Shannon falls out of arabesque the moment she spots her doppelganger. She’s uncertain which fact is more surprising: that her doppelganger should appear in the dance studio mirror, smudged as it is with sticky fingerprints from the tiny-tot class, rather than some beautiful, haunted antique; or that her doppelganger is a man.
He moves with her, stumbling forward, feet permanently turned out like Shannon’s own. He wears his thick hair in the same tight chignon, dons the same black spandex shorts and knotted pink top. Twin expressions of shock bug their eyes and weigh down their jaws.
She thinks to call out, but she’s alone in the building—Tamara, the receptionist, left forty minutes ago—and anyway, what would be the point of calling in a witness? Confirmation might soothe her but won’t solve the problem. If it’s a problem.
Is it a problem?
Her music, a droning electronic piece, keeps playing. She picks up the choreography at the top of the next phrase. Her doppelganger mirrors her, movements as shaky as her own, but together they gain confidence as the music builds. They leap through the air, tuck and roll to the ground. Shannon presses herself up on trembling arms and, watching her friend, can’t help coveting the bulk of his biceps. She spins wildly and loses him, but as the music crashes to a close and she begins to unspool herself, there he is again, broad chest heaving. He looks to her as if awaiting appraisal, approval; it takes a moment for Shannon to realize she’s looking to him for the same.
“You can really dance,” she tells him. His mouth takes the shape of her words but cannot speak them back, which fills her with a sudden ache she doesn’t understand. Later, when she checks her reflection in the building’s other mirrors then in her car’s rear view and finds no magic, only her own familiar visage, she’ll recognize the ache as longing.
The next day, she comes into the studio an hour before opening, half-afraid he won’t be waiting. But no, there he is, rushing through the rehearsal room door, his delight and relief reflecting her own.
Up close, their differences are more pronounced: his lips are thinner, nose larger, jaw strong and square. He’s clean-shaven, but she can tell he’d manage a full beard if he let it grow—not some wispy hipster beard but one worthy of a lumberjack. She imagines a face with that stubble between her thighs, shivers to think how it would chafe.
She sheds her sneakers and sweater, slides her leotard straps off her shoulders, folds the garment down until her breasts are bared. Whorls of dark hair cover his pecs and trail down his hard belly before erupting, Shannon sees as she shimmies out of her tights, into a field of pubic hair as neatly trimmed as her own. His cock, she’s relieved to find, is a nice one—not too big or small, good girth and color, no awkward bend or bulging veins. She turns her hips, and so does he, one way then the other, smirking as the soft lump of meat slaps against each thigh.
It’s a childish game, and she could play it all day, except the senior company will arrive soon for their lesson.
She dresses, switches on the building’s lights, and unlocks the door.
At the top of the lesson, Shannon rattles off something about Graham technique and port de bras, but as usual her girls exhibit little interest in the history or vocabulary of their art. She’s never minded. There is something pure about their desire to simply move. They burn across the floor like cleansing fire, while Shannon burns so dirty, all choking smoke and oil stench. She may be their instructor, but most days she’s embarrassed to dance in front of them. Today, though, as she leads them through choreography, she is dancing a duet only she can see. It feels like falling in love.
She names him Daniel. It’s the name her mother would’ve given her if she’d been born with different chromosomes. Shannon takes perverse delight in the fact that this is also the name of her grandfather, a grouchy Irish-Catholic drunk who’d sooner have died than set foot on a dance floor—who did die, in fact, nearly seven years ago. Shannon imagines she’s giving the dead man new life, something better, or at least more interesting. This Daniel is graceful and strong, teeming with vitality—is it vanity, she wonders, to call him beautiful?
He is beautiful.
She doesn’t want to go home, but someone must feed the cats.
In the evening, she bathes in Epsom salts and takes a pumice stone to her callouses. She avoids mirrors, which here too only show a face that disappoints her.
Where does Daniel go, she wonders in bed that night, when I’m away from the studio? And where, for that matter, had he been before yesterday? Does he inhabit a mirror world, running parallel to this one? Maybe he’s the Daniel she might’ve been but for an accident of biology. She imagines him right now sleeping in a bed like this one, with two overweight Persians of his own snoring at the foot. Or does Daniel cease to exist when Shannon turns from the mirror? Did she carry him home inside of her like a parasitic twin? Is he with her now?
Unable to sleep, she goes to the bathroom, intent on improving the reflection. She pulls her hair back, stipples stubble across her face with a mascara wand, draws her brows in thicker. The effect is clownish, not even drag so much as Halloween-store hobo. An insult to Daniel. The bad imitation makes her miss him more.
In the morning she goes to Macy’s to browse the menswear. She’d like to see him in something other than leotards but is nervous to pick the wrong thing. You can’t be wrong here, whispers a voice she knows belongs to him, the one she’s imagined for him. I’m you. “You are and you aren’t,” she murmurs out loud. Across the rack, the salesgirl gawks at her like she’s as crazy as she feels.
She buys slacks, a dark shirt, a skinny tie, and a slim-cut blazer with buttons bearing the insignia of a designer she can only afford on clearance. She takes the new things with her to the studio before it opens, dressing in the bathroom. As she enters the rehearsal room, she is greeted by a man who moves with ease and conviction. She makes a fashion model of him, strutting the length of the dance floor, twirls then peels off the blazer to sling over one shoulder. It reminds her of how those bland, handsome men from her mother’s department-store catalogs used to pose. As a kid, she’d hated those men and their boring khakis and goose-down vests. She doesn’t hate the man staring back at her. Maybe, she thinks, it’s because Daniel is breathing. Maybe it’s because she’s breathing for him, with him. He is alive, alert, ambulatory. He could do anything.
When the tiny-tot class comes in at three, little Kayla spots the necktie draped over the stereo and asks what it’s for. Shannon lies and says it’s a costume.
She meets a man in a bar that night. Instead of taking him home, she takes him to the studio. They fuck on a crash pad in front of the mirror. She watches Daniel, face half-smushed into the mat, taut muscles straining against the weight of this other man who could be anybody. Daniel’s mouth forms the words of encouragement she recites by rote, and when they come, they come together, one hand each reaching down to touch themselves, the other yearning toward its twin in the mirror, but the mirror is so far away.
The following night, she brings in a woman. Shannon’s never had much interest in women, but she’s eager to learn whether Daniel feels the same. His pleasure is evident, and she feels her own bolstered by it, though maybe this is what they both wanted, or maybe each is buoyed by the other. Beneath them, the women are worshipful, reverent. Shannon and Daniel bend over the women’s bodies, turn the women’s flushed faces toward the mirror. “Do you see me?” Shannon whispers, and Daniel apes her words, or perhaps it’s the other way around. In any case, she can hear him now, his voice pitched an octave below her own. It vibrates through her. “Can you see us?” Shannon is eager and terrified for an answer. Instead, the woman comes around Shannon’s fingers and barely makes a sound.
When the woman leaves, Shannon drags the crash pad closer to the mirror and falls asleep with her hand pressed to Daniel’s. She dreams they are together on a spotlighted stage, turning fouettés like two human tops in perfect synchronicity. Shannon strains to hear the music but hears only the steady rhythm of their heartbeats, one indistinguishable from the other. Their form is impeccable, their momentum unrelenting. They defy physics. They defy everything. If they can keep it up, Shannon is certain they will spin themselves toward something glorious and whole.
Sutton Strother is a writer and teacher living in New York. Their work has been featured in several publications including, most recently, Lost Balloon and HAD. Read more of their work at suttonstrother.wordpress.com and find them tweeting @suttonstrother.