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October 2019
 
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Parallel Lives

by Mary Brunini McArdle


1960

Sarah Lewis, the eldest of four children, grew up in a small southern town. The summer she was twenty and planning to transfer schools, her father announced that his work demanded he move his family to the capitol of the state. The younger children, one in high school and the other two in junior high, burst into tears. Sarah shrugged; she wouldn't be affected by the move. She was already half gone, ready to be an adult.

Sarah met her future husband that winter and the couple had two daughters, Sonya and Blanche. Sonya graced her parents with three granddaughters, Blanche with a grandson. Sarah's marriage ended in divorce but the children remained with her. She went to work for the local newspaper and ended up as editor. She never remarried.

She knew she had an analog and caught glimpses of her in an alternate reality until they were both eighteen. Then Sarah lost track and eventually forgot about her, or at least placed her far back in her mind. The analog's name was Judith Browning.

1960

Like her counterpart Judith's family was uprooted when she was twenty. But Judith was through with college. Two years were enough as far as she was concerned. She had other interests.

"Daddy, be honest with me. Do you need the money from this house?"

"Well, actually, Judith, no. I've been most fortunate. Plenty to buy another house for your mother and siblings."

"Then, Daddy, I want this one."

Her father's eyes widened. "Judith, you're only twenty years old! Do you know what you're saying?"

"Yes."

"Girl, there's no way in hell you can keep up with this house. Two stories, an attic, and a dirt cellar -- plus porches and seven entrances! Not to mention a front, side, and back yard --"

"And all Mama's flower beds and an old garage with a room and half bath over it," Judith finished. "It's fine, Daddy. I've got plans."

"Besides, it's dangerous. A young girl alone --"

"I'm getting a big dog. A well-trained police dog. Then I'm going to rent out rooms. I'll make you proud, Daddy."

"I'm already proud of you, Judith. You don't need grand schemes to make me proud."

"But I am truly determined. I won't have any money to spend on myself, but most of the rooms are in great shape already. And I have a sewing machine -- I can make curtains and my clothes -- and with the rent money I'll hire a yard man, just to keep things up, and a cleaning service. You'll see. No cooking -- there'll be a mini-kitchen upstairs for the boarders. And there's no zoning law to stop me."

"Judith -- this is just -- you've got to be kidding."

"No. I'm serious."

"All right. Then prove it to me." Judith's father pursed his lips. "We have three weeks before the movers come. Don't say anything to your mother yet. Write me up a plan -- what comes first, and how you're going to pull this off. A detailed plan, with figures."

"You've got it, Daddy!"

The following evening Judith surprised her father by presenting him with not one sheet but a whole sheaf of paperwork.

"So quickly?" he exclaimed.

"I haven't been just sitting around all summer, Daddy."

"A savings account with -- $4,300!"

"I've been saving most of my money from my jobs at the mall every summer and Christmas. Making most of my clothes."

"This is impressive, Judith."

"Read through the stack the next couple of evenings. You'll see I'm going to start small. I'm hoping I can keep my bedroom furniture?"

"Well, I think your mother will agree to that."

"I'm going to take the master bedroom and bath for now. Since Margaret and Laura's rooms adjoin and have a bath, those are the first I'll rent -- hopefully to a single parent and child or children. I'm going to buy one double bed and two twins and a couple of second-hand end tables and chairs. Come in my room -- I want to show you something."

Judith opened her closet door. "Look in those two boxes, Daddy."

"They seem to be full of towels and sheets!" Judith didn't invite him to examine the large box at the back.

"Right. Jonathan's smaller room at the end of the hall will become a kitchen and laundry for the guests. In time. Much later I plan to move downstairs. Then I'll have four rooms to rent and once I do over the one over the garage -- five. I'll enclose the upstairs screened porch and attach a small bath at one end to the tiny kitchen where there'll be plumbing."

"But there's no bedroom downstairs, Judith."

"There will be. What do I need a dining room and breakfast room for? The dining room will be my bedroom; the powder room bath will have a shower added. There's enough space. I'll use the living room, breakfast room and kitchen for myself. It's big enough for a washer and dryer."

"What's this?"

"The yard man is already hired for one day every other week in the fall. By summer I'll be able to pay him for more. I won't have many rooms rented at first, so I'll have to work and do the cleaning myself for a while."

"And the dog?"

"The Shelter is holding one for me. A police dog with a slight limp. Only ten months old. A German Shepherd. His name is 'Brother.' He's already had his shots for this year."

"I see you have several pages of figures."

"Preliminary and projected. We have separate heat and cool units up and down. That big box you saw in my closet is a small unit for the kitchen, laundry, and my bed and bath. I'm going to shut off the main system downstairs temporarily. The upper floor will add some protection."

"Looks like you've thought of just about everything, Judith. Even your own health insurance policy."

1960 - 1962

Sarah knew about Judith, but Judith didn't know about Sarah. Judith brought Brother home to introduce him to the family. They moved as planned and Judith stayed behind. There was an intrigued expression in Brother's eyes sometimes, when he was staring at...nothing. It made Judith wonder, but she didn't realize that he knew about Sarah.

He was playful and romped in the back yard (the only one fenced), but sedate and obedient inside. He slept every night at the foot of Judith's bed. The two became as close as -- well, as a "brother" and "sister."

Judith lay in her double bed at night, peaceful and contented. She worked hard but slept exceptionally well.

Judith's first boarders were a single mother with one child -- a twelve-year old boy. Eileen was a bank teller. The boy, Amos, was well-behaved. He walked home from school every day and started on his homework.

Judith gave mother and son temporary kitchen privileges and invited the boy to play with Brother when he was outside. Odd working hours kept Judith and Eileen coming and going at different times, but since everybody had keys and Brother had been introduced, things ran smoothly. Amos took responsibility seriously, never forgetting to lock doors behind himself. Occasionally on Sundays they all had dinner together. Judith considered herself fortunate to have found such nice people for her first boarders.

1999

Maggie and John lay talking in their large bed in the upstairs bedroom. "Hear that?" Maggie whispered.

"Uh, huh. It's Jonathan getting into the cocktail peanuts again."

"I warned Jonathan and the girls hundreds of times. I saved those for unexpected guests -- for when we wanted to serve drinks and something to nibble on. The girls were much better about it, but Jonathan could only resist so long."

"It doesn't matter now, Maggie. We don't have to try to think up punishments for him. He's only a memory. When he joins us he won't be interested in cocktail peanuts."

"A wonderful memory. A memory we can hear and sometimes see. Such happiness, John. For you and me."

"Like the times we hear Margaret and Laura laughing late at night way past their bedtime."

"And Judith with that flashlight under her pillow. Sometimes I swear I can see another girl there. The same age as Judith, overlapping her. I don't know who she is."

"Mysterious, but benign?"

"Of course."

1963

One of the most interesting things about having an analog is that events do not have to remain parallel in time. Sarah could jerk back to awareness later in her life and look back on what a younger Judith was doing.

Sarah was fifty-five when she noticed with alarm that Judith at twenty-three was dating a Lex Remington. At fifty-five, Sarah already had two granddaughters and had lost, as well as a husband, a younger sister.

Sarah's husband had been deceitful and had cheated on her from the beginning. And he had an analog too, whose name was Lex Remington. Sarah was shocked to observe many of the same flaws in Lex as those that had ruined her husband's character.

No, Judith. I have to find a way to warn you, to protect you. Lex will wreck everything you've worked so hard to build.

####

At the edge of the same town where Judith Browning lived and worked, was a gravel road going seemingly nowhere. It twisted and turned and appeared to hit a dead end more than once. There was a small cottage nearly hidden from view, not far from the main street in mileage but remote and isolated as an eagle's nest in Alaska.

An old woman lived there alone. That is, she looked old -- wrinkled skin, thin white hair -- but she was only in her seventies, mentally alert and physically robust.

She lived without electricity and hot water, but she had a productive garden and plenty of candles. She washed her clothes outside in a tub and hung them on a line. She could sniff out approaching weather fronts and knew how to prepare for them, with plenty of clean clothes and a good supply of logs. She always kept a dog and a cat, usually mutts but well-trained. Her name was Carrie and it was rarely remembered that she even existed. But she had "abilities" and she knew more about the townspeople than they knew about her. Carrie knew about Judith's house and about Sarah's concern, which the elderly woman shared. Carrie's dog Diesel was aware of Brother even though they rarely laid eyes on each other. Her present cat was a fluffy yellow tabby named "Apple Butter," probably aware of even more than Diesel or Carrie. The cat slept next to Carrie's head and the dog at her feet every night.

"Apple Butter! Diesel!" Every evening Carrie called her pets in from the garden where she had finished an afternoon's chores. It was early April, a beautiful day. The summer would be hot and humid, but Carrie was used to the climate and how to cope with it. It would soon be time for iced tea and lemonade and the garden would provide a bountiful supply of vegetables and fruit. Carrie knew how to can and preserve.

A telephone and a battery-operated radio were her only links to modern technology. She made do on her Social Security checks and never visited the doctor. She didn't own a car but she took cabs to the vet and gave her animals the best care. They were her only family, after all.

She heated water and bathed in her kitchen in a large tub after a light supper. When she and her pets were settled for the night, she mused about Judith and Lex. "Got to do something about that," she murmured. "Got to think of something."

1964

Lex and Judith planned to go out for dinner. She left her cell phone number with Eileen and Amos, and at dusk, stepped lightly down from her front porch and to the sidewalk in front of her house. She had her dark brown hair drawn up from the back of her neck -- Judith's hair grew upward naturally and she had a beautiful neck. She wore a white dress with yellow daisies on the hem, and sandals. It was warm for April.

Just as Lex left his car to take her arm, a medium-sized dog ran right across his path, tripping him and causing him to lose his balance. He ended up on his rump in the grass next to the walk. The dog ran off, barking, while Lex began cursing. "You piss-ass mongrel -- if I'd had the chance I'd have beaten you to a pulp! Worthless mutt!" He spat, and got to his feet, brushing off his slacks.

For a moment Lex had looked and sounded downright ugly, showing a side Judith had never seen before.

An annoyed Carrie a few minutes later was in her yard giving Diesel a piece of her mind. "You've never run off like that. I was worried to death about you, Diesel! Don't you do that to me again!"

Apple Butter sat on her haunches just inside the door, grinning.

1999

Maggie giggled. "That was so funny, John. When I saw that pompous young man sitting on his backside in the grass with Judith in her pretty dress staring down at him --"

"The dog sideswiped him. I wonder if it was just a lucky accident?"

"We're not supposed to know everything yet," Maggie said gently.

"No, but we know Judith and Lex never became serious about each other. It wasn't long before she dumped him."

"She never talked much about her dates, John. Just about her house."

"Which was really the love of her life."

"And still is. Laura and Margaret live close enough to visit. They like that old house too. Isn't it odd -- Laura is the only one who married and gave us our grandchildren."

"Six of 'em. Margaret's a retired surgeon."

"And Jonathan -- an English professor. Still loves cocktail peanuts. John -- I -- I see --"

"What?"

"Someone's coming."

1965 - 1970

Sarah and Judith would live to be exactly seventy-seven years, six months, and about eleven days. Analogs usually do that. When Judith was in her fifties, she was on her third German Shepherd. She named all of them "Brother." Each was a spectacular though quite individual dog. By then Amos had grown up and moved away and there had been numerous turnovers in Judith's boarders.

She had eliminated a few of the most demanding flower beds, but left enough to keep her house attractive. Every two or three years she had the interiors painted, usually doing her own rooms in her favorite pale yellows and creams. Carpets were replaced every seven years, hardwood floors stripped and re-stained. There would frequently be boarders' children the right age to enthusiastically bathe the dogs for her. Her closest friend was Sam, a vet who insisted on giving her a discount. "I can depend on you for an endless supply of police dogs to care for," he had said when they first met. "Right?"

She had laughed and agreed, and against her better judgment adopted a Beagle puppy from him.

1999

Beneath the lowering sun, a woman of indiscernible age approached. She had light, windblown hair and wore a violet dress in the style of the 'forties. In front of her marched a medium-sized brown dog with a pointed nose and a cream ruff and tail. Beside him strutted a yellow cat. The trio was followed by a blurred parade of dogs and cats.

"Most of those animals are mixed breeds," John murmured.

"But, John, look!" Maggie exclaimed. "That dog leading -- he looks like the same dog that tripped up Lex Remington!"

"Well -- well -- it sure resembles him."

They waved. The woman drew closer and smiled. "I am honored to meet Judith's parents at last," she said. "I'm Carrie. I've actually been here much longer than you two -- since 1975. But He," and she bowed, "He had work for me to do -- for a few years. This is Diesel and this is Apple Butter." She gestured toward the dog and cat in front. "They were mine when Judith and that awful Lex were going out. But I think Brother communicated with Diesel, or Apple Butter warned him -- 'do something. Do something to help Judith.' And he did."

"Then we owe him our gratitude," Maggie said.

1970

Brother accepted the new Beagle puppy with grace and a bemused attitude. The addition was so eager and playful he often fell over himself in an unintended somersault, prompting Judith to name him "Tumble." He managed to insert himself under Brother's tail at night with such an irresistible grin Brother and Judith couldn't help but put up with him.

Tired as she was, Judith often walked the dogs in the evenings -- trying to use up some of Tumble's excessive energy. Occasionally she crossed paths with an older woman trudging up the street. Sometimes she had a dog with her, but Judith failed to recognize him. The day Lex had been tripped up by Diesel, Judith had been too distracted by her date's rude manner to notice the dog's appearance. The older woman and Judith smiled and nodded each time they passed each other.

1985

At three the morning of her forty-fifth birthday Sarah woke abruptly from a sound sleep. Somewhere nearby a dog was barking. Sarah groaned and turned over, knowing she needed to be at work no later than eight. The barking was loud and incessant.

I don't even have a dog, Sarah thought. Wonder whose it is?

Sonya was away at college but Blanche was still in high school. "Mama? That dog won't stop barking and I can't sleep."

"Neither can I," Sarah agreed. She got up and looked out her window, gasping as she saw the two hooded men with the ladder. Close--close to her bedroom window.

"Blanche, call 911!"

"Mama?" Blanche's voice trembled, but she obeyed.

"Fortunate you two called," one of the police officers said, downstairs. "We got 'em, and they both had knives. How'd you know they were there?"

"Some dog," Blanche said. "We don't have one, but some dog kept barking and barking."

"Huh," the officer said. "Not barking now."

The rest of the night was calm and silent. But elsewhere it took Judith a long time to quiet Brother Two down. He had jumped off her bed and run to the front door, insisting on going out. "What in the world was the matter with you?" she asked. "You woke up all the boarders, Brother."

He hunched down in a submissive posture and wagged his tail.

Judith couldn't help but smile. "I guess you had your reasons, dog. Let's go back to bed."

2017

Judith slowly opened her eyes. She was puzzled to find herself alone in her double bed -- she was certain there had been a nurse in the room before.

She sat up and threw back the covers, feeling stronger than she had when she had dropped off after supper. She was surprised to find herself able to walk -- out into the living room to the front door. When she opened it, she discovered she had a visitor, another woman the same age. Only younger than when Judith had fallen asleep. She could tell she was younger too when she looked down at her feet and realized she was wearing sandals and her legs looked slim and tanned.

"Hello, Judith. I'm Sarah. At last we meet."

"Do I know you?"

"Not exactly, but we have a lot in common. We lived parallel lives."

"You do look like me. Only I don't have freckles. But our hair and eyes are the same shade."

"We're analogs. Here come the 'Brothers,' all three of them. And Tumble."

Four adoring dogs scrambled around Judith, seeking her attention.

"But -- where are we?"

"We're in 'forever.' Soon you'll see your mother and father and your sisters and brother. But I have to go. I want to see my parents and the rest of my family who are here."

"Goodbye, then," Judith said, still a bit mystified.

Complete understanding would come soon thereafter.

THE END


© 2008 Mary Brunini McArdle

Bio: Mary Brunini McArdle publishes mainly online and favors fantasy, the paranormal, and science fiction, although she occasionally writes mainstream fiction. She publishes poetry extensively. She had two pieces in the December 2007/January 2008 issue of APHELION: the novella Mind Power, and the short story The Face Overhead.

E-mail: Mary Brunini McArdle

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