I wear your face to the party. It’s not a costume party, but I don’t care. I admire a picture of you taped to the wall of my studio apartment. You are seated, legs crossed, looking back over your shoulder and laughing as if someone just said the funniest thing in the world. I outline the sides of my mouth with a pencil and try to shape it just like yours. I look over my shoulder and laugh, my eyes on the mirror, mimicking you. Close, but not close enough. My nose is mousey, tiny, barely there. Yours is pronounced and proud. I use a bit of clay, glue, and foundation to match the bridge and nostrils. I remove my tiny silver glasses and reach for the contact lenses to match your hazy blue eyes. There are more pictures of you on the wall, printed and taped, your face always half-titled away from the camera, your curly blond hair cascading down your back. You with a lip-sticked cigarette. You wearing heels and gold stockings. There’s another version of you in full Goth, hair dyed metallic pink, black eye liner and lipstick. You are frowning. You always said you hate taking pictures. And yet there are enough pictures of you on social media for me to wallpaper my apartment with your face. You like to joke that you can eat anything you want, but you are pencil-skinny while I look like one of those thick pens with multiple color options. I’ve had nothing but almonds and lemon water for weeks. I found one of your favorite dresses from a few years back on eBay, it’s black and white in a tent style. It was a special collection and cost more than I ever paid for a piece of clothing. I slide it on, careful not to pull on the sides. I run a brush through my hair, a respectable replica. I brought a half-dozen pictures of you to the salon. The stylist took a long time to admire your curls. “She’s pretty,” she said. “Who is she?” I shrugged. “Some Australian actress.” The stylist made an oooooh sound and then proceeded to transform my stringy brown hair into a simulacrum of your natural look using extensions and lots of dye. I spend hours on the makeup. It has to be right. It has to be you. My brushes and colors are arranged like a battlefield map in front of me. I study them like a general. I imagine myself a great painter, not a Master, but one of those forgers who spends years creating a faux-Monet or Manet. There’s talent in imitation.
We met at camp. You were one of the cool girls, stealing away into the woods to smoke clove cigarettes. I brought a stack of comic books taller than me. You held court in the wooden mess hall surrounded by girls who wore makeup and real bras. I would glance over my Batman graphic novel at you and every once in a while, I thought I saw you glance back, as if you were reading the titles. As if you were interested. At the end of the summer, I was walking through the woods alone, as usual, on the outskirts of the camp. “Hey,” said a high voice. You were sitting cross-legged on a boulder, puffing on a cigarette. “Jessica, right?” I adjusted my glasses, big purple frames, too big for my adolescent face. She knew my name. “Yeah,” I said, feigning nonchalance. “I could use a favor.” You tossed the cigarette, still lit, into the woods, and stood up. You were taller than me by just a few inches, yet you towered. It was so strange to see you up close, like meeting a celebrity you only knew from TV. You started walking back to camp. I followed. “I’m Brianna,” you said, “but you can call me Bri.” We stopped at a ramshackle shed, no windows, near the soccer field. You lowered your voice. “There’s a boy in there,” you whispered. “He’s waiting for me. He says he loves me, but he’s a liar.” You tossed back you hair then, your signature move. “He says even in the dark, he would recognize me. Let’s find out.” You grasped my shoulders and spun me towards the shed. Your breath was hot and sweet in my ear. “If he asks, you are Bri. Okay?” “Okay,” I said. You see, you started it.
All your fingers are slim and pretty. Except one. You injured it during a volleyball match. I was there, in the stands. You screamed as you hit the ball with your manicured fingers outstretched. You collapsed onto the gym floor and your teammates flocked to you. The audience cheered when you got up and brushed away the concerns of your teammates and kept playing. It was a high stakes match, after all, and you are committed. Only after your team won did you go to the hospital. By then it was too late. Your finger would be curved, witch-like, forever. As a joke, you dressed like a witch the next Halloween. Everyone loved it. I used a hammer. I went to the hospital just to get the drugs. The nurses were incredulous. “How did this happen?” they asked. “I got it-“ wince “-stuck in a doorframe.” They put my finger in a little splint and sent me away. As soon as I got outside, I popped an oxy and then ripped up the splint and left the tape and stick and gauze on the sidewalk. I’m committed, too.
The party waits inside. I reach for it with my gnarled-fingered-hand and pull it back, worried the pain might crack a layer in my makeup. There’s a mirror by the door. One last check of my face. It’s perfect. It should be, it’s yours. I studied your makeup tutorials online. You have a gift for it, an artist’s eye. Did you notice the ticker counting up how many times someone watched your videos? That was me. I grip the handle with my non-dominant hand and push it open. I expect fanfare when I walk through the door. I always assumed whenever you enter a room, there is applause, like one of those old TV shows with a live audience. Or at the very least, some reaction. But the scattered guests in the low lit foyer barely look up at my presence. One girl, lonely in the corner, perks up. I don’t make eye contact. I toss back my hair like I’d seen you do a million times. Then I stride through the room as if I’m a queen and this is my fiefdom. Now they’re looking.
The next time I pretended to be you, it was years later. We were juniors in high school. There was a rumor going around school that you gave a sophomore a blow job. The kid, Ryan something-or-other, already had a reputation before this. He had sandy brown hair, blue eyes, played on the basketball team, and was renowned in the boy’s locker for being “big.” The junior and senior girls whispered about him as he passed in the halls, throwing a basketball over the heads of all the shorter kids. “Look at him,” they whispered. “He’s big everywhere else. It’s got to be true.” I was often in school late into the afternoon with my clubs (chess, A/V, math) or helping one the teachers decorate the halls. I heard the scrape of shoes in the gym like a practicing symphony. Every once in a while, a grunt, a curse, or a shout. When practice was done, twenty sweaty boys crashed through the big gym doors to the nearby locker room. The smell should have been noxious, but I found it intoxicating. It was like a scent memory, but I didn’t know from when or where. I was helping a teacher decorate a huge sign, but she got a phone call and had to go, muttering something about her ‘useless husband.’ After she left, the parade of basketball boys made their way out of the locker room. I counted. Amazingly, he didn’t come out. I put down my glitter pens and brushes and walked over to the locker room door. Feeling brave, I pushed open the door. That same musky, almost moldy, smell. I breathed it in. It gave me strength. He was wearing a towel around his waist and earbuds in his ears, oblivious to the world. His back and chest had those hard lines you see on movie stars. After what felt like ten minutes, he noticed me, started, and reached up for his earbuds. “Hey,” he said, “you shouldn’t be in here.” I ignored that. “I heard about you and Brianna.” His eyes flashed downwards. “Oh. Right. Are you her friend?” “Yes,” I lied. “Look. I don’t know how that rumor started. My friends and I were just joking around, and, well, I don’t know, maybe, I, uh..” As he was babbling, I didn’t stop walking towards him. Who was this brazen person? I was you. I was your soul in my body. I got so close to him, I could see the condensation on his chest. He didn’t smell musky or sweaty. He smelled sweet like soap. I reached for his towel and let it drop. I touched him and he shuddered. “What’s your name?” he asked. “Call me Bri,” I said.
Back at the party, people are starting to notice. “Hey Brianna!” someone shouts. She’s a black girl holding a plastic wine cup, a fizzy pink drink within. I try to hide my smile as she motions me over. “I thought you were travelling,” she says at a conspiratorial whisper, “what are you doing here?” Mimicking your cadence took some time and patience. Thankfully, I’ve had a lifetime of practice. I release an exasperated breath. “So much drama,” I tell the girl. “Family stuff.” She nods in a knowing way. I pretend someone is calling me. I touch the girl’s shoulder with my bad finger and say, “I’ll be back.” She goes back to her fizzy drink. I’m so happy, I could scream.
In college, we became friends. To be clear, I didn’t follow you. I got into a bunch of schools. You got that ridiculous volleyball scholarship. My mom wanted me close, though, so when I found out you were going to a nearby school, it may have swayed my decision. Of course, I wasn’t in your orbit so you didn’t see me. I was like lonely Pluto, status-stricken, floating far away from the more popular planets. But I am fastidious. I manufactured a meeting, a literal collusion. You used to ride your multi-colored fixie around campus. Your tall body looked like it hovered on the thin frame of the bike, but you rode so fast, it was sheer will and gravity that you kept vertical. You rode with your characteristic laissez-faire attitude, barely acknowledging the pedestrians. That is, until you hit a bookish girl with stringy brown hair, a mousey nose, and small silver glasses. “Oh my god!” you shout and launch yourself at me, your bike forgotten in the grass beside the path. “Are you okay?” You reach out your hand and I grasp it. It feels so weird to touch you. I am dizzy, dark spots in the glare from the sun. “I’m sorry, I-, uh-, I must not have been looking.” “No,” you said. “It was my fault. I’m so sorry.” You remove your sunglasses to get a better look at my face. “Hey, didn’t we go to high school together?” I smile. “Yeah, I think so. I’m Jessica.” The tension in your shoulders relaxes as I get up and stretch, unhurt. “I’m Brianna. Bri.” I nod. “I remember.” You help me gather my scattered belongings. “Hey,” you said, “Can I buy you a coffee or something? I feel bad. Do you have time?” “I have time.” After that, we were inseparable for awhile. We bonded over Arcade Fire and Heath Ledger’s The Joker. He was so crazy, it was sexy as fuck. We would quote his breathy, marble-mouthed lines to each other and try to get his laugh right. You brought me into your friend group. Some of the other girls were suspicious (they were not wrong), but they kept quiet – as far as I knew – because we were such fast friends. You were rambunctious and rebellious. A sweet supplicant to the teachers, but a wild woman in the night time. We broke into campus buildings afterhours to hang out on rooftops, drink vodka and smoke weed. There was always a small crowd to attend to you, girls and boys ready to jump when you said so. For awhile, I was glad to be a hanger-on, a follower in your wide shadow. But, maybe I wanted too much. It started with your ex-boyfriends. You had so many of them, they were like candy wrappers discarded on the sidewalk in your wake. It wasn’t hard to find them, pick them up, and let them inside me. Then it was your current boyfriend, once or twice, while you were busy studying. I didn’t think you’d care too much, honestly, it was just a boy. You accused me of it and I denied it. But your friends had evidence and the boy did not deny it. I think it was the lie, ultimately, that offended you. If I had admitted it, maybe you would have just dumped the dude and we’d stay friends. You told me once, boys are liars, but they’re not the only ones.
At the party, things are getting livelier. Dozens more people have showed up so that the apartment feels cramped and small. Sweaty. I go into the bathroom to check my makeup and dab at the wetness on my cheeks and forehead. When I come out, a few girls waiting in the bathroom line start whispering and giggling. I glare at them and brush past without a word. But then it happens again as I’m walking through the crowded kitchen to get another drink. Whispers, laughs. I march towards them, ready to fight, when I catch a reflection in the shiny glass of the eye-level microwave. I turn and you’re there. Somehow. Not in Europe or some mythical foreign land. Right here, in this crowded kitchen. My double. You are wearing a sleeveless blouse and way too casual jeans. Looks like you got a haircut recently too, a trim that scales back your curls to just under your shoulders. I don’t like it. “Jessica,” you say, hissing the consonants in my name like a curse. “What are you doing?” I grin at you, but you respond with a nasty snarl. Everyone in the kitchen, and in the adjoining rooms, is staring at us. “That’s not my name,” I say. And then I laugh in a perfect imitation of our favorite Joker, high and loud and wild.
Elad Haber is a husband, father to an adorable little girl, and IT guy by day, fiction writer by night. He has 2021 publications from The Daily Drunk, Sledgehammer Lit, and The Night’s End Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @MusicInMyCar or on his website, eladhaber.wordpress.com.