Klara was moving chairs in the great corner room when she thought she saw someone in the doorway at the far end of the enfilade. It could not be true—she lived alone in the vast apartment the Judge, her father, had left her, but then it occurred to her with some dread, because she was not ready, that it might be one of the guests who’d come early. She had heard no bell, and the door was kept locked at all times. All the same, she went back to look through the series of doors to make sure there was no one there—but there was: an intruder in the library, the last room of the sequence, peering much like herself, as if the intruder were surprised to find Klara in this apartment.
Klara, more offended than afraid, moved through the doorway to confront the other person, who, to Klara’s surprise, did much the same thing, and to make matters worse, this other woman was carrying Klara’s cat in her arms. They met in the middle room and stood there facing each other.
What exactly do you think you are doing here? said Klara.
I could ask you the same question, said the other woman.
Give me the cat, said Klara and reached for the animal, but the other woman drew back, saying, This is my cat.
No, it isn’t.
It was now that she noticed what she assumed was her actual cat in the door to the entrance hall, looking with puzzled caution at the other woman and the other cat. Klara saw that the two cats seemed identical, took in the full figure of the woman and only now realized the extent to which the intruder looked like her. She bent to pick up the cat and stood still awhile, staring at the other woman, unable to say or do much.
She asked the other woman to come into the entrance hall. There they stood in front of the ornate mirror, wearing the same pale blue linen dress, looking much like twins with twin cats in their arms.
This is not happening, said Klara, because it was happening.
Klara stared at the woman’s face. It was hers though it did not bear the little signs of her thirty-nine years. Ten years were effaced. But she had to admit she did not even look quite this good ten years ago. This was how she liked to think she looked. The sort of face she liked to make when she was posting pictures online. The face it took thirty shots to get just right. She’d post that one and delete the rest. The cheeks were more pronounced, the lips fuller, what she needed make-up for seemed native to this woman’s skin. Even the dress looked better on this leaner Klara.
What are you? said Klara.
I think you know.
How long have you been here?
Where have you been?
This place has rooms enough.
Everything this other Klara said came with a self-possessed calm that was unimaginable to Klara, whose inner turmoil had to be medicated, and the outer face she’d carefully presented to old friends on Facebook and Instagram, had so tired her that she’d deleted both accounts mere days ago.
I don’t understand.
Ask me anything.
What do you know?
What is inside that head?
Everything that’s inside yours, and more.
What do you know about me?
Everything you wouldn’t like me to know.
Have you read Proust?
The first three volumes.
War and Peace?
All of it?
Death of Hadrian?
For fuck’s sake, said Klara, and she let the cat slip onto the floor. She had in fact begun all these books, posted shots with them, but never made it past the opening scenes. She had become a bad reader. The more she wanted to read the less she read. She’d never wanted to read this much, and she’d never read this little. The less she read the more books she bought, so that now she was out of shelf space, and stacks grew vertiginous by her bed, leaning towers looming thirty stories high, thirty unread stories high. For years she had barely been able to read more than a few pages of any text before succumbing to easier pleasures, then six hours later it was bedtime.
She was pacing.
You can’t stay here, she said. I have people coming.
I won’t be in your way.
Can’t you go somewhere?
The other woman said nothing and that said quite enough.
No, it’s true, said Klara.
The other woman went into the library and came back with a stack of books. The other cat followed her the whole time.
Come with me, said Klara.
She led her and the cat to the smallest and remotest room in the house, the room which used to be the maid’s room when the block was built in 1901, where she now kept her clothes.
You’ll have to stay here, said Klara and she went to the kitchen to check the vegetable roast.
Too late now to write and say that she is sick. She did not want to see them, these three friends from an earlier life, had not seen them for the best part of twelve years till she’d bumped into Nina in the street and had gone along with the suggestion of getting together, which seemed to be a good idea when it was vague and weeks away.
She knew they knew enough about her to feel sorry for her. Surely, they wanted to see for themselves what the damage had amounted to. Her life, which she had sought to rid of superfluities—the nine-room apartment being the one exception—would probably look small to them, while she believed she had enlarged her existence. She worked less, saw fewer people, consumed less, but read more, or at least tried against all manner of distraction, but she was working on that too.
As for the friends, they must have lamented among themselves what they perceived as Klara’s inability to find happiness with another man, what with the cat and the chronic singleness. This disgusted her. By now they might even have heard that she had had her fallopian tubes cut. Things like that travel. She had not seen them all this time, but she herself knew far too much about what they’d been up to all this time from various feeds. She knew where they had travelled, whom they were with, what kind of babies they had acquired, whom they voted for, what kind of apartments they had bought, what causes were important for them to let other people see were important to them.
Nina with her saccharine 50s vintage persona, with the dainty dresses and the motivational platitudes.
Mark with his tech evangelism and militant atheism. Klara did not believe in God but found Mark’s every tweet on the matter made her doubt her doubt.
Johanna with all the right opinions about the environment and economic policy, all the while flying somewhere every other month and taking advantage of the dips and lifts in the housing market to build huge equity through strategic selling and buying. The thousand pictures of her children.
No, it couldn’t be done. She had thought she’d show her best face, play some Cesaria, or Caetano, or Ella, let the evening pass, let them go home with an uncomplicated impression, but no. She put on a recording of Shostakovich’s string quartets.
In the maid’s room the other Klara was trying on clothes and taking shots of herself.
Klara whispered angrily and grabbed her phone. The other Klara laughed.
The phone was locked, but Klara found her thumbprint worked. It was Instagram, sixty shots or so in three days. Her with a book, her with a book and the cat, a book alone, the cat alone, or a book and the cat without her. Like hers, but these looked better.
You can’t do this, she said.
You know, said the other Klara, taking back the phone, I could see them for you.
What do you mean?
Let me host the dinner.
Because I would do it better.
You don’t like them.
You’re a mess. You don’t even like yourself, said the other Klara.
Klara left the room, locked it, and sat in a chair in the corner room with her fingers at her temples. The clash of strings did not make her feel less tense. It was getting dark. She lit the candles. It was almost time.
When she came back to the maid’s room, she fumbled with the key in the dark corridor, hoping there would be no one there. She opened the door and saw her languid figure in the chair, the fourth volume of Proust laid against her chest, arm at full length, about to take a shot.
Klara, angry, almost maternal, closed the door behind her and walked up to the other one and said, I want you to delete the account. Now.
The other Klara said, Uhm, no.
At this Klara tried to snatch the phone but failed, then pressed her knee hard against the belly of this more delicate Klara and managed to wrest the device from her hand after a brief struggle.
The bell rang once.
Fuck, said Klara.
Do it, said the other, sulking. I can’t wait for you to do it.
The bell rang in three short spurts.
Klara kept thumbing through the phone until she came where she needed to be and deleted the account.
At this point both Klaras hushed at the muted noise coming from the other side of the door, as of someone moving in the dark corridor across the old plank floor, hands grazing the wall, then turning the handle, and Klara’s voice, out there, whispering, Who’s in there? Who’s in there?
The bell rang again.
Elvis Bego was born in Bosnia, fled the country at the age of twelve, and now lives in Copenhagen, Denmark. His work has appeared in Agni, Kenyon Review, New England Review, Threepenny Review, Tin House, and elsewhere.