Hit and Run – 11

Margaret surprised Lou by silently allowing him to go back to her apartment with her. His hopes she’d let the topic lie were dashed as soon as they were in the door and had taken off their coats. She crossed the room without speaking. Margaret kept her back to him. She paused in front of the sideboard and pulled out a large manila envelope.

Margaret flicked a quick wrist. Flip. A post card of an Algarve fishing village sailed through the air of the room and landed at Lou’s feet. She gave her wrist another vicious flick. Flip. God and Adam skidded through the room and glanced off his shoulder. Flip. Hadrian’s wall in northern England crashed to the floor. Flip. The believers at Mont St. Michelle landed hard on their faces down under a chair. Flip. Flip. Flip. Lou was attacked with a blurred fury of paper, but he made no move to ward it off.

When she ran out of Joey’s postcards Margaret stood clenching her hands open and closed. “Was it fun? Stringing me along like some little kid believing in Santa Claus? Or was that the Easter Bunny, some rabbit being pulled out of a hat by you, faking me out, making me believe in magic when it was all sleight of hand? When it was all lies?”

“Margaret,” he begged. “Listen.”

“To what? More stories about Joey? Jesus Christ Lou, I listened to you talk about a stuffed toy!”

“You listened! For the first time since we’d started dating you were actually interested in what I had to say. You listened to me, you heard what I was saying for once! Because when I talked about myself, Lou, good old dependable predictable boring Lou Bocci, you couldn’t care less.” Lou’s body was shaking. “I know you were thinking about breaking up with me, because I’m not shiny enough. I know the signs warning when someone’s getting bored. All this bullshit about how you women want to be equal, you’re as good as any guy, you can do the same jobs we can and earn the same incomes, you don’t need us to survive! Well, that part’s certainly true. But you still want a shiny-armored knight, or at least some pinch of romantic scenery. Gondolas in Venice or a barge on the Nile.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Margaret almost shouted the question; somehow her voice remained level.

“You wanted to be carried away, sail off starry eyed down some river. Women need to drown in a sea of love. Oh, my love was real enough. Is. But the package it comes in, me, that’s not flashy enough. My last three relationships broke up for no reason whatsoever, just, ‘It’s not going to work, let’s end it while we’re friends.'” Lou’s arms waved as he angrily mimicked a female falsetto.

His anger faded as quickly as it had come. “Margaret. About Joey,” he said in a low voice. Despite herself Margaret quieted, still eager to know what he was going to reveal next. “It wasn’t planned. You kept asking me about myself, my past, I knew you were genuinely curious, but I knew too I’d better come up with something to keep you interested in sticking around. By the third time you asked about my childhood, I knew the question to follow was going to be, What time can I drop off your things back at your house?

“I’m so…not interesting. I’m just a guy with a decent job who follows hockey in the winter. Haven’t I always been good to you? Treated you right, followed all the rituals? I brought you flowers, waited until you gave me the signal to make the next moves.

“Being normal, a decent human being trying to do his best just isn’t enough anymore. We guys somehow fall short because we’re decent. So, I faked it.” Lou raised his chin and stuck it out at her, defiant. ‘Tell me more about your life,’ you said, and really what you meant was, ‘Can’t you be a little more interesting or special?’ To give you what you really wanted from me, I made something up.”

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2012. “Hit and Run” is the first chapter of my book Broken In: A Novel in Stories.  This story will run all month. Broken In and my other novels are available at Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

 

Hit and Run – 10

Margaret and Lou were in love with one another, deeply so, the night they went to dinner in the city at JJ’s. The restaurant was packed, and they had to wait although they had reserved a table. It didn’t matter; they had drinks in the bar and laughed as the bartender bantered with his customers.

Food at JJ’s was always worth a wait and when it arrived the meals were perfect. Margaret’s meal began with spaghetti with white truffle sauce, while Lou ordered the homemade squash ravioli. He talked while he ate and his girlfriend listened, happy to give her full attention to the divine flavors of simple cheese and pungent mushroom. Lou ordered another carafe of the house red wine while amusing her with the story of Joey’s invented secret passwords. “He’d read all these old fairy tales of princes trying to enter secret caves or transformed into toads and needing a password to change back. He thought the old tales were lame.

“‘Open sesame?’ Joey said. ‘Sesame? How about, Open ambergris? Or what about a tongue twister password, now here’s one the wizard won’t ever figure out! How about something like Lonely lovelorn laddies’ lips lie, and lay luckless ladies low.’ God, Joey could be a moron.”

Margaret choked on her wine. “Enough already!” she said when she stopped coughing. Margaret was wiping tears of laughter from her eyes when a voice interrupted.

“Lou Bocci? Lou?”

Lou and Margaret looked up from their pasta bowls. An attractive woman their age in a business suit stood in front of the table smiling widely. “I thought it was you!”

“Ruby!” Lou’s chair scraped as he stood up. Lou and the woman known as Ruby hugged each other tightly.

“This is my fiancée Margaret. Margaret, this is Ruby Warner. We went from nursery school all the way through high school together. Sometime in there we lost track of each other! Ruby, how the hell are you!” Lou beamed at her, delighted. “This was my best, best friend at age 4!”

“So she knew Joe!” The words were out before Margaret could stop them. She couldn’t help it; it was so exciting to meet someone who’d actually known Lou’s magical, tragic twin.

Ruby looked at her and frowned. “Who?” Then her face cleared. “Oh, do you mean, Joey?”

Margaret felt bad; his dead brother was probably a taboo topic between Lou and his friends from back then. “Yeah. You know, his brother,” Margaret said fumbling; but she saw Ruby knew whom she was referring to.

Lou grimaced and mouthed a “no” at her.

Ruby poked Lou in the ribs. “Brother?” She looked back over at where Margaret sat. “Lou told you he had a brother named Joey?”

“I’m sorry,” Margaret tried again as she flailed for words. “But. You know, his twin. Joe, who died. I’m really, really sorry; I didn’t realize talking about him was off-limits for those who knew him.”

“A twin, who died?” Ruby repeated incredulous. She began to laugh. “Oh, I get it! When we were little kids Lou’s favorite companion was a stuffed toy he got when he was born. It was a pink elephant he named Joey. God Lou, you dragged that raggedy thing everywhere! I thought you were going to have a nervous breakdown when your mom finally took it away from you!

“So Joey morphed into a twin brother, eh! That’s great!” Ruby poked him in the ribs again, this time more gently. “Don’t be so embarrassed, dude. I promise I won’t reveal anymore of your secrets.”

Softer now, she turned back to Margaret and went on talking. Behind Ruby stood Lou. His face had gone absolutely white, like the ghost of his non-existent identical twin brother: Joey, who had just exited the restaurant for good.

“Lou is the most decent, normal, kind person I’ve ever known,” Ruby said. “I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. There’s nothing weird about Lou. This is one great guy,” she pounded Lou gently on the bicep, “and I’ve missed him terribly since we lost track of one another.”

She frowned a little as she looked at her old friend. “But I don’t want to intrude on your evening! I didn’t mean to interrupt.” She studied Lou’s pale face more closely, began to say something, and reconsidered.

She gave him a placating please-forgive-me-for-embarrassing-you smile. “I need to get back to a business dinner; I’m here to sign a contract. We’re just waiting for the bill, and then we’re heading to the bar for a nightcap to celebrate. Here,” she said, and handed him a business card. “Call me,” she ordered, “so we can catch up and you can give me your contact info. I had no idea you lived in the area! Margaret, it was great meeting you.” Ruby shook Margaret’s hand and gave Lou a last tight hug.

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2012. “Hit and Run” is the first chapter of my book Broken In: A Novel in Stories.  This story will run all month. Broken In and my other novels are available at Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

 

Hit and Run – 9

That night they sat in his back yard drinking beers as Lou tended the grill in his methodic way. He had a system, checking and giving the sausages a quarter turn every minute or so. Lou stood and clicked the tongs rhythmically open and shut. It was a desultory summer night and they talked lazily, enjoying the warmth from the last rays of the setting sun. Once the sun set it would be colder. A covered salad and plates and silverware were already on the picnic table and Margaret got them two more beers. Lou measured out the time with his tongs, waiting for the next question to come.

Lou was surprised at how penetrating that question turned out to be. It took him off guard. “Weren’t the two of you ever jealous? I mean, you and Joey were so close, much closer than I ever was with my sisters growing up, that’s for sure. But didn’t you ever feel any jealousy or sibling rivalry?”

She waited for an answer but he didn’t say anything for a long minute. Idly she looked up from her beer. Lou stood on the grassy verge at the grill, metal tongs hanging limply from his right hand. He’d closed his eyes and as she watched something rippled through his body.

In the depictions of his twin who died, Lou willingly spoke in detail about sores that refused to close, the insidious subdermal spread of haematomas, all the strange symptoms that manifested themselves and either joined the litany of things wrong with his brother, or else vanished as abruptly as they appeared. But Lou deliberately avoided talking about the darker widening spread of another congenital disease Joey had: jealousy. It was a fatal condition festering in Lou, too, the inevitable sibling rivalry impossibly squared and cubed to proportions that could fill a room but never be acknowledged. Joey might be incurably ill, but the real elephant in the room was their shared envy. When the boys hit their teenaged years, the fights became ugly and bitter with a resentment that was never far away in either of them.

It seeped into the peaceful moments. Every once in a while they would be in the middle of doing something great together, something only possible because Joey was ill and the boys were able to hang out all the time instead of following normal kids’ routines.

Joey would stop whatever they were doing. “You can stop being the perfect big brother anytime, you know,” he’d say. “Go live your own stupid life. Stop waiting for me to die, so that your life gets to begin!”

Lou denied it, inventing all sorts of protests. “You ass, you’re my brother, the only one I’m likely to get. I didn’t get any say in whether or not I had a brother – or whether I would have picked you.”

“I hate you!” Joey yelled. “You only take care of me because you have to! Go play baseball without me! Like I even care!”

Lou wanted nothing more than to strike his twin, but of course he couldn’t. Instead he laughed, and his voice held a scraping metallic rasp. “Screw you, Joe. I can’t go anywhere, because you’re my stupid, sick, perfect little brother. Everyone loves you best!” he yelled back. “You get all the attention! Every little thing you do is perfect, and you never get punished for anything! The little tragically doomed perfect child. Wouldn’t it be great if a brain tumor or cancer or some congenital disease wormed itself into my cellular make up?”

They had just finished lunch down in the rec room. Joey swept the half empty potato chips bag by the side of his brother’s plate off the table. His thin profile turned bright red. “I’ve had blood tests since the day I was born! Let’s trade places, shit head. You sit in the wheelchair; you go to my physical therapy appointments twice a week!”

Joey stabbed a finger at his twin. “No wait, better yet, take pills with meals and go lie in the hospital for more scans.” The small blue plastic container holding his afternoon medications followed the chips onto the floor. “You know what? You can have people whisper when you walk by the hallway, or let people’s little kids point at you in stores and ask Mommy, what’s wrong with that little boy?

“Idiot!” Lou spit at him. “People point at me anyway. Idiot! I get to hear everyone talk in low voices whether you’re there or not, because I’m the kid stuck with the sick twin brother at home! I’m not even sick, but I get the special treatment right along with you. Don’t you dare tell me about how lucky I am.”

The rage inside filled him up. Lou knew exactly how normal he was. It was exactly that normalness his brother envied, the fact Lou could race around bases and play a mediocre tune on a saxophone. Joey didn’t have the lung capacity for brass or wind instruments, and sports were out of the question.

But Joey got all the attention. Everyone treated Joey special because he was born with a death sentence. Each year their birthday cake had both of their names on it in frosting. Lou could swear the candles always clustered by his brother’s name, because who knew how many more years he’d be around to eat another birthday cake? His schoolwork was always praised, and he was Mr. Clever.

Lou understood an implicit message that said the one thing special about him was that he was totally, completely, but really totally completely average. And that was supposed to be the greatest thing in the world, just being an average, ordinary son… while in secret Lou knew Joey’s condition was the most special thing in the whole universe. It made him unique, it set him apart, and Lou was jealous.

Lou would lie in his bed unable to sleep, feeling the guilt residing in his gut. He knew he shouldn’t be envious of his disabled twin, and his jealousy was wrong. Each time the feelings were followed by sardonic inner commentary. “Is this sick, or what? Oh no, that’s right, it’s Joey who’s sick!” Lou couldn’t even feel unique with his darkness.

He opened his eyes and slowly refocused back on where he was standing in his yard. Lou removed the sausages with short jabs of the tongs. “Sibling rivalry? Were we ever jealous?” He stabbed at the grill one last time and pushed Margaret’s plate roughly across the picnic table at her.

“Jealous? Only all the time. You want to hear about jealous?”

Margaret sat without moving and listened while Lou poured out decades of anger and anguish about his dead twin. She knew the last outburst was directed at Lou the adult, and not himself as a boy with a twin brother doomed to die.

Their outdoor meals grew cold. “God,” Lou said, staring at Margaret with hatred when he finished talking. “God. You have no idea how jealous I was. And Joey was jealous right back.

“But the crowning moment when it was clear to me exactly how not special I am, was the day of a neighborhood picnic. Dad had just finished describing the last round of hospital tests they’d had to take Joey in for. The drunk down the street said, ‘At least you two still have Lou. He’s totally normal, right?’

“‘Yeah, Lou’s a good kid,’ was all my dad said before he turned away. When they saw me standing there listening, they changed the subject.

“That’s me in a nutshell: a good kid.”

Lou leaned across and grasped Margaret by both shoulders. He kissed her, hard, and bit through the cloth of her light sweater. She felt the sharp edges of his teeth press against the skin of her neck, just below her jaw line. “Ouch!” she gasped. It hurt, but she put one hand behind his head and grasped his hair to pull his mouth back up and over her own. He shuddered and bit down on her lip, and she welcomed the pain.

That night Lou made love to her as if he was trying to climb out of his own skin away from the released memories. His earlier admission hung in the bedroom, somewhere up by the ceiling. Like an angel or a poltergeist, the ghost of someone dead but not gone, it hovered. Joey’s spirit looked down and watched them.

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2012. “Hit and Run” is the first chapter of my book Broken In: A Novel in Stories.  This story will run all month. Broken In and my other novels are available at Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

 

Hit and Run – 7

Inevitably Joe’s determined curiosity widened to include the rest of the world. As his medical condition worsened, his parents curtailed family outings without saying a word or ever referring to the involuntary confined nature of the shorter vacations. “Any chance of a trip somewhere exotic, Dad?” he asked, once. He saw the anguished looks and exchanged, entrapped glance they shared over his head. Joey never asked again.

Joey’s queries toned down and became more secretive. On his way to the public library, he discovered a table covered with stacks of old postcards in a junk shop. Joey fanned out sanitized images of capitol cities and stared transfixed. He fingered the old thick cardboard and posited himself there, an alternate Joe someplace seen by him only in his imagination. He knew kismet had randomly assigned him the death card.

Perhaps a few freebies were in the mix as well.

Some magazines had coupons for glossy brochures of vacation getaways. He filled out coupons in his careful script and sent them off. He started writing away to travel agencies and to the embassies of foreign countries.

Descriptions began pouring in from around the globe and woke a deep hunger in him for all the things and places he’d never get to see. His reading matter shifted to books about exotic locales. Joey did weeks of research on the wide, wide world in the library’s travel and geography stacks. He read about Europe first, and next he planned to move on to Africa, and South America, and Asia, last stop the Antarctic!

Lou found an application sheet his brother had hidden. “A new opportunity for a new life …Whatever your origins, nationality or religion might be, whatever qualifications you may or may not have, whatever your social or professional status might be, whether you are married or single, the French Foreign Legion offers you a chance to start a new life…”

Lou went on reading, incredulous. Joey had filled out the forms right up to the paragraph indicating that selection for the Legion was carried out in person near Marseille, and that the applicant had to be physically fit to serve at all times in all places. Lou put the form back in the desk and never told his brother he’d seen it.

Joey had a huge hunger to go see everything he read about, but his doctors absolutely refused to let him fly. It would have killed him quicker than quick. “I’m going to die anyway!” he fumed, but his parents intervened.

“It’s not going to happen, Joe. Let it go,” they said firmly.

By then Joey’s time was almost up; and they didn’t want to sacrifice any of the time he had left with them. It was, Lou said, his parents’ one truly selfish act. Even though Joey’s final wish before he died was a first, and last, Grand Tour, like the adventures he’d read about all his heroes taking through the ages, they said no. They couldn’t take the time off to go with him, the Bocci family didn’t have the money to finance his going alone, and he now needed continued, around the clock medical attention.

Joey endured another emergency trip to the hospital. At the end of the medical interventions his parents gave an order to his head doctor. “The next time, do not resuscitate,” they said and signed the necessary forms. Everyone standing there in the sterile room knew, quite literally, they’d just agreed to a death warrant. The only trip remaining would be a final one back to the hospital, and accepting that fact might be what broke Joey’s heart.

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2012. “Hit and Run” is the first chapter of my book Broken In: A Novel in Stories.  This story will run all month. Broken In and my other novels are available at Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

 

Hit and Run – 6

He entered magazine contests and it didn’t matter what the prizes were. Mrs. Bocci was the first housewife in their neighborhood to own a brand new Maytag dishwasher. He won an extra dryer, which his parents passed on to their aunt and uncle for Christmas that year when his newest cousin was born.

He loved the surprise of each free gift. Sur-prizes, he called them. Joey sent away for samples of things just for the hell of it. He had the time; what else was he going to do with all those hours stuck sitting in his wheel chair? His family received the first volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica. A through Androphagi. He kept Mom in perfume and the rest of the family in soap and shampoo. Any time a new product came out, such as the first mint toothpaste, Joey ordered it. The Boccis were always the first ones on the block to try any of them.

His past time took on epic proportions. They didn’t just have free food samples to try. Joey ordered free animal feed samples too: packets of birdseed. Hamster food. Gold fish pellet food. Pouches of cat food and dog food, even horse feed. His parents finally told Joey to stop with the animal feed already; they couldn’t even have any pets because of the danger of allergies or infection from scratches. Joey’s dad donated it all to the local animal shelter.

It didn’t stop there. Once or twice a week the mailman delivered a package containing free items with company logos. Joey would read about a new product being promoted and bing, the coupons were clipped and filled out and in the mail before anyone could stop him. The Bocci household received free tote bags, baseball caps, tee shirts and socks and other products. Actually his parents didn’t try to stop him from sending away for those items once they realized how much money his obsession was saving them on clothes.

Joey’s hobby embraced the airways. The radio advertised promotional giveaways for new stores (a raffle for a bottle of whiskey from a new liquor store chain, which he couldn’t enter because he was under age), tickets for a theater opening downtown. He won a ride in the local weather helicopter – and because he couldn’t fly because of air pressure and collapsing sinus issues, Lou and Mr. Bocci went in his place. Now that was cool!

Here the tale ended abruptly, the silence Margaret’s cue to ask questions. It didn’t matter what she asked, really, as long as it gave Lou an idea of what she wanted to hear about next. “Was he persistent or just incredibly lucky?”

“Margaret,” Lou explained patiently, “no one was ever stupid enough to call Joey lucky. But yes, he had a run of luck where it seemed like the Universe was giving him a break to make up for the crap cards he’d been dealt just by being born. He really did have fun entering contests and winning stuff.”

“What’s the coolest thing he ever won?”

Lou frowned. “I just told you: the helicopter ride. At least to me and my Dad it was the coolest,” he amended, yielding to the apologetic look on his girlfriend’s face. “And he won fourth prize in a contest for a new Pontiac. My parents took the cash from that one and put it into savings bonds. That money helped put me through college.”

“It was okay with Joe? He didn’t want the money for himself?”

“Well,” Lou said slowly, “by then his lucky streak was running out. Joey hid it from the rest of us. He’d started getting weaker again instead of stronger… He didn’t have a whole lot of time left. And I think he was trying to win money and prizes for us to make up for the gap that would be there after he was gone.”

Margaret sighed and hugged her boyfriend. “Jesus, Lou. How could your family stand it?”

Lou shrugged. “We didn’t get calloused or anything, but it wasn’t like any of us didn’t know the end was coming. We just kind of… went on as we had been. What else is there to say? Joey was the glue for a broken situation; it was broke from the minute he was born. He was the glue holding the entire family together in spite of everything.”

“I just think, I mean, I can’t imagine how you all dealt with it.”

“Margaret, I never cease to be amazed at what people just deal with when they have to. How did my family deal with stuff? We just, did. Until we couldn’t any longer. When Joey went in the hospital the last time we thought it was temporary, just more of the usual batteries of tests. When his doctors found the tumor I think everyone knew that this was going to be it.”

“At least you all had each other. Your family was so strong!”

He looked at her with a strange expression. “Babe, that’s the whole point of what I’ve been telling you. We weren’t strong. Joey was! We were people he was supporting through his illness. The only thing we had in common was the DNA connection. Joey was never related to anybody I could figure out, not really, unless it was some kind of genetically defective super hero who hasn’t been invented or born yet.”

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2012. “Hit and Run” is the first chapter of my book Broken In: A Novel in Stories.  This story will run all month. Broken In and my other novels are available at Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

 

Hit and Run – 5

Then Lou’s stories simply dried up. Margaret realized she’d need to prompt him to tell her more about his dead twin. Margaret tried to just enjoy Lou, sans shadow, but whatever they discussed would compel her to ask him about the lost brother. At first she was tentative, afraid to raise unhappy memories. But Lou welcomed her questions. Margaret merely had to pose a new query and Lou gladly launched into a lengthy story.

He warmed again to the topic of his dead twin. His confidences became more intimate and rambling, the conversations shifting like sand before Margaret could ask anything further. Joey’s dim, elusive form shimmered renewed with the next conversations.

“How did Joey deal with always being sick?” she asked.

Joe didn’t deal with it. He never adjusted to his death sentence. When he became a teenager, he began to fight back. After enduring a childhood dictated by pills and shots and special foods and what he could and couldn’t do, Lou’s brother went on both a mind improvement and body building kick. It was amazing.

Joey spent his time in the library leafing through every magazine in the school racks. Being weak meant he perused anything to be found in print. The other kids basically left him alone; even the bullies went out of their way to avoid him. Joey was a pariah because kids are even more superstitious than adults. His peers looked at him and were scared just being near someone so sick might make it catching.

His fragilities didn’t stop him from attempting to do what he wanted. Joey was the 90-pound weakling, desiring to recreate himself. Or Arnold Schwarzenegger, wanting to build a perfect body from scratch. Joey never did steroids, though. He was on so many delicately calibrated medications that when Joey got healthy for a short while, a magic period of hope, he refused everything except aspirin.

“Remember the Bazooka Joe bubble gum wrappers?” Lou said. One of them advertised a booklet Joey could send away for, ‘How to transform yourself from a 90 pound weakling into a muscle mass.’ Okay, the booklet was a joke, and Joey recognized the joke immediately, but that booklet was merely the start. He started following more serious bodybuilding manuals. He got hold of an old Air Force exercise booklet, which began with 5 girlie push ups a day, working up to 50-75 real push ups, the ones complete with clapping hands between each push up as you lift off the floor. Joey didn’t actually get that good at them. But, he changed his body. If his limbs still twisted, he managed to gain a significant amount of control over his motor functions. Once he felt as if he had his physical body slightly more in his power, Joey turned next to improving his material environment.

Joey sat in the school library for hours. He hid there during recess and lunch periods, but the sounds of everyone out on the playground came through the open windows. Hearing the sound of other children shrieking was bad, and as Joey listened he tried to imagine it came from children somewhere far away. When he did see them the distance apparent between what they could do and what he could not was too terrible. He would perch at the dark wood of the windowsill, holding himself upright and steady with one hand as he watched. Children in groups skipped ropes, chased balls, played tag. The teacher with recess duty wore a light jacket and an expression of endless weary patience. He or she sometimes called out across the tarmac, “Hey! That’s enough of that, Loreen!”

Unseen and unimportant, from the high window Joey observed when the teacher rushed to the aid of a fallen child or broke up a playground fight. He hated it. Watching reminded him that no one would ever need to run to prevent him from doing something he shouldn’t; watching only reminded him that he couldn’t run.

Joey moved to a table where he could sit with his back to the windows. Determinedly Joey closed his ears to the cries of his peers playing outside the walls and forever beyond his ken.

Eventually Joey made his way through all of the school magazines. He began to take the bus to the public library. After school Joey sat among the adult publications where he felt less excluded. Around him sat members of his home city’s increasing homeless population, noisily turning pages and keeping a careful eye on their oversized bags of belongings. There were a few students, or grown ups coming in to claim the copies of recent novels they had put on hold, and every so often a class of younger children arrived for reading hour. Otherwise though, Joey could feel like he was simply another library user, ageless and without handicaps.

At the school library Joey had pored over National Geographic Kids, Odyssey, Ranger Rick, Highlights for Children, and Boys’ Life. He took that same determination and perused the magazines he imagined his mother and father would each read if their time hadn’t been taken up with his care. This was when he discovered adult magazines with their endless advertisements for write-in contests, coupons to win prizes, and teasers to learn more about great deals. Joey flipped pages hunting for things to win, things to present to his parents. Joey wanted, Lou said thoughtfully, to present them with distractions from the nonrefundable item they’d brought home from the hospital: their youngest son and his damaged body.

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2012. “Hit and Run” is the first chapter of my book Broken In: A Novel in Stories.  This story will run all month. Broken In and my other novels are available at Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.

Click here for my author page to purchase my books.

 

Hit and Run – 4

Lou became a different person when he talked about his dead brother. Each time he mentioned Joey’s name Lou’s own plain, pleasant face would animate. It was as if a locked cabinet door suddenly swung open, each time letting out bright treasures long stacked up and locked away for safekeeping.

Margaret learned not to interrupt the flow of memories; when she asked too many questions the stories might derail. Plus Lou tossed out medical terms that meant nothing to her. She had no idea he knew so much about medicine and genetic diseases.

She preferred the details about what his days with Joey had been like. “We’d sit on an old couch in the rec room and watch TV,” Lou recalled, and it took shape as he spoke. It was yellow and brown plaid and really ugly. Mrs. Bocci had covered it with a clashing afghan, luckily out of sight down in the remodeled cellar. Lou and Joey watched television down there in the darkened room, drinking cokes and eating candy bars. Or Lou did; Joey had to avoid sugar as his parents and medical team tried successive diet regimes to control his myriad conditions.

Lou and Joey were exactly the same height, and they had the same features. The boys were monozygotic, what they call identical twins. They were truly identical. Only 8% of twins are monozygotic, and double births like Lou and Joey make up only 3 in every 1,000 deliveries worldwide, regardless of race. The chances of a fertilization ending in monozygotic twins are the same, for every population everywhere, all around the world.

Lou’s voice took on a slightly lecturing tone as he recited each fact about Joey and his life. Margaret ate them up. The more facts he imparted the smarter she became, both about the topic of twins and about her boyfriend. With fraternal twins, Lou told her, the most frequent occurrence is brother/sister births. In identical or monozygotic twins, brother/brother births are the rarest births of all.

When the boys were out together in public it was more than obvious something was wrong. Clearly Joe was confined to a wheelchair or needed to use a cane to walk. If the viewer didn’t see the handicaps, though, Joey and Lou were identical. Without the cane or braces in plain sight, it was only when Joey coughed that someone could identify which twin was which.

As they aged they would likely become more alike, with the same IQ and personality. How twins are brought up, whether in the same house or separated at birth – that factor makes surprisingly little difference. Of course, the fact that Joey was born with congenital defects complicated the math equation for the prediction. But the boys loved being twins; it was cool. Because of his brother, because of Joey, Lou was automatically special. While Joey was still alive, Lou stopped wanting to be an astronaut. For a time he wanted to go into genetic research.

Margaret went home each evening to sleep that was attended by strange dreams. Cells replicated in her dreams, forming up on the left into a perfectly regular human shape. On the opposite side, a tragically beautiful über-human took form. The gestalt was unquestionably male. But then the contour of the image blurred and curled at the edges, unable to hold his ideal form.

She woke up thinking about Lou and his frail, pale double.

Margaret began looking at Lou with different eyes. He simply wasn’t the same person as before. Lou hadn’t changed, of course, but his past and the absent twinned half that had been tragically cut down by illness, the part of him inexorably gone was the part Margaret found mysterious. The lost duplicate cells were of endless fascination for her.

In the hours between dates with Lou, Margaret daydreamed about her lover. How many other seemingly ordinary men and women might there be in the world, persons who seemed so common on the outside, all of them with their secrets and old tragedies. How many people had strange cloned or parallel universe doubles, tragically vanished and never to be retrieved? Maybe, she mused, maybe we all have doubles we sense on some strange level, and we mourn them without ever realizing it. When we talk about the search to find your soul mate, maybe what we really mean is your other half, the part you lost in some earlier life. And when you meet again in the current incarnation, you come together to be whole without even recognizing it’s happened. It’s just your missing twin, whom you’ve refound.

She scoffed at herself for such fanciful notions, but Margaret was a little bit envious of her boyfriend’s past history. Strangely, his incompleteness made him whole. Lou wasn’t a decent guy with a good if boring career. He was somehow so much more than the sum of his parts, both those existing and the ones that had vanished. Or maybe especially those parts that were dead. Not only did Margaret observe Lou with new eyes; she really saw him for the first time. Margaret began to fall in love.

Margaret started to observe everyone around her in terms of what didn’t show. For the first time in her working life she paid attention to office gossip. She filled in the blanks of inferences, the hushed stories of office affairs and scandals. A sales representative reported his company car had been stolen, and Margaret listened avidly to the delighted gossips whispering the Chrysler had last been seen parked a few blocks from the train station… back by bars that advertised pole dancing. More ominously, the car was reported as found on a corner reputedly trafficked by transvestites.

When a man in the neighboring business office was fired, Margaret listened just as avidly as the same delighted gossips repeated the rumor he’d been caught with his hand in the pocket of someone’s jacket in the coat closet. Weirdly, the story was that he only wanted the ring the person’s keys were on and hadn’t intended to steal the keys at all.

She wasn’t developing an appetite for gossip. In a strange way, it was the opposite of gossip: what Margaret experienced was a genuine curiosity about other people and the sides of their lives that weren’t apparent. She was learning to care about the quiet inner lives of the people she sat beside in the office or passed on the streets every day.

Margaret paid more attention to her sisters, too. On the next walk around Scupper Lake, she really listened as Lila alluded to an argument with Margaret’s brother-in-law Claude. “We always end up in the same disagreement, his needs versus mine, and where it’s all going.”

Ginny rushed to comfort Lila. “You have to make a decision at some point,” she said gently. “This has been going on forever.”

Margaret stopped dead in the middle of the lake path. She grabbed Lila and hugged her sister close despite the weights. “I am so, so sorry! I’m so caught up in my own trips that I just always assume you and Claude have to be doing fine! I haven’t been a very good listener.” Ashamed, Margaret realized she did all the talking. Their walks around the lake had turned into opportunities she used to muse about Joey, ever since she’d finally told her sisters about him.

But her sisters had noticed that she was paying more attention to their lives, too. “We’re mostly doing just fine,” they reassured her. “So, tell us the latest on Joey!”

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2012. “Hit and Run” is the first chapter of my book Broken In: A Novel in Stories.  This story will run all month. Broken In and my other novels are available at Amazon as paperbacks and eBooks.

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