At birth, the boy's umbilical cord had lassoed his sister's neck. The
girl was born blue and cold. By the age of ten, she'd been asked to
leave school. In the classroom, she ate crayons and whooped during
morning prayers. On the playground, she pulled up her dress. The
principal called her a simpleton. Things were different then. The
twins' mother cried. The girl's fingers fluttered like a pair of
If anyone teased her, her brother punched them in the mouth without a
word of warning. He even fought the older boys who smoked stolen
cigarettes behind the schoolyard fence. Black eyes and bloody noses
only fueled the boy's rage. The winds whipped his sister's unkempt
hair, her mouth often stained with her last meal, yet in her eyes, her
brother beheld a warped mirror of how things might have been. In time,
the other children fell silent when the boy and his babbling sister
The twins lived on a farm outside town. There was always work to do.
The boy often tied one end of a rope around his sister's waist and the
other around his. She had a tendency to wander—into the
fields, down to the creek—called by voices her brother would
never hear. The boy and his family would waste the rest of the day
calling her name and stumbling through thistles or muddy fields or
August's killing heat. When they found her, she'd study them with the
eyes of a woken dreamer.
The boy was angry when he learned he couldn't go to school the day
before Christmas break. The boy would stay home and mind his sister
while their mother tended to a sick relative in town. The boy would
miss his teacher's pecan cookies. He wouldn't get to unwrap the
dime-store whistles and tin cars she bought for her students. When
their mother left, the boy cursed his sister. His sister made gurgling
noises and stuck her fingers in her mouth. The boy called her the names
that would have started a fight had anyone else said them. His sister
stared. He may as well have been talking to a rock. The boy cursed her
a final time and crumbled into tears. His sister hugged him with
spit-wet hands and cooed her nonsense into his ear.
The boy had been told to clean the loft. His sister followed him
outside, but it was her brother who fetched and zipped her coat. She
picked up the rope and handed it to him. He said no. She handed it to
him again and smiled her lopsided smile. The boy knotted the rope
around their waists.
The boy climbed the loft's ladder first. His sister followed. The loft
was thick with dust. Abandoned spider webs clung to the rafters. Wind
whistled between the laths. The boy's sister had climbed the ladder
hundreds of times, but this morning, just as her face crested the
loft's floor, she slipped. The tug slammed the boy to the floor. He
skidded on his backside, the friction burning his skin. The beam that
saved him from falling knocked the wind from his gut and broke two
ribs. He gazed over the edge. Suspended halfway between the loft and
the floor, his sister twisted at the rope's end. She looked up,
perplexed at first, then waved.
The boy struggled to prop his feet against the beam. Hand over hand, he
pulled her up. For every tug, the rope slipped a bit. His fingers
blistered. His shoulders ached. Finally, her hands grasped the loft's
floor. He reached out to her. This, he figured, was how it would always
be between them.
Curtis Smith's latest collection of stories is Bad Monkey (Press 53). An essay collection is forthcoming
To link to this story directly: http://wigleaf.com/201102twins.htm
Detail of photo on main page courtesy
of Bruce Berrien.
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