This is the latest in Meg Tuite’s Exquisite Quartet. To go to the column page, please click here.
“Identicals running every goddamn event again. What is this crap? Even the nametags make us sound like half-wits. ‘Hi, my name is Lloyd, fraternal.’ Every time I turn it’s another soup can staring at me. ‘Hi, my name is Svenson, Identical.’ ‘Hi, my name is Jenson, Identical.’ Did you see their t-shirts? ‘Guess who I’m with,’ and an arrow pointing to the other. I mean, give me a fucking break.”
“Lloyd, can you just knock it off for one year. You’ve been stalking Svenson since we got here. You always end up tag-teaming a pair by the end of the week. Just suck back another few piña coladas and get fat on the lounge chairs. Me? I’ve got plans.” Lloyda raised a plucked eyebrow. “I’m off to swim with Heinrich and Hanson.” She slipped her pedicured feet into wedges that looked like diving boards and hobbled off in a bikini that barely covered her butt crack.
Lloyda had been getting ready for the Twin Holiday Cruise for months with spa treatments to wax and spit-shine her body through the tanning carwash that gave her a softer shade of Oompah-Loompah orange, sucking out fat and injecting Botox. She told Lloyd that this year there were over a hundred sets of twins on board.
Lloyd and Lloyda had been going on the cruise every year since 2007 when there were only 38 sets aboard. The same card was sent to them in the fall before the hellish months blasted through Akron, Ohio. The only difference was the locale of the cruise each year. “Come sail aboard the ‘Carnival Victory’ for a luxury 7-day Western Caribbean cruise with twins from all over the world. Contact identical twin: Darrius Manchester, and then his phone number.
Lloyd had checked out Darrius online. He was one of those GQ preening assholes who claimed many things. One, that his brother, Dagmar, had died when he was quite young and two, that Darrius built muscle and shredded guts into six-pack accordions with his Glandular Power Drink. In the infomercial online he rippled his muscles like a snake sheds it skin and went on about the life-altering changes, showing a before photo of a globular, shiny beer-bellied Darrius with flaccid, yellow skin and elephantine appendages. God knows how much of that pigswill he’d sold to the idiots who bought it. Lloyd couldn’t care less about them.
The beauty of it all was that Lloyd, at this very minute, was standing next to the before photo, Dagmar. Dagmar was well on his way through a six-pack of Coors by the looks of his bloodshot eyes. Lloyd sat down next to him on one of the lounge chairs and ordered a Coors, as well. He smiled at Dagmar.
Lloyd took a big swig from the bottle, “Where’s your nametag?” He pointed his chin at Dagmar’s chest.
Dagmar stared at him then his eyes shifted shades. “I don’t need a goddamn nametag,” he growled. “I run this show.”
“You don’t look much like your infomercial, I have to say.”
“Darrius tried to get in shape for the cruise,” he smirked, “but I wouldn’t let him.” The thin lips curled.
Lloyd was too confused to even pick a fight. This guy was a whack-job. Now, he had something else to do instead of seething over these smug Identicals and their warped faces–always something different, something off, a mole on this one’s cheek or extra thick eyelashes on that one–it was unsettling. But now, instead of brooding, Lloyd was intrigued. “So you’re Darrius, then?”
“Darrius will be making an important speech later. He needs some rest.” He got up and shuffled away. Lloyd sat and drank for a while, watching the bustle of twins hurrying past, whispering, holding hands, wearing matching outfits. He really didn’t know why he kept coming here, but these freaks were somewhat entertaining. He flipped over a program left on the table to read Darrius’s welcome message.
For once, I’ll be brief. Each year passes and more of you join our Twin Holiday Cruise. We are blessed. I would like to think that your presence is also an endorsement of my Glandular Power Drink. As you enjoy these fun-filled days showing off your new-found Power Shapes around the pool, don’t neglect to drink at least one Glandular Power Drink a day. It is the source of multiple vitamins and minerals that research shows can actually postpone your body’s aging. And I want you all to be “as fit as you can get” as you greet each morning of the Twin Holiday Cruise.
The agenda listed Darrius. He was giving a speech at two p.m. Lloyd checked his watch. He did not want to miss this drunken, out-of-shape Identical’s fall from glory, but he would have to wait two hours.
He moved to the Promenade deck and found a small bar with nets and seashells attached to the wall. “There’s a pearl in every Bloody Mary Clam-2 for 1 special-Get an Identical for your mate!” This might be a little less conspicuous, away from the annoying stigma of the scarlet-fucking letter, F.
“Can I help you, sir?” the bartender said.
Lloyd looked around. “What the hell,” he said, “give me a beer I can’t find in Akron, Ohio.”
“I’ll bring it to you if you would like to take a table, sir.”
Lloyd turned and looked at the small arrangement of tables. One other person sat there. His eyes were blurry and his reaction time was slow as he turned to look at Lloyd.
“Hi,” the man said. “Hi” is a difficult word to slur, but he managed to run it over with a tractor until the one syllable non-word moved into at least three syllables. He didn’t wear a nametag.
“Are you having a good time?” the man asked, and continued without waiting for a response. “I only ask because up until an hour ago, it was my job to make sure everyone was having a goooood time.”
The bartender brought out a cold bottle of Mamba beer and placed a frosted mug on a coaster and replenished the man’s drink.
The man raised his drink in a mock toast. “Here’s to the bastard, Darrius, and his sham empire.”
Lloyd leaned forward, suppressing a smile as he drank from the bottle, wondering how to get more information from this man. He found quite quickly that this wasn’t going to be a problem.
“He fired me, the hypocritical, Napoleonic bastard — just an hour ago,” he struggled with the words. “You want to know his excuse? I’m not ‘on board’ he told me, and then… he thought that was hysterical. ‘I mean really? The guy’s a fruit basket.”
“That sucks,” Lloyd said, barely able to contain himself. “I couldn’t help but notice that he doesn’t look at all like his infomercials. In fact, he looks pathetic.” Lloyd relished using this word aloud.
“You know who he blames that on?” the man asked. “Dagmar, his dead twin brother. He says that part of Dagmar is in him.” The man punched his chest for emphasis. “Get this–to bring down Darrius. He’s a schizo. Do you know what happens when you let a psycho run an organization? He creates a cult. His latest campaign is a society where the Identicals rule and Fraternals become their slaves. And, no,” he waved his hand in the air. “I’m not on board with that.”
Lloyd allowed a burst of sadistic glee to shoot across the deck, ricocheting off passers-by. He didn’t care how absurd the plan was, he was excited by the depth of Darrius’s failure. “I have to run,” Lloyd said, looking at his watch. “Good luck to you. I hope we’ll talk again.” He pulled off his nametag, balled it up and threw it overboard.
“LLOYDA!” Opening the door, Lloyd couldn’t believe it. There she stood, head tossed back, glugging the last of a gargantuan bottle of Glandular. “What the fuck are you doing?”
She lowered her head, dropped the bottle to the ground, and let out an echoing belch. “I don’t feel so good,” she said.
“Look at this place,” Lloyd said, picking up an empty can of Glandular from the carpet. “How many of these have you had today?”
“It’s a new flavor,” said Lloyda. “I think I need to sit down.”
Lloyd noticed empty cans, bottles and tubes of Glandular around the cabin. “Sweet screaming Jesus, Lloyda! No wonder you’re sick! Let’s get you to bed.”
Once Lloyda was nestled in back, Lloyd grabbed a Coors from the fridge, swiped away a pile of empty Glandular cans from the loveseat, and sat down. He needed a moment. He needed to think. He turned on the TV.
Once the screen zapped to life, the orangutanish head of Darrius appeared holding a can of Glandular out to the viewer. Lloyd jerked and frantically hit the volume button on the remote.
“The new and improved Glandular, beauties and beasts, will unleash your most primitive desires and give you the drive to pursue them!” he said. “At 2:00 in the pavilion—on the main deck—I have a special treat for all Fraternals. Each and every one of you has been selected to try my new formula at no cost! So be there, and let your wildest fantasies come true!”
Lloyd looked at his watch—1:30. Then he heard what sounded like an underwater tuba.
“Lloyd!” his sister whispered, “My stomach is exploding. Come here.”
Lloyd poked his head in the room. “Who gave you that new flavor?”
“Lloyd, stop talking. I’m in pain.” She curled into the fetal position and groaned, pushing out another loud one. “Oh my god,” she said, “what’s wrong with me?”
She started to writhe and slither on the mattress. Lloyd took another hit from his Coors.
“Look,” he said to Lloyda, “I’m going to get to the bottom of this. That maniac is giving a speech in a few minutes and I’m—”
“Whatever, Lloyd,” she said. “Just shut up.” Her hips began to spasm, like she was a fish flopping on a deck. “Oh my god, I’m so horny! Lloyd, either do me or get that thing out of my purse?”
“I gotta go,” Lloyd closed the door behind him feeling sick himself. Back at the bar, he scanned around looking for the man he forgot to get a name from. The man who might be his only ally.
“You seen that guy?” he asked the bartender. “You know, the guy that got fired. He was hammered.”
“Yeah, yeah. He went that way,” the bartender said, pointing with a dishtowel. “Mumbling about lifeboats.”
“Perfect,” Lloyd said. “Let me get twelve of those Mambas to go.” The bartender put a dozen cold ones in a box and Lloyd charged it to his room. Then he grabbed the box and headed for the lifeboats.
“Ahoy!” he called when he found the man. “You might get thirsty. I’ve brought some supplies.” Lloyd set the box of beer into the lifeboat. “We’ve got something to talk about.”
Fifteen minutes later, Lloyd was in the pavilion at exactly 2:00. It was packed. A trumpet blast exploded over the speakers, balloons and streamers fell from the ceiling, and a thumping beat boomed throughout the pavilion, music Lloyd could only place as techno porn.
“Welcome, Fraternals!” echoed the voice of Darrius. He was standing on stage, arms outstretched, smoke rising around him. The crowd cheered. The din was deafening.
Lloyd elbowed his way through the melee to the side of the pavilion. There, tubs full of the new Glandular were being passed out by the staff.
“Today we are releasing the new Glandular formula!” Darrius continued. “Did everyone receive their free bottle? If you haven’t, now is your chance to get one. Please, everyone get your free bottle. Then we will all experience the new Glandular—together!”
The Fraternals moved in droves toward the tubs. Lloyd was quickly swallowed in by the dissimilar looking masses. “Fuck this Jonestown shit,” he said, and started mowing through the crowd. He had to save his sister.
Running through the hallway, Lloyd suddenly stopped. He could hear something. A groaning, guttural huffing and moaning filtered through the hall. It was coming from his room.
“Lloyda?!” he yelled as he burst through the door. What he saw on the floor was . . . it was a monster! A bloated obese version of Lloyda with buckets of flesh churning on the ground, humped and flexed in orgiastic horror. It reached out to him with a blubbery appendage. He shielded his eyes with the crook of his elbow.
Panicking, Lloyd shuffled through the chaos, stuffing things into a backpack.
“I want you, Lloyd!” gargled the fleshy mass in the other room. “I need your fraternal weenus!”
He covered his eyes again and ran out. Whatever was back there, was no longer his sister. Lloyd tried to console himself with that thought, but there was no time for consolation. He had to get to the lifeboat immediately.
“Hey!” Lloyd yelled from on deck. “You’re not leaving without me!”
The man with no name had already lowered the lifeboat to the water. He looked up from untying the ropes, “Hurry the fuck up! The Identicals are coming—jump!”
“It’s like thirty goddamned feet!” Lloyd screamed. He looked to his right. Coming up the deck towards him was a crowd. Pairs of screeching identical faces and bodies in droves, side by side.
“Jump, you idiot!” the man yelled.
Lloyd tossed his backpack overboard. Then he launched himself over, splattering into the water.
The man hauled Lloyd’s wet body into the lifeboat. “Now start rowing,” he said as he tossed him an oar. “We got to get as far away from that ship as possible.”
“I think I sprained my wrist,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd got in position and started rowing. The man crawled to the bow and started rummaging around looking for supplies.
“Where am I supposed to be rowing?” Lloyd asked. “What direction? And what the hell is happening back there?”
“Darrius believes Fraternals will produce more Fraternals with this concoction he’s been working on for years, creating a whole inferior race the Identicals can enslave. I don’t know what’s in that shit the psychopath produces, but he’s got a globular orgy going on right now that none of them will remember and he’s taking them to some island to start up his empire! You can’t even make up this shit!” The man found the survival kit. “We got a serious problem. No satellite phone, no flares, no water. Nothing. Not even a water packet.” He looked at Lloyd. “We’re shark’s dinner.”
Lloyd motioned his head behind him, “Check my backpack.”
The man crawled aft and snatched the pack, then held it in front of Lloyd. “This thing?” he asked. It was hot pink.
“It’s my sister’s. You can’t imagine what I saw.” Lloyd started crying. “I grabbed the first thing I could.”
The man inspected the contents, “A pair of dirty socks, a dirty T-shirt, small tube of KY, a box of energy bars, some car keys, a bikini, and . . .” he reached to the bottom and pulled out, “a twenty-four ounce bottle of the new Glandular.” He paused. “That’s it? That’s all you brought?”
They stared at each other. Lloyd thought of the twelve Mambas. “We’ve got all the provisions we need. Hand me a beer and stow that Glandular in a safe place, bastard. Darrius and his twin empire are going down. By the way, I never got your name?”
“Dagmar,” the man smiled and narrowed his eyes. “Fraternal.”
Lloyd started rowing more furiously.
This month’s contributors to Exquisite Quartet:
Leah Rogin-Roper writes flash fiction on purpose. She is the co-editor of Fast Forward Press’s fifth anthology of flash fiction, due out in September 2012. She teaches at Arapahoe Community College in Littleton, Colorado. Her work has been published in Weird Year, Blood Lotus, and Mountain Gazette, among other fine literary journals.
Ken McPherson has been writing for over 20 years, and for the last 16 he has been writing in Santa Fe. He appreciates the supportive environment found in Santa Fe and hopes to write from here forever (or at least until he stops wanting to). He has been published three times in the Santa Fe Review.
Nate Jordon has a love/hate thing with words. He occasionally publishes those written by others. Occasionally he burns his own. He points to the moon. Dig monkeypuzzlepress.com.
Meg Tuite’s writing has appeared in numerous journals including Berkeley Fiction Review, Epiphany, JMWW, One, the Journal, Monkeybicycle and Boston Literary Magazine. She has been nominated several times for the Pushcart Prize. She is the fiction editor of The Santa Fe Literary Review and Connotation Press. Her novel Domestic Apparition (2011) is available through San Francisco Bay Press and her chapbook, Disparate Pathos, is available (2012) through Monkey Puzzle Press. Her blog: http://megtuite.wordpress.com.
The Exquisite Quartet Anthology-2011 is available for purchase.
More of Meg Tuite’s Exquisite Quartet at Used Furniture.
Excellent . . . as always!!