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I live in a rural area with my doppelganger. He joins me as soon as I step outside the house. Once inside, I can leave him behind and he may personify himself in a garden gnome, a wooden Buddha, a sundial or a sprig of rowan pinned up over the door. But he never enters that holy of holies, the inside of my house, because I've always refused to let him in.

He could be the sunlight striking the brickwork or the shadow cast by the rampant rose bushes. He could be a dew-strung spider thread cast, like an angler's line, across the path from one bush to another, glinting like a pearl archway to paradise in the morning sun.

Any of these, he could be.

My rose bushes have grown so tall that walking down the path is more like walking down a hallway or through a corridor, with occasional playful thorns plucking at me. They screen me and I think that is where my doppelganger most often tends to take up residence. The plucking thorns that catch sometimes on a jacket or skirt are saying - "Wait for me! Don't go without me!"

He knows I often leave him behind if I'm travelling to the city. He does not follow me there because anonymity does not suit him. He thrives on the dramatic. He loves a huge backdrop against which he can display all the details of my private life that I would rather other people did not know. He is the image I do not know too much about, but I am certain that it's him that makes people look at me with a kind of squinting, sideways glance - or makes them smile as if they knew something that I did not know they knew - it's him again, up to things behind my back. But of course, if I turn round, he vanishes into an innocent rose bush.

I am a quiet, studious, extremely private person. He is the essence of the dramatic, exaggerating, pointing to extremes of eccentricity; the incomprehensible smile on the Buddha's face; the rowan in the garden, growing like a sentry, ever-vigilant, to screen from any curious eyes the curtains on the windows and any glimpse into the interior of the house.

He loves to come shopping with me in the nearby village. Sits good as gold in the seat beside me; commenting on the scenery we pass on the way; reminding me of years of memories that little stretch of road holds, soaked into it like some etheric dew.

"Remember the time you and John drove along here and he was showing off and driving much too fast - remember when you used to drive the jeep and go shopping every Friday at the market - and when Liam lived in the cottage here and you walked along sometimes to see him. Remember when you met the black bull on the road, when you were pushing your bike up the hill and the bull came up the embankment after you. Only you got behind a thick-boled pine tree - remember, remember ..."

Chatty, he can be. Goes on and on sometimes. Disarmingly quiet, in the village grocer's shop. That's when I know he's up to something, but I pretend that I do not notice him. He is nothing to do with me and so far, no one has drawn my attention to him when leaving. He has always at least been gracious enough to leave with me. Though sometimes I have dreaded that he might take it into his head, like some naughty child, to throw a tantrum in the shop, in which case I would be forced to admit my connection with him and take him away with me.

I suppose that's why people have children. That way, they can externalize their doppelganger, abandon their responsibility for it and allow it all kinds of indulgences because after all "he's just a child." That's true. He is a child, but one that never grows up, never accepts limitations and thrives on recognition, particularly of the negative kind, that I throw out in silent signals, while he simpers and cavorts behind my back.

He can manifest as attributes of yourself that you do not want other people to know about, so you disown; the negative qualities you refuse to claim and so project onto others. Lacking a suitable "other" and not having any children, mine followed me around wherever he could, dressed in whatever outfit he felt was appropriate to the occasion - often a clown costume, or in more enigmatic moods, a harlequin's; for he adored display. He was not so truly happy in his more emblematic role, as protector or guardian, inhabiting the rose bushes. There was not enough opportunity then, for him to be recognised.

But that was the role I much preferred. For I could see then what he was up to. Whenever he attached himself to me, I could never be certain what kind of scenario he might be enacting behind my back. I thought he might have improved my image somewhat when I appeared in a local newspaper because of an exhibition of my paintings. I really thought he was trying to be helpful there, but I should have known better. For as usual, he got carried away with the dramatic potential, which resulted in many local people imagining that I went in for pornographic art. My doppelganger had failed to understand the concept of the union of the soul with God, the uniting of the material and the spiritual, necessarily displayed, when using paint and canvas, in fairly concrete terms. How else would you depict spirit? I remember trying to convey to him, in exasperation, on one car journey. He seemed at his most obtuse then, not at all pretty or even amusing. He just looked like an ignorant, pigheaded yobo.

I told him that too.

"Haven't you seen any sculptures on Hindu temples?" I said. "Or did you have your eyes closed then, not interested, no-one to impress? Or perhaps you did see them and you stored them up in your pig-swill bucket of a memory, for use in some kind of evidence against me? Sometimes I think, for all your superficial outrageousness, you have the soul of a prude. And do you know what a prude is? Someone who's terrified of their own sexuality; can't bear to think other people might enjoy it. But they're filled with secret, shameful, unadmitted desires. They can't admit to them, so anyone else who does, they've got to put down, slander, condemn. I wouldn't mind it so much if it were true; if my paintings were pornographic, but really, don't you think its time you got some understanding of basic symbolism? Like duality for example, where the union of opposites represents the essential oneness of life. Whether itís matter and spirit, man and woman - "

He was not listening. He was staring, stubborn and unshiftable as a rock. And he could not see the relevance of what I was saying as it applied to us, too. Come to think of it, it was not something I had ever given much thought to. I started to think about it then. But I could not resist one parting shot.

"Still, I suppose any sexual experiences you might enjoy would be entirely vicarious anyway."

There was a strained silence for the rest of the journey. And I found I missed his jokes and chatter, his posturing and his exaggerated, pointed and prejudiced remarks, more than I would ever have imagined possible. This too, made me think.

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