"It's a nice one too. Still, we deserve it, don't we, after all that rain."
The shopkeeper is young, short-haired, not unfriendly, though exuding an air of contained self-sufficiency. But he looks different today, something in his face has softened, relaxed. Some light has filtered through it and itís not so much like a chalk wall. Ah, of course, now I remember. Andy was telling me at the PTA wine and cheese party at the school. Andy and I were talking about dream-groups and Tarot cards and the Tree of Life while I poured out glasses of wine for everyone.
While I was changing the wine container, a fair-haired girl came to talk to Andy. He told me later that she had come to him some weeks before and asked him to give her a Tarot reading. It came out that she was thinking of leaving her husband, as she had got involved with someone else. And this someone else was the local shopkeeper, who also put in an appearance at the wine and cheese party.
This is the sort of drama that is the lifeblood of doppelgangers, or life spirit perhaps I should say, since they do not bleed; as I found out when I tried to retaliate in kind, after being attacked by a particularly vicious branch of thorns. Thorns do not scratch rose bushes or attendant spirits. I only drew more blood from myself.
Another source of sustenance, apart from known gossip, is the unknown, but open-to-speculation attendant activities surrounding the practice of dream-group therapy and the reading of Tarot cards. Andy and I are two such in a tiny village with a population of about 300, most of whom are retired pensioners, farm workers or commuting civil servants. Although there is a sprinkling of uncategorisable people who tend to get lumped under the miscellaneous heading of "hippies." And those who are interested in anything which has no connection with money, alcohol, sheep-rearing or the weather, are highly suspect - and if this had been three or four centuries earlier, it would have been the duckpond, or burning at the stake for us.
My next door neighbour used to work as a verger, tending the church lawns in another rural area and when he told the vicar that he thought that God was in everything, the vicar hissed "pantheism," told him that people used to be burned as heretics for holding such views and fired him on the spot. Some prejudices die hard. Yet, things are changing in a hopeful direction. Maybe in a century or two there will be no more vestiges even of the social front, the need to keep up appearances. Perhaps people will be accepted for what they truly are, however different they may be. And where will all our doppelgangers be then? Where were they in the days of the witch hunts and heresy, the days of the Cathars, the "one true church" and the Inquisition?
It makes you think. About all the so-called evil in heretics, witches,
Huguenots, Cathars, pagans - some primitive sacrifices, made to non-human gods - some innocent scapegoats. Projected darkness, externalised, unacceptable - what? The bitter aftertaste of stolen fruit? What was it that made it "evil," whether person, belief, activity?
I fingered the onions in Gordon's shop. They were large, fresh and
"I'll have a pound of onions please."
"Do you need any fruit? I've got some good pears, going cheap and those
apples are a good buy."
"Yes, I'll have some apples and - some of these bananas. And - do you have any red wine?"
"In this box here, there are different kinds, all under £4 a bottle."
I took two, one French and one Spanish.
"Having a party?"
"Oh no, this is just to see me through the weekend."
"Quite right," he said. "Cheaper than going to the pub, too."
The bell on the door tinkled as someone opened it and came in. My heart sank. He had long tangled hair and was wearing a Stetson, a red kerchief, worn and dirty jeans and a long black coat with tails, cut away at the front. Something in the style of what was fashionable in Napoleon's time. He looked ridiculous in this little shop where customers were usually clad in dark tweeds, sensible shoes and perhaps gum boots if they had been out in the fields. His deliberate and flamboyant disguise did not fool me for a minute. What did surprise me was the fact that, instead of catching glimpses of his outrageous costumes from the corner of my eye, I was seeing him face to face and he was making no attempt to slip behind my back.
I paid for my shopping and wondered if I could make a quick getaway through the door.
"Can I help you?" Gordon asked him.
"No thanks," he said as he gave Gordon one of his most engaging smiles.
"I'm with her," and he gestured in my direction.
"What do you think?" he hissed in a stage whisper, as I drew level with him on the way to the door.
"I think it's fear," I said, thinking of the question I had asked myself about the Cathars and the witches and their persecution. "I think it's fear of the unknown in themselves, their own darkness; makes people look for a scapegoat to project it onto."
"No, no," he hissed, looking more than ever like an angry child who wanted sweeties and was told he could not have any. He looked as though he was about to stamp his foot in rage. "I mean my outfit. What do you think of it?"
At that point, two things happened simultaneously. Gordon's girlfriend with the fair hair, who had been at the PTA party, came through from the back of the shop with piles of tins and biscuits to put on the shelves. She looked lively and happy, and we both smiled at each other as if acknowledging some secret, non-verbal complicity. And the other thing that happened was that I realised I loved this ridiculous being that looked like a cross between a scarecrow and a cowboy and a deserter from the Napoleonic army; and the love had something to do with letting go of fear, and with acceptance. It brought a rush of relief because I realised that who he was and what he looked like and what kind of reflected fool he made me seem in the eyes of other people, just did not matter anyway.
So I put my arms around him in the village shop and he smelled of pine trees, and fresh air, and damp grass, and earth. And he felt unbelievably solid and real, and the village shop completely disappeared. But I do remember the expressions of affection on the faces of Gordon and his fair-†haired friend, as we said goodbye.
I hummed a little tune as I walked up the path and a faint wind blew the branches of the rose bushes, but they never once caught on my clothes.
I went inside and held the door open for him.
"Come on in," I said.
He threw a huge shadow across the threshold, with his overcoat and his
Stetson hat. But once inside, the sun blazed on the path and the garden and the rose bushes waved in the breeze like distant friends waving a greeting.
He took off his coat and hat and scrutinised himself in the mirror.
"Only thing about that hat," he said, "is that it makes my hair look all squashed down when I take it off. Do you have a hairbrush?"
I handed him one and he said, "Nice place you've got here."
He waited until I had turned my back before he jumped on me. But just like his vanity, I had to accept his duplicity. It's part of him. He just cannot help it. And besides, he smelt of woodsmoke and damp earth and he was my oldest and most constant friend, so I did not mind too much when I lost that wrestling match.