The Difference Splitter
by Matthew Harrison
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
Sam cringed. But there was no help for it — the game was up. He rose; now would come the recriminations, the screams, the remonstrations of two or, possibly, three angry women. Anxious to minimise the scene, he walked up to Rita, for indeed it was her, and clasped her hand. Then he turned back to Susan.
Strangely enough, he couldn’t find her. There were several tables around in the candlelit gloom, each with an intimately-talking couple, but none had a lone female, let alone a surprised and angry one. Sam took his glasses off and peered, then put them on again. Still no Susan.
“Sam, let’s sit down,” Rita was saying to him gently. “Say hello to Mum!”
Puzzled, Sam did as he was told, and kept his head down. He expected that at any moment a second woman would storm up to their table and demand him. But no woman came. The minutes passed, the waiter arrived; at Rita’s insistence, Sam ordered. And still no one. Sam looked around. Was that a familiar petite figure? But she was talking happily to a bespectacled young man, it couldn’t be.... Couldn’t be who?
“What was her name?” he said aloud.
“What’s that, dear?” Rita said. She had been chatting happily to her mother and showing her the ring.
“Nothing, sweetie!” Sam said cheerfully. And indeed, it had almost gone from his mind.
“Don’t bother Sam,” said her mother with a smile. “It’s your job to look after him now. Our job!” She smiled at him warmly. And Sam found that the lady did talk sense. She wasn’t so old either. Quite attractive, really.
The evening passed pleasantly enough. At times Sam recalled something and looked vaguely around the restaurant. But Rita was happy enough for two, and her mother even clasped Sam’s hand at one point and said that she sympathised: the weight of responsibility, she did understand. Sam forgot whatever it was that he was trying to remember. The dinner was fine, the women were good to him, and even the prospect of married life seemed less daunting than before.
It was not until he returned to his flat and came together again that Sam recalled that he had the prospect of two married lives.
* * *
It was strange. Lying in bed, Sam’s first recollection was of an evening’s tête-à-tête with Susan. The conversation had roamed over their future plans, their respective childhoods, and their liking for ice cream; they had gone to an ice cream parlour after the meal). And a steamy session in the car had sealed the evening.
But no. With her mother there — Rita’s mother — the parting had to be modest: a chaste kiss, a wave, and a smile to the mother.
Mother? Susan’s mother wasn’t there. What was he thinking?
The two strands of memory circled and crossed over each other in Sam’s mind. A mother, no mother; Rita, then Susan; mother.... Sam puzzled over it. But he wasn’t a deep thinker, and the half of him that was available at any one moment for pondering was even less deep.
In the morning, Sam woke with a start. One thought was clear in his mind: he had promised to take Susan to the dressmaker’s. Dresses were not exactly Sam’s field of expertise, but a couple of Susan’s girlfriends would be there, and he would be called upon only for comment.
He rushed to change and shave and gulp down some breakfast. As he pulled on his trousers and smoothed his shirt, he had the vague impression of someone still in his bed, but there was no time to think about that and he rushed out, slamming the door.
The dress selection went well. Then came the question of the train. One girlfriend was for it, the other against.
“Sam?” Susan asked.
Sam was momentarily not fully apart. In his unified state he was visualising his other intended, tall and auburn-haired, with a train extending magnificently behind her.
“Let’s go for it!” he said. And then Susan came into focus again. Her petite figure was already enveloped in a cloud of tulle and lace; a train would be an impossibility. “I mean, let’s go without the train,” he clarified.
The girlfriends exchanged glances. Susan just shrugged.
Sam bustled about, focused now on Susan alone. Eventually, all the details so painstakingly agreed by the two girlfriends were undone, and to exasperated sighs from the dressmaker Susan emerged in modest silk dress that actually suited her rather well.
On the way back to her home, Susan held Sam’s arm tightly. “It was so sweet of you,” she said, “so thoughtful.” And when she arrived home and told her mother about it, that good lady, who had been sceptical of Sam’s sincerity, began to see her future son-in-law in a more favourable light.
Sam was invited in for lunch, was talked to warmly, and had his hand squeezed, so that altogether married life seemed to him, not for the first time, a lot less daunting than before.
As he walked home, Sam passed a bespectacled young man accompanying a tall auburn-haired young woman, but in his rosy frame of mind he thought nothing of it. In fact, he was in such good spirits that he called a friend, and they stayed out drinking until quite late.
* * *
Early the following morning, Sam was woken by the slamming of his own front door. His first thought was, Rita. He had promised her mother something: what was it? In his apart state, Sam’s capabilities were halved as well, and he had trouble remembering. Then he had it. A trip — he had promised to take tall auburn-haired Rita and her mother on a trip to Box Hill.
Sam drove them carefully there. Rita’s mother had prepared a picnic lunch, and they had it in a sheltered spot with a view of the surrounding countryside. There was even a bottle of wine, which of course Sam could not have on account of driving, so Rita and her mother finished it between them. They sang songs in the car on the way back, and things were altogether very pleasant. Rita’s mother embraced Sam tearfully as he helped her out of the car, and had to be gently disengaged by her daughter.
Sam — or perhaps we should say Sam-Rita — returned to his flat a little later, well satisfied with the day’s work. And by the time the other Sam returned, he was asleep. This other Sam — whom we may call Sam-Susan — was rather tipsy and again did not notice anything amiss when he climbed into bed.
* * *
Sam-Rita awoke early, untroubled and wholly himself. The separation was complete. There was of course the other Sam, Sam-Susan, snoring loudly in the bed beside him, but to have admitted this presence would have been to unravel reality. Sam-Rita was firmly ensconced in his reality, seeing what he expected to see and no more. He had in any case just half the perceptiveness of the original Sam.
In the office, given the number of people there, one might have expected some unravelling. But in the corporate world, people see only what they are expected to see, and no one was expecting two identical versions of Sam. Sam’s staff received rather more instructions than they were used to, and the instructions conflicted more than usual, but they just shrugged their shoulders and did as much, or as little, as they were doing before.
Sam’s peers generally found him more responsive — more often there — than he had been. And Sam’s boss found that the work got done more quickly, although perhaps less consistently, than before. But these things were forgotten almost as soon as they were noticed. If anything, in his diluted persona, Sam was more suited to the corporate world. Each Sam questioned less, kept his head down more, and was as indifferent to his staff as the corporate culture required. Indeed, the staff were probably pretty diluted themselves. The modern corporation is no place for a distinct individual.
Rita and Susan happily married their respective Sams. The apparent lapses of concentration that had distressed them in the joint version did not appear in the separate versions. Their Sams were docile and obedient husbands, devoted to each of them alone.
Devoted, that is, until they weren’t. Sadly, Sam-Rita became friendlier with his mother-in-law than was wholly consistent with his marital duties. But even this peccadillo was resolved when Sam-Rita-mother-in-law finally diverged from Sam-Rita-Rita. Mother and daughter then each had a completely subdued version of Sam with hardly any individuality at all. And in their different ways, that suited them very well.
Sam-Rita-Rita is often to be seen leaving the office in good time and making his bespectacled and cheerful way down the crowded street. He steps in to a florist’s, from which he emerges a few minutes later with a bunch of red roses. He stops to sniff the roses, then with a broad smile he starts off again, whistling and altogether a picture of happiness among the troubled individuals that throng the street. But who, really, would envy him?
Copyright © 2017 by Matthew Harrison