Dear Jon (may I call you Jon?),
Last night I slept in your bed, and this morning I put on your clothes. I took them from one of the bags you left here: I hope you don’t mind. I’m sure they’re all wondering what a man like me is doing in a red tartan shirt with sleeves too short by an inch.
“A man like me,” I said; but the point is that I must be a man like you—I must be you, and put you on when I put on these jeans (which I notice are not clean and have about them a smell a little like smoke and a little like the lawn outside, where all the grass has died).
I’ve kept a record of what I’ve done and said in your name. Don’t be alarmed—I’ve done no harm, though I’ve done what I ought not to have done, and left undone those things which I ought to have done . . .
I’ve been through your bags, and this is what I found:
A biology textbook, hardly read.
A joke set of plastic false teeth with pink feet attached.
Two bottles of clear nail varnish.
A Book of Common Prayer (marked with Elijah’s name,
and an address scratched out).
Four white porcelain dolls’ hands, and a plastic doll’s leg.
A prescription for antihistamines made out to a
A bottle of lavender oil (empty).
Five steel bolts, very clean.
A thin glove packed with gauze.
A glass eye.
Actually, the glass eye was in the pocket of these jeans. I thought perhaps you collected marbles, and found myself rolling it between my finger and thumb, wondering if you did the same for comfort’s sake. When I took it out just now and saw the green pupil and the bloodshot white I half expected it to blink, so I put it back in my pocket to protect it from the light.
Who are you—who are we? What did we all do that brought us here? I only know they can’t ever have seen you, or even heard your voice—when we spoke on the phone you had an accent I couldn’t place that was nothing like mine. Who are you, Jon? And what are you doing with these things—that glove you could mistake for a severed hand, the limbs of a doll, the teeth you must’ve found in a joke shop on a pier? Carry on like this and you’ll have enough to make yourself a whole new man.
I’d guess that you’re young, and as troubled as they all seem to be. You’re shorter than I am and stockier too, and from what I’ve seen on your collar I imagine your hair could do with a cut. And you’re a thief, with the names of other men on your books and papers—is the textbook even yours? What was it you wanted to know—was there no one to ask? You’ve read the prayer book—I can see that—Elijah would never have folded down the pages till the paper cracked. And I can see the page you’ve read most, because you touched the paper too often with dirty hands—“You have placed in the skies the sign of your covenant with all living things . . .” (and I’m not a religious man but I know a rainbow when I see one).
I know what you’re thinking. I’ve no right to your clothes or your name or your place at their table. But read what I’ve written and you’ll see: they took my arm—they touched me and wanted me here . . .
Oh, but it’s useless I know. Soon enough they’ll catch me out and besides, it was never me they wanted.
Keep this book safe, would you? Please do that.
From AFTER ME COMES THE FLOOD by Sarah Perry, published by William Morrow. Copyright © 2020 by Sarah Perry. Reprinted courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers