by Rosie Sandler
A hard, sharp, agonising thump. Not the playful kick of my twin’s soft foot – something colder, crueller, malice aforethought. Then our world is tumbling downwards, our mouths silent Os of pain. A wail from outside: our mother’s voice. We know it as we know the gurgle of her innards, the thud of her heart, the warmth of her blood.
‘Don’t hurt my babies!’
My twin nudges me in the head. I shake off the knowledge of our shared hurt to retaliate: I stretch out an arm, poke a finger up his nose. He jerks, knocks me with a cornered elbow. I grin, gurn, wriggle, jab him with a splayed hand. But something is different today, off. His aim is skewed. As he comes back at me with his fist, it misses – my twin never misses.
How did it start? Like it always does: long division repeated until two commas grew. We swam like fishes, bobbed like apples in a barrel. From circle’s end to circle’s start, we knew everything and everything knew us. We stretched from jumping beans to bouncing babes until the space ran out. Now, it’s our game of pokes and pinches that passes the time.
So here we are, low down in darkness, my mother, my complement and me. More pain? No, it’s quiet: maybe he’s gone. He, her lover, who sends stress messages streaming like virus through the ether. We close our eyes when we sense him, ball our fists into our mouths and curl up tightly. He has been here: see the damage he has done, our mother on the floor, weeping; me with an ache still nudging at my body; something lop-sided in the way my twin takes aim. We have no space here, no turn-and-see, only the shared closeness of the warmth and the light-dark pattern through her skin.
She wails again, a deeper sound, and we reel together, until my upside-down is almost downside-up and she takes a breath before our world closes in. Look how close the sides are. Pulsing, pulsating. There’s no way out bar one and that’s the one I’m heading for. I wasn’t ready. We weren’t ready. Twin, kick me again. Tight fit, head down and turn.
Slither and slide, squeeze and squirm. Slap into the bright. There she is. Scoop me up and hold me? Or wait for more? I open my mouth, say his name, ‘Twin.’ But they are turning me, twisting me, wrapping me up, saying, ‘Shhhhh.’ I try again, ‘Twin.’ But someone is holding me too tightly. There is sobbing. There is a wail. The voice I know as well as the gurgle and the thud and the warmth of her body.
I am held out to her, but she is sobbing and wailing, hands flapping, so they snatch me back. I am passed around. And then I see him, lying still. So this is what we look like: blue as the sea – the first water of all. They pick him up and he is leaving – where are they taking him? No silent scream this time, but a roar in my head, wrenched from my lungs, filled with this new, suffocating air. First there was the circle. Then there was you: my shadow, my mirrored self, my circle’s end.
It is cold here and very quiet. I wish you were here.
Rosie Sandler’s stories have been published in 34th Parallel magazine, The Local Writer 2007 collection, and an anthology of flash fiction called Jealousy (published by slingink.co.uk). She has been shortlisted for competitions in the Essex Chronicle newspaper and Essentials magazine.