In the womb they were squeezed tight, pressed together like segments of lemon. Bitter, bordering on sweet, held fast by pith and pulp. Waiting to be pulled apart and devoured. The first bursting out with wailing cries. The second pensive and silent. Their mother wrapping them tight in bright blankets, one under each arm. Laying them side by side in the crib at home.
When they were two they fell down a flight of stairs. Landed one atop the other. The first—unscathed—stood up and walked away. The second grew bruises that would run plum to blue to yellow. Their mother peeling bandaids, kissing bumps. Sighing over legs that no longer matched.
On the first day of school they held hands without letting go. Stood close, the patterns of their lime-green dresses converging, repeating. A checkered echo. The first drew with her right hand, the second with her left. Pictures later hung on the fridge at home, side by side. The same and not the same. Their father tracing their names—mismatched, in different colours—with a finger.
The year they turned 12 they visited the ocean. Sat on opposite sides of the back seat, driving for hours. Their mother feeding them apples and pears split in two, dividing chips and chocolate and soda between them. Handing them a napkin to share. At the seaside the first stood shivering in the surf. The second in the sand. One frozen, one fiery. Then slept at night, toes touching.
In high school they were suddenly separable. Divisible. Each section seeking its own pairing—the second to recipes, markets. The first to theatre. Her voice—ripe now, commanding—able to fill a room. Demanding notice. Delivering each line like a knife slice. Reaching back to where her sister sat. Silent. Mouthing the words. Each wearing the same pink shirt, the matching shoes their parents had given them for their birthday.
Soon their room took on two lives. One side piling cookbooks, cups, aprons. The other scattered with music scores, scripts. With time they built a wall through the middle, clothes and books stacked, bricklike, until they could no longer see each other over the top. Now and then they’d come home to find it demolished. Their mother hanging sweaters back in the closet. Putting dishes away.
When they left for college their room sat untouched. Their father vacuuming perfect lines into the carpet, fluffing identical cushions on matching beds. Their mother filling two boxes with the same snacks, shirts, slippers. Writing two notes on two pieces of paper. Shipping them, every month, to different parts of the country.
After graduation the first stayed away, the second came home. Opened a café in a bookstore where she cooked and served and returned to an apartment with mismatched chairs and floorboards that were scuffed and scraped and uneven. When her parents came to visit they’d sit at opposite ends of the table, empty chairs between them. Sipped at their coffee from different coloured cups.
They married weeks apart—the first a large wedding, the second a small one. Their parents flying from one to the other, carrying gifts in silver wrapping with bright white bows, their children’s names in identical pink pen. Wedding photos—the first and her husband, the second and her wife—later placed on opposite ends of the mantle. Pictures of them as children in matching outfits, fingers twined, filling the space between.
The first had two children, the second three. And although they played together when visiting—content and entangled—they grew up at a distance. A generation apart. Their mothers’ sameness merely a curiosity. It amused them to stay at their grandparents’ house, to find an equal number of treats in their stockings, the same-sized gifts under the tree. Heaping holiday meals onto unchipped china, set around the square table. Their odd number imbalanced. Spoiling the symmetry.
As their children grew and left, the sisters found less and less to link them. The first made whole on the stage. The second in the kitchen. Their disconnection no longer a disappointment but a distinction. An identity. Freedom found in their differences.
Then came the summer their parents fell sick. The first came home, stayed with her sister. Ate with her every night in the café. Helped to move their parents from their home to the hospital, visiting them every afternoon.
For weeks they sat up together, late, emptying closets, picking through paperwork. A wall of memories building between them, no two piles alike. As their parents declined they found a rhythm together, built a routine. Anticipated when the other needed to sleep in, step out, call home. Two independent parts of a greater whole.
One morning they found themselves each on their own bed, in their old room. Sifting through souvenirs in identical boxes. The first looked up and saw the second—saw her own eyes, her graying hair. Her wrinkles reflected back. Two segments long peeled apart, no longer covered in the pith of childhood. Their memories bittersweet, saltysour. Equal but opposite.
The second looked up, smiled. And for a moment—caught in the lemon-yellow light, lost in time, alone in their childhood home and fully themselves, for once, here, at last, at last—they felt the same. Twinned.
Then they brushed the hair from their face, one this way, the other that, and turned back to finish what they’d started.
Tina Wayland is a freelance copywriter by day and a fiction writer when the stars align. She has had pieces published in such spaces as The Foundling Review, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, carte blanche, and Every Day Fiction. When she’s not trying to hold down the fort, she can be found in some corner of the world or other, probably eating something new.
© 2020, Tina Wayland