Only one person knew the truth. Legally, we were two separate seventeen-year-old girls. Two passport pictures with identical milky freckled skin, frayed cornsilk bob, dishwater grey eyes. But in reality, tethered together in the womb by an umbilical rope, the line blurred between where one of us ended and the other began. We shared birthdays, surnames, faulty DNA, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to share a consciousness. It was only poetic to share a death date, too. April 16th: our eighteenth birthday.
We stared into the greasy, toothpaste-flecked bathroom mirror, creating quadruplets. The box dye in the trash was labelled raven-black, the same colour as Mom’s long locks. Maybe if we looked more like Mom, she would love us more. Maybe if she loved us more, we would have a reason to live. Our raw scalps looked bruised with the developing dye, the colour jarring against paper-white skin.
We’d applied Vaseline around each other’s hairline and ears, exactly as the Internet instructed. Still, the colour leached into our foreheads; muddy petroleum grimed up baby hairs. The Internet never told us no amount of scrubbing would remove the stubborn layer. We took turns under the shower’s weak spray, rinsed the chemicals until the water ran clear.
Hair slicked back, we faced our real-life mirror image. Our brows and lashes were feathery whitish against translucent skin, making the black hair an unnatural clash. Imposters. Try as we might to resemble Mom, recessive genes slapped her in the face, without fail.
Mom always euphemized our conception. Her coal eyes glossed with tears every time we asked about our father. When she finally told us about the missing puzzle piece in our creation, we were eight.
For most parents, the “talk” starts with a sheepish: “When a Mommy and Daddy love each other very much…” Mom didn’t abide by this script.
“Your father didn’t listen when I told him no,” she said, voice low and static-charged. “And that’s why you must always listen. But you also need to learn to say no, when you don’t want to do something.”
“Do you love us both the same?” The phrase peppered our childhood. We may have been twins, but parents always had a favourite, didn’t they?
“Of course,” she said, but her voice was flat, her eyes empty. She wasn’t lying, though. She did love us both the same. Zero and zero were equivalent.
We were thirteen when Brandon Summers mocked us about our imprisoned father. Pimples rouged his oily cheeks as he sneered: “My mom told me your dad’s a perv, and your mom was a druggie.”
Angry tears in our throats stifled any words of defence. He was cruel, but he wasn’t wrong. Our existence was DNA evidence. We helped convict our father, nestled naïve in the womb, but our town convicted our mom. Inescapable rumours were a jail sentence of their own. They hurled snide insults at her, slut and junkie and serves her right. She might not have had physical bruises, but her under eyes purpled from sleepless nights; burst capillaries dotted on her cheeks like blood splatter from crying so hard.
And it probably didn’t help, to have the eyes of your attacker staring out from the skulls of twin daughters formed through violence. In a peaceful world, we wouldn’t exist. In this world, we decided, we shouldn’t exist.
We strived to be as alike as possible in the meantime. No one wanted to be the evil twin, the fat twin, the ugly twin. We made sure to eat – or not eat – the same amount of food. Keep our rag-doll limbs lank, our collarbones razors, our shoulder blades jutting wings. Neither of us deserved to gorge on Mom’s decadent baking. We would be gone soon enough anyway. Maybe if we dissolved into nothingness, we wouldn’t have to keep stockpiling pills and rope and sharp objects.
Considering how fragile life is, they never tell you how much preparation death takes. Months of meticulous planning, a rigorous photosynthetic diet to encourage withering, hours on hours spent getting our affairs in order.
We brewed two cups of chamomile in chipped dollar store mugs; it tasted like steeped grass. Usually, we preferred espresso, but nowadays, caffeine on empty stomachs sent our heart rates accelerating into hummingbird territory. Spring cleaning was a perfect excuse for why we were flittering around our room dusting tabletops and arranging loose papers. We each had our own twin bed, but we had long ago pushed them together, two halves forming the illusion of one whole. Under the conjoined bed, lurked dust bunnies and orphaned teddy bears.
Tucked between the bed frames, we fished out a bent photograph. The paper was warped with tears. Mom’s eyes gleamed red with flash, but her smile was incandescent, a toothy grin we’d never seen before. Her smiles now were tight lipped, like she was afraid of letting something escape. An elfin man with silver eyes and white blond stubble had his arm slung around her shoulder. Our father, and Mom, both happy, both free.
Scrawled on the back, in Mom’s loopy cursive was: The good times. Was that the peak of Mom’s happiness? When did our father sprout two heads and fangs and barbed tentacles?
“What are you two up to?” We jumped, surprised by Mom’s appearance at our door.
“Nothing!” we squeaked, but splotchy red flush crept up our necks, betrayed our lie.
“I wish you hadn’t dyed your beautiful hair,” Mom said, and petted our frazzled hair. Our hair – beautiful? She glanced over our shoulders, deflated with a sigh when she saw the photograph.
“How did that get there?” she asked. “You know, what your father did to me was terrible, unforgivable. But the two of you came out of the pain. My two lotuses blooming from the mud.”
Tears streamed salty into our smiling mouths.
On the morning of our eighteenth birthday, the sun streamed through the blinds, casting bars of light on our faces. Only one person knew the truth: we didn’t want this self-imposed death sentence. But we were more than two halves – I was a person, and I was too. And as much as we’d built him up as a monster in our minds, our father was only a person.
“Do you want to go through with this?” we asked the other.
“No.” Firm, just like Mom taught us.
Mom smelled like sandalwood and smoke as she entered our room. “Happy Birthday!” Her dark curls tickled our sunken cheeks as she embraced us.
“I love you. I don’t say that enough, but I really do. Having kids didn’t happen quite like I imagined. But if I hadn’t gotten pregnant, I’d probably be somewhere with a needle in my arm. You girls saved my life.”
Our eyes filled with tears when she brought out two slices of chocolate cake thick with creamy icing. It tasted like opportunity. We ate every bite.
© Enya K. Mayne
About the Author: Enya Mayne is a Psychology student with a passion for creating. A dedicated daydreamer, stories are her sustenance. When she’s not writing, you can find her painting, telling lame jokes, Googling questionable things, and reading anything she can get her hands on. To keep up with her shenanigans, find her on Twitter and Instagram @enyawithapen.