Home > stories > Double Debra – short story by Ethan Crane

Double Debra – short story by Ethan Crane

[first published in ABCTales 12]
[listen to audio version on MacGuffin]

When Deborah walked out on him on Thursday afternoon, Joseph guessed her parting words just before she said them.

‘Things are going to be different when I come back,’ she told him.

She said the same when she left the last time, except this time she added the word ‘things’.

She said it sweetly, like a promise. Joseph took it as a threat. He had no defence against Deborah’s promises. Sometimes, midway through an argument, she bit her lip and laughed. This ought to have made him angrier, but always calmed him down.

On Friday morning, Deborah returned home to Joseph.

On Friday afternoon, Deborah returned home to Joseph and Deborah.

In the evening Joseph stood by the cooker, his dinner half eaten. Deborah sat at the kitchen table. Deborah sat opposite.

‘You said you were going to Helen’s for the night,’ said Joseph. ‘You didn’t say anything about this.’

‘Well I knew you’d be a bit funny about it,’ said Deborah. Deborah smiled at her.

‘But how do I tell which one of you is the original?’ Joseph tried to laugh.

‘Does it matter?’

‘It might be nice to know which one of you is my girlfriend. Which one is – you know. Which of you is – Molly’s mother, say.’

‘We both are. Our memories are identical,’ said Deborah.

‘We were hoping you’d like it,’ said the other Deborah. ‘You complain that I’m never around, and now I’ll be around a lot more. One of me can go to college and the other help out more at home. Look after Molly more.’

The Deborahs cleared the dinner plates to the sink. Joseph didn’t even get a chance to help. One Deborah washed and the other dried.

‘But surely when you do this you grow a new person from an egg?’

‘Not the place I went to.’


‘You didn’t have to – go this far,’ said Joseph, later that night. Deborah checked the back door was locked whilst Deborah turned off the lounge lights. ‘When I said I wanted things to change, I was just – a bit under pressure.’

‘It’s fine,’ said Deborah, kissing him on the forehead. ‘It’ll make things easier.’

‘I didn’t even know – that they could do – ’

‘Well you don’t know everything, honey, do you?’ said Deborah, coming back into the room.

‘But what about Molly? Isn’t she going to be very confused?’

‘We’ve gone through all that that. We’re only going to appear to her one at a time.’

The Deborahs went through into the bedroom.

‘And now it seems I have two girlfriends,’ said Joseph, calling after them. ‘I don’t know how I feel about that.’

‘Are you coming to bed?’ A Deborah poked her head around the doorway.

‘Where are you both going to sleep?’ said Joseph.

‘Same place we always sleep,’ said the Deborahs together. They looked across at each other.

Joseph hurried on into the bedroom.


On the Saturday morning Joseph was delighted to find one Deborah had got up to look after Molly, and he was able to lie around in bed with the other. Throughout the weekend he acted as though nothing could be more normal than having two identical girlfriends. He delighted in talking to one about a particular subject and then having the exact same conversation with the other.

On Monday one of the Deborahs left early for college whilst the other took Molly to nursery.

‘Why don’t you come straight back after nursery?’ said Joseph as Deborah went out the door. ‘We can spend the morning together.’

‘Don’t you have loads of work to do?’

‘It’ll keep.’

‘I’m meeting Deborah. I need to read her notes from this morning’s lectures.’

‘You can’t do that later?’

‘We arranged to meet for coffee in her break.’

‘But what if someone sees you? The two of you, together?’

‘I have a disguise,’ said Deborah theatrically, waggling a pair of sunglasses.

‘Right. Ok then.’

‘We’ve still both got to study Joseph,’ said Deborah. ‘We’re not telepathic, you know.’


Joseph spent the morning in his home office, trying to prepare some designs for work, but found it hard to concentrate. After lunch he left his desk to tidy the flat but found nothing to tidy. He thought he would cook an evening meal for everyone, but there was already a pot of stew on the stove.

When Deborah returned from college she gave Molly her tea whilst the other Deborah hid in the bedroom and read a book. Joseph tried to help with tea but Deborah said she was fine. He took a book into the bedroom and propped himself on the bed next to her.

‘You don’t have to do everything, you know,’ he said after a few minutes. ‘The two of you. You don’t have to look after everything.’

‘It’s no problem,’ said Deborah, not looking up from her book.

‘What I mean is at least let me do my share. A third, I suppose.’

‘We just don’t want you getting annoyed all the time again.’

‘I don’t think I was annoyed all the time.’

Deborah continued to read her book.

‘Didn’t you finish that yesterday?’ said Joseph.

‘That must have been the other me.’


Later that week, as he read a bedtime story to Molly, Joseph could hear the low murmuring of them talking in the bedroom, occasionally broken by laughter.

‘Who’s Mummy talking to?’ said Molly, interrupting the story.

‘No one,’ said Joseph.

‘She is.’

‘She must be on the phone. Shall we finish the book?’

He kissed Molly goodnight and slipped into the bedroom. The Deborahs stopped talking as he pushed open the door. Both were half dressed, trying on clothes.

‘What’s up, honey?’ said a Deborah.

‘I’m just feeling a bit – confused.’

Joseph sat on the bed between them.

‘Poor thing.’ Deborah stroked his arm.

‘It’ll take a bit of getting used to,’ said the other. ‘But we all have much more spare time now. Isn’t that what you wanted?’

‘I just wonder if I’m – still needed around here.’

‘Don’t be silly, honey,’ said Deborah, kissing him on the cheek. ‘You’re Molly’s father. She needs her father here.’

‘It’s okay now. But say it didn’t work out. What if this – wasn’t right? What’s the procedure for her – one of you going back?’

‘Going back?’

‘How does it work?’

‘Are you talking about some kind of – termination? That would be a bit barbaric.’

‘No, of course not.’

‘What do you mean then?’

‘I don’t know.’ Joseph jumped up from the bed. ‘What do the two of you find to talk about all the time, anyway?’

‘Actually we were just wondering when you’re going to fix that door you keep saying about.’

‘I’ll do it tomorrow.’

The Deborahs raised their eyebrows at each other.

‘You can’t do that.’ cried Joseph, leaving the room. ‘It’s not fair of you.’

‘Why don’t you call up Andy? said Deborah the next morning. ‘You should go on that weekend away you’re always talking about.’

‘You want me to?’

‘We think you should.’

‘Why are you so keen for me to have a holiday?’

‘You always complained you couldn’t before. Now that there’s two of me you can.’

‘But I don’t want to leave you looking after Molly. It wouldn’t be fair.’

‘We’ll be fine.’

‘And you’re suggesting that’s fair?’

‘Of course.’

Deborah poured them both another cup of tea.

‘We might go away as well.’

‘You and Molly?’

‘The three of us.’

‘Where to?’

‘We might rent a cottage or something. In Dorset. We found this nice little place on the internet.’

‘You’re forgetting your rule about Molly. About her not seeing the two of you?’

‘Oh that’s all sorted out. Molly knows. She’s fine with it.’

‘What kind of say do I get about it all?’ Joseph called after Deborah as she left the room.

In the middle of the night Joseph woke from a restless sleep. There was a rustling sound on the other side of the bed.

‘Deborah?’ he whispered.

The rustling stopped.


‘What are you – ?

There was no answer, and a quiet giggle.

‘I thought you said you were both tired!’

‘I couldn’t sleep.’

‘So now you’re – ’


‘Well I don’t know what you’d call it.’

‘What if I was?’

‘Well isn’t that a bit – weird?’

‘No,’ said Deborah.

‘Call it our version of the dead arm,’ said the other.

Joseph sat up in bed. ‘You know, I’m just not sure there’s room in this bed for all three of us. We’re not sleeping properly. I’m not, anyway. And I always seem to end up on one side. When do I get to sleep in the middle?’

‘Maybe you’re right. One of us can go on the sofa bed.’


‘Tonight you and Deborah sleep here,’ said Deborah, climbing out of bed and putting on a dressing gown. ‘Tomorrow you and me. And then Deborah and I the night after.’

‘Deborah and you?’

‘That’s fair, isn’t it?’

‘But – ’

‘I shouldn’t have to always sleep on the sofa bed, should I?’

Deborah left the room, and Deborah turned her back on him.

Deborah dragged the two large suitcases in through the front door. Deborah followed her in, carrying Molly.

‘Here, let me help,’ said Joseph, emerging from the kitchen. He kissed the three of them.
‘Did you have a good time?’

‘Good. It was nice. How was the weekend with Andy?’

‘I didn’t go away with Andy in the end. Come in the kitchen. I’ve got a surprise for you all.’

At the kitchen table sat a second Joseph. He jumped up, grinning, and kissed the three of them enthusiastically.

‘I’ve done all of those bits and pieces you were on about,’ he said. ‘Look, the door’s fixed.’

‘We both fixed it,’ said Joseph.

Molly looked from Joseph to Joseph, and from Deborah to Deborah.

‘Are there any more of you?’ she asked.


Joseph appeared much cheerier than he felt. There had already been a number of disagreements. The other Joseph had not taken kindly to being asked to fix the door and tidy the house, and after a brief stand-off they had agreed to share the tasks. When these were completed Joseph suggested a game of chess, but this was dismissed in favour of the book Joseph was reading.

‘Why do you think you should decide everything we do?’ said the other Joseph. ‘What makes you think you’re in charge?’

‘Because I’m the original,’ said Joseph. ‘That gives me some kind of precedence, doesn’t it?’

‘You’re the original? I think you’ll find I started this. I can remember telephoning the clinic.’

‘So can I,’ said Joseph. ‘I remember sitting in the waiting room. The old guy with the dog.’


‘So where’s everyone sleeping, then?’ asked Deborah.

The four sat in silence eating dinner. Joseph had not considered the sleeping arrangements.

‘Me and you, one of you, whichever, in our bed, the other me and you on the sofa bed,’ jumped in the other Joseph. ‘That’s the obvious solution. We’ll swap each night.’

‘Deborah and I would like to sleep together sometimes. Tonight, in fact.’

‘Why? That doesn’t make sense now there’s two of me,’ said Joseph.

‘I’d very much like to share a bed with one of you,’ said Joseph’s clone, seductively.

‘Tomorrow night, honey,’ said the other Deborah, smiling at him. ‘At least you’ve got each other to sleep with now. You complained you had to spend the night sleeping alone before.’

‘It would just be nice if you seemed keener to sleep with me rather than yourself.’

‘I like sleeping with you, Joseph. Just sometimes I want to sleep with Deborah.’

‘So what are you saying? That she’s better than me in bed?’

‘Oh, leave it,’ said the other Joseph. ‘Stop complaining about everything.’

Joseph sat in silence. A Deborah leant over and squeezed his arm.

By bedtime Joseph had argued his way to sharing a bed with Deborah, though he was relegated to the sofa. As he swung the mattress up on its rocker he watched the other Joseph playfully nudge the other Deborah out of the room.

‘Night,’ he called from the bedroom.

Joseph wanted to punch him.

‘Joseph.’ Deborah’s toast sat uneaten in front of her on the kitchen table. Joseph looked up from his breakfast.

‘Joseph and I are leaving,’

The other Joseph was upstairs shaving, and the other Deborah dressing Molly.

‘You’re what?’

‘It’s for the best, Joseph. We’ll be gone when you’re back from taking Molly to nursery. And please don’t tell Deborah. I’m worried she’ll cause a scene.’

‘You’re walking out on me? Just like that?’

‘You’ll be happier if we do. You’ve been even more miserable since this started.’

‘What about Molly? You’re just abandoning her?’

‘No one’s abandoning her. She’ll still have two parents here.’

‘Why him?’

Deborah avoided his gaze. ‘Don’t go on at me about it, please. I’ve just realised from, well, having time with just the two of us. You remember the fun we had when we first met. And of course I’ll miss Molly.’

‘You have more fun with him?’

‘Please stop repeating everything I say. It’s like there’s an echo in the room.’

‘How do you know it’s not me you want to leave with?’ cried Joseph.

‘Shh. Deborah’ll hear you. Come on, finish your breakfast. Molly will be late for nursery.’

Deborah left for college, and Joseph found himself alone with the couple. He refused to take Molly to nursery, and did jigsaws with her in the lounge, listening to their movements around the flat.

‘Daddy, I need the toilet,’ said Molly.

When he came out of the bathroom they were gone.

When Deborah returned from college she sat at the kitchen table in tears. Joseph sat with her and said nothing. Occasionally he handed her a fresh tissue from a box on the table.

‘Thank you, Joe,’ said Deborah. ‘Sorry about the snivelling.’

It was not unpleasant for Joseph to sit there. This was how they had lived for some time, the familiar scene of he and Deborah alone on a weekend night amid the domesticity of their city flat. He looked closely at the texture of the skin of her cheeks – she was a Deborah he had not quite seen before. A slightly imperfect clone. He sat in silence and waited for her to speak. But it was not really waiting.

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