Friends

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Irene thought it was Jacinta she saw at the market that Friday, but the other woman’s behavior was so bizarre that she couldn’t be sure. It was stir-fry night, and Irene was standing by the shiitake bin when, across the room, she saw Jacinta. Or, at least, the woman looked just like Jacinta. She had the same long hair, expertly curled at the ends; she wore the same colorful, conservatively styled clothing that Jacinta had been wearing every time Irene had seen her. She even carried the same purse. But this woman pushed her shopping cart so sluggishly that, for a moment, Irene worried that her new friend might be ill or, worse, under the influence of one of those sedatives that were becoming so popular among certain women.

It didn’t seem like a good time to say hello, so Irene was turning away to hide among the mushrooms when she noticed a man walking a few paces ahead of the-woman-who-might-be-Jacinta. He was middle aged, but wore his long hair combed into a ponytail. Wire-rimmed eyeglasses and a grey cardigan gave him the look of a librarian. He turned to say something to the woman pushing the shopping cart, it was something humorless, a command or a criticism. The-woman-who-might-be-Jacinta detached herself from the cart and moved towards a tall display of pears. Irene worried that the woman might chose one of the green pears at the bottom of the pile, and send the whole display tumbling to the floor. She worried that she’d have to help, and by helping she’d have to interact with this woman, this woman who might be her friend, but had none of the qualities, at the moment, that made her friend someone she’d want to be friends with. The-woman-who-might-be-Jacinta chose a pear from the top of the pile. She looked at it blankly, then dropped it into a plastic bag. Just as Irene was turning to push her own shopping cart away, the other woman turned. Their eyes met.

“Hello Jacinta, so good to see you! How are you?” Irene called across a display of red tomatoes. Her good manners saved her from freezing at this critical moment. Unfortunately, she couldn’t be saved from the cold fist of mortification when the-woman-who-might-be-Jacinta turned away without a smile, without even a spark of recognition in her dull eyes. The woman walked away with a pear sagging in her plastic bag. She handed the bag to the long-haired man, who held up the pear, glanced at Irene, and walked away. The strange woman followed, leaning heavily on the cart to push it ahead.

“How strange,” Irene thought. “Jacinta must have a doppelganger, right here in our little town. I hope I never have to run into her again.” And she wandered off to find the asparagus.

 

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