top of page
I See Myself
A tale of horror and doppelgangers by Tucker Struyck
On an otherwise uneventful morning, I saw myself over the partition. Oscar ushered him inside and showed him to his cubicle, next to mine. He was fresh-faced and buttoned-up in a gray flannel suit. His auburn hair smoothed back in a side part. Meanwhile, I hid my laugh lines behind a pair of thick-framed, round glasses. The polo shirt I wore had a disheveled collar. My hairline receded back to the crown of my head and the sideburns still needed a trim. The years were unkind to me, yet he was the spitting image—only, he had not aged a day over twenty-nine.
Oscar slipped him a piece of paper and said, “Here’s your user name and password. Feel free to customize both to your liking once you’ve logged in.” Oscar caught wind of my intrusive gaze. “Oh, how rude of me. Let me introduce you to your cubicle-mate.” Oscar gestured to the young me. “This is Micah, our new employee, be sure to make him feel at home.”
“Of course,” I said. My heart threshed as Micah drew nearer. I extended a hand, my palms slick with sweat. “Pleasure to meet you.”
“The pleasure’s all mine,” said Micah. His handshake was firm and his skin felt tender to the touch. A demure smile crept over his face, as our hands retreated from one another. I combed through every pore on his face, every blemish. He was clean-shaven and some pockmarks were visible under the cool blue lights. Each detail was exactly as I remembered myself—even now I look in the mirror and half-expect to see this face staring back. I lowered my head toward the green cable carpet. Heat rose to my cheeks the longer I was in his eyesight.
“If you have any questions,” I said, “feel free to ask me.”
Oscar held his arms akimbo. “That’s awfully nice of you,” he told me. He turned his head. “You might want to take him up on that, Micah.” He placed a hand on my shoulder. “You’re looking at the top sales performer over here.” Micah and I politely nodded to one another. “Well, I’ll leave you two to it then.”
As Oscar walked off, I turned to my Christmas photo screensaver—a picture of my wife and I on an orange sand beach. Micah took a seat at his cubicle. His red patterned tie went askew in his vest. He straightened his posture and recomposed himself. I tried to get back to work, but I stole glances at him now and then. I was determined to pinpoint a difference, some identifier that made us individuals. His nose was longer. His jawline more defined. None of it was enough for me. He still represented my ideal self. The one that faded into the mediocrity I once swore to escape.
For a couple of minutes, once Micah logged onto the laptop, his mouse hovered over the wheat field wallpaper on his desktop. I slid my rolling chair into his cubicle. “If you click that Headsets for Hayesnet icon in the corner, you’ll see a list of numbers to call for the day and the script they want us to read from,” I told him. “You can go off book once you’re comfortable enough to.”
He sighed a breath of relief. “Thanks, man. I appreciate it,” he said. “My brain was just drawing a blank, you know?”
I shrugged. “Nothing to worry about,” I said. “Just first day jitters, I’m sure. Once you’ve been here a while it becomes second nature.” I scanned the office over my partition, listened to the hum of chattering rabble spewed from brassy mouths into the headsets, and shook my head. “Anyone can do it.”
Twenty minutes from lunch break, my thoughts were clouded by the presence of Micah. Callers became exasperated by my spaced out lulls and hung up on me. I flung the headset from my ears and stretched out in my seat. I snuck a peak at Micah and saw he was in the same boat. His left hand fingered the auburn hair whorl at the back of his head. “No bites today, huh?” I asked. He chuckled. “Don’t worry. It happens.”
Micah nodded. His eyes distantly watched the computer screen.
I parted my lips to speak, my tongue clenched between my incisors and bottom row of teeth in an open bite. The words were lost in thought. I wanted to ask him out to lunch, talk to him, begin to figure out what this means—if he really was me, somehow—but I froze. I spun my chair around, then retreated to the safety of my cubicle walls. The idea was fatuous anyway. Micah did not think twice about me and I thought about him incessantly. I would scare him away.
With five minutes before break, Izzy crawled out from behind her front desk and traipsed over to our cubicles dressed in a button-up blouse with a high-low skirt. Her hair draped her shoulders in undone waves of copper. “Hi,” she said. “I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself. I’m Izzy, the receptionist.” She gestured over her shoulder, toward her desk. “You can find me over there, if you ever need copies or anything.”
“Nice to meet you. My name is Micah.”
From the rising intonation in Micah’s voice, I could tell that Izzy put him on edge. I looked her up and down, from her crooked smile to her pigeon toed feet. She layered tops to hide her chest shape and wore A-line skirts to mask a narrow waist. I supposed she was pleasing to some, but unremarkable to the refined eye.
“I’m not sure if you brought something from home or already have plans,” she said, “but I was wondering if you wanted to go out for lunch. My treat.”
Micah’s face went flush. “I would love to,” he said.
He put on his coat and sidled up to her on their way out the door. My brow furrowed. The image of Micah’s rosy cheeks replayed in my mind. I could not help but wonder why. Surely a woman as homely as Izzy did not possess such power over him, certainly not enough to make him blush. He could do better than her. Even I could see that. Perhaps he did not know better himself.
I sat in the breakroom and ate quinoa salad to the whirring of printers. Absentmindedly, I rolled a chickpea between my thumb and index finger. My stare lingered on the printer’s empty sheet feeder, until I saw the time and realized my wife, Bella, must be on break too. I gave her a call. It went to voicemail. I facetimed her. It rang. The monotonous tone would not cease until either she picked up or I grew bored enough to end the call.
“Hi,” answered Bella. Her greeting tumbled off her tongue with a dull thud. “Sorry, I don’t have much time to talk. There’s only ten minutes left in my break.”
I checked the clock. Only twenty-five minutes left in mine. “Oh, no worries,” I said. “I just had a moment and thought I’d say ‘hi.’”
Her lip raised to a partial smile. “That was sweet of you.”
I shrugged. My eyes darted over to the clock. Twenty-four minutes left. “Yeah,” I said, “so it looks like Oscar finally found Corbin’s replacement and you won’t believe it. He looks just like me.” I laughed. “Well, give or take a decade or two.”
She tilted her head back. Her eyes widened. I awaited her response, but none came. I waved a hand in front of the phone camera. “Uh, babe?” I asked. Her head snapped upright, as if she had been caught in the act. “Did you hear what I said?”
Her intrigued expression fell flat. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I was looking over work emails and saw a half-off sale on cardigans at the mall, can you believe that?”
I nodded along to her words without listening. Gradually, my gaze drifted back to the clock. Twenty-two minutes. “Wow,” I said. “That’s crazy.”
“Right?” She shook her head. “Anyways, I should get going. My break is almost over. I love you. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye, babe. I love you too.”
I hung up with a sigh. The last bites of quinoa were eaten in silence. In my head, I went over my talk with Bella. It was nice to say aloud what had been on my mind all day—even if she had not heard—but, after a bite to eat and a caffeine boost from the vending machine, the thought seemed preposterous. Perhaps Micah was a distant relative of sorts. Even then, the idea was far-fetched. Doppelgängers simply do not exist outside of myths and Russian novels. I sounded like an old coot with too much time on his hands.
Oscar entered with a dollar bill readied for the vending machine. His eyes landed on me and he grinned. “Hey, buddy,” he said. “I’m glad I caught you.” I looked away to avoid a prolonged conversation. “I know you’re on break, but I wanted to touch base on a couple things.” Seven minutes on the clock. “I got word from corporate and we need to up sales on raw materials, so we have to mention mica sheets to our clients from now on. We’re working on adding it to the script for newbies, like Micah, which means I’m looking to you to get the ball rolling on this and set a benchmark for the rest to . . .”
My focus tapered off as I saw Izzy’s car pull into the parking lot from a breakroom window. Micah opened the car door for her. Suddenly I noticed the absence of Oscar’s voice. “Right,” I said, “I’ll be sure to remember that.”
“Good,” he said. He leaned in and spoke softly. “Listen, I know you’ve earned a comfortable position as the top sales performer three months in a row, but I noticed you’re struggling to meet quotas as of late. Is everything okay?”
I sat upright in a defensive pose, my hands steepled on the table. “No, I’m fine,” I said. “Just an off morning.” I shrugged. “I can make up for this afternoon. No problem.”
He pointed at me with another grin. “That’s what I like to hear.”
Micah and Izzy waltzed inside with two minutes to spare. When they arrived, laughter spilled out from the open elevator doors. They giggled out murmured goodbyes and then parted ways to their respective desks. I watched Micah’s smile fade as he found his way back to his cubicle. He met my eyes with presence of mind. “Let’s hit the ground running,” he said.
“Yeah.” I rolled my eyes. “Let’s do that.”
Hours, spent on the phone with strangers, passed like kidney stones—yet, with short of half an hour remaining in my shift, the day finally wound to a close. Micah thanked a caller over the phone and gave his farewell. He cursed under his breath. His voice, chipper and genteel while on the phone, came out heavy when he spoke normally. I wheeled my chair to his cubicle. I knew I had to get to him fast, before he took another call. I also knew I had until the end of the day to make a good first impression on him. My time was running out. I cleared my throat. “So,” I began, “how was your first day?”
He leaned back. His eyes went wide as he summed up the day’s events. “There was a bit of a learning curve, but I think I got the hang of things,” he said. “How was your day?”
“No complaints, I suppose,” I said. He smiled, but that quickly waned. I scratched at the back of my neck. My hands felt sweaty, so I crossed my arms. “So, uh, any plans for tonight?”
He shook his head. “No, not really. How about you?”
My arms fell to my side, so as not to appear wary. I rocked back and forth, at an increasing rate, in my chair. “Well,” I said, “I was wondering if you, maybe, wanted to go for a drink.” A brief pause gave my heart time to double its pace. “There’s a bar around the corner from here.”
“Yeah. I’d love to.”
He stood and put on his coat. The response was so abrupt, so casual. I wanted so badly to replicate his ease. After some thought, a simple “Great” was all I could muster.
No words were spoken on the elevator from our floor to the lobby. He sidled up to me, as we walked outside and I followed suit. His right hand occasionally grazed against the back of mine. A chill shot down my spine each time we touched. I was desperate to spark some conversation, but, at the same time, I found solace in our ability to exist in silence. To ignore the impulse of outburst, just to let the world know you are still there. He knew I was there, even without words. He felt my skin against his.
At the bar, weekend warriors washed down their work woes with pints of draught beer. The bartender came to Micah and me as we sat on our stools. “Two drinks, on me,” I said. “I’ll have a whiskey neat.” I turned to Micah. “What are you drinking?”
“Rum and a Coke back,” he told the man. When the bartender looked down, Micah met my eyes. “You don’t have to pay for my drink, you know. I can get it.”
I made a face. “It’s your first day,” I said. “I’m sure you’ll get around to paying me back at some point.”
He chuckled. “Still, thank you. That was nice of you.”
The drinks came and we thanked the man. Our hands laid out on the bar top—almost close enough to touch. Micah cracked mischievous grins between swigs. I snickered, not sure what to make of his smile or the look in his eye. The longer he held his gaze, the more I turned away. “So, since we’ll be working together,” I broke the ice, “anything I should know about you?”
His head fell into his hands with a chortle. “Oh no,” he said. “You don’t want me to talk about myself, do you?”
I shrugged. “Not if you don’t want to, of course.”
“I’m sorry, it’s just that I had my fill with Oscar today.”
“Izzy too, no doubt.”
“Yeah. How’d you know?”
I smirked. “She’s a bit of a pill. That’s all.”
He smirked too. His lips curled back to reveal pointed lateral incisors. Just like mine. “What about you?” he asked. “I saw your Tacoma in the top sales performer parking spot. What brought a guy like you to Headsets for Hayesnet?”
My eyes moved from his mouth to his cool blue eyes. “Same as anybody, I suppose,” I said. “A friend recommended me, I got the gig, and never left.” I set down my glass. “As for the truck, I saved up for two years to buy that.” Laughter came out dry and bitter from my throat. “My wife makes that in six months.” I shook my head. “C’est la vie.”
Micah cast his head downward. His eyes were fixed elsewhere. His fingers twirled a loose thread on his sleeve. He was embarrassed for me. My lips folded back inside my mouth. All hope for a good impression was shattered. I was pathetic.
“Anyway,” I said, “what brings you to Headsets for Hayesnet?”
“More or less the same.”
The rest of the week passed in a sluggish grind. By Friday, my headset was turned off to hear Micah sweet talk callers. I would let my calls go to others and lose track of time. Noon came without warning. As Micah took his leave with Izzy on lunch break, Oscar came around to check on our cubicles. He zeroed in on Micah. “Hey, before you go,” he said, “I wanted to let you know that I’ve been watching your numbers lately. Don’t think it’s gone unnoticed.” Micah stopped, then Oscar patted him on the back. “Keep it up. You’re a natural.”
Micah took the compliment with an aloof smile. Izzy beamed as he walked her outside. Once we were alone, Oscar stepped in my cubicle with a long sigh. I knit my brows.
Oscar folded his arms. “How do you think your work performance has been?”
“Is this a performance review?” I asked.
“I warned you about not meeting quotas. You told me you had it under control.” His hands raised for dramatic effect. “So explain to me why this week has been the worst to date?”
My eyes looked off, to the elevator doors, then came back to Oscar. “I’m sorry,” I told him. “Things haven’t been great between Bella and I.” I paused. Maybe that much was true, but that was not the whole truth. The truth was too much to tell. I still wondered if Micah and I were one and the same. At work, I spent my shift comparing details on Micah’s body with my own. Two moles on the back of the neck, a dimple on the left-hand cheek—that sort of thing. The truth was I no longer wondered and simply came to believe it was so. He was him, I was me, but somehow
we were the same. “It’s no excuse—I know—but it’s kept me occupied.”
His raised hands fell to his thighs with a smack. “I’m going to come out and be completely honest with you,” he said. “If you don’t reach quotas on a daily basis from here on out, you’ll run into problems with the higher ups—it’ll be out of my hands.” His eyes narrowed to slits. “Do you understand?”
Micah and Izzy returned with titters on their tongues. He kissed her on the cheek. She walked away with a simper. From where I sat, I scratched the stubble on my chin to obscure my scorn. My derided gaze followed Izzy to her desk. Her damaged hair was bound in a messy bun, as she shed loose strands of russet over a knitted sweater. What Micah saw in her, I would never know.
When Micah came back to his cubicle, my askance face faded. “The weekend’s coming up,” I said. He nodded. “Got any plans?” He shook his head. “If you wanted, we could go out for a drink. Same place as last time.”
Micah leaned back in his chair. “Perfect,” he said. “I’ll be there.”
I smiled. My eyes lingered long after his turned away. I yearned for our time outside of work. Oscar watched from across the office. Once I saw him, he pointed to the headset in his hands. I got back to work.
Micah and I talked over our usual drinks. The standard water cooler discussions we had grown accustomed to—that was until Micah had his third glass. “So,” he said, “how are things going at home?” He playfully punched my arm. “Has the Mrs. been hassling you lately?”
I shook my head. “Not any more than I’m used to,” I told him. “Why?” My brow raised to an arch. “Did you hear something?”
“No. Just wondering.”
I nodded. “What about you?” I asked. “How are things with Izzy?”
He put his head in his hands with a sly smirk. “Oh, so you noticed that, huh?”
“Yeah.” I laughed. “I’ve got eyes.”
He gazed toward the popcorn ceiling. “She’s something else,” he said. “I’ve never been with a girl like her.” He giggled. “Hell, I hardly have any experience to speak of.”
I scoffed. “That much is clear.”
His face fell. “What do you mean?”
I raised my hands. “Now don’t go taking this the wrong way,” I said, “but a girl like her is a dime a dozen.” My index finger touched his breastbone. “You’re the catch. She’s just trying to wrangle you in before you wise up to your potential and find the one you deserve.”
He squinted. “What are you talking about?”
“You’re too good for Izzy. You’re too good for Headsets for Hayesnet. You’re too good for this quality of living. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you. What are you doing here? This place is for people who gave up the search long ago, not people like you. Don’t settle here.” I leaned forward. “In a place like this,” I gestured around us, “this is as good as it gets.”
He snorted. “What makes me so special?” he asked. “I’m not better than anyone else here.”
“Sure you are,” I said. “If you just applied yourself in a career you gave a shit about, you can find a better way. Once you’ve done that, you’ll land a woman ten times Izzy’s caliber.”
He shook his head. “Sounds ideal,” he said, “but my Bachelor’s degree in literature and lack of work experience doesn’t exactly make me the most desirable employee.” He set down his drink. “It was months of rejection that brought me here, not some whim.” His hands trembled. “If settling here means I get a livable wage, then I’ll take that over unemployment.”
I shrank on the barstool. His eyes drifted over to news on the TV screen. My face went flush. “Look,” I said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said any of that.” Our eyes met again. His were soft and warm—not yet hardened, like mine. “Do you want to get out of here?”
The cab pulled into the driveway and I paid our fare. Mine was a humble home in a suburb ten minutes from work. Micah and I went inside with alcohol on our breath. Thanks to a weekly game of bunco, Bella would not be home for a couple of hours. I became lightheaded when we entered the living room. He helped me to a spot on the loveseat, next to him. His eyes were close enough to make out the radial furrows. Our mouths shared the same breath, until our lips met and he knocked the wind right out of me.
I kissed deeper and he matched my intensity. He gripped my body closer to his. He straddled me. I felt his arousal at my crotch. Our friction sparked a euphoric electricity in my veins. An elation pulsed from my body to his, like a current. My toes curled. I thought I would burst.
The front door creaked. “My God,” said Bella. She held one hand over her mouth and the other clutched her rhinestone necklace.
Micah leapt from the sofa. His arms held high as though he were at gunpoint. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “This isn’t what it looks like.”
Bella hurled insults at my actions, at the promises I had broken, at me. Her voice rose until the neighbors could hear her. I could not bring myself to listen. Instead, I peered into the mirror on the wall and wondered, how could it be? My eyes, the last vestige of myself, locked away in a body I no longer recognized. Above them, the lateral hooding drooped to my eyelids in a fatty fold. Below them, dark bags protruded.
Micah passed by Bella with humility. “Please forgive me,” he said.
She ignored him on his way out the door. Her eyes were locked and loaded on me. I looked at her. “I see now,” I told her.
“See what?” she asked.
“Please,” said Oscar, “take a seat.”
“What is the meaning of this?” I asked.
He rubbed his hands together. “It’s about Micah,” he said.
“What about him?”
Oscar sighed. “Well, to be frank, this really concerns you.”
I sat down.
“This isn’t an easy decision, after all you’re our top sales performer, but Hayesnet doesn’t take accusations like these lightly and, in light of the recent warnings we’ve given you about your work performance, the powers-that-be think it’d be best to terminate your employment immediately. You will be granted severance in the form of . . ."
My jaw dropped. “I’m sorry,” I said. “‘Accusations?’”
“Yes.” He cleared his throat. “Sexual allegations.” He paused. “Of which, I’m inclined to believe.” His hands steepled over his paperwork. “I saw how you ogled the boy. It’s all right to bark up the wrong tree but, for Christ’s sake, have the decency to take a hint.”
I stood up with my head hung low. Images of that night replayed in my head. Our moments of ecstasy, Bella’s scorn, the shame on Micah’s face. The whiskey must have gotten the better of my memory. I was foolish to believe my rose-colored dream. “I see,” I said. Yet, even then, the ghost of his touch haunted my mind.
Micah pulled his Nissan Frontier into the top sales performer parking slot. Izzy scrolled thefront page of news sites and read headlines in the passenger seat. He a hand on her inner thigh. She pulled away and stepped out of the truck. Together they walked into the office, but neither said a word to the other until they got to the reception desk. Izzy set her purse on the counter. “Thanks for the lift, babe,” she said, “I’ll see you after work.”
“Actually,” said Micah, “I thought we could go out over our lunch break. Like old times.” He wrapped his arms around her waist and tried to pull her into a kiss. “What do you say?”
Her head turned and he kissed her cheek. “I have a meeting with an old friend today. Perhaps some other time,” she told him.
“Well, all right.” He backed off of her. “Where’s Oscar at?”
“He’s interviewing a potential new employee in the conference room.”
Micah sauntered to the conference room window. He looked all around to appear casual, but his head swivels came to an end at the conference room. Inside, Oscar spoke, with his back faced to Micah, while the interviewee sat across the table in a corduroy jacket blazer that matched his pants and made his navy tie pop. The sight shuddered Micah to core. He held his mouth agape until his tongue dried out.
The interviewee bore strikingly similar features to Micah. The same hair, same nose, even the eye-color was the same. Micah lurched forward. He studied the man, in hopes the sense of dread would subside and reason would prevail. He would surely laugh at his absurdity when he noticed the differences between them. Yet, that moment never came.
Through the glass, Micah heard Oscar ask, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
The interviewee smiled a toothy grin. “Honestly,” he said, “I see myself here, as the top sales performer.”
Tucker Struyk (he/him) is a queer writer and podcaster for Hookswitch Hotline. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He received an upcoming Honorable Mention in Allegory, and his piece “Our Father’s Judgment” was published in the spring 2021 issue of 13th Floor Magazine, where it was awarded an Editor’s Choice Award.
Copyright © 2023 by Tucker Struyk
Published by Orion's Beau
bottom of page