“I don’t care which twice-removed cousin of yours is marrying for the fourth time, we aren’t going anywhere in this weather,” the gentleman howls over the violent drumming of the rain on the windowpanes, fumbling desperately with his maroon tie. Underneath the percussion of the rain and wind, a vaudevillian voice resonates from a phonograph in the corner. A woman stands in her evening dress and plumed hat in the hall, throwing her arms to the air and shouting a retort drowned out by a resounding clap of thunder and the hysterical squawking of the caged parrot in the parlor. A car horn can be heard from the slick streets outside the apartment.
“Keep the taxi waiting a bit longer, why don’t you!” the woman shouts. She stands in the doorway to the apartment, gloved hands on hips, her frowning, heavily made-up face illuminated by a sudden flash of lightning. “Well, I’m leaving. You can find another way to Geraldine’s,” she hisses, slamming the door behind her. On the slam, the parrot ceases its frenzy to preen its feathers, leaving the gentleman to finish tying his tie before the bedroom mirror. He sighs as he fumbles with the cloth, letting the wafting song of the phonograph soothe his sorry ears.
“At least I have reached the eye of one storm,” he mutters. As the thunder rolls behind him, he adjusts what he deems the most wretched piece of cloth ever invented. “Damn noose.” He is watching his futile attempts at perfection in the mirror when he pauses, the silence dawning upon him. He closes his grip on the tie and his features freeze, staring with horror into the mirror. It is not so much what is reflected that makes his stomach turn, but what isn’t.
He slowly squints, but his efforts yield no clarity to the darkened figure hovering in his peripheral vision. His mind scatters in a hundred directions and his hands begin to shake while his stare remains steady. Lightning flashes, and illuminates the room and the figure itself, which lights up in his peripheral vision. The man finds himself staring into his very own eyes, set in a figure dressed in evening attire with an unfinished tie. The man dares not breathe for fear of shattering whatever sort of illusion has been presented before him…
An hour passes. He cannot feel his arms, which have been held to his neck, his hands forever adjusting the tie. His feet, too, feel gelatinous and absent. He swallows and chokes, coughing fitfully, slamming his fist in anger down with every cough, sputtering in between the words, “Who…are…you?”
“You, to put things quite simply,” comes a calm response in his own voice, “are I. This cannot last, however, for you must die.” The man whips his head about, only to see an empty bedroom. There is a light click, and the phonograph emits anew its syrupy song. “…without you, I will die..,” sings the woman. The man takes a step and his limp foot gives beneath him. He hits the carpet with a thump and hears the phonograph totter. “I will die, I will die, I will die, I will die,” repeats the stuck record. He closes his eyes. The words melt into noise as he lays face down on the floor, letting his mind slip into an escapist’s sleep.
He wakes to the click of key in lock, then lock opening. His wife flies in, throwing her small clutch on the armchair. She marches into the bedroom, nearly tripping over the man still lying on the floor. One dart from her icy eyes and he jumps to his feet, straightens his jacket. “I don’t know how you got home before I did, Harold,” she hisses in what has become her usual tone, though it does not make it any less terrifying to the man.
“I never…” he begins, but stops as she buries her face in her hands and begins weeping uncontrollably, her heavy makeup smudging on her fine gloves.
“I thought I knew you, Harold,” she sobs. It all seems to the man like a scene from the pictures. He stutters, racking his brain for some recollection of what the suave gentleman would say to the hysterical dame.
“Darling,” he begins tentatively. “I was here at the apartment the whole time…” He feels a gloved slap on his cheek and opens his eyes to see his wife withdrawing her hand.
“I saw you, Harold! Now everyone’s talking and I’m ruined and…”
“Look, whatever I did..,” His mind wanders to the figure in the room, a perfect image of himself, and he pales when the situation dawns upon him. “It wasn’t me! It was, well I don’t know what it was, a haunt sort of thing…an evil twin!” Only after the words have escaped his lips does he realize how pathetic they sound. His wife returns to her severe state, lips pursed, her eyes boring right into him. He can feel the deadliness of the silence before her words cut through the air.
“I don’t want your ghost stories, Harold,” she says curtly. “I don’t want you.” For the second time that night the front door slams ferociously. In the silence that follows, the rain patters softly on the streets outside.
The man awakes in the armchair into which he had collapsed, roused by the single chime from the grandfather clock in the parlor. “She’ll probably want that,” he sighs to himself. The parrot whistles in the other room. “She’ll want the parrot, too.” He groggily throws his sheets off and gets up, shuffling over to the cupboards of the pantry. After some crashing about, he takes the container of millet and puts some of the grain into the birdcage in the other room. He hangs his head low, and looks through the window, streaked with raindrops, to the dark streets outside, illuminated only by the soft, yellow glow of streetlamps. He squints at the scene, and when he realizes what stands under the nearest lamppost, his pulse quickens. It is the figure seen in his peripheral vision, only now before him, in clear vision. The man draws slowly nearer to the window and swiftly gathers himself up in the curtains. His hands tremble as they hold the velvet, but he steels himself and peeks through the fabric to the streets.
He sees, dressed in the same evening clothes and uncompleted tie drenched from the rain, himself, looking back at him. The two mirror images, he and the figure, simply stare at each other with only the driving rain and the darkness bearing witness. The man, still clutching the curtains, jumps as the parrot begins its frenzied squawking fresh.
“You will die! You will die!” screams the parrot. The man tears himself from the curtains, rushes to the parrot cage, and gives it a violent kick. It crashes on its side, millet spilling onto the carpet. The bird is silent and does not move. Silence reigns, second only to the continual rain and the hyperventilation of the man. He rests his head in his hands and sinks back into the armchair, watching a fly traverse the maze of the patterned wallpaper in front of him. The night would be long.
His glazed stupor in the armchair is broken by the ringing of the telephone. He goes to the sounding device and puts the earpiece to his ear and holds his mouth to the receiver.
“Hello?” questions his voice from the other end, though in a different tone. A mocking tone.
“Please, no..,” pleads the man.
“Please, no…” comes the reply.
The man begins to weep softly, escalating to sobs as he hears his cries echoed in response from the other end. He slams the earpiece down and rests his head on the wall. No sooner than his forehead hits the wallpaper, the ringing of the telephone invades the air again. He picks it up reluctantly.