by GJ Hart
Peering through the oven’s greasy portal, Sharon was delighted to see how the hairs had singed and twisted and the skin thickened into glistening corrugations. Satisfied, she lowered the heat, pulled on her coat and retrieved the heavy brass key ring from the kidney dish beside the front door. After locking up, she stopped a moment to sniff her Forget-Me-Nots, then set off along the peninsula’s only road into Remington; rolling her feet to avoid the blisters and tightening her scarf as the stench of fish scales swept in from the flats.
Disappointed to find the town practically deserted, Sharon wandered the market stalls that linned the cobbled lanes with no real goal in mind; languidly browsing the over-priced and rotten produce and avoiding eye contact with the traders imploring her to open her purse. When she could stand their relentless squawking no more, she hurried on toward the high-street.
It was here – as she moved from shop window to shop window – she spotted Herbert in the pharmacy’s brightly lit aisle. Taking a deep breath, she marched in and, as he attempted to conceal a tube of hemorrhoid cream behind his back, invited him for coffee.
“When?” he asked.
“Now,” she said.
Herbert shifted awkwardly on the cafe’s wooden chair as Sharon sipped her espresso and revealed in a whisper, how her husband had recently passed.
“I miss him more than I can stand, “she said, and turning her phone, showed Herbert a picture.
“And you see,” she said, “you could be his double.”
“That’s uncanny,” said Herbert but recognised nothing about the tall man in the blue suit and stingy brim.
“Will you have dinner with me?” She said.
“Now,” she said and pitching his coffee into a plant pot, grabbed his elbow and led him out the shop and back toward the peninsula. They walked in silence, through the gathering mist, until they arrived at her tiny cottage.
“You wait here,” said Sharon, searching for her keys.
“I need to lock him upstairs. He doesn’t like strangers.”
“Him?” Said Herbert.
Sharon poked out her tongue and panted.
Herbert was half frozen by the time she let him in.
“I know you think I’m weird.”
“Really, I don’t.”
Sharon smiled and tugged at a cord of fat with her fingernails.
“I’m just glad you came,” she said and wobbled a slice of pork onto his plate.
Herbert hadn’t eaten meat in over a decade and as he watched the glistening disk sink slowly in its own fat, his nausea grew. Attempting to evade himself, he closed his eyes and gripping the folk in his fist, maneuvered it carefully to the back of his mouth. It didn’t work: the moment it touched his tongue, his throat tightened and his stomach heaved.
“This tastes fantastic!” He said, swallowing down vomit.
“I knew you’d like it,” she said and slapped on two more slices.
“So, what kind of man was he?” He said, trying to steer the conversation away from food.
“Well, looks wise,” she said and jabbed her knife at him.
Herbert’s mouth formed a shape his face did not recognise.
“But as a person?” she continued, “One word: routine. He hated surprises and he hated change. Any change.”
“Not the most a spontaneous guy.”
“Let me explain. We went to New Quay on our honeymoon. It was nice. I had a nice time. But from that day on, he refused to go anywhere else! Same hotel, same room, same table in the same fucking restaurant for ten years.”
She dropped her knife and fork.
“And then there was the smell,” she whispered.
“It followed me everywhere. For a while I thought it was me. Every year it got worse. I’d throw up in my handbag. He couldn’t understand why I bought so many fucking bags! It was him of course, always had been.”
“Memories,” said Herbert.
“Please don’t feel sorry for me,” she said, “he never did.”
She sighed and poured two glasses of wine.
“Am I the first…since…?” He asked, risking the insinuation.
“No,” she replied, “you’ll be the tenth.”
“And they all looked…like me..like him?”
“Oh god no. But they all possessed some aspect of him. More pork?”
Ignoring the offer, he lifted his glass and gulped hard.
“Do you mind if I ask..?”
“How he died? Food poisoning. I told him it smelt off, but he wouldn’t listen. Wednesday was pork night – so he had to have pork. He was completely immobilised those last few days, poor thing.”
“Terrible,” said Herbert, feeling his collar.
GJ Hart currently lives and works in London. His fiction has appeared in The Jersey Devil Press, The Harpoon Review, 99 Pine Street, The Jellyfish Review, Foliate Oak and others. He can be found arguing with himself over @gj_hart.