They say you're best at being yourself. But what if someone else was better?
|The blood still flushed in Wilma's cheeks when Gloria Mortenson lifted the pillow from off her face, and her eyes rolled half an inch back in her head. Her breast had ceased to rise and fall. But Gloria held a mirror under the other girl's nose until the count of fifty, and only when she checked and saw no mist on its surface did she feel herself satisfied.
Stuffed as the girl was with whiskey and sleeping pills—enough to fell a bull elephant!—Wilma had been a dead weight even before Gloria topped the job by suffocating her. But Gloria wanted to be certain. Sure, she hated Wilma, and in a spitefully personal way, but that didn't mean the dirty little sow had to suffer. So Gloria was kind enough to press all life from her rival before dribbling a thin stream of vegetable oil up her skirt and lighting a match. The open box of cigarettes was already propped on the nightstand, within easy reaching distance of Wilma's cooling fingers.
Then, tying a scarf closely over her head and donning a pair of oversized sunglasses, Gloria hurried from the boarding house as the corpse of Wilma Tanner—the hottest young chorine on the show—started to smolder.
Six days later, what was left of Wilma had been packed in an urn and shipped back to Illinois.
But Gloria wasn't happy. She couldn't find her silver brooch.
It was a small thing, hardly worth noticing, but she did insist on wearing it when she went out to the nightclubs. It was—she told herself—the emblem of a girl of quality, of one who could afford to say "no," who wasn't simply looking for a "good time." Not that it actually kept the wolves off, but she could flatter herself that it attracted a better class of canis lupus broadway-manhattanus.
But she couldn't find it now, which only blackened her mood. It was Saturday afternoon, and she should be down at the studio, rehearsing. But Jerry hadn't called to tell her there was a part for her in tonight's show.
"Oh, are you back again, dear?" Mrs. O'Shea asked in a fluttery voice when Gloria went out in the hall to listen again for the house phone.
"Again?" Gloria demanded. She glared past the old cotton-haired landlady—who was always getting on her nerves—at the defiantly silent telephone.
"Didn't I—? I thought I heard you in your room earlier this afternoon."
Gloria frowned. Had someone got into her room while she was at the lunch counter? It wasn't just the silver brooch that was missing. She had the feeling that most of her things had been moved around.
It all left her with a headache, so she stayed in that evening instead of going out, to watch the TV in a sulk. At least she got good reception on the Crosley that Jerry bought her back when he was still sweet on her, before he and Wilma—
Gloria couldn't help making a fist. At least I won't have to worry about seeing her face, she thought as she flipped the dial over to the Mutual Network.
"And now, Colgate presents Your Comedy Cavalcade, with Milton Kaiser!" The audience thundered enthusiastically, but Gloria sank more deeply into her chair. I should be at the studio, waiting for my cue, she thought.
Onto the stage swaggered Milton Kaiser. Such a handsome man, Gloria thought. In her first days on the show, in the chorus, she had actually entertained daydreams about him.
"Folks, tonight we want to try something serious," Kaiser started out saying. "Man does not live by yuks alone, you know, so we thought, a little Shakespeare—"
A girl in a ballgown rolled out on stage. She was on a unicycle, and she grinned as she made a circle around Kaiser. His eyes boggled, and he wiped his forehead in mock embarrassment. "Aw, jeez, folks, looks like it's gonna be one of those nights!"
Gloria bolted upright and stared. That girl! she squeaked to herself. That's me! Her jaw fell open as the cyclist rode up close to the camera and winked into it. Gloria shivered. She's my exact twin!
And, she thought, though she didn't tell it to herself in so many words, it was like the girl was winking through the screen directly at her!
"You were sensational last night, doll!" Jerry Enright enthused the next day. He and Gloria were eating in the automat across from the studio. "The unicycle bit was great, but it was the bread-roll fight that killed! I heard the yocks rolling in all the way from Montauk!"
And when did you call me to come in? Gloria wanted to shout at him. When did I show up for rehearsal? Why did you think that was me on the show last night? But she didn't want him thinking she was crazy, so she merely said, "You think you might have something for me next week?"
"Honeypuss!" Jerry exclaimed. "Is there—? Why don't you just ask Milton when you have supper tonight?"
Me? Supper with—? Gloria's heart beat hard. "What time—? Where—?" she croaked.
"Hey, that's your business, I don't pry into the boss's affairs. Affairs!" There was a nasty undertone to his chortle. "But listen, that little silver piece you wore on the show for luck?" He pointed to a spot on his chest, right where Gloria liked to put her brooch. "Wear it when you see Milton. Give him something to remember you by."
Gloria ate the rest of her meal in a daze. Jerry also fell into a thoughtful mood.
"All the luck in the world to you tomorrow night, kid," he told her when they parted. He took her hand, and played a little with her fingers. "But you know," he added wistfully, "any time you need a friend, you got me."
Gloria couldn't help flinching a little. "You sure got over Wilma quick," she said.
"Hey, don't be like that!" Jerry reproached her. "Wilma was a sweet girl. But you know, like you showed last night, it's not like she could have replaced you!"
Though she waited in front of the studio for nearly three hours the next night, Gloria never so much as caught sight of Milton Kaiser or his limousine. Nor did she hear any more from Jerry, and he wouldn't even return her calls. The one time she did get through to him, via the network switchboard, he slapped her down as soon as she said her name. "Listen, pussycat," he snarled before hanging up, "I may produce a comedy show, but I hate comedians!"
And to her own stupefaction, she kept showing up on the Cavalcade.
I'm sitting in my own dumpy little flat, she'd marvel to herself, watching a live TV show. But there I am on the TV too!
At first she was just showing up in the usual bit parts. Girl at bar. Second customer. Salesgirl.
But by the third week she had lines. And by the fourth week, when she came out in a catsuit for a lion-tamer skit—just her and the star!—she got an ovation and even a few wolf-whistles.
Before, when she had to watch the show from home instead of from the wings, Gloria would ask herself, in a seething tone, Why isn't that me up there? Now she asked herself the opposite: Why is that me up there?
The girl certainly looked like her and sounded like her, and she had (so Gloria liked to flatter herself) her flair for timing. But as for it being her ... Well, it left Gloria dizzy and fretful when she saw the name Gloria Mortenson go flying up the screen when the end credits rolled.
She would have gone round to the studio to confront this mysterious twin, except she had other things on her mind.
Like that she never got telephone calls or letters from her mother anymore.
"Oh, it's so sweet of you to call again so soon, dear," Mrs. Mortenson said when Gloria, after an unusual two weeks of silence from upstate Maine, called her. "Just last Tuesday," she replied when Gloria asked to be reminded when they had last talked, and her mother went on to recount Gloria's stories of driving out to Long Island in Milton Kaiser's new convertible, and of her new apartment. An hour later, after thinking it over, she called her mother back and got her to "confirm" the new address and telephone number that the other Gloria had given her.
The other Gloria. She flinched the first time she found herself thinking the phrase. But it's not just "another Gloria," not like it's another girl who happens to share my name, she thought. It's everything else of mine she's got, or is getting! Everything I ever had ... and everything I ever wanted!"
She had to bite her fist to keep from screaming.
She tried telephoning first, but there was never an answer, not even at two o'clock in the morning. So Gloria took the subway uptown.
There was no answer to her knocks, but at least they drew the landlady out. At first, Gloria was disconcerted when the woman "recognized" her, but then she was relieved to accept the offer to be let in when she pretended to have lost her key.
She stifled a cry on entering.
It was the twin of her own flat. The same furniture laid out in the same way, the same magazines scattered over the tabletops, the same Crosley TV by the bed. Even, to her horror, the same clothes in the wardrobe. Aside from some small differences in the bathroom—the toilet and tub weren't in the same spots—and a different wallpaper, there was only one altered note in the decor: an immense vase on the windowsill, filled with drooping lilies.
Gloria waited an hour for the other girl, her nerves fraying until she finally fled in terror and embarrassment. It was being in the other girl's apartment that did it, she told herself. It gave her the home advantage. Now, if we were in my flat, why then—
But, when she got back, she found that while she had been in the other girl's flat, someone else had been in hers.
This is crazy, she told herself as she made the drive out to Teaneck. I'm crazy!
But would she have felt less crazy if she had taken someone with her? Or would it have been crazier to show them the card she found on her bed, inviting her to attend a memorial service for Gloria Myrtle Mortenson?
It's all been a sick gag, she told herself as she gripped the steering wheel. Someone's sick idea of a joke! And when I find them—!
The funeral parlor was unlocked but empty when she arrived. But low music was playing from somewhere—a tuneless organ, shifting gravely from one chord to the next. "Hello?" Gloria called out. Her voice quavered. "Hel—?"
A shadow shifted in the corner of her eye, but before she could turn she was felled from behind by a terrific headache.
It was a mercy that she never felt the enveloping flames of the crematorium.
And it was probably best, for her own peace of mind, that she never knew that the urn with her ashes was ultimately placed above an empty bit of ground in Illinois, before a small stone engraved with the name "Wilma Beverly Tanner."
Winner of the SCREAMS!!! Daily Contest: 3-5-21
Prompt: How to meet your doppelganger