- Stepping out of the Cow
Debbie sat in the darkened auditorium. At first she liked the feeling of being suspended in darkness, isolated from the rest of the audience. Then she began to feel uncomfortable: unanchored, floating. A door opened, letting a shaft of light briefly stretch from the lit lobby to her own dark seat—a thread, Ariadne’s skein unwinding in the labyrinth. Debbie watched it with longing until the door closed and the thread disappeared. She heard footsteps on the stage. Stage lights sprang on, and Debbie settled back to watch the dancers.
Halfway through the show, a troupe of teenage girls came onstage, wearing leotards and tights of various colors. Debbie was amazed to see that one of the girls looked remarkably like Debbie herself. The girl’s hair was short and black, with Debbie’s messy waves. Her build was like Debbie’s as well. And in addition to that was some more elusive resemblance.
When the dance ended and the girls hurried offstage, Debbie turned to Sandy and Toby. “Can you believe that?” she whispered.
“I told you they’d be good,” Sandy said.
“I’m talking about the girl.”
Sandy looked puzzled.
“The one who looked like me. You didn’t notice? Same height, size, body shape—everything. Her hair, her face.”
“Strange,” Sandy whispered, and the room went dark and more dancers trooped onstage. Yes, it was strange. Debbie felt wonderfully engaged now. She watched the rest of the show with renewed interest.
“I’m telling you, she looked exactly like me,” Debbie said as she and Rachel walked Rachel’s dog, Sir, down the long, wet streets of Debbie’s neighborhood. Rachel was Debbie’s best friend. Sir was an arthritic husky with a severe demeanor who liked to keep his paws clean.
Twilight seemed to go on for hours in June. Frogs chirped in the river and the [End Page 490] sound swelled and rose and filled the town like church bells. Neighborhood kids were playing tag and riding their bikes in circles.
“I love it! It’s so bizarre,” Rachel said. “Did you talk to her?”
“What would I say? ‘Excuse me, you look like me.’”
“Maybe you’re related somehow,” Rachel said. “Maybe, oh God, did you ever donate an egg?”
Sir stepped daintily around clumps of grass on the sidewalk. The smell of dirt and the sound of frogs brewed up a hopeful feeling all through the town. Debbie’s neighborhood was full of flowering crab apple trees and lilacs. Bleeding hearts spouted out of the mulch at the neighbors’ houses. And you couldn’t go anywhere without crushing a violet. The men of her neighborhood were responsible for the abundance of flowers, which they nurtured with gusto, while their happy, flushed children ran in the streets.
“I never donated an egg,” Debbie said. “I’m sure there’s no rational explanation. It’s just one of those tricks of the universe.”
Later, Debbie called her husband. He didn’t answer and she hung up. She called back and listened to his voice on the answering machine to test how it made her feel. It made her feel bad. It made her feel angry, lonely, insecure. Plain old Debbie Daly.
“Um, hi,” she said after the beep. “It’s me. Checking in.” She left a long message about the dance performance and the girl who looked like her. Then she felt as if she were making more out of it than she should. Her husband had a trick of listening intently and silently, so you didn’t know what he was thinking or if he was judging you. Leaving a message on his answering machine was pretty much like talking to him face-to-face.
Debbie and her husband had met when Debbie was twenty-five, a graduate student. He was associate professor in the classics department, and she’d audited his ancient mythology class just for fun—but more had come out of it than fun. Her husband had been handsome, with a narrow, dissatisfied face that, all his life, women had longed to make satisfied. And Debbie did, too. At...