It happened the first time after the doctor told Kara that Sam had passed away, the result of a brain aneurysm rupturing during the delivery of a breached calf. For two hours, Kara sat with her back against the car door and left leg stretched in front of her, letting the damp from the morning's rain creep into her jeans. A silver sedan pulled into the hospital's entrance a few hundred yards away and she watched a pale, squat man in a blue-striped shirt get out and walk towards the hospital's entrance. Kara didn't think he saw her, but she felt concerned. He might get bad news too and try to sit out here, try to talk to her, try to commiserate.
She hadn't spoken to the doctor when he told her; she'd nodded to show that she understood. When he asked if she'd like to sit in the waiting room or his office, she'd shaken her head and waved him off. The idea of talking now, explaining, drove into her stomach so hard that it had to rebound back out and she twisted to her right, puking into a puddle. Kara stood up shakily, moving and moving quickly for the first time in hours, hoping the man hadn't heard and turned back to find the source of the sound. He must have been in the hospital now—she couldn't see him. When she turned back to her car, she saw herself still leaned against the door, head lolling as she watched clouds twitch around and in front of the sun.
Kara looked at her reflection in the car door's window: wide, freckled nose, chapped lips, light brown eyes. She ran her fingers over her cheekbones and knew she was there, but when she looked down, she was there too. Crouching, she made eye contact with the other Kara, who seemed unsurprised.
"Shit," she murmured, reaching out towards herself, feeling skin chilled by sitting outside but still warm. It couldn't be an out of body experience, she thought, if both you's still have bodies. Suddenly the other Kara lurched towards her, retching into the puddle again without seeming to add to it.
Her left knee felt strange and she looked down. The other Kara's hand was on her knee, helping hold her up, but it was also in the knee and braced against the ground somehow, some way she couldn't explain and didn't want to see. Kara jumped back and watched the still crouching Kara fall to the side even though both her hands appeared to have stayed firmly on the ground. Kara kicked herself out of the way, fumbled the door open, and then slammed the door, locking it. As she pulled out of the lot, she watched the other Kara sit back up as though the car hadn't moved.
When she got home—a small, renovated farmhouse that she'd lived with Sam in for seven years—Kara still felt as though she'd been shocked, a quick jolt to the nape of her neck. Somehow it all made it easier to call first Sam's parents and then her own. She finally cried when Sam's mother began sobbing and Kara thanked Sam's father when he promised he would take care of everything. When she put the phone back in its cradle and went to sit down at the kitchen table, she saw herself still standing beside the phone, idly twisting its cord.
There were three more Karas that night: one appeared huddled naked in the old clawfoot as she drained her bath, another stood by the front door and played with the knob, the last one she found crying in the bed after she'd returned from drinking a glass of water in the kitchen. By then, the Kara standing beside the phone had sat down and begun drinking tea. She'd taken her water and settled into the seat beside the tea-drinking Kara, enjoying the quiet company.
When Kara woke up the next morning, she found a Kara asleep on either side of her in bed and two more on the floor curled together like spoons. She sat for a moment, surveying the sleeping women. It was the most crowded the room had ever been. Kara crawled out of bed gingerly and made her way downstairs.
The kitchen smelled of coffee and fried eggs. Eight more Karas sat around the kitchen table, managing to share three chairs. Kara didn't care to look closely and see quite how this worked—the memory of the parking lot Kara's hand on her knee reminded her of the smell of ozone. A small laundry room came off the kitchen and she thought she might hide there, but there were five Karas tucked inside already so she went outside.
Two Karas stood in the chicken coop, working as a team to feed the hens and collect more eggs. There were at least twenty-one of them to feed now by Kara's count, excluding herself. A different one walked around with Sam's old white horse on a lead. One more lay balled up on the porch like a cat.
Sam's father had planned to send Sam's niece Heather over that day with food and to help around the house, but Kara didn't think this was a good idea anymore. There wouldn't be room in the house for Sam's niece. And Heather might see the many Karas—or she might not. Probably one was worse. There was the kitchen phone, but Kara didn't want to walk back inside. She felt a little annoyed with all of the Karas for filling up her house, keeping Heather from coming over—Heather who was a good girl really, especially for a teenager—and stayed with them sometimes. If Kara had wanted to do laundry this morning, she wouldn't have been able to make it to the washing machine because of all the other Karas.
"It's rude," she said under her breath to herself and whatever other selves might be listening while she walked to her car. She couldn't remember using the phone since yesterday when the hospital called her so it only made sense for it to be in the car and it was, under the front seat, probably knocked there by a thoughtless kick. Kara dialed, pressed "Speaker," and tilted her head back against the headrest.
"Hi. Hey, Kara is that you?" Heather's voice always sounded deeper on the phone.
"Yeah, it's me, Heather. How're you?" It was the most she'd spoken in nearly twenty-four hours and she thought her voice sounded metallic, rusty. She worked the pads of her fingers against her jaw while she opened and closed her mouth.
"I—I guess I'm okay, you know. I think I'm still really shocked, but I cried a lot last night. What about you, though? Do you want me to come over now?" Kara closed her eyes when the concern entered Heather's voice.
"No, no honey; it's not that. It's… Well, I think I want, I don't think I'm ready to be around anyone yet. It's so sweet of you to offer, but maybe tomorrow?"
"Of course, if that's what you want." Heather drew out her words and Kara pictured Sam's sister Mary standing beside Heather, trying to coach her.
"It is, but thanks. I'll call you tomorrow," she said when she heard Heather begin to inhale as if to say more. Hanging up, Kara opened her eyes and looked at the keys she'd left in the ignition yesterday. She turned them, starting the car. Whether or not she liked her, she couldn't feel good about having left the first of the new Karas in the parking lot yesterday. Kara hadn't tried to talk to them yet, but when she got back, she thought maybe they could figure out how to stay in the house together. She put the car in reverse and backed out of the driveway.
Lauren Dupps is a recent graduate of Ohio University who returned to her native Cincinnati. She lives there with her fiance Austin Wilkinson and their two cats, Morpheus–named for the Gaiman character and a friend’s prophetic, Matrix-themed dream–and Towner–named for an altercation on a Greyhound bus. "Karas" is her first story accepted for publication. She can be found at laurendupps.wordpress.com, mostly muttering to herself.