The first Jenny walked blithely into the corner bodega just ahead of a man about to hold it up. She plucked an apple from the basket near the register, but was diverted from her virtuous choice by the shiny wrapper of a 3 Musketeers bar. She slid the bar onto the counter, already looking forward to unwrapping its inscrutably delicious nougat. So deeply was Jenny considering the mysterious pleasures of nougat that she did not see the man with the gun. She wondered why the cashier had not yet rung up her candy bar, and then she noticed the fear on his face. Fear just hardening into resolve.
Jenny would never forget the hand of the man with the gun. Or his voice warning the cashier not to be a hero. Jenny would remember the futility of heroism, the non-negotiability of ballistics. She would give her statement and she would testify; and she would begin to patronize the chain store with its cameras and guards; and she would never again crave nougat or do much of anything “blithely.”
But there was a second Jenny, too. The second Jenny left her phone in the apartment and had to turn back for it, and by the time she reached the bodega door the man with the gun had flipped the sign to read CLOSED. The cashier inside was not moved to heroism by the presence of a customer; he handed over the $179 in the till, and the man with the gun departed without incident.
That there are two Jennys is not the point of the story. There are two of most of us, and in some cases up to seventeen, living our parallel lives. The two Jennys, though, had brunch together. And that is unusual, even for New York.
They arrived separately; a distracted hostess led each of them to her usual table. They both had the eggs Benedict. “Excellent,” the waiter said. Jenny One ordered decaf; Jenny Two a Bellini. The first Jenny had considered the Bellini, could almost taste the fizzy peach sweetness, but: she was the Jenny who had seen a man’s face explode, who had felt his blood splashing onto her own bare arm. She did allow herself a packet of Sweet and Low when the coffee arrived.
Jenny Two had just returned from Ibiza, where she’d met a man with an unplaceable accent and spent forty-two consecutive hours in bed. “Not sleeping,” she told Jenny One, unnecessarily.
The Jennys were disappointed in each other. Each seemed to be wasting an opportunity the other was sure she would’ve made more of. As far as that goes, they might’ve been any two women in Manhattan, sitting across a white tablecloth from each other.
Jenny One was on an online dating service, and had met for coffee with several men, but, she said, there’d been no “spark.”
Fuck sparks, said Jenny Two. Sometimes wet logs catch fire.
They were both fans of a singer-songwriter whose music inclined toward the confessional. They gave money to the same causes. Both had recently come around on Greek yogurt.
On the other hand: Jenny Two’s hair was styled in a razored bob that looked simultaneously like she didn’t give a shit about how her hair looked and like she had spent at least an hour working on it. Jenny One: halfassed updo.
Would Jenny One, if she had been able to shake the feeling that she might’ve done something to save the bodega cashier, have spent $250 on a haircut? Or enjoyed athletic sex with a man she couldn’t understand? She squinted at Jenny Two, wondering.
They agreed on: the minor tragedy of their friend Lucinda’s marriage, to a successful but difficult man; the startling suddenness of their attraction to a woman they often saw on the L train; the disconcerting way their mother had begun to call them Jenna, had let their birthday pass without comment.
Tantalizing indeed was the notion of a second mother, whose mind was not fraying. Who had, instead of subverting and postponing her own wishes, taken that long-dreamed-of trip to the south of France; learned to barter at the village market; eaten bread and soft cheese with the deep red wine of her neighbors. Perhaps a second father might have joined her, making himself helpful by installing air conditioning or simply weeding the flower boxes.
Then again: this second Mom – unwrinkled, unfettered – might’ve remained buoyant because she lacked the ballast of a daughter. Her own life’s sudden left turn might’ve been into a Jenny-free zone.
“On second thought,” said Jenny One, “I will have that Bellini.”
Jenny Two gave an approving nod, and re-upped herself.
A jazz trio set up in the corner and began to play. The singer’s voice danced around the upright bass line, bobbing and weaving. The melody, when it came, was familiar but impossible to name. The harder the Jennys tried to pin it down, the more rapidly the title retreated from them. The sensation was of trying to retell a dream.
The hostess, seating Jenny Two at the table where Jenny One seemed to be waiting, had assumed that they were sisters. Too startled to correct her, the Jennys had only blinked at each other.
That would’ve been something, though, wouldn’t it? A sibling, a confidante, a corroborating witness to their mother’s decline; or, possibly, a check valve on it? If they could somehow keep in touch – without rending the time-space continuum – would they forge a kind of sisterhood?
Jenny Two reached up to adjust her earring, and revealed a cluster of blue-violet stars on her wrist. A tattoo, thought Jenny One, dismayed anew.
With their drinks, the waiter slid the check onto the table, and the Jennys each eyed it. After a long moment of silent, sisterly, negotiations, they agreed to go Dutch. “Very good,” said the waiter, praising again the profound rightness of their choices. Gratefully, they overtipped.
Jenn Stroud Rossmann is a professor of mechanical engineering at Lafayette College. Her stories have appeared recently in Literary Orphans, Jellyfish Review, Night Train, Tahoma Literary Review, and failbetter.com. She is a four-time Pushcart nominee. Her novel, The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh, will be published in Fall 2018 by 7.13 Books.