A REPETITIVE MAN • by Alison Arthur

Fifteen years and three children ago, George met Dorothy #1 at the wedding of a friend. Theirs is a relatively happy marriage, rather unremarkable, the matrimonial equivalent of vanilla ice cream, no sprinkles. Predictable, reliable. He works as a tax auditor and is frequently on the road, rooting out evasion and dishonesty amongst the tax-paying public. Dorothy #1 is a part-time sales clerk in a clothing store downtown. Even though George tells her they can afford for her to stay home with the children, she likes having something of her own.

Ten years and two children ago, George met Dorothy #2 at the office Christmas party. Theirs is also a relatively happy marriage, equally unremarkable, but a little fresher and just marginally more exciting. Perhaps butterscotch ripple or strawberry. Dorothy #2 does not work outside of the home, content to keep the house and manage the children.

George has managed to balance the situation through repetition and similarity. Every year, the family holidays are always at the same resort in the same country, the same cruise on the same sea. That way, he reasons, he can comment and reminisce with ease, never worrying he is connecting a memory to the wrong Dorothy. Even the children are duplicates in many ways.

There are two Jacks for example, both of the same age.

“I think he’s waking up,” a voice says.

Focusing on the direction of the voice, he sees Dorothy #2 looking down at him. Relief momentarily overrides the pain until he hears, “Good, I want him to be conscious when I kill him!” He follows this voice to the thunderous face of Dorothy #1.

Caught like a fly in a web, helpless and hopeless, his eyes dart between his two spiders.

Apparently, when he was extricated from his crashed car, both Dorothy #1 and #2 were called, and now his happily contrived life is falling apart like wet tissue paper.

George struggles to fight through the fog. By skidding off the road into a tree, he has gone from beloved husband and father to villain in as long as it took the airbag to blow up in his face. All he ever wanted was to be a good family man. Granted, he might have gone a bit overboard, but his intentions had been pure.

At the time of the accident, Dorothy #2 was under the impression that he was going to a sales conference and would be gone for a week. In reality, the shirts in his suitcase that Dorothy #2 had lovingly washed and ironed would find their way to a family holiday with Dorothy #1 and their children.

Trussed up in the bed by IV lines and monitor leads, George is unable to defend himself against the onslaught from the Dorothys. Soon a nurse arrives and instructs them to leave the room on the grounds that George needs to rest. He can still hear them operating at high volume, in the waiting room.

He feels someone taking his hand. The nurse, surprised at the look of terror that crosses his face, says, “George, you’re okay. Look, your wife is here.”

Summoning his courage, he turns his head. His dread turns to relief as she leans in to kiss him and gently touches his bruised cheek. As she looks at his leg, now entombed in plaster from thigh to toes, she begins to cry. He reaches to touch her face, feeling the wetness of her tears, and feels moved by the sincerity of her concern. His love for her is overwhelming. He grasps her hand.

“It’s alright, Darling,” he croons to her through his medicated daze. Dorothy #3 smiles bravely back.

Alison Arthur is a flash fiction author living in rural Nova Scotia, with the ghosts of apple trees and hay fields. She finds inspiration in the everyday and the absurd.

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