The Road Not Taken
Caraline sat at the spaceport cafe table and watched herself walk in. As always, it was a strange experience. The woman paused in the doorway until she spotted Caraline. Then she wove through the tables toward her. The other woman had gained some weight, softened. Caraline straightened in her seat, suddenly conscious of her slender frame and stylish pantsuit. Perhaps she should have dressed down more, to match the other woman’s comfortable jeans and sweater.
Prior to the accident she had been both Cara and Caraline depending on the situation. Now she was just Caraline. It was a simple way to distinguish, to declare some semblance of separateness.
A waitress appeared to take drink orders, then left them alone. Caraline flinched away from the eerily familiar eyes. Instead she studied their hands on the table. Her own were smooth with painted fingernails. Cara’s were chapped with blunt tips. Cara’s hands curled up as if they noticed the scrutiny and wished to hide. Caraline slid her own hands into her lap.
“So, I saw that you’re having a showing next month,” Cara ventured.
Caraline seized the proposed topic for conversation: “Yes. It’s very exciting. I’ve lined up all the girls and the runway. Now I’m frantically finishing the clothing. The designs are all done, of course, but I keep seeing small things I want to change. This could really be my big break.”
Cara smiled, encouraging and yet wistful. “Are you going to use that swirling dress I doodled during history?” Cara blushed, “We doodled.”
Caraline remembered the dress. She remembered drawing it out of boredom. That had been back when she was singular instead of plural. Now two women remembered drawing the dress.
“Yes, I’m using the dress. I found the most heavenly blue Rigelian Spidersilk. It looks like the ocean.”
Cara’s sigh was full of longing. “I wish I could come to the show.”
Caraline did not respond. She did not want Cara at the show. It would be . . . awkward. It would also violate their agreement to stay out of each other’s lives. Cara knew this. Cara would not come even if the show had been on the planet where Cara lived rather than half a galaxy away.
The waitress returned with two identical drinks. “Here you go sweetie.” The waitress set the drink on the table and paused a moment when identical faces looked up at her. “Are you two twins?”
Cara opened her mouth, but no words came out. They were not twins; they were a person divided. Caraline still remembered the nauseating lurch of the wormhole jump unlike any other she’d taken before. Only later had she learned it was caused by a bizarre accident which no one could yet explain. Instead of a single ship emerging from the wormhole, there had been two identical ones.
Caraline smiled her polite-but-busy smile and firmly said “Yes we’re twins.” She really didn’t want to go through all the questions the waitress would have. The accident had been net-wide news. The whole galaxy was fascinated by the resultant pairs of duplicated people. Most of the duplicates continued to live in a swirl of media attention. She and a few others had chosen differently. The waitress smiled and went away.
Caraline turned back to Cara, studying her face openly now. That could be me. She faced the thought. Cara was thinking it too.
Caraline sipped her drink. “How is Ryan?” Ryan of the deep brown eyes and curly hair that her fingers itched to touch. The three years since the accident had surely not changed his broad smile and cheerful laugh. Caraline’s eyes stung and she blinked a couple of times to prevent tearing. She could not cry here.
Cara’s expression softened, “Ryan’s doing well. He’s a partner in Baxter Woodworks now. That means he doesn’t have as much time for carving as he used to.”
That was a shame. Caraline had always loved to watch Ryan’s hands as he worked with wood. But owning the company was his dream.
“I’m glad.” Caraline was glad. A tear rolled down her cheek. She met Cara’s sympathetic gaze.
“I still miss him.”
Cara nodded. “I can’t imagine being without him. I’ve even started helping out in the workshop.” Cara traced a droplet down the side of her glass with a single finger. “I never thought I’d enjoy woodwork, but I do.”
Caraline wiped away the tear. She could not imagine enjoying woodwork. The dust got everywhere and the work roughened hands so that they snagged on fine fabrics. Caraline drifted her smooth hand across the sleeve of her silk jacket.
Cara’s hand’s twitched as if she too longed to touch the smooth sleeve.
Caraline took a big gulp of her drink. It was best if she didn’t think too much of Ryan. He knew she existed– but did not need her. He had Cara who had given up her career to live with him on his rural world and help in his workshop. He did not want or love Caraline the up-and-coming fashion designer.
Caraline stared at the surface of the table, noting every dent in the surface. She wanted to talk to this other version of herself, to hear about her life, but she did not know what to say. At the time of the accident it had seemed almost a boon. She no longer had to choose between the man she loved and the career she longed for. The two of her had drawn straws.
But she did choose. She did not get to be both. Everyone made choices, but only a very few had an annual meeting with their might-have-been self.
“Perhaps these meetings are a bad idea,” Cara spoke Caraline’s thought aloud.
Caraline looked up and studied Cara’s face. “They probably are,” Caraline agreed. “But could you stand not knowing?”
Cara shook her head.
Each woman took a drink and studied the other.
# # #
Sandra Tayler is a writer of essays, speculative fiction, and blog entries. Some of the stories have sold to anthologies. In 2009 her blog, One Cobble At a Time, won the Association of Mormon Letters award for online writing.
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