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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