The two women had lived in the same house, slept in the same room, combed the same frizzy curls in front of the same vanity, for the last sixty-four years.
It was the house of their family, white washed and shingled in the 17th century, the house was carried through the generations like an artifact. The knick knacks of their dead bloodlines lined the oak shelving as permanent house guests. The pale blue rug running through every room besides the kitchen and bathroom had been assaulted with every astringent cleaner, but had never been torn up. It was a doll house and the twins inside were dolls, played with by the ghosts of their ancestors; their house the same as the day it was built, a memoriam and a museum. This was something that was bred into them by their mother, who gave disapproving clicks of her mouth whenever any item of her heritage was touched.
“Those are the ties to our relatives, this porcelain art is our history,” she would pour out to them often, especially stern if any were knocked about in the weekly dusting.
Their parents had died in the house decades ago— a few of their father’s old newspapers still sitting under the end tables. “Preserving is loving, is respecting the soul that leaves the body,” their mother had once said. Both twins succumbed to the fact that throwing out anything under that kind of logic was nearly impossible.
The twins were born in the house, the same as the generations before them. They came in new rumbling and throbbing but already relics— seconds apart, singing the new wails of life to each other. In a moment the old house gained two more pieces of history and ever since they’ve been sisters, mirrors, the ends of each other’s sentences.
Every morning Lola poured two cups of tea, English Breakfast, no sugar, a dash of almond milk; while Trisha made two bowls of hot oatmeal, a drizzle of maple syrup, a sprinkle of brown sugar— timely, nutritional perfection. They moved around each other in seamless routine, street cars on track, automatons performing their mechanical tricks. Left arm over the other’s right arm to reach a cabinet, side step to the next counter top. Sometimes a twirl or two when they felt loose and silly, morning routine into dance routine. Then they would bring their matching yellow mugs and bowls, marked with tiny bees around the rims, outside to their wide, finished patio; where they’d sip and crunch in mutual silence, listening to the birds chatter above them or the wind whistling the new tune it had picked up from elsewhere.
Maybe then Trisha would read a biography of some important woman she had heard the name of once, wishing secretly she could call herself one. And then maybe Lola would knit something pretty for the new baby down the street. Only sometimes wishing she herself had one. They’d sit there doing some little hobby, not thinking too hard, until the handsome young mailman dropped them off a postcard or catalogue.
Upon his arrival, they’d heckle him softly as old women do, trying to make him blush. “Mr. Wickham, what a handsome boy you’ve become,” Lola would state just as she had done the week before. And Trisha would chime in “And so tall.” And the boy would blush, as young boys should, give them what he brought, and descend their front steps with a bow of his head. After he left, the old women would gossip and chuckle until dusk, a painting of contentment.
The two women looked exactly alike. For eighteen years Trisha took Lola’s math tests and Lola wrote fantastic, winding essays for Trisha, both of them meeting in the girl’s bathrooms, swapping clothes between classes between breathy, secretive giggles. Their wide brown eyes and plain, pale faces smiled politely at every social event— leaving guests to look back and forth, trying to discern the original from the photocopy. The father could never make the puzzle out, he used to laugh at the way their elbows and knees jutted out slightly in the same direction and how even their bodies and their hair grew at the same rate like two spriggy, trees drinking in the same sunlight. Their mother (as mothers always can) could tell them apart, but would not reveal her secret on how.
Of course, unlike bodies, two minds cannot be identical, they can be similar in impulse but such intricate carbon cannot ever be duplicated, one of the universe’s greatest masterpieces. This is to say the two twins, so alike in disposition and always approximate to each other, did not share the same mind. Trisha kept reason close like a good friend, she made recipes without leaving out any ingredients and in their adulthood, she paid the bills expediently, sometimes ahead of schedule. Without Trisha, Lola would have had a few run-ins with the IRS and the National Grid. She prefered dreaming, scribbling thoughts, humming songs she didn’t remember the name of.
It was no real surprise when Lola ran away with a man when she was thirty-two. A hushed scandal in their small, traditional town, it involved the pharmacist from the two streets over. He had cool, professional hands and eyes of ice but when he touched Lola in the back room, pushing down bottles of pills to get to more of her, she felt warm, she felt like the only version of herself.
They went to Vegas for three days.
For three days Trisha poured her own cups of tea, talked only to her budding rose garden and the neighborhood cat, who sometimes lurked around their homestead looking for rouge mice. Trisha will never admit to the long conversations she held with the furry trespasser those days, but for years after, the cat found chunks of tuna hidden under their backyard trees like a prolonged “Thank you,” both for letting her run her fingers through the independent stray’s fur and for never telling a soul how loud and thorough she had cried those days.
On the fourth day of her disappearance, Lola appeared through the threshold like a spirit. A translucent, boundary-passing rendition of herself. Trisha gaped at the apparition of her other half, while Lola floated to the cabinet and poured two new cups of tea. Trisha joined her sister at the table and asked no questions, drank the tea poured for her and felt its warmth.
They never spoke of what must have been a foolish memory of flashing lights and Trisha never could ask about Lola’s spin in the city of forgery. When Trisha found a cheap ring, greening around its curves in Lola’s underwear drawer; she only let herself wonder about it in the time it took to close the drawer as quietly as a whisper. After that drawer was shut, so was the matter.
Today they greeted a beautiful afternoon, spots of sun warming the old women’s calves as they hummed and read on their long, idyllic porch. Young Mr. Wickham had just dropped off the mail and Lola was half skimming the town’s Weekly Journal. She was sipping a crisp lemonade distractedly, when suddenly the glass crashed in front of her, spreading across the wood floor like a sharp, reflecting snowfall. The lemonade spilled to the floor too, oozing out and around Lola’s exposed toes but she did not move her feet.
Trisha looked up to her in surprise. “What in the world?” But Lola’s gaze did not meet her sisters. Instead she placed the paper open on the side table closer to Trisha and pointed in the direction of a strong, blond face in the middle of the page.
“He found a wife, a real one,” Lola spoke, her chin falling to her chest, “and they had two daughters.”
Trisha got closer to the photo. He was much older than when Lola had run away with him, wrinkles traced his stark, important face. He had suffered that destined deterioration of time, but it was him, alright, outlined in a thick, black frame like a tiny saint.
Trisha held her head low to the paper and did not speak. Dropped a tear on the printed deadman not because he was gone but because he had been here in the first place. She coughed, swiped her eyes and mustered up the courage to finally ask, “What happened that day, the day you came back?”
Lola raised her head slightly to look at her sister, her eyes brimming with tears but alight, “I told him I would not leave you, not for forever.”
A quick, bright moment passed between them like a shooting star flying from one body to another, then as if making a wish Trisha put her palm in Lola’s and squeezed.
“I shattered one of your favorite glasses,” Lola gave a sorry laugh.
“It’s only a glass,” Trisha said, shrugging and letting go of her sister’s hand.
“Mother would have screamed murder to see one of this set succumb— you forgive me too easily,” Lola stated hinting at other things, but she allowed her sister to clean the glass splinters from around her feet, as she closed her eyes again.
When Trisha was done cleaning she patted her sister on the shoulder, left the newspaper where it lay, and went back inside. Lola herself sat in silence until the dusk came and the heat of the day stopped drying her steady stream of tears.
After Lola did not return inside for hours, her sister peeping at her from behind the curtains the entire time, Trisha decided to stick her head out an open window and exclaim, “It’s one thing to be sad, it’s another to be cold. Come inside!”
“I like to be cold when I am sad,” Lola sniffled softly and then continued speaking slowly as if she didn’t know herself where her words were heading, “I know it may as well have been a lifetime ago— is now for him if you think about it, but he was the only man I’ve ever loved.”
Trisha nodded like she understood though she did not, not really, or not in the same way at least.
“Have you ever thought of all the lives you may have lived?” Lola continued again, getting up and spreading her arms over the railing of their patio. She stared out at the dark street longingly, as if all the possible versions of herself would march down the road in some nostalgic parade.
Trisha nodded again, but again could not fully understand. The matching bowls, the long porch, and her loving twin were all clear and unquestionable variables of her niche. She had no qualms with remaining as unchanged as the bees and the pollen, the tides and the sea. Yes perhaps she could have been a painter or a business woman, but she was not those things, she was a sister. She stood in the door frame now, still separated from her other half and whispered “You really can’t merge two people into one, can you Lola?”
“I don’t know Trisha. We came pretty close,” Lola answered, turning back towards her sister. “We were in the same cell once, if you can remember?” She gave her first hearty laugh in hours. “I mean we really did come awful close.”
“Damn close.” Trisha agreed, flashing her sister a wide, familiar grin and extending her hand as an invitation to come back inside. Lola gave one last lingering look to the street, whispering a last goodbye to those other lives, those phantom selves and then her hand reached for her sister’s, crossing into their threshold again with a soft, accepting smile.
From his vigil on the porch side table the dead man was smiling as well. In a professional portrait he himself picked to be his last, he was smiling in agreement: they really did come awfully close.
By day Angelica writes for the Development department of a refugee organization in New York. By night she writes her poetry and stories with her 10 plants as backdrop and her future on her tongue. She has forthcoming work in the North Dakota Quarterly, Ruminate, Hooligan Magazine, Oyster River Pages, Magnolia Review, Wingless Dreamer, Door Is A Jar, Crack the Spine, Dissenting Voices, Breadcrumbs Magazine, Neon Mariposa and Amethyst Review.
© 2020, Angelica Whitehorne