I’m on a boat! Yes, mydangblog is travelling. I’ve been superbusy this week getting work stuff done and then getting packed up to go, so here’s what I have for you. You know I write this blog, and you might know that I’m a published novelist, but I also write short stories. I’ve only ever posted one (Donut Store Memories), but I thought I’d share this one with you just for fun. OK, it’s not particularly funny–in fact, it’s kind of dark, but I hope you like it. I’ll be back next week with tales of my adventures but for now…
Jackson Wills had loved Joy Wills from the first moment he’d seen her in the Stag And Horn Pub five years ago. She had come towards him, smiling, hand outstretched. Even from a distance, he could see the delicate bones of her wrist, the porcelain skin, and the fine veins beneath it. When she laughed, he could have sworn he heard tiny silver spoons tapping against crystal wine glasses. Her eyes were brown, a honey-caramel colour that he could have stared into until the end of time. Her long, brown hair was tucked behind one ear, a perfect, shell-like ear. He thought that if he could just lean in a little, he might hear the ocean in that ear. As they spoke, the world around him faded away, and the only thing in the vacuum of silence that remained was Joy. He’d felt that way 5 years ago, and he still felt that way now. There was only one problem. Joy Wills was married to Jackson’s twin brother, MacKenzie.
Mack. The outgoing one, the “fun” twin. Identical to Jack in every way physically, but as different in personality as two people could be. Jack was quiet, introspective, preferring books to people. Mack was loud, a daredevil, always surrounded by a coterie of the equal-minded and equally loud. On the playground when they were children: Jackson always on the periphery; MacKenzie always in the centre. As high school students: Mack, the captain of every team, the president of every club, never without a girlfriend, never lonely on a Friday night; Jackson, on the bench, student council treasurer, invited to parties only as an afterthought.
In university, Jack came into his own, his preference for academia making him popular with professors and to a certain extent, with women. Mack continued to be Mack, but floundered under the pressures of his program, skating just above the cut every semester, spending more time in campus bars than in class. The field of play, such as it was, had finally leveled out. Jack was happy. And then Mack introduced him to Joy.
Mack and Joy had met in a class that she was taking out of interest; he was taking it in the hope that it was an easy credit: Introduction to Sartre. Unfortunately for Mack, it wasn’t easy, and he had turned one afternoon to the beautiful girl sitting next to him in the lecture hall and whispered, “I don’t get the point of this.” She had laughed, that silver-spoon-on-crystal laugh, and replied, “Good one!” He had no idea what she meant by ‘Good one’, but he went with it as he always did, and laughed along with her. Then he asked her out. When he confessed to her that night that he didn’t actually understand what the course was about, she found him charmingly candid. He confided this to Jackson some time after the wedding, laughing at the irony of Joy’s confidence in his honesty. Jackson said nothing, the tapping of silver spoons on crystal still ringing in his ears. It surprised him that Mack even understood the concept of irony. And he continued to say nothing each time Mack asked him to cover for him. Even as an adult, Mack was never without a girlfriend; it didn’t matter that he also had a wife.
Of course, Jackson’s silence was completely selfish. The first time Mack had used him as an excuse (“I’m spending the night at Jack’s. He’s going through a rough time right now…”), he was understandably furious. He found out after the fact when MacKenzie called him, begging him not to tell Joy the truth, that he’d gone out for drinks after work, and went home with a woman in Human Resources whose name he couldn’t even recall. Jackson’s first instinct was to go straight to Joy. But then he stopped. He realized that if Joy knew the truth, she would leave Mack, and he might never see her again. He was sure of one thing, and one thing only—the absence of Joy in his life would kill him.
So, for the past five years, he had been complicit in Mack’s dalliances. But it wasn’t for nothing. Mack started “going out of town for business” which gave Jack the opportunity to spend time with Joy. They liked the same books and spent hours discussing them; they went to the movies, to concerts, and they drank wine, simply talking. As eager as Mack was to get away from Joy, Jack was equally as eager for him to be gone. It was heaven. But then Mack would come back, and everything would return to normal.
One day, it occurred to Jackson that there might be a better solution to his dilemma. Divorce was impossible—he would lose Joy forever. If she and Mack split up, there was little chance that she would want to spend time with a man who looked exactly like him. And Joy seemed to have little concern about the fact that Mack was rarely home. She had a good job herself, and friends, and Jackson, to whom she had referred more than once as her “best” friend. More importantly, when Mackenzie WAS home, she seemed happy, and gave no indication that she even suspected that he was seeing other women. Jackson would watch them together, as seemingly delighted to be a couple as they were the first time Mackenzie had introduced Joy to him in the Stag And Horn. He burned with jealousy and desire, tempered only by the plan that he was slowly and carefully formulating, biding his time until the moment was right.
Then, one Saturday night, they were all out together—Mack and Joy, and Jackson with a woman from his software firm named Kim. He spent most of the evening focused on Joy, barely speaking to his date, who eventually gave up and just ordered a double scotch. Mack was in fine form, though, subtly flirting with Kim. It had long ago occurred to Jackson that he and his brother had never once, even as children, pretended to be each other. It would have been as difficult for Mack to stay quiet as it would have for Jack to be loud. But now, as adults…
Finally, Mack excused himself to go to the restroom, and Jackson followed. Once they were both alone, he broached the topic.
“Kim’s lovely, isn’t she?” he said, as they stood facing the urinals.
Mack looked at him sideways. “Great body,” he said. “Have fun with that. I’m jealous.”
“She’s not my type. She was spending a lot of time watching you when you weren’t looking.”
“Oh, I was looking,” Mack smirked. “Too bad.”
“Well,” Jackson hesitated. “Here’s a thought….”
He carefully explained the plan to his brother, expecting that the combination of Mack’s obvious interest in Kim, combined with the fact that he was slightly drunk would make him compliant. But Mack was outraged.
“You’re a sick person, you know that?!” He jabbed his index finger hard into Jackson’s chest. “I can’t believe you! And there’s no way Joy wouldn’t realize it was you! Stay away from us, from now on!”
Jackson felt sick to his stomach. He had been absolutely convinced that MacKenzie would jump at the chance to switch places, and now—now he’d ruined everything. He’d never see Joy again, never smell the air around her, never lean close to her perfect shell-like ear in the hope of hearing the ocean. He slumped down onto the dirty bathroom floor and began weeping. MacKenzie looked at him with a mixture of concern and contempt.
“Are you OK? Jack! Come on, stop crying!”
“Just take me home, please. We can go out the back—I don’t want anyone to see me like this,” he sobbed.
He got up off the floor, and staggered out of the bathroom and into the parking lot, Mack following close behind.
“I messaged Joy that you suddenly got ill and I’m just running you home, then I’ll come back for her and Kim,” he said, his anger flaring again. “Joy’s actually worried about you. I should make you walk, you piece of shit.”
Jackson just sniffed and got in the car. Mack tossed his wallet and phone into the backseat angrily. “You know I’ve had a bit to drink. You’d better hope we don’t get pulled over.”
They started driving down the highway in silence, Mack staring straight ahead, eyes fixed firmly on the road. Jackson’s mind was racing. They were approaching an underpass. He didn’t know what else to do—he was a desperate man driven by desperate desires. He surreptitiously slid his own wallet out of his pocket and let it drop to the floor of the car. As they got closer to the underpass, he suddenly reached over and popped the button on Mack’s seatbelt. The belt flew up, and Mack looked at him, confused.
“What the hell are you—” he started to say, as Jackson grabbed the steering wheel. The car swerved sharply to the right. As it made contact with the concrete foundation of the underpass, the last thing that Jackson saw was his brother flying up over the airbag and hitting the windshield. Then everything went dark.
When the light came back, he was lying in a room that smelled like rubbing alcohol and blood. He tried to turn his head, but an explosion of pain made him groan. Someone by the bed exclaimed, “He’s awake!”
Another voice, quiet but excited, asked, “Do you know who you are? What’s your name?”
Without thinking, he replied hoarsely, “Jack.” There was a flurry of voices, and he heard someone start crying. He realized suddenly, even through the pain, that he had one chance. “Jack,” he repeated. “Is my brother Jack OK?”
Three weeks later, he was finally released from the hospital. Joy had been there every day, taking care of him, and it was the heaven he had dreamed of. It was easy to pretend to be Mack when he was in recovery—no one expected a man who’d almost been killed by his insanely jealous brother to be loud. And he played up his role, telling Joy that “Jackson” had been madly in love with her, that he’d insisted on driving and that before he drove them into the underpass, he had declared he couldn’t live without her, and that if Jack couldn’t have Joy, neither could Mack. She didn’t say much, just wiped her tears and told him she was glad that he had survived.
At the memorial for “Jackson”, he was appropriately solemn, but inside he could barely contain his excitement. This was the closure he had been waiting for, and once the ceremony was over, he could finally have the life with Joy that he’d dreamed of since the first day he met her. He delivered his own eulogy with just the right amount of gravitas and tears, trying not to giggle hysterically at the realization that Mack could never have been so eloquent. Joy sat in the front pew, tears streaming down her cheeks. It filled him with tremendous empathy for her, and the friend she had lost, but he would more than make it up to her as Mack.
When they got back to the house—HIS house now, too—Joy was quiet. She went immediately up the stairs and disappeared into the bedroom—HIS bedroom now, too. He’d spent the last few days in the guestroom at his own insistence—he still woke up in the night in pain and didn’t want to disturb her. At least, that’s what he told her. The truth was much darker and inexplicable—he wanted Mack’s urn in the ground before he silently claimed Joy for his own. But tonight, he felt as if he could conquer mountains, and she had had enough time to process her grief at the loss of a dear brother-in-law. He sat in the kitchen waiting for some sign of her. One hour passed, then another. Finally, he couldn’t wait any longer. He started up the stairs, just as she was coming down. She was carrying a suitcase. They both stopped and stared at each other.
“Are you going somewhere?” he asked, looking at her and then the suitcase in confusion. “Did we have plans?” Joy continued to stare at him, her honey-caramel eyes making him weak at the knees. “I don’t understand,” he said.
“And I don’t understand how you could possibly want to stay in this sham of a marriage,” she said. “Do you really think I don’t know about all the other women? The disgust I feel for you? I was planning this weeks ago, of telling Jackson how much in love with him I was, hoping beyond hope that he would come away with me…then the accident happened, and I put it off until you were better. But now—with Jackson gone, there’s nothing left for me here. I’m leaving you.”
As she pushed past him on the stairs, he leaned in close to her perfect, shell-like ear. “I love you,” he whispered. He heard the ocean roar, and then she was gone.