The Three Sunrises

By Edward Mullany

Publishing Genius
June 2015



I'd been following a man, who looked exactly like me, since an hour or so before dawn, when I'd spotted him on a street in a neighborhood of Brooklyn with which I wasn't familiar, walking toward the same subway stop as I'd been walking toward but a little ahead of me, so that I'd been able to see him without, it seemed, letting him see me; that is, I'd hid myself from his view and had spied on him; and now, though it was mid-morning, and though I'd observed him in several different settings (sitting in a train car doing nothing, climbing and descending stairwells, waiting to cross a street in lower Manhattan) I still hadn't learned much about him, for he was going about no business, was merely wandering, speaking to no one, maintaining no predictable direction, had no phone or mobile device to occupy him, and wore no expression on his face. Now, for example, standing before a storefront window on a street that was teeming with students, tourists, vendors and locals, he seemed to be absorbed not so much with the display behind the window (which showed androgynous mannequins in androgynous summery clothes) as he was with the window itself, or, rather, with the glass that comprised the window. As if the composition of glass was something that interested him on a molecular or philosophical level. Or as if, looking into the glass, he was seeing not that which was beyond it, but rather that which was within it—him, or the reflection of him. And, standing across the street from him, wearing a pair of sunglasses and a baseball cap that I'd purchased on the go and had donned as a rudimentary disguise, I felt dazed, paranoid and bewildered. And I wasn't certain I wasn't going insane.



The reason I'd been in Brooklyn was that I lived there. But the reason I'd been in the neighborhood in Brooklyn with which I wasn't familiar was that hours earlier, in the night, unable to sleep, I'd left my apartment and had begun walking out of the neighborhood in which I lived, hoping that by walking somewhere—anywhere, it didn't matter to me where—I'd distract myself from the fact that I was awake when I wanted to be asleep, or that sleep would become something I no longer wanted, at least for the remaining hours of the night, when ordinarily I would be asleep. And though I hadn't intended to walk far (or though I hadn't considered whether I wanted to walk far or not), I'd found myself far from home when eventually I saw the man who looked like me. And because it was early enough that no one else was on the street—just me and him and a few haphazardly parked cars (the neighborhood was in the outer part of the borough, at the very end of the train line)—my sighting of him seemed to me all the more remarkable. As if the reason I hadn't been able to sleep was that he was here, or would be here, and that I was either supposed to be here or not.



So I'd followed him down into the station, and fortunately a train had been arriving. Fortunately, I say, because I didn't want him to see me; I only wanted for me to see him. And I knew that if I'd had to wait out on the platform with him, without other people to hide behind or blend in with, there would've been no way of keeping my presence unknown to him; he would've seen me standing there, and whatever might have happened as a consequence of that sighting would've happened. And I knew I wasn't prepared for that, not knowing as of yet what to make of the fact that I had discovered a person who appeared to be my double. But, as luck would have it, a train was arriving—I could hear it as I was hurrying down the stairs. And so, having lingered a little to give him time to swipe his card and go through the turnstile, I too took out my card and went through the turnstile. And, seeing him board the train via a car that was reasonably near, I snuck onto the car that was immediately behind his. And in a moment the train started moving and we were rolling through the tunnels underneath the streets.



The train would make many stops before the man who looked like me would get off at a station, but not many people were getting on. It wasn't yet dawn, and, though a weekday, people who would be commuting to work were not yet awake. The train was more or less empty until we reached Manhattan. And even then there was plenty of room in the cars to sit if you wanted to sit. I had opted to stand. Watching through the window on the door at the end of my carriage, I could just see the man who looked like me through the window on the door of his carriage, sitting there, alone, on the edge of a long bench seat, doing nothing. His posture was remarkably rigid, not like mine, which tended to slouch when I relaxed; he seemed needlessly alert, the way I was now, having seen him. But physically he did look exactly like me. And though we weren't wearing the same clothes, we were wearing the same style clothes. That is, I could see myself wearing what he had chosen to wear. We looked as though we took our clothes from the same wardrobe, or bought them from the same store. I was musing on this when my phone vibrated. I felt it buzz within my pocket. And, taking it out, I saw that it was Juanita, the woman I lived with and with whom I'd quarreled the evening before.



"Juanita," I'd said, before she could even speak, "you won't believe this. I'm on a train going into the city, and the most extraordinary thing has happened … still is happening, actually. It has to do with this man I saw only twenty or so minutes ago, while out walking. Yes, out walking, let me explain …" But here she interrupted me, for she'd only now woken and had discovered that I was gone from the apartment, and she was angry. Angry that I'd left the apartment in the middle of the night without telling her, but angry also, it seemed, because, from her perspective, I'd forgotten our quarrel from the evening before and had already embarked on some new and ludicrous pursuit. As if the importance of it was more absorbing than the importance of our quarrel, or the reasons for our quarrel. Which might have been true, but only in a literal way. Literal in the sense that quarrels were not an extraordinary occurrence, whereas encountering your doppelgänger was. I tried to explain myself to her, but she couldn't understand me. Or she could understand me, but she wouldn't believe what I'd led her to understand. She couldn't warrant it. She thought I was playing her for a fool. And she said as much in so many words. Then she hung up. And there I stood, with the phone to my ear, watching the man who looked like me as the train rumbled into the station he was about to get out at.



The sun came up while we were in Washington Square Park, or, rather, while the man who looked like me was in Washington Square Park and while I was standing on a part of the sidewalk just outside the park, on its northern side, beyond one of the columns of the enormous stone arch, keeping an eye on him while making sure he could not see me. He'd wandered into the park after walking a few blocks from the station, but he'd been sitting on the same bench now for a good forty minutes. And though at first I couldn't understand why he'd want to sit there so long, I soon became aware that it was a pleasant place to be when the light in the sky began to change, and the different shades of color in the park became visible. And it occurred to me that I too would be amenable to sitting in such a place for such a length of time, provided the mood was right; which, I had to admit, on pondering it, it was. And though I was concerned about Juanita, or, more specifically, the effect our quarrel had had on my relationship to Juanita, I could not say that this was my primary concern. Because I knew that even though I could choose to call her back, I wasn't going to yet; not while this man held my curiosity or attention. And knowing this troubled me, though not enough to alter what I was doing.



People began to appear in the park. A woman with three dogs appeared and spoke to the man who looked like me, where he sat very quietly on a bench across from the fountain. And though he nodded to her in a way that wasn't impolite, he didn't speak to her. And though she didn't seem displeased, the air of cheerful expectation she'd been carrying with her dissipated. And I did feel a twinge of sympathy for her. For the tone of an entire day can hinge on those first interactions in the morning. The three dogs that belonged to the woman all were small, and I observed how one of them snuffled at the cuff of the man's trouser leg. And when the man, noticing the dog, didn't react happily or unhappily, but merely looked at the dog and then looked away, I knew that if there was a difference between him and me it was in the way we reacted to the world. He was restrained, guarded. Or I was more engaged, ebullient. But is that what the difference really was? Or was I telling myself that that's what it was? And was a difference, in fact, what I was even perceiving? Even if it was, I couldn't have said that I preferred my way of interacting to his, even though my way was the way I had chosen and was choosing. You didn't always prefer who you'd become merely because you'd had a role in choosing it, and even though you still might choose to become who you'd been becoming, as opposed to some variation of yourself, if some such variation happened to be revealed to you, as it was being revealed to me now. You chose a mode of being based on what your temperament or personality allowed you to choose, though "choose" was almost certainly not the right word. More likely you simply became who you were because a variety of factors demanded it. Or determined it. Or had inscribed it, so to speak, on the ether of your soul. If a soul was a thing that you or anyone had. I sometimes didn't know for certain whether I had one, and that depressed me.



I was getting hungry. The man who looked like me hadn't moved from his seat on the bench across from the fountain in the park since he'd sat on it an hour earlier. At one point a man who I recognized as one of the friendly but insistent dope pushers who inhabited the northwest corner of the park approached him, and, speaking to him grinningly, received no answer, and walked away. And I wondered if he—the pusher, not the man who looked like me—believed that the man who looked like me and myself were the same person. Assuming the pusher would have recognized me at all. I wandered through this park a lot, and often encountered him, and spoke to him, but I did not know him. And I'd done no transactions with him. I'd merely had brief back-and-forths with him. To him I must have been one of the thousands of faces in the park he noticed every day—a possible sale, a person without context—whereas, to me, he had a role, a job, had revealed himself to me by volunteering information that identified his illicit or transgressive occupation. And thus he must have been more memorable to me than I was to him.



I was hungry, but I dared not step away from my position behind the column under the enormous stone arch, for fear that the man who looked like me would get up from his bench and move on during the moments that I was away. And then I wouldn't know which direction he'd gone. And I would then have likely lost him forever. So I stood there, watching him, waiting for something to happen—I don't know what. And it occurred to me, because the morning was placid enough for it to occur to me, that my life to this point had been unsatisfactory. What I mean by that is that I wasn't happy with the way I'd so far lived (as opposed to meaning that I wasn't happy with what life had 'given' me, or what had happened to me in my life that I couldn't control). Not that I was happy, necessarily, in those other ways either, but I mean that I wasn't actively dissatisfied with my life in those ways. Those sorts of ways weren't on my mind just then, at least, is what I'm saying. What I was occupied with now is what I had done; my own personal history; my deeds and my words; my sins of action and omission. And what occurred to me beyond that, or as a consequence of that (the way one realization can illuminate another), is that it was the presence of this other man, or, more specifically, the effect that my observation of this other man was having on me, that had made me aware of this dissatisfaction. And I felt as though I wanted to do something about it. Though it wasn't clear to me what.



There was another problem, however, that was a little more pressing. I was supposed to be at work. Ordinarily, if I wasn't going to make it to work—either because I was ill or because I was pretending to be ill—I would ask Juanita to call in for me, and she'd happily do so; she'd done it several times in the past. But this morning, because we'd quarreled, I didn't want to call her and ask her to do it again. So I placed the call myself, thumbing the buttons on the keypad of my phone while keeping my eye on the bench on which the man who looked like me sat. Of course, the moment someone answered (it was Tina, the large cheerful girl who wore a headset and who answered all our office's incoming calls) was the moment the man who looked like me decided to get up and begin to wander out of the park. So I hung up on Tina without saying anything, and told myself I'd have to call her back later, at the soonest possible opportunity, and apologize to her for hanging up. In addition to explaining to her my absence from work, that is.



The man who looked like me wandered a few blocks east and north, lingered at an intersection while people strode past him and around him, then entered The Strand bookstore, just south of Union Square Park, which was busy already and which now would be busy all day. In the bookstore he did not pick up any books, but seemed to look in a vague, appraising way at the numerous tables and at the tall, numerous shelves. I looked at them too. There they stood, the way they always stood, but they seemed so different to me now, as if seeing them on a day when I hadn't expected to see them, or for reasons that were only incidental to my reason for being here, warped them, or the perspective in which I saw them. In any case, they did not appeal to me the way they otherwise would have. And I did not feel regret at not wanting to heed them. The man who looked like me began moving, and, keeping my distance, I followed him toward the back, where I saw a woman who wasn't looking where she was going bump into him and apologize profusely. The woman herself was with another woman, and this other woman made a joke that was intended to make both the first woman and the man who looked like me laugh, but only the woman laughed—the man who looked like me maintained his diffident composure—and I noticed then how the two women shared a glance of chastened amusement.



It was then that my phone vibrated, and, glancing at the screen, I saw it was Juanita—calling me back, I supposed, to upbraid or berate me for what she must have perceived as insensitivity or stupidity on my part. "Juanita," I said, stepping backward into an aisle, where I could observe (through a gap in the shelves) the man who looked like me but where he could not see me. "Listen," I said. "I can't talk right now, but believe me when I tell you that there's a very good explanation for this." I was whispering loudly, and a young man with a serious expression who'd been standing in the aisle reading from a paperback he'd selected from one of the shelves gave me an unpleasant look. Another man, older, and further down the aisle, who was high up on a stepladder and who apparently worked here, laughed, and said, "Ah, another classic excuse …" as if he knew me, or as if he knew enough from what I'd said to feel as though he knew me. And though my mind was occupied by other thoughts—namely, with speaking to Juanita and with following the movements of the man who looked like me—I felt a small but immediate liking for this man. As if he was the kind of person I would want for a friend, if friendship were something I wanted. For there was nothing serious about his mockery; he was making fun of me because what I'd said must have sounded as though it warranted making fun of. And it did, now that I thought about it, though "thought about it" is not something I'd had time to do. "Registered it" is what I should say; I'd heard what he'd said and had registered it; for all this took place in a matter of seconds.



But it wasn't Juanita who'd called me on Juanita's phone. Apparently Juanita had left the apartment and had dropped her phone somewhere in the city, and the caller was someone who'd found Juanita's phone and had managed to open the call history and dial the last number Juanita had called (which apparently had been mine) in an effort to locate Juanita, and thus return Juanita's phone to Juanita by proxy. This someone—a woman—did not give her name (she seemed in a hurry) but she recounted in a sympathetic voice how she'd only a minute ago discovered the phone, lying on a step on a stairwell in the subway station at which she always got off on her way to work, as she was coming up the stairs toward street level; she further explained how she wanted to track down the phone's owner because she'd once lost her phone in a similar manner and someone—an old man—had done the very same thing for her. In that situation, she said, she hadn't dropped her phone on a stairwell, as Juanita apparently had, but had left it in a taxi while on her way home one night after a few drinks at a bar with friends; the old man who'd found it and had returned it to her had been the fare who'd occupied the cab immediately after she had. (He'd in fact entered the cab with his wife, she said, and it was his wife who'd found it and had handed it to him). While the woman was explaining all this, at a pace and in a tone that indicated that although she was in a hurry she had a weakness for talking or for conversation, I saw how, in the bookstore itself, the man who looked like me was now moving into an aisle of shelves that would not permit me to continue observing him unless I left the aisle in which I was and placed myself in a more strategic position. And so, holding the phone to my ear, so that I could continue to listen to the woman, I did. And the woman told me where it was she worked and at what time I could meet her to retrieve Juanita's phone. And I whispered to her that I'd do my best to be there, though I didn't know for certain that I could. Then I hung up.



It wasn't long after this phone call that the man who looked like me wandered out of The Strand and out onto the sidewalk. He hadn't done anything in the bookstore. That is, he hadn't done anything that I could differentiate from anything that he'd done in the handful of settings I'd observed him in prior to his entering this last, most recent setting. But I guess that didn't mean he hadn't done anything at all. The word "nothing" was incorrect, for it implied an absence where in fact there was a presence. I mean, here was this man, existing; in the sense that to exist meant merely to be. And certainly he was doing that, and doing it in various ways. Hadn't he sat? Hadn't he observed? Hadn't he nodded? Hadn't he walked? All these things were instances of doing, even if they inhabited a lower rung on the ladder of melodrama than other, more interesting instances. And who was to say that he wasn't possessed of an engaged or riotous mind; that while he seemed to be doing nothing, while his body was idle or at rest, his thoughts were not running across some vibrant, interior landscape, or constructing some invisible puzzle; that he was not, as is said of some types, a thinker? I couldn't say that I was one or was not one, but certainly this man seemed different to me than I seemed to myself. And I didn't know what to make of it, or whether I needed to make of it anything at all.



So the man who looked like me lingered on the sidewalk outside The Strand, while I, afraid that he would see me, observed him from the bookstore's vestibule, where patrons were coming in and going out. A grizzled man who was wearing only one shoe and who was holding and shaking a plastic Starbucks cup that once would have held iced coffee but that now held a handful of coins, stopped in the vicinity of the man I was watching but didn't say anything to him or seem to notice him. And though he—the grizzled man—stood there a moment, shaking the coins in his cup and speaking in a general way to everyone who passed quickly or slowly by, he too moved on at his straggling pace, and the man who looked like me remained the only person on the street corner whose momentum wasn't carrying him in one or another direction. But finally he too wandered away, heading down Broadway toward Houston Street, which is where he paused to study the storefront window behind which were the androgynous mannequins wearing androgynous summery clothes (and along which street I'd purchased the sunglasses and the baseball cap that I'd wear as a disguise).