You Black Kettle
Roderick wakes in a rut. Like there was drinking last night. Was there drinking? No. Went to bed early actually. His molars feel gritty against his tongue. Mouth chalk from clenched jaw. He brushes his teeth without turning the water off between scrubs. Spits and rinses. Then, as he twists off the faucet, he hears the ringing.
Just in his right ear is the high register of a hairdryer. This is roughly half the sound entering that ear. He shakes his head, pulls his right lobe down, Pumps his finger against the tragus. Strange way to start. He thinks food chewing, coffee slurping will be the answer.
He makes a cheese omelet and a heats the kettle. Chews pulling his jaw low with each movement, trying to snap the tendons and strings that attach everything beneath the skin. When the kettle whistles for a moment he fears the noise has entered his left ear too. He removes it from the burner. The too-hot coffee burns the back of his throat going down. Across the room, by the front door, he sees his running shoes.
Roderick focuses on the sound of himself running. His feet hit the pavement toes first with a soft clop. Then the rubber peels away from the concrete. His shorts make a brushing sound against themselves. His body pops and creaks inside. Is that a hearing or a feeling? He focuses on the breathing, the hair dryer filters everything from the right side. He stops, cups his right ear with his hand, grabs a cab home.
Roderick throws his keys on the sideboard table that holds the decorative vase. The table was here when he looked at the house, afterwards the owner offered it to him when she sold. “Was keeping it for passed materials while we showed the place,” she told Roderick, “If you like it, it can stay.” And the vase, was Roderick’s curt reply.
Roderick looks at himself in the mirror. He creates another him to start another timeline. “Listen,” Roderick tells the him that just grew out of his body and stepped out of the skin fully formed, like latex stretching, and then snapping back into two identical positions, “protect your ears, no loud concerts. I think they’re to blame.”
“Do you hear that?” asks Roderick Two.
“It’s why you’re here, do your best to preserve your hearing, you can sleep in the guest room.”
“The blue room.”
“We’ve always liked the blue room, ay?”
“Best to use ‘I’ from here on out.”
“Yes sir,” says Two simultaneously amused and annoyed with himself.
In the morning, after running some tests, the Rodericks run into one another en route to the shower. “Listen,” says Roderick, to number Two, “we should establish different schedules, we can’t both go to work today.”
“I’d love to have a run.”
“Fantastic,” and while you run, “I’ll follow through on the budgets. Want to take the afternoon shift?”
“Yeah, just leave the tabs open.”
“Already planning on it.”
“I know, right!”
“Can you order doubles of all our stuff?” says Two, already slipping on a pair of Roderick’s running shoes.
“Watching a late night movie is going to be amazing.”
“I know, we’re both going to laugh at the same things, but like, more, because we’ll laugh together.”
“We’ll agree on awesome things.”
“Because awesome things are awesome.”
“The ears. Got it.”
“I love you.” Two smiles at this, as does Roderick.
“I love you too.”
Roderick at the office, tilting his head. He’s used to playing music loud, blocking out the sounds of every other conversation in the room. But now inserting the buds in his ears he is afraid, afraid of the ringing getting louder, of total loss on the right side. He takes the buds out. He listens to the chatter of fingers across keyboards, of hoverers speaking at other people’s desks. He can’t think straight. Three more hours of this. He drinks water and coffee aggressively.
When lunch hour arrives he is quick to drive back to his house. Two is at Roderick’s desk upstairs. He has Roderick’s glasses on. He is typing.
“Sup, me,” shouts Two as Roderick scales the stairs.
“Hey man.” Roderick pokes his head into his office. Immediately wants to switch places with the him sitting at his desk.
“So I made some headway on this jungle story.”
“You remember that dream from like a week ago, we made a note. I brushed it off and sort of went to town for an hour.”
“Don’t be weird. It’s ours. Same brain. And you can change things”
“But mark the changes.”
“Of course. How was work?”
“Rough. This ear thing.”
“Yeah, it blows, I put on white noise, sort of leveled me out.”
“Okay, well, we’re probably both thinking about that last slice of pizza downstairs, but, I’m headed out, so I’ll grab a special at the spot.”
“Oh, man, that sounds good.”
“You want to come?”
“Nah, think we still have to figure out how to like, I don’t know, explain this to people.”
“Ha, whatevs man. We should go fucking party together, let them figure it out for themselves. Anyways, I’m gonna roll, mess with that story.” Two runs excitedly down the stairs and out of the house and then turns to yell from the front lawn. “Love you, you’re my best friend, bye!”
Roderick looks down at himself doing jumping jacks in the lawn and sprinting away. “Why wouldn’t I take the car?” He turns on the white noise and reads what has been written. The jungle holds a secret, is a note at the end of the second page. Roderick starts writing there, prompted by himself. He explores the jungle’s depths, the crevices under every branch and leaf, the wild life, the dangers, the moisture. He writes quickly, excited to get extra hours in, because Two has already done some heavy lifting. The secret is a line where time stops. The secret is a door or an opening. The secret is a reflection that the traveler will find in a pond or lake or lagoon.
The ringing in his ears distracts him. He looks at the screen and draws a blank. What is Two going to do at work? What is Roderick going to eat for lunch? Are they going to need a supplemental income? What if Two wants to move out? What if they both want to wear the blue shirt? He fills an online cart with all of his toiletries and purchases two of everything.
When the drone arrives with his package Roderick gathers everything half-used in their bathroom and stows it under the sink. He cleans the bathroom. Then he cleans the guest bathroom. He decorates both of them identically. He hangs freshly purchased waffle towels, places new soap dishes in the showers. He knows how satisfying it will be for himself to come home to all this freshness.
A text on his phone: R it’s R, look out for that drone.
Roderick texts: How are you texting me? I have the phone.
Two texts: From computer, gonna need a family plan!
The doorbell rings. A second drone drops a box with identical contents to his order. Same soap dishes. Same lotions. Same two pairs of new running shoes. Same same. Roderick knows himself. When he is distracted he browses the internet. He buys tech-adjacent backpacks and fresh undershirts. He buys chip-clips and moleskins and fresh pens. He keeps his pantries stocked so if he is at his computer too long in the day he can always make a quick meal. They’re going to have to communicate purchasing. This type of conversation could really get in the way of this just being all out fun from the jump.
Roderick Two arrives home early from work. He hangs their bag by the front door.
“Me, I’m home!” he shouts to the house. “I know that you’re in the office, I’m coming to see you!” Two runs up the stairs, finds himself leaning towards the computer at their desk. “Man, our posture sucks.”
“Hey, how was work?”
“Cool, submitted all those budgets.”
“Oh, did you account for -
“The answer is gonna be yes, to whatever you’re about to ask. We’re good. Client already approved.”
“Yup. My drone show up?
“Ha, yeah. Mine too.”
“Shit. You had a drone?”
“Same exact contents.”
“That’s not surprising.”
“Let’s just check order histories from now on.”
“You see the bathroom? Take a look.” Two spins and pokes his head into the bathroom door on the opposite end of the hall.
“Oh, babe, it looks beautiful.”
“Yeah babe, you got it.”
“Oooh, are those the shoes.” Two is back, leaning in the door frame. Roderick is wearing the new running shoes “How do they feel?”
“Nice, want to go for a run first thing?”
“Yes! Oh! Wait -” They both say the following at the same time: “We should get pads!” Roderick and by nature Roderick’s twin do not like lifting weights. The only physically satisfying activity their body has ever found is boxing, preferably with gloves and pads, with an attentive instructor, an exercise that takes planning, money, and usually distance to achieve. They order a drone immediately with new gloves and pads.
“You want a drink?”
“That’s a stupid question.”
“We have twizzlers?”
Two boils the water to make a batch of demerara syrup. Roderick squeezes the lime into juice. Two gathers ice. Roderick grabs the shaker. It begins. They toast themselves with their grandma’s line, “here’s to us, there are no better people.” They finish what’s left of the rum after three drinks. Then they have beer and make pasta. They watch a movie. They wake up next to one another in separate rooms. This is three and four.
Roderick gathers the three other hims into the office. “Okay, Two, raise your hand.” All three of the new Rodericks raise their hands.
“Wait wait wait,” says Two to Three and Four - “he means me.”
“Why does he mean you,” says Four.
“Wait,” says Roderick, “here’s what we’ll do, which of you ordered the drone.”
“We all did,” says Four.
“But who set up the bathroom?”
All of the other Rodericks point to Roderick, and say, “You did.” Roderick understands that these new Rodericks are spawns from Two.
“We’re all thinking it, right?” asks Four.
“Don’t,” says Two, feeling responsible for his very presence.
“Please,” says Roderick.
“It’s just a lot like that Michael Keaton movie.”
“Yeah,” says Three, “where’s Andie McDowell?”
“Guys,” says Two, “let’s not get into Michael Keaton right now - we know where that will go.”
“You want to talk about Jack Frost?” says Three.
“About the disappearance?” says Four.
“We are all,” Roderick says in an almost yell, “only going to agree. We missed Keaton while he was gone. Looking back we are remembering a dumb movie with more fondness than it might need, that most of the late nineties save for the two Elmore Leonard adaptations were wasted time and not until Toy Story 3 and The Other Guys was the early potential again unlocked. We all know it, we’re all going to follow up with rescuing Rick Moranis from the same fate. We share a same brain, and other than the past 48 hours all of our memories are identical.” Roderick takes a breath. “I will say though, we have to not split into more of us.”
“Woah, same brain,” says Three, “why?”
“Yeah, I mean,” says Four, “sort of a weird rule to throw down, now, same brain.”
“Mes,” says Roderick, “you all know more of us is not going to help - all of us. It’s already going to take some getting used to, and probably a second job to afford this.”
“And everyone’s gonna want to sleep in our room,” says Two.
“Yes,” says Roderick.
“And you,” says Four to Roderick, “are always gonna sort of be like, top Roderick, for being first Roderick. But like, none of us should have to not be first Roderick, as we’re pretty much exactly the same, right?”
“Right, so like, what this is, for me and Four, and yeah I’ll admit it,” says Three, “I popped out of that one’s body - see, the scar.” Three motions to the scar on Two’s shoulder.
“Oh, and look,” says Four as he motions to Two’s left shoulder, “here’s another scar.”
“Anyway, what if we want the feeling you guys have had? Since we’re the only us that haven’t produced more us. I, for one, sort of want to know what that feels like”
One looks at Two, they both know what the other is going to say. Three and Four know what they’re going to say too.
“Fuck it,” say Three and Four simultaneously and begin to produce more Rodericks.
One and Two press their bodies against Three and Four’s shoulders to push the new squeezing bodies with their latex stretchiness back into their shoulders, but instead, in an instant, they are absorbed. Three and Four look at one another stunned, suddenly the only two Rodericks in the room.
“Didn’t see that coming.”
“But like, bit of a pot calling the kettle situation.”
“Yeah, like, we should agree we’re ours to do what we want with.”
“Want to get a beer?” they both ask one another simultaneously. Three points out the window to an approaching drone. “Did you order that?”
“Oh it’s from yesterday,” says Four, “they must have been low on stock.”
“Nice, just be careful not to hit me in the face. Might knock another me out.”
“Yeah, and we have to protect this ear from getting worse.”
“Oh, wait, do you still hear the ringing?”
“No, actually, I don’t.”
“Hey, but like, you agree, four of us was too many, yeah?”