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Against red walls

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White coats against red walls.

 

The room is bright and lacquered; its ceiling stretches out into the darkness. It is not any prison either of them knows, but a prison nonetheless. It barely holds the two of them, fierce and radiant magnets with the same polarity squared off against each other, positive waves clashing in the electric air. Yet something lurks underneath the sparks. They are not perfect images. The dash of gray along the other's temples shows like a crack through the spotless façade and all of him looks older, worn out, but it's not that, nor the sharp lines that give a stern outline to his mouth. Something took a toll but he could be older, that something could be the simple flow of years. Nothing more than eerie proof that he is mortal after all, not eternal as the stars burning in the sky, but he knew that already, somewhat. The real discomfort runs deeper.

 

“Booold imitation,” Cabanela says.

“At least one of us is makin’ an effort to be bold, baby.”

 

It's the cold white that hurts his eyes. Remote. Cabanela slides across the dark floor, feet reuniting in the fifth position. His other does the same and they stand inches apart in the middle of the room, mirrored, and they could not be faulted for thinking that maybe there was only ever one of them after all. If Cabanela could touch that coat, grab it, rip it off, he would know that they were two, made of flesh and blood, and what the other was hiding that made his stance so fierce but so brittle. But he cannot make it to the other side of the room. A force, a barrier, a different world divides them. His double remains out of reach, an elusive mirror image after all.

 

The other raises his hand and opens it to reveal a golden key; Cabanela feels a weight in his own hand, which he had not realized was balled up, knuckles drained of blood, and finds a twin key on his palm. Twin keys for twin doors at the opposite ends of one of the room's walls, and they know, as surely as they are real, that their way out is together or alone.

“A beginner's pickle.”

“Baaarely a salted cucumber,” the other agrees.

“Shall we dance?”

“I trust you, baby. On your mark.”

They nod and tap their heels to a one, two, three, four, because Cabanela is a man of intuition and everything that matters can go unsaid: a prisoner's dilemma is hardly a dilemma at all if the option is to ally with or betray yourself, and everybody knooows that these are set up so the overall best result is to forfeit whatever edge of personal benefit and to ally, simple math, nothing like it. Cabanela understands Cabanela when nobody else will; what he does not understand, he knows he can trust. So five, six, seven, eight, they find a rhythm and dance, coat tails swirling, and they find confidence in their joint step, once again there could be a mirror between them, they could be only one. Differences are swept under the spotless white of their coats, leaving only bright enthusiasm for a peer who understands the sheer joy of movement. Their energy lights up the room - they know that a step will follow a kick and a pivot turn is coming. Except Cabanela turns around from the farthest corner of the room to see that his double has betrayed their symmetry to rush to his door, unlock it alone and leave him behind.

 

“You…!” he cries, leaping toward the remaining door but it's too late, the key in his hand is lead, the keyhole was never there.

He, the traitor, the blemish, the dispassionate, opens the door with a confident swing and makes it halfway through before turning around to at least deign him of some parting words.

“Nothing personal, my maaan,” the other says, his hand gripping his side as he bends down in a bow that starts out smooth and ends putting too much weight on a shaky knee. “Got thiiings to do, places to be…” The double's legs can't hold him. He reaches for the handle to prop himself up. “...people to meet. Couldn't afford any… trifling delays.”

“I'm you !”

“Not if you... didn't see it coming you're not.”

 

Cabanela stares, frozen to the spot, as his double falls apart. Bright red spots are blooming on his coat, deep unseen wounds he kept hidden as he strode forward, relentless. Broken bones, the smell of gunpowder. A fascination tinges the abject horror as Cabanela pictures himself through the mirror (only one, there is only one), carrying himself with such pride toward an absolute goal that he marched past his safety and his very self. He kneels down. If their images were superimposed, and they are, they are apart and they are close and they are one, he would be cradling his double's head. Somebody has to, as his blood pools on the floor and he is dying alone, urgency still etched in his muscles, staring with empty eyes beyond the door, reaching out, always reaching out.

 

“Why. How did you keep it hidden.”

“What? Sleight of hand, baby. All magic is real if you beliiieve.”

“I couldn't.”

“You are. You can. You should. Get your mask ready and hide it under a dozen more… don't… ever… show your hand. Don't...”

His other's blood dyes his coat as red as the walls around them. It feels sacred, a rite of passage. There is the beauty of a higher purpose hidden by the firmness of betrayal, now coming to light as the other unravels, too drained to keep up the masks he is rambling about. Something took a toll on him and it wasn't the years. What he does not understand, he knows he can trust.

“I got you, baby. Just tell me why.”

His other turns to look at him, wide-eyed through the pain like it's the funniest thing in the world, and the most tragic, although for who of them he could not say - it was never his lot in life to unravel fate's sense of humor. There is something so close to his core that he cannot see it, and it can break.

“You don't know? Boooy, you really and truly can't tell?”

His roaring laughter rises to a hysterical pitch and drowns the room, and all is dark.