He tried not to stare at the huge zit on the tip of the man’s nose as he raved about Jacky’s photography, calling him a genius, asking him questions about how he did his work, where he took the pictures, what kind of software he used for post-processing, why he didn’t have his work in all the greatest galleries in the world. He was a couple of inches taller, which put the zit pretty much at Jackie’s eye level.
“I’ve ordered a dozen of your prints so far and have them on walls all through my apartment,” said the mouth under the big white bump.
“Thank you,” said Jacky. “I feel very flattered.” All he could really think about was offering to buy the man a needle so that he could go into the Mall washroom and pierce the hell out of his nose.
“I’ve wanted to talk to you about your work for ages now but I usually work late on Thursdays so I never had the chance until now. Just got laid off.” He laughed. A bit too loud, thought Jacky, a nervous laugh. But then, how do you laugh when you’ve just been laid off?
“Sorry to hear about the job. But it’s good to meet you.”
“No big loss there.” He laughed again. Louder. “I hated that job. Hated the managers. Hated the ass-licking co-workers. And hated the work.” Another laugh. “I wrote advertising copy for an agency. Spent my days telling lies, slinging bullshit, working late almost every night. Working weekends to meet artificial deadlines.” He paused and looked away from Jacky for a moment, a faraway look, pensive. “But you know, getting laid off was probably the best thing that’s happened to me in long time. Like a hundred tons off my shoulders.” He smiled. “And I finally got to meet you in person and talk about your work.” He laughed again, not so harsh this time. “Won’t be buying any prints for a while, least till I find another job. But I don’t expect that’ll take too long with my resume.”
“Sounds like you’re looking forward to trying something new.”
“I sure am.” His eyes widened as though he’d just had a great idea. “What’re the employment prospects in photography these days?”
Jacky laughed. “Lots of photographers around. Most of them working part-time jobs to make ends meet. But it’s satisfying work once you really get into it.”
The man laughed again. “Just puttin’ you on. Too late for me to get into that kind of learning curve. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. Just going to be a little more careful picking the next company.”
“That’s always a good idea.” Jacky nodded his head in agreement. He liked this guy and hoped he’d do well.
“Gotta go now and update the resume.” He extended his hand and Jacky took it. The man had a firm but non-intimidating grip. “Keep up the great work. Looking forward to buying more prints when I get my new job, wherever that’s going to be.”
“Well, I wish you the best of luck.”
The man walked away with large brisk steps. Jacky was sure that this man would find something better just by the way he walked. But before going to any interviews, he would definitely have to do something about that zit.
Standing inside a clothing store, looking out the window, Valerie Vine stared, astonished, at Jacky.
What the hell. What’s he doing here? How could I have missed this? A photographer? With his own business? How could I have missed this?
She dropped a red scarf she’d been looking at back into the bin. She leaned forward and whispered, “Jack, how did you sneak this past me?” She watched as a tall beautiful blonde woman walked up behind him.
No wonder I didn’t get an email from him.
Jacky turned and there she was, the woman he was falling in love with. The woman he hoped was finally going to bring an end to his loneliness and make his life like the lives of others.
She looked awful.
Her blonde hair was stringy. Eyeliner smudged her eyes and streaked her cheeks. She looked drained of color and the expression on her face was anything but “Jackie…so good to see you.” She walked up and stood in front of him, almost aggressively, and said in a broken voice, “I don’t want to see you anymore. You’re bad for me. I want you out of my life. Forever.”
Before he could say anything, she turned and walked away.
“Krista!” He stood by the set of footsteps that activated the holographic gallery. His feet wouldn’t move to go after her. “Krista!”
She walked quickly to the swinging doors and was gone.
He felt his chest sink. He felt like throwing up. He felt like falling to the ground and curling up in a fetal position.
He couldn’t understand it.
Everything was going so well.
He just wanted to fall down to the floor and stay there. He rubbed the top of his head.
Where did I get this bump? What did I do to drive another one away? Everything was going so well. What did I do wrong this time?
Valerie wasn’t aware that her hand had dropped down onto the red scarf. She was astonished. At that moment, someone could have told her that zombies were raging in the streets or that aliens had landed in the next block and she would have believed them.
Well, let’s just see what’s going on here, Jack.
She walked out of the store and to the center of the wide corridor where Jack stood looking in the direction where the blonde had exited. There was something different about him. Even though he looked dismayed there was something in his eyes, a confidence, or maybe it was a lack of something, like paranoia. He also seemed a bit taller but maybe that was because he was standing erect instead of hunching. But it had to be Jack. Everything else was Jack. She walked up behind him as he stared at the exit.
He turned toward her. He looked like he’d just lost his best friend, or his girlfriend. There was no sign of recognition in his eyes when he saw her. He ran his right hand through his hair and said, “Actually, it’s Jacky. But that’s OK, I get Jack and other variations all the time.” His voice was subdued, sad.
“Sorry, Jacky, but you look exactly like someone I know. You could be his twin.”
“I get that too.” His eyes were wistful, focused on something other than their conversation. “Seems that I have an army of dopplegangers in the area.” He forced an unconvincing smile. Something had happened between him and the blonde that had him in a deep funk.
“I can’t believe the resemblance, though,” said Valerie. “And the similarity in the names. Jack? Is that really you? Jack?”
Jacky backed up a step. “Hey, lady. It’s really me, Jacky Carson. I might look like your friend, but I assure you I’m not him. I’m me.”
Valerie lifted both hands in front of her so as to say, “You’re right. My bad.”
“Like I said, I get this a lot.”
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “It’s just that…” She shrugged. “Sorry for bothering you.”
Valerie turned and walked away, deep in thought.
Something’s going on here. I think it’s time to look a little closer into Jack’s past—and into this Jacky Carson as well.
Tears streamed across Krista’s cheeks as she pushed herself along the crowded sidewalk.
Where did all these people come from! They weren’t here when I went into the mall.
It was the start of the rush hour traffic on the roads and sidewalks, all of it blurred with tears. She felt herself being jostled without actually understanding why.
Why did he have to turn out to be another one of them? Why do I always get saddled with the creeps and weirdos? He was so nice, so down to earth. So creative and warm and interesting and good looking and intelligent and we talked about everything under the sun and laughed and made love so well. And he just wants to see me on Thursdays? Thursdays! What is wrong with men? What is wrong with me? Why can’t I find a man who…who…
She walked straight into a large tattooed woman with a cigar in her mouth. The woman didn’t budge. Krista fell backwards and landed on her butt. The tattooed woman laughed but reached her hand out to Krista.
A man who…?
Later that evening, Krista lifted her head from a tear soaked pillow and decided to take the bull by the horn with Jacky Carson. She wasn’t going to be a victim. She was going to find out why he just wanted to see her one day a week. She was going to beat away at that nice guy veneer and expose the creep underneath.
She would be out of town on a contract for a day or two. As soon as she got back, she was going to pay Jacky Carson a visit that he wouldn’t soon forget.
Jacky was stunned, like his mind had been swimming in muddy water all evening.
She dumped me.
He thought they’d hit it off well. They had so much in common and talked together so easily. He’d never felt so comfortable with anyone before. She was so beautiful and the sound of her laughter drove him crazy with pleasure.
It’s the same thing all over. Why does this keep happening? It’s as though I have a curse or something. Why is it that other people can have relationships and be so happy but I can’t? What’ve I done that’s so wrong that I have to spend my life alone?
He looked at the image on his screen of a red plant breaking through a chunk of concrete. He’d just finished processing it but he couldn’t remember a thing he’d done. Fortunately, the image looked great. It was like he’d been working on autopilot, completing his art while all he could think about was the woman he wanted, who didn’t want him anymore.
It occurred to him suddenly. He had her card. He pulled out his wallet and snatched her card out. There was her email address. He would send an email asking what he’d done wrong and how he could make it right.
If I just knew what I did wrong.
He opened his mail program and hovered his fingers over the keys.
He stared at the blank body of the email. He didn’t know where to start. He didn’t know what to say. He tried to formulate the words in his mind but nothing came. He tried sitting still while listening to his body, trying to define the feelings gathering in his stomach and chest like balls of doubt, forming knots of confusion at the energy junctions in his body. Nothing would take on enough definition that he could look at it and say, “These are the words for that.”
It was nearing the time and he hadn’t written a word. He shut off his laptop and stared out the window at the park where a couple walked slowly, arms around each other’s waist, her head on his shoulder.
Why can’t I have that?