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“See? It looks the same, but if you could compare it to the last one side-by-side you’d see it really isn’t. It never is.”
He kicked her in the ribs, gently. She was passed out on the floor of the condemned building. She’d left the light on and it was making a gentle hum. The walls were full of asbestos.
“Huh?” she stirred. “Oh… you’re awake.”
“I’ve been awake,” he said. “It’s you that was sleeping.”
“Oh…” She sat up.
“I think I have a job,” he said. He was wearing his dark green rain jacket, the one with a dozen pockets.
“Yeah?” she said.
He sat down. “A man wants me to do something twice.”
She rubbed her eyes. “Do something twice? What sort of man?”
“Just a man. There isn’t anything particular about him. He found me down by the lake and made me an offer. I just have to do something twice. Like this.” He clenched his hand into a fist, released it, clenched it again. “Except that’s not good enough, because when you make a fist it changes your hand, your wrist, your arm, so it’s not really the same fist the second time. Maybe you clench a little harder, or maybe your nails don’t dig into your palm quite as much. That sort of thing. He explained it all to me very patiently. I didn’t really understand at first, but once I thought about it I saw what he was getting at. It’s funny, anything with your body is like that. Dead skin is always falling off, hair is always growing. Your muscles are losing and gaining strength every second.” He clenched his fist again. “See? It looks the same, but if you could compare it to the last one side-by-side you’d see it really isn’t. It never is.”
“I don’t get it. This guy is paying you to do this?”
“Well, no, I told you. This isn’t good enough. He’ll pay me if I can do something twice. Or if I can make something happen twice. It just has to be the same both times. No differences. He said he’d give me a lot of money.”
“A lot. Don’t worry about it. More than enough for us. I think he thinks it can’t be done, but I have an idea.” He took a radio out of his pocket. “Here. I spent our food money on this. Just listen to the news later. I have to go now. I love you.” He got up.
She saw he was gone. She plugged the radio in where the light had been. In the dark, the room echoed with voices wrapped in static. She fell asleep again.
She woke up. It was morning. The light was cold. There was a different man in the room, wearing a heavy coat. He was standing in front of the window, where the coldness was coming in. It was too bright. Trying to look at him hurt her eyes. She couldn’t focus on his face.
He stepped forward. She saw he was holding a package wrapped in brown paper. He put it down in front of her.
“This is for you,” he said. “He told me to give it to you.” There was something strangely slow about his voice. It set her on edge.
“Are you the man who gave him the job? Where is he?”
“Didn’t you hear it on the radio?”
“I fell asleep.”
“I’m sorry, then. You missed it.”
“You missed it.” It looked like he shook his head, but she couldn’t tell for sure. “He’s not coming back.”
“He’s not coming back. He did good work. He earned this.”
“What?” she said again, but the man was gone. The light in the room felt warmer now, and she suddenly realized she had been shivering. She wrapped the blanket around herself and went over to the package. Her breath caught when she opened it. There was more money than she could count. The bills were old, faded, non-sequential. She stayed all day waiting for him, and long into the night. Finally, her hunger became too much to bear, and she left. Later, the building was demolished. Nothing was built in its place.
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