Fiction by Rae Beatrice Nelson
I shouldn’t exist. Every part of me is a genetic anomaly. Red hair makes up less than two percent of the population. Type B negative blood accounts for less than ten percent of the blood supply. Identical, mirrored twins with red hair are like indigo paint. Artists would scrounge whatever they had to buy the lapis lazuli for their work. Rich, dark and rare, the vibrancy of the color brings a painting alive. She is the lapis, bright and alive, a scarce commodity almost pulsating with energy. I am the oil, the stabilizer. The reign and binder to the blue energy that threatens to burn itself out. Each of us a complement to the other, a match.
The freckles on my left shoulder matched the ones on her right. I could arch my left eyebrow; she could only arch her right. I never needed to look in the mirror to suss out my appearance; she was across the room, trying to make me laugh.
My entire life was a competition against myself. I knew how fast I was and how smart I could be; I just had to watch Erica. I broke my wrist, for three months she complained the opposite one hurt. She cut her hair short, suddenly my ponytail felt strange. The mirror was always there. Erica was the perfect athlete, universally adored, holding court at her lunch table. The best and brightest our school could offer; athletes, academics, drawn to her light. That special energy she had in boundless quantities. I huddled with the tortured artists, giving cheerleaders seductive looks and never meeting my potential. Still that connection remained.
As children we would often sneak into the other’s bed, even that few feet of space between us was too much; the gap between our beds was an abyss. I would put my hand over her heart, feel the ebb and flow of her blood beneath my fingertips. I would hold my breath and feel my own. We were always in synch.
It is always Friday when I remember. We were two fireballs wandering around a house that was suddenly too tense, a town that was too small. Friday was always our night, just leave the expectations and disappointments and be. We would drive and drive, as far as a tank of gas would get us, singing old folk rock songs and talking of everything and nothing. Then, one night, she was wearing lip-gloss. The keys were already in my hand, headed to the door. My face looked up apologetically and I met my eyes in the mirror. There was a team dinner for soccer, the captain had to attend. It was okay I told myself, there was painting that I had to finish for the show.
The night shifted in my sleep. Turpentine was still in the air and green under my nails. Sleep came in fitful bursts punctuated by bright colors and sitar music. A pinkie wrapped around mine and a head burrowed in my nape. A whispered apology for her sleight drifted up as she fell asleep, her hair cloaking both of us. Turpentine and jasmine. All of my best memories had turpentine and jasmine.
I scampered to Seattle’s chilly weather and new wave hippie culture. Erica went off to sparkle in the pre-med program at Riverside. Everyone said the separation was necessary, healthy even. We needed time to learn to be ourselves, whole and alone. I was incensed at this, I knew who the hell I was. I saw the other half of me across the kitchen table in her nightshirt and socks every morning. I clung to her at the airport, fisted my hand in her hair, our hair. How could something like this be expected of me? How could something occur that she was not a part of? But I left all the same.
For someone who had never experienced isolation, this was a shock. Twins are an Event. For most of my life I never arrived, I made an entrance. Now I slipped in unnoticed. A Halloween party with a singular costume. A class sans comments about my sister. As far as anyone knew, I didn’t have a sister. I guiltily enjoyed the fact that my face was my own, my accomplishments never shared.
I look back on photos from that time and wonder what I missed. Her smile seems different, her freckles more pronounced. There is a photo from our first Christmas back home, where her face is solemn, nothing quite reaching her eyes. The glitter had dulled. But she smiled for me. We were baking, a Christmas tradition. I twirled in the kitchen – food tasted better when dancing. There was a flash in the corner, our mother making a memory. She had leaned on the counter, seemingly the epitome of relaxation and amusement. I glanced again. Hunched shoulders, rigid back, retreating into herself and trying not to break. Something imploding. The dizziness of my twirl had made her a blind spot. I caught my balance with her shoulder. Parchment over chicken bones, the shadow of a thousand insecurities in her eyes. A frown furrowed my brow that the kitchen’s laughter soon smoothed away.
I ran my hand down her ribcage that night. I counted the vertebrae in her spine, there were too many. Collarbones begged to be forced through, to give her some blood for her efforts. I knew what she was doing in that bathroom. I heard her fall. I heard the faint rumble of bone hitting wood, skin slapping tile. A personal earthquake I could never expect. The crash of ceramics brought our mother swooping, the sound a herald of my Temple falling. Seconds went by, I was in the bathroom next to her. She didn’t lock the door, maybe she wanted to be caught.
I try to look in her eyes, gain my focus, but all I see are the whites. I grab wrists, I don’t know who is shaking anymore. Her trembles merge with mine. Someone yells, maybe it’s me. I hear the phone dial. The sync is gone. The wail of sirens merges with my mother’s cries. Men in uniforms play Frankenstein. Harnessing electricity to bring my baby doll back. A shout of “Clear!” hangs broken. Nothing is clear, everything is white. The walls of the waiting room, the doctor’s coat, my sister’s skin. They all merge. I go into my sister’s room. I come out of it. I can’t bear to be in there. She took it all, I would have let her have my heartbeat too. A nurse gasps, no one told her that my sister was a twin.
I have now become my own ghost.
Rae Beatrice Nelson is currently a Senior at UCLA where she is a double major in English and Biological Anthropology with an emphasis in Paleopathology. When she is not in a stone basement looking at remains stored in a Chiquita Banana box, she can be found prowling the Venice boardwalk, a journal in hand, observing humanity.