The actress—petite, brunette, with large expressive dark eyes and a kind, almost regal face—strode down the London street with purpose and a spring in her step, which thoroughly masked the nervousness she was feeling.
She nearly had the part nailed, she was sure of it; just one more reading, and—she hoped—the lead role in a major ITV series would be hers. But overconfidence had been the downfall of many a performer who raised their hopes too high; she tried not to let her nervousness show as she popped another stick of gum into her mouth.
As it happened, she wasn’t totally successful in suppressing her nerves; she had been so distracted, she’d gotten off two tube stations prematurely. The next train wouldn’t be along for a while, so she decided it would be quicker to walk the rest of the way. One positive aspect of being nervous as hell is one tends to do things like leave for the studio a good half hour before one really needs to, so at least she wasn’t worried about arriving late, even though she kept her fingers crossed she’d only have to pose for a handful of fan selfies en route. Most of the time, she accepted it came with the territory, but she had the audition to focus on; she didn’t want to be distracted with fans trying to pry spoilers out of her.
Oh well, the actress figured, maybe the walk would help ease her nerves a little and give her internal monologue a chance to recite back as many facts about the woman she was hoping to play on TV as she could remember. Not that she expected there to be a quiz, but she always felt it important to get inside the character’s head as much as possible, so she’d spent half the night before rereading the woman’s diaries.
The actress was concentrating so much on recalling historical minutiae, she didn’t notice the old-fashioned police box partly blocking the pavement until she nearly bumped into it.
“What are you doing here?” she found herself asking the box, almost as if she expected it to reply. Tall and blue, the box looked familiar, of course—she’d seen enough old Rank Corporation films to know an old-fashioned police box when she saw one. Though … there was something about this one. The actress shrugged off the incomplete thought with another internal-dialogue question: Exactly why was an old police box parked half in the middle of the pavement? Maybe it was just being installed like the one over at Earl’s Court. She made a mental note to come back later and take a photo for her Instagram; she loved its retro look. But she had an audition to attend first, and she was already looking forward to jokingly commanding that her friends (or at least P.C., who she loved teasing) address her as Your Majesty.
And that was when she heard a quiet voice from behind the box. “No, I can’t do it, I can’t,” a young man said. He sounded like he was crying.
A bit wary about what she might see—this was central London, after all—the actress took a tentative peek around the side of the police box.
A young man in a hoodie was hunched over, a small battery-powered airbrush in his hand aimed at a blank panel in the door. The front of the box was covered with delicate-looking flowers.
“Beautiful work,” she said, softly.
The young man started and drew his hood tighter over his head. He didn’t look at her.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
“You didn’t. I mean, it’s alright,” said the young man. He took the handle of a paint-stained sports bag at his feet. “I better be going.”
“What? No, don’t leave on my account. I won’t tell a soul, promise. Mind you, you’re in the middle of the street. Not exactly private.” Even as she said this, the actress had a sense that she should have known why she didn’t notice the police box until she’d almost flattened her perky nose against it.
Something in the woman’s voice calmed the young man down. He let go of the bag, though he kept his eyes on the box in front of him and still didn’t look at her. “It’s alright. I know the fella who owns the box. He won’t mind. At least, I hope he won’t.”
The actress cast her gaze across the graffiti. “These flowers are beautiful. Are you going to paint more of them?”
“No, I was … you see, the bloke who owns this box, he shared it with someone else. A lady. A nice lady named Clara. She …” The young man stopped for a second. “… well, she died. And then he disappeared.”
“I’m so sorry. Were the two of them...?”
“He always denied it, but she basically told me they were. So, anyway, I want to put Clara’s face in this door panel, so that when the Doctor—that’s what we call him—comes back, he’ll know Clara hasn’t been forgotten.”
“How did she die? If you don’t mind me asking.”
“I’d rather not talk about it. But she saved my life doing it, and I think a lot of other people’s, too.”
“I don’t remember hearing anything on the news.” The woman looked puzzled. Not that the artist would have noticed as he still refused to look at her. She knew she had to get a move on to the audition, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave just yet.
“You wouldn’t. She … it wasn’t something that happened in public. Clara just … died, OK? I don’t mean to be rude, but can I get on with it? My wife’ll be here to pick me up any minute and I need to get this done. Clara was a friend, and I want to honour her.”
“You sounded frustrated a moment ago,” the actress probed.
“I’ve painted over that same bloody square five times because I can’t properly call her face to mind. I don’t know why. Her’s wasn’t a face you forget easily. It’s like part of me doesn’t want to accept that she’s gone. And there was a something about her eyes … I can’t call it to mind anymore. When I paint Clara, all I can do is a pretty face, you know?”
“You can’t get inside her head.”
“That’s the problem. You want to do her justice, but you can’t get inside her head. I’m an actress and I’m trying to get inside the head of a character I want to play, and it’s not easy.”
“How did you manage?” the artist asked.
“Lots of reading, especially her diaries.”
The artist traced his finger over the faint remnant of another now-painted-over failed attempt at capturing Clara’s likeness. “I don’t have any of Clara’s diaries. I have a few emails, but they’re mostly about the Doctor. She was crazy about him. He looked old enough to be her dad, but she said that was just a temporary condition, whatever that meant.”
“Sounds familiar—not the temporary condition part—but the character I’m hoping to play fell for an older man, too, and filled her diaries with pages obsessing about him.”
“Clara’s emails won’t help me get inside her head anyway,” admitted the artist. “I’ll just have to make do. The Doctor will still appreciate the effort, I hope.”
The actress nodded. “I’m sure he will. I’ll let you get back to it, then. What’s your name, by the way?”
The young man finally took his hood off, revealing pleasant, if grieving features. “My name’s Rigsy. What’s-” He finally turned to face the young woman and the words stuck in his throat.
“Pleased to meet you, Rigsy. My name’s Jenna.” The actress held out her hand. Rigsy took it and tried not to stare. No, this wasn’t Clara. It couldn’t be. Was this… what was the word she used once when she and the Doctor attended his bachelor party and she’d had one too many vodka shooters at the pub and decided to tell him her life story (complete with a bit too much detail regarding her feelings for the Doctor) … an “echo”?
Rigsy cleared his throat. “Pleased to meet you. You don’t happen to know the name Clara Oswald, do you?”
Jenna Coleman shook her head. “Afraid not, but I am sorry for your loss, really I am. Look, I have to get going. My audition’s just down the street and I’m almost late. I’ll try and swing by later and see how it turned out, OK?”
The two exchanged smiles and Jenna turned to leave, trying to ignore the sudden chill down her back as she did so. That police box really did feel familiar. And why hadn’t she been surprised to realize it was humming?
A mystery for another time, she thought. Queen Victoria awaited. With newly confidant strides, she set off for the studio.
As for Rigsy, he stood gaping in Jenna’s direction. He vaguely remembered seeing her on Waterloo Road a few years before, and some sci-fi thing he saw an episode or two of (he preferred to paint or look after his daughter than watch TV). But he’d never made the connection.
But then he smiled, as Jenna Coleman had provided him with the solution to his dilemma, one he was sure Clara would have approved of, if only for its irony. He took out his mobile and called up Google Image Search.
Rigsy knew that even twins are never truly identical, because each has their own unique life experiences; their minds are their own. Their eyes are different, the way they hold their head is different, the way they smile is different. That’s most of the time; sometimes, though, they get in synch with one another and, for Rigsy, that was when things could get a bit creepy.
Right now, Rigsy was looking for creepy. A photo of Jenna in which she managed to capture Clara’s spirit in some way. There had to be one.
After scrolling through dozens of fashion-shoot images, paparazzi photos, screen captures—she was in the Captain America movie?—he found what he was looking for. The image was a couple years old, from an interview she did for The Guardian. As he looked at the photo, holding the mobile with one hand, Rigsy began to paint with the other. He wasn’t so much concerned about copying the patterned blue-green outfit she wore, or the small necklace around her neck. It was Jenna’s half-smile, the fact her hair was only a little longer than Clara’s was when ... it happened. And her eyes … her eyes. It was her.
It had been several years since that weird day in Bristol when Clara encouraged him to make the most realistic painting of a door in the history of mankind (“No pressure,” she’d joked). He might not have actually done that, but it was good enough to fool the Boneless. Now, his painting of Clara wasn’t meant to fool anyone either … he wasn’t even sure Jenna would recognize herself if she made good on her promise to come by and take a look. But Rigsy knew it was Clara. The Doctor would know it was Clara. That was good enough.
Finally satisfied, Rigsy somberly packed up his gear and joined Jen, his wife, who had arrived and was watching him complete his portrait as she spoke softly to the baby she held in her arms.
“He won’t be mad you painted his TARDIS?” she then said to him.
“I hope he is mad,” Rigsy said. “I hope he comes back and properly goes off on me.”
Odds are, he thought, the police would take the box away as a public nuisance, or a prank or unauthorized art installation. He doubted the Doctor would ever see the portrait of Clara that he created thanks to someone who was either one of Clara’s echoes, or close enough to be her twin. But at least he had done his best.
Rigsy and Jen headed for the nearest tube station.