Melvin and Mel
by William Michaelian

Tell me, Lester, how have you been? Oh, just fine, Buck. Your name is Buck, isnít it? No, my name is Melvin. Whatís yours? My name is also Melvin. Oh, really? Now thatís a coincidence. You know, you look a lot like Lester. Do I? So do you. Ah. Thatís because Lester is my twin brother. Now, if you and I were twins, instead of just regular brothers, it might be easier to keep things straight. Have you ever considered plastic surgery, by any chance? Well, yes, Melvin, I have. Iíve not only considered it, but Iíve had it done. Really? How odd. Youíd think Iíd remember. Yes, you would. Especially since you were the one who did the job. No, I wasnít. That was Buck. Buck? Whoís Buck? You, of all people, should know. Buck is my father. Oh, yes. Thatís right. Now I remember. Which reminds me ó Buck is my father as well. Very good, Melvin. Iím glad youíve figured that out. Now. Sit down. There is something we need to discuss. I am sitting. Ah! So you are. And I am also sitting. How silly of me. Hey, donít worry about it. Whatís on your mind? Pardon? I said, whatís on your mind? Yes, yes. I heard you. You donít have to shout. Iím not shouting. No, of course not. Anyway, what is it you want to discuss? Well, Mel ó you donít mind if I call you Mel, do you? No, Mel, not at all. Uh, itís Melvin. Oh. Sorry. No, Melvin, please feel free to call me Mel ó or anything else, for that matter, as long as you get to the point. I was just about to, when you so rudely interrupted. Oops! Sorry! Again, I beg your forgiveness. Oh, all right, youíre forgiven.

And it goes on like this every day, for at least two hours. The truth is, Melvin and Mel are not brothers, or even distant cousins. Buck is Melís father. Melvinís father is Lester, who also happens to be Melís twin brother ó at least he was until the accident, which is where the plastic surgery comes in. If this all sounds a bit confusing, donít worry. I was confused at first myself. But Melvin and Mel quickly straightened me out. Although, to be perfectly honest, there are still days I wish theyíd find another diner. See, not all my customers are as understanding as I am. They get mad and squirt blobs of ketchup on the back of Melvin and Melís sport coats. But the two Ms never notice. After they finish their coffee, they pat each other on the back and walk out of here with ketchup on their hands ó and they still donít notice.

But none of this matters. What matters is what happened yesterday when one of them didnít show up. Right off, I noticed Mel was kind of fidgety, so I asked him what was wrong. Iím Melvin, he said. Itís Mel. I think heís dead. What do you mean, you think heís dead? I said. Either heís dead or he isnít, unless thereís something Iím not quite understanding here. To which Melvin replied, Cup of coffee, please. Iím beat. So I poured Melvin a cup of coffee and put it on the counter. Go on, I said. Your story is gripping me. Melvin slurped some of his coffee and said, Itís Mel. I think heís dead. You already said that, I said. I did? Melvin said. Oh. Sorry. He slurped some more coffee. Melvin, I said, what happened? Where is Mel? Is he really dead? Iím not sure, Melvin said. When I left him, he looked dead. That doesnít sound good, I said. Melvin sighed. Hashed browns, if you donít mind, he said. I brought Melvin a plate of hashed browns. While I was at it, I refilled his coffee. Thanks, he said. Donít mention it, I said. Now, please ó tell me about Mel. Ah, yes! Melvin said. Poor Mel! Alas, I knew him well. Look, I said, I donít mean to be redundant, but is Mel dead or not? Melvin looked at me as if I were a stranger. Huh? he said. Mel? Do you know Mel? Tell me, is he dead, or isnít he? After that, he stared at his hashed browns. Thatís it, I said. If youíre not going to tell me, then at least give me Melís address. Iíll go find out myself. I pulled out a pen and a piece of paper. Here, I said. Write. Melvin quickly wrote out Melís address. This is also my address, he said. Oh? I said. You live at the same address? No, Melvin said. Neither of us do. Oddly enough, this made perfect sense ó until I actually got there and rang the doorbell. Yes? a man who looked very much like Melvin and Mel said, may I help you? Iím looking for Mel, I said. I hear heís in trouble. Come in, sir, the Melvin-Mel look-alike said. Iím glad youíre here. Itís just dreadful. And I followed whomever it was down the hall and up the stairs and out onto the balcony overlooking the river that used to be quite a sight before it was polluted. And there, on the balcony, was Lester. Lester, I said. Whereís Mel? Have you seen him? Lester smiled. Heís down there, he said, pointing at the river. Sure enough, there was Mel, rowing a small boat upstream. Whatís he doing down there? I said. I heard he was dead. To which Lester replied, You must have heard that from Melvin. Thatís not all I heard, I said. Really? Lester said. What else did you hear? Never mind, I said. Mel! I called out. Mel! Are you all right? Of course heís all right, Lester said. Heís rowing, isnít he? Mel! I screamed. Mel! Finally, Mel looked up at me and waved. Tell Melvin Iím all right, he yelled. I waved back, then heaved a sigh of relief. Then, just at that moment, I heard a splash. It was Mel. Heíd fallen overboard. Oh, no, I cried. Weíve got to save him. But Lester only laughed. Save him? he said. He does this every day. This is how he gets his kicks.

A few minutes later, Mel washed up on the bank. He was dead, all right. I rushed back to the diner. Much to my surprise, I found Melvin and Mel sitting side by side at the counter, enjoying Melvinís hashed browns. As usual, each had at least half a bottle of ketchup on his back. Mel, I said, what on earth are you doing here? I always come here, Mel replied. Boy, he added, you sure are out of breath. Whatís wrong? Whatís wrong? I said. Whatís wrong? We thought you were dead. Thatís whatís wrong! At this, Melvin and Mel both laughed. You fell for it, they said in unison. That was Buck they pulled out of the river, not Mel. And then they laughed some more.

Then they explained the whole thing ó or tried to. If Iíve got my facts straight, what really happened is that their plan to kill Buck failed, and they killed Lester by mistake. The man I thought was Lester was really Buck. And the man who had let me into the house in the first place, the man who looked like Melvin and Mel, was really Mel. But he was only pretending to look like himself. See, thatís what fooled me. On the other hand, even that could be wrong. Maybe Lester wasnít killed at all. Knowing those two, it could have been someone posing as Lester ó why, I donít know. But Iíll find out. I promise you, Iíll find out.

William Michaelianís newest releases are two poetry collections, Winter Poems and Another Song I Know, published in paperback by Cosmopsis Books in San Francisco. His short stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in many literary magazines and newspapers. His novel,
A Listening Thing, is published here in its first complete online edition. For information on Michaelianís other books and links to this siteís other sections, please go to the Main Page or visit Flippantly Answered Questions.

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