I received it through the post. A minor miracle with Los Correos. Their bright yellow lorry used to pass in front of the Venta Montevista at 8 o'clock every day, but the postman's scooter blew its raspberry sound only once a week. By the time the engine was switched off, I was at the post-boxes.
It was yet another new postman. He was looking at the random numbers and letters on display on the boxes themselves. I offered to help, he looked relieved. As well I did, otherwise I'd have had to go to the local Post Office to pick up the package, which wouldn't have fit through my post-box flap.
The scooter passed its comment on the postman's lot and I stood with the parcel in my hand. For it was a parcel: brown paper and string. A throwback to boarding-school birthdays. How it had arrived unscathed via the increasingly mechanised postal systems of the world, I had no idea. The brown paper was the heavyweight manila stuff that always smelled faintly of toffee. It hadn't crinkled too much and there was not a tear to be seen. The address was hand-written directly onto the paper. In ink. Real fountain pen ink. My name and address were in a neat copper-plate that no-one had learned at school since the days of ink-wells and blotters. I turned the parcel over. It wasn't possible to see if the sender's address had been written with the same pen, much less the same hand. Some unknown liquid had been spilled over the small lettering, sufficient to render it a bleary smear, but not to penetrate the parcel itself, it seemed.
The sun was high, the postman had delayed Montevista Urbanizacion to the end of his round. I didn't doubt he was already ordering Menu del Dia at his own local venta, before returning the scooter to the Post Office yard in Coin. The post-boxes were fixed to the long exterior wall of the Urbanizacion's administration office. A make-shift pergola affair was attached to the wall, offering shade from the heat of the day. I thought about opening the parcel there, but walked home in the heat, holding the parcel in front of me like a tray or a bomb. Even my eyeballs were sweating in the heat, so the palms of my hands were leaking more moisture into the brown paper. Squinting in the bright light, I tried to make out the postmark, the wavy lines and the stamps themselves told me someone had sent me this from the UK, but little more. However, the stamps were peculiar. Even before I had left England, you would get a sigh and raised eyebrows if you turned up at the Post Office counter with a parcel festooned with postage stamps. Everything was sticky labels now.
I took the parcel to the rear of the house, sat in the sofa on the covered terrace. My parcel wasn't particularly light and the stamps on the outside were high denomination. It was about the weight of a worthwhile dictionary, but the packet was too malleable to be even a paperbacked book. Tugging at the string, I fumbled at the knots with shaking fingers and gave up, laying the parcel on the sun-faded fabric beside me. I picked up the glass I had left on the coffee table. The tonic was flat and the ice had melted, but even the Andalucian sun wasn't hot enough to denature the alcohol in the gin. There was a Swiss-Army knife somewhere in the house. Most likely it was in the drawer where I kept defunct currencies, old mobile phone chargers and batteries that might or might not work. I went to get it. It was hidden under my second passport, long expired. I flicked through the pages and smiled at the Israeli stamps and the young man in the photograph.
The knife made short work of the string. The parcel had been wrapped well. I had been half-expecting swathes of Sellotape under the expert folds. But only the string and the stern creasing of the brown paper had held it together. I removed the paper and folded it as best I could. A violent paisley cloth wrapped about a ream of paper. Tossing the cloth aside - it looked like an old woman's scarf – I saw that someone had sent me a manuscript.
I felt sick. Just reading the title. G________ H_________. It was the title of a novel I'd been writing for years, off and on. Only last week, I had considered sending it to an agent or a small independent, but decided on a last polish. Someone named William Wilson claimed to be the author of the manuscript in my hands. I turned the title page. The first paragraph began....'I had no sooner buried my wife...'
No wonder people said that an encounter with your Doppelganger resulted in death. This felt worse.
The gin coming up tasted bitter, metallic and full of rage. I felt that I would never leave the porcelain bowl again until my very soul had been purged.