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The billionaire made the first clone first, and she was a woman. She was meant to be his second wife. The billionaire's true wife was dead. The billionairess died sleeping and in her last breath the billionaire quietly laid his guilty mouth on her calm face as he extracted a prick of blood from the fat of her forefinger.
Yet it happened that the first clone was not, could not be, the billionaire's wife at all, but another thing entirely -- a thing more remote, shifting guiltily in her chair, watching him, and fidgeting dangerously with the antiques -- so the billionaire made the second clone second, and this clone was a man. The first clone was introduced to the second, and therefore became a true wife in her own way, and the clones were married.
The second clone took on all the love unfelt by the first.
And so on...
The second clone appeared to be in his late 30's and comfortably overweight. He had a curly mop of salt and pepper hair cut just beneath his ears. He possessed a pleasantly rough face which perpetually wore the expression of one who, though harboring a liberal and speculative mind, had nonetheless been confined to a life of wood-detailing. And so he had. Sometimes he would gently tap dove joints into place, and at other times he would tear down rooms full of drywall with a crowbar, and each time he would wear the same expression of pained benevolence.
From day to day he wore one of two outfits; black jeans with a red-and-orange plaid shirt, or blue jeans with a blue-and-black plaid shirt. These he kept impeccably clean.
The first clone, by contrast, looked at least ten years younger than the second. She appeared to have more of his wisdom and less of his grace. Her eyes were dark; her thick, book-orange hair was usually folded behind her head with a length of dark ribbon, yet her eyes still looked like pitch-black primer buttons.
Her ribbon was given to her by the dying husband of her double, the man who commissioned her to be made -- the billionaire -- a few moments before he died. He winced and said, "For Christ's sake, keep your hair out of your eyes. Use this." Then he died.
She wore either a blue ankle-length dress printed with patterns of daisies and a navy-blue cardigan, or an orange-yellow, calf-length dress printed with patterns of marigolds and a yellow pullover with a thick collar.
These were their appearances. They were five and six years old, respectively.
The man was a woodworker.
The woman worked in some kind of a store.
The first clone liked to shoplift from the store she worked in. She shoplifted because she liked the things she saw -- the hammers and blowpops and cigarette packages -- and because she did not want to pay for them.
At the same time, the second clone was a terrible carpenter, and was constantly reprimanded for his work.
Something should now be told of their commissioner. When he became sick, he seemed to die forever. He died constantly, for years, and drew everyone into his death.
It was a disgusting, painful affair for his sons and daughters -- that is to say, not the clones, but his true progeny, the fruit of his loins. The clones could stand next to a 50-year-old picture of the billionaire and his wife and be asked: at what amusement did you get such an old-timey picture of yourselves? So uncanny were the clones. His ordinary children (the oldest an insurance broker, the youngest a painter in Albuquerque) were, on the other hand, all twisted into generational combinations of their parents; part of his nose here, an aunt or uncle might have said, and part of her eyes there and a small slope in the lip that was merely environmental. Some of the children were fatter or thinner.
In 2022, or whenever it was that this happened, these children discontinued the billionaire's treatment, and he died.
This might not have been necessary. His second clone, after all, could have provided the billionaire with a new stomach and a new brain -- his own pink guts were the spitting image of the billionaire's, excepting the five-year-old freshness of the one and the grey gossamer failure of the other. A simple walk down the hospital corridor and an afternoon of concentrated work on the part of a few qualified physicians would have sufficed to get the old man back up and at business within a few days, though his clone would have been made useless, scooped out like a cantaloupe.
At 82 years old, the billionaire, provided with these two fresh necessities, a stomach and a brain, might have expected another 50 years of healthy, active life. Such was his diagnosis. In fact, his children campaigned quite actively for the clone to be separated from his stomach and brain.
But the old man refused to cut apart his clone.
The billionaire loved his clones as he loved the memory of his younger self. They became his will after sickness left him unwilling; he held on, even through the loss of his own memory, with this new, fleshy vision of himself and his living young bride, doubled, walking through the streets of Manhattan, working, looking into shop windows, wearing his two favorite outfits.
He will be a carpenter, the billionaire said when he commissioned him. She will work in some type of a store.
He knew he had made the right decision in not disassembling the second clone for his most useful parts, when, one day and from out of nowhere, the clone offered his organs to him.
--Please take them if you want, repeated the clone. I am not you. You have to admit that I am barely me. You can start again with my stomach. My brain is like your own brain.
--No, the billionaire shook his head, speaking in a fluid whisper, though I'm glad of your generosity. I'm an old man. I'm going to die. I made you to live; if you die it's all useless.
Do you see? asked the billionaire. You were made by me to live feeling the same love for your wife as I did for mine, and to do useful work, for as long as possible.
--But I'm bad at my job, said the clone.
--But you work, replied the billionaire.
The second clone then felt real love for his commissioner, and was able to see him off peacefully.
The first clone did not feel the same way at all.
She burst into tears when her husband first suggested giving up his stomach. She reminded him that of course he could not live without his stomach. That seemed pretty much obvious to her.
--What will you do? she asked. Will you trade with him? Will you take his cancerous stomach that couldn't even hold my cooking before it was so full of -- and here she struggled for the right word -- holes?
Her argument was strong, thought the second clone, though he went to the hospital anyway.
--He is old, you are young, she said. Keep what he gave you, she insisted.
She repeated that she loved the old man, though she didn't, remembering too well his dissipation when they lived alone together in his big Park Avenue penthouse, how he screamed and whistled at her every time a little ache or pain assaulted him, which was often, and how every ounce of restlessness he felt was visited upon her threefold.
She remembered his hand; half lifted and pleading when he was bedridden, waggling and pointing when he was not. She remembered his trembling hand and his black void of a mouth and the weakness of his bones.
Most horrific, she thought, were the framed pictures of the newly-dead wife tacked in twos and threes in every room of the large Park Avenue penthouse, because they were, or seemed to be, pictures of herself, pictures of herself as a woman who loved the billionaire in a way that she never could.
The true billionairess was someone who had risen from crumpled infanthood into a full, primal womanhood -- the womanhood of the clone -- and back again, her bones buckling in the newer pictures, old skin hanging from the bones, giving the clone a detailed map of what would happen to her, excepting the infancy part of the equation, since she had never been, and never would be, an infant.
--But it's unfair that I should crumple and die when I hadn't even been born, thought the clone. It seems that I should live forever.
This was all before the second clone arrived, innocent but with rough hands, before she moved out of the penthouse forever, in keeping, always, with the old man's wishes.
No, she could not love the old man like the original did, and could not be irrational when it came to saving his life. Real old people die, she said to herself; even the ones who give life must eventually die.
Their apartment was a tiny one-bedroom in Brooklyn, undecorated except for the few little figurines of giraffes and rabbits that the woman had stolen from her store. The couple usually had to scrape together their resources at the end of the month in order to pay rent. They were often a few days late, though they were never short of the money.
The walls of the apartment were egg-yellow and cracked. This color perfectly matched the egg-yellow faces in the framed picture above the small kitchen table in their apartment, fixed between two windows overlooking a vast net of clotheslines above a small yard, which was itself placed between two alleys. It was the only picture the first clone would allow in the house.
The picture stayed up long after the billionaire and his wife had died.
The picture was dated from about 1985, nearly thirty years before the couple had been ordered to be made. The couple in the picture looked polite and healthy; they looked like a couple with children in college, a couple who ate well and with discrimination. The man wore a sharp blue suit; the woman, a head shorter than the man, wore a white frill around her collar and her dress was dark blue. Her eyes centered the picture like two black marbles set into the frosting of a wedding cake. The photographic background was blue, like the sky when it smokes against the Hudson Bay.
The first clone thought that the woman in the picture probably squeezed and plunked her melons at the corner fruit market, just as she saw other, older ladies doing.
She did not know that the woman in the picture rarely, if ever, did her own shopping. She had other women do her plunking and squeezing for her.
Nonetheless, when the clone went out to shop she plunked melons and squeezed and sniffed oranges, because she thought it was what she should do; just as the man religiously read the Wall Street Journal (though what either of them knew about the texture of fruit or the rise and wane of stocks was limited, at best) because the man in the picture looked like the type of person who would read such a paper, at night, maybe, with his slippers on and just a single reading lamp trained over his shoulder.
Every night they stayed up for maybe half an hour talking about the normal things they had done in the course of the day, and about what they felt they had done either correctly or incorrectly. They reprimanded and congratulated each other accordingly.
They had few friends; indeed, everyone knew that they were clones, since the billionaire had secured their jobs for them, and had set up a small foundation to see to it that they were never out of their respective careers.
Clones were interesting but quite distasteful.
The only visitors they had were the children of the old couple, and that was some time ago, before the billionaire had died, and these visits came very infrequently.
--Please, abandon your stomach and brain, said the son.
--I will talk to your father about this, said the clone.
--Your father refuses to take my stomach and brain.
--He is senile. He doesn't know what he wants.
--I must abide by his wishes.
--Fuck you. You're nothing.
--He made me. He said he wanted me to live.
After the old man died, the clones never saw the children again, and the second clone would be pulled between hatred and love forever.
As for the first clone, one day after work she found herself lost in Manhattan, her coat bulging with stolen figurines.
She thought how beautiful Manhattan was in February with the light sinking behind the buildings, making their walls blush in the brilliant salmon-colored light.
She walked between the buildings, her head tilted away from the light. She watched the blush smear against the dark and she watched the window-light eyes of the buildings fight against the dark. When the last light flickered off, she became afraid.
She found a subway entrance but knew it would not take her to Brooklyn.
She forgot where she was and began walking quickly down The Avenue of The Americas, forgetting where north was.
A figurine clattered to the ground, beheading itself.
She walked across 60th and when she ran into Central Park she didn't know whether she was on the east or west side of it.
She walked north up Madison Avenue, then south.
She was crying in Chelsea when she fell asleep in a stoop.
When she got to work the next morning she told her manager, I know what it was like to be the billionaire. I know what it was like when the billionaire died.
The manager, who had mostly been silent, then clicked his tongue and said, where did you get all those fucking figurines?
There was a couple, a likeable couple, seemingly intelligent, who were the clones of an older couple. This is their story; the relating of adventures they might have taken, which were not truly adventures, and the conversations they might have had, though the conversations might normally have been dull.
For instance: the woman was fired. Yet she quickly found a job at another store.
Greg Purcell lives in Chicago. He is mostly responsible for a website which features very fine fine things. http://www.NoSlander.com.