with him to keep him on his toes or if it was something bigger than that.
Maybe no one person was allowed to have as much hope as Otto carried with him in his heart as he shuffled down the icy pavement to his apartment, and the little things – spilled coffee,
misplaced keys, cracked phone – they just kept the universe from tipping out of balance. It
wasn’t as though Sarah had confessed her love to him, Otto knew. But he had a suspicion now
that he wasn’t the only person in their friendship who didn’t want to let the other go. It was a
second chance, and he didn’t get those often. Suddenly, the prospect of Double Month seemed
less like a sentence and more like a blessing. He thought of the flight he’d planned to book.
Wasn’t it summer in Sydney right now?
Fatima Khan is a sophomore majoring in English and Biology. She says, “You’ve likely
seen me behind the marketing front desk, or sitting on a campus sofa, taking a nap. If it’s
the former, say hi! If I’m asleep, wake me, I’m probably late.” She won Best Short Story
in this issue.