In the book I’m writing there’s a scene where one character touches the face of her former lover and asks, but is this your face? This would be a perfectly reasonable question to ask of her treacherous lover, although the setting – a lunatic asylum – gives the question a different weight. Were it not for the fact that this comes from the diary of the real person I’m working on, I’d be tempted to lose the scene altogether on the grounds that it is a bit, well, on the nose. But doubles and doppelgängers and false identities are the stuff of the literature I worked with for so many years, and I just can’t shake them off my tail.
All this talk of doubles reminds me (if I could ever have forgotten) that I am a twin. Not of the interesting sort, given to dressing alike and marrying twin brothers separated at birth who themselves grew up, one on a sheep station in Yarrawonga and one in a semi in Long Eaton, and who live in ignorance of this fact until their miraculous, quadruple, reunion live on national TV; nor of the sort that is given to waking in the night at the very moment that her far-distant twin might herself start awake from a dream of a strange man in a black cape scuttling down an alley in St Petersburg – no, these are my dreams. My sister’s dreams are populated by faces I shall never know, and jacaranda-filled streets that I shall never see. As I fall asleep again, Nevsky Prospekt turns into South Street, and now it is me hurrying past the grey stone walls, watching myself as I step down from my carriage, take out a key, give a small, self-important cough, and enter the flat in which I never stayed.
The card by the doorbell says Writer in Residence Titular Councillor.*
Like Dostoevsky’s Mr Golyadkin, I cry out, in outrage. But everyone is too busy stalking their own doubles in their dreams to hear me now, and the only being who sees me is a small cat in black tie and a white bib, who blinks, and turns away.