Every time, You Fall in Love – Cathy Ulrich [Fiction]

Your boyfriend is cloned; your boyfriend is clones. Except it’s not accurate to say boyfriend. Say ex instead, say former. Say I used to have a thing with him, like you’re some girl in a Dire Straits song. Say it was mutual, say I hope he’s doing well.

Say, when you run into the first clone at the coffee place you used to frequent with your boyfriend, how are you doing?

And the first clone says: I’m sorry, do I know you?

Oh, you say. You look just like someone I used to know.

You and the clone end up drinking coffee together. You chat, you laugh, you exchange phone numbers. This is how it was when you met your boyfriend, coffee dates and fluttering pulse. It’s different this time, you say, but it’s really not different at all.

Your boyfriend’s clone reveals that he’s a clone after the first time you sleep together. He likes the same positions your boyfriend does, kisses the same way your boyfriend does.

I’m not supposed to say. But I feel like I can tell you anything.

You delete all of your boyfriend’s pictures from your phone, replace them with the clone’s. You go to the carnival, to the movies, walk hand in hand in the rain. Your life is a rom-com montage.

It’s better, you think, than it was with your boyfriend.

So when you see the clone with another woman, you hope at first that it is your boyfriend and his new wife. Everyone says how happy they are, what a lovely couple they make.

She’s so good for him, they say.

But you can smell her on the clone’s skin. You can feel her when he looks at you the way your boyfriend did at the end. Not at you, exactly, just past your shoulder, like he can’t stand to meet your eyes anymore.

I’m sorry, the clone says. She just gets me in a way you don’t.

The clone leaves you the way your boyfriend did, tucked under a blanket on your couch, sobbing. He kisses your forehead like you’re a child, says I’m sorry. You don’t want him to be sorry.

I want you to love me.

I’m sorry, says the clone, sorry, sorry.

At the coffee place, there is another clone. He has a barcode on the back of his neck. They all do. You rub your fingers over it when the two of you make love, though there is no difference between the feel of the marked and unmarked flesh of the clone of your boyfriend.

Or are you a clone of the clone?

The clone doesn’t know. He doesn’t know how it works.

Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a scientist.

You have always liked his sense of humor.

You love me, don’t you?

The clone smiles sweetly, brushes your hair away from your face. You think it’s an answer. Later you realize it’s not. Later, when you’re tucked under a blanket on your couch, nubby end under your chin. Later, when he has broken your heart.

Every time you go to the coffee place, you run into a new clone. You snap pictures of their barcodes, thumb through them on your phone.

These are all different, you say, right?

The clone you’re seeing now shrugs.

Dammit, Jim, he says.

Shut up, you say. My god, please shut up.

You can’t remember, now, how many clones of your boyfriend you’ve dated. You’ve deleted all the photos from your phone, except for the ones of the barcodes. You’ve deleted all their texts, voicemails. You’ve been left and left and left under a blanket on your couch. You don’t even cry anymore. You don’t say who is she. You sit under the blanket on your couch, wait for the touch of lips on your forehead, the apology, the sound of the door closing.

You go to the coffee shop again and again and again. You find a clone there, and another and another. You find a clone there, mussy-haired, blinking, like he’s just gotten out of bed, like he’s just gotten out of the laboratory.

Buy you a coffee? you offer.

He says: Sure.

He says: Look, I’m not like the others.

No, you say, touch the back of his neck with your fingertips. Of course you’re not.

By Cathy Ulrich

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