Without any conscious planning he began to use a different name. This was on a dark and rainy Tuesday afternoon, though the weather had nothing to do with anything and served only as a peripheral detail in a much larger scenario. Rain. Water dripping from the sky. He ignored the open apartment window and buckling wallpaper. Who the hell cared about rain? What was rain but liquid kicked out of heaven.
He spoke his new name aloud. Dubois. Dubois. That would be it from now on. Not Mr. Dubois. Not Dubois with initials and honorary titles. J. M. Dubois Esquire? Screw that. Ignoring the soggy wallpaper he closed the apartment window. He paid no attention to the thunder-rattled walls. Dubois, plain and simple. Dubois was exactly it. Dubois was dead center.
Later on while sitting on the toilet he wrote on the little pad that hung on a hook by the roll of bathroom tissue. Dubois. He wrote it again in caps. DUBOIS. He added the appropriate punctuation. DUBOIS!!! How the name flowed with power and made itself known to the deepest parts of the mind and body. DUBOIS!!! ran like electricity along the nerves and merged with the bones, transforming them into steel. He finished his business and tore the sheet from the pad. He tucked the paper into the corner of the bathroom mirror. The name stared out at him with the intensity of a nova. DUBOIS!!! Magnificent.
It seemed fitting to alter the manner in which he answered the telephone. Hello? Yes, this is DUBOIS!!! speaking. What may DUBOIS!!! do for you? At first it felt slightly awkward to speak of himself in the third person. But DUBOIS!!! Didn’t the name practically beg to be set off in spectacular fashion? Why on earth not use this minor literary device as accent? As highlight? So what if the person on the other end of the line failed to comprehend and abruptly hung up? DUBOIS!!! needn’t be bothered by such petty minds. DUBOIS!!! was far better off listening to the patient hiss of a dial tone.
Once it was a woman who spoke from the phone.
Hello, Mr. Coombs, this is Elsie Ormand.
You have the wrong number, madam, there is no Coombs here, there is only DUBOIS!!!
But you have Alton’s pleasant voice, I’m sure you’re him, don’t you remember how we met at the church picnic last year and shared a plate of fried chicken?
Madam, you are mistaken.
We talked about getting together at some point. Lunch. Perhaps a movie.
I’m afraid not.
I was sure we forged a connection, an emotional bond. Even after a year I still feel it, which is why I called.
Are you sure?
DUBOIS!!! is quite certain.
I’m sorry to have troubled you.
DUBOIS!!! felt puzzlement over this particular call. What had the strange woman meant with her odd familiarity? What had been her purpose? Was she an agent of forces determined to manipulate DUBOIS!!! into thinking he was someone else? Did she and these unknown others wish to have DUBOIS!!! cast doubt upon his own perceptions? What other explanation could there be? Why else would she have called and insisted that DUBOIS!!! was this lesser personage, this Alton Coombs? For whom did this Elsie Ormand work? What was DUBOIS!!! up against?
DUBOIS!!! stopped leaving the apartment.
DUBOIS!!! disconnected the telephone.
DUBOIS!!! got rid of the television and radio because of the very real possibility that the mystery woman and her unseen commanders might have compromised the airwaves and bent them to their will.
Nobody can touch DUBOIS!!! now DUBOIS!!! proclaimed. Yes, DUBOIS!!! may know hunger and DUBOIS!!! may come to understand loneliness. But in the end DUBOIS!!! needs only one thing and that is DUBOIS!!!
This island stands inviolate DUBOIS!!! shouted at the piece of furniture nearest to him.
Weeks later a neighbor found him, dead and stiff on that same couch. Thank God there were no cats, everyone knows what vile acts those evil little creatures are likely to perform when their masters expire. Bad enough for the neighbor that the death occurred in July. Imagine the smell. Picture the sodden mess leaking into the cushions. The neighbor lamented the couch, now a complete loss. The neighbor held her nose. She notified the authorities, her duty as a citizen, but had to tell the responding officer she knew nothing of the deceased other than that he had lived alone and never caused any trouble.
What about a name the officer asked.
The neighbor stared at him as though he had uttered something completely strange and unfathomable.