Sometimes I feel like I'm the only singleton in the world, but I know that's mainly because I'm surrounded by twins. Though Marca and Oesha have very different personalities, they still understand each other better than anyone else understands them. They sympathize with each other, even when one of them embarks on a course of action the other one would not. They're a team, the two of them. Marca is more athletic, with lean muscles and more energy than the rest of us combined. She plays soccer like a demon -- she'd be more of an asset to her team if she cut down on the fouls, but she moves fast and sure, as though she was rooted to the ground when she touched it, and drew upon the energy of the earth like an elemental to power her running. Oesha plays tennis badly, hates her riding lessons if they're more strenuous than hacking out on Oldham Road, but loves to read magazines about decorating and antiques. And fashion, of course. Marca usually consults her twin about what she should wear to school. Oesha, in return, gets Marca to coach her enough that Oesha can pass her physical education classes.
Michel and Kelsa are two years younger than I am. Two years difference in age is not an awful lot, really, but they seem somewhat distant to me. They are like timid little creatures, skinny and wild, with quiet voices that don't carry far. Because I was their younger brother, I had to learn to keep an eye on Marca and Oesha (especially Marca) from my earliest memories. The one that goes back the farthest is a memory of playing in an inflatable baby pool in Aunt Sully's back yard and seeing Marca finger the inflation valve, pull it open, and then laugh when I spilled out of the pool with the water. Nanny, who was still with us then, said, "No, no, Marca. You musn't touch that! See what happened?" as though Marca hadn't known exactly what would happen.
But Kelsa and Michel were never a threat. Maybe it was because they both laughed so easily at any joke or silliness we older kids performed, I'm not sure. Kelsa had a laugh bigger than you'd expect from such a tiny thing; it seemed to take possession of her and throw her about when it emerged. Michel laughed a lot, too, but he was more the giggling type, and when he was little, the giggling often made him wet himself.
Of the five of us, the younger set of twins were the most likely to go to adults for advice or protection. Mostly they kept their own counsel with each other, but when they were at a loss, they optimistically bounded up to Papa or Aunt Sully, or Mom if she was home; and later were like that also with Uncle Bodie and Aunt Andersol. At this point, they don't really remember a lot about Papa; they were only just six when he died. They knew our stepfather and step-aunt as early as they knew our father, and now knew them six years longer than they had known Papa. The last time we had the box of family pictures out, Kelsa had asked, "Why did Papa always wear a suit?" She was sincerely puzzled.
Talles was the last name of Uncle Bodie and Aunt Andersol. They'd been disowned by their family for wanting to stay together. None of us could really understand that, not with watching the twins and how attached to each other they were. Uncle Bodie and Aunt Andersol were physically opposites, kind of like Michel and Kelsa: Uncle Bodie was tall, skinny and had black hair and skin that tanned reddish brown. He had big square shoulders. In contrast, Aunt Andersol was a lot shorter, and instead of big shoulders, she had big hips. She wasn't fat, but she was plump compared to her twin. Her hair was blonde. She wore it in one thick braid down the middle of her back. When there were formal dinners, she braided her hair in a french braid that started on her temples, and left the last foot and a half of the braid loose to swing like a pale horsetail just above her hips. Male guests followed her around like vampires. (Kelsa tried that hairdo but ended up looking like a broom was strapped to her back.)
If I was going to paint a portrait of my mother and Uncle Bodie, I'd want to paint her in green tones and Uncle Bodie in dark red ones. Mom's eyes were the color that Kipling must have been describing when he wrote about "the great grey-green greasy Limpopo" (she wasn't greasy, though), definitely green but pale, always looking like they were glowing. Her eyes were almost constantly on Uncle Bodie; they were definitely a pair.
Husbands and wives are supposed to be a team, that's what I've always been taught. My mother was in residence all the time since our father's death. As soon as she came back from the University each day, she was glued to Uncle Bodie's side, clinging to his arm, if his arm wasn't around her. They didn't even have to speak to know what the other wanted to say, and since Uncle Bodie and Aunt Andersol just about read each other's minds, the three of them had a mode of communication that pretty much locked us kids out. One of them would say a couple words, and the other two would nod, and say a couple words in reply. They'd all three laugh, and the rest of us were left out in the cold as to what was said or what was funny.
"When are you going back into the field?" Aunt Sully asked my mother one evening about a year after Mom and Uncle Bodie married.
Mom made a groaning sound. "I can't even get out of bed before he does. How the hell could I go all the way off to a dig by myself? You have no idea."
"Well, yes, I do, but I never thought you'd be as crazy about anyone as I was about Adam."
There was a silence, and I wondered if they had realized that I was still sitting on the floor by the far end of the sofa. Aunt Sully said in a sarcastic tone of voice, "Oh, pardon me. You were about to tell me it isn't the same thing at all."
"I don't think it is."
"I don't think he's the same thing, the same kind of man as Adam was, no. But now that you know what it's like to be crazy about a man -- maybe you can cut me a break on how hung up I was on Adam."
"I'm not 'hung up,'" my mother said irritably. "I've just found someone I can give my heart and soul to, someone I can throw myself into and get lost in."
"And that's different from my relationship with Adam how?" Aunt Sully muttered. "I got pretty well lost in him, now didn't I?"
"Bodie's not an asshole, for one thing," Mom said. I covered my mouth with my hand and pinched my nostrils shut.
"No, he isn't. But I'm not talking about the men, I'm talking about us, the women. We fall in love. Sometimes it's perfect, sometimes it's a tragedy. You need to get off my back about Adam, okay? And in return, I won't get in your shit about your sudden need to be wifely." Aunt Sully's voice was very quiet.
"I'm off it. But you need to re-examine your relationship with John, Sully. Don't throw that chance away."
"Why the hell does every conversation I have with you and the Talles have to turn to John LeMay?" Aunt Sully nearly shouted. "I'm not interested in him! He's a nice pal, but that's IT!!"
"You deliberately cultivate a blind spot about him. You're so hung up in legalisms that you turn away from a feast because you can't see a welcome mat in front of the door."
"I suppose you're going to tell me that's an old Kenyan saying from your days in Africa."
"No, Sis, that's a bona fide Ambris saying that I just made up, and as a matter of fact, I'm going to go write it down in my notebook right now. Good night, Solange Marie Ambris. Don't beat me up in your dreams." She got up from the sofa nearest the fire and left the room.
Aunt Sully nudged her dog with one foot. Gabe grunted and rolled onto his back. "Gabe. Go find Jesse's closet and rub up against all her clothes." Gabe moaned and hitched himself back and forth on the carpet, scratching his own itches. "Ah, you lazy goober. Come on, you want to go out for the night?"
"Oouuf!" Gabe said, and off the two of them went, down the back steps past the kitchen, headed to the back yard.
Definitely they had forgotten I was sitting there. At that point, I wished that they hadn't forgotten, because their words hurt me a lot. They sounded to me like they were saying that Mom didn't love Papa, or particularly care about us -- that was why she was hardly ever home. " ... found someone I can give my heart and soul to ... " Why couldn't she give her heart to Papa?
When Uncle John visited us, and Aunt Sully was there, he had his eye on her all the time. If she walked into a room, he leaped out of his chair to offer it to her. If she disagreed with something, he always took her side. If she wasn't in the same room, he looked like he was listening for her. If she wasn't at the house when he was, he tried not to be sad; Uncle Bodie or Aunt Andersol would tell him something like, "She'll come around. Hang in there." So Aunt Sully had a partner, too, even though she either didn't know that, or didn't really want one back then. Now she knew, and she and Uncle John were a pair. Aunt Sully had also found someone she could give her heart.
Once I tried to talk to the counselor at school about feeling like I was the only one alone at home, but she just smiled with big gooey red lips and told me that one day, I'd find the perfect girl and never feel alone again. Maybe I didn't make myself clear enough when I talked about my feelings, but once she had it in her head that I was hankering for romance, she couldn't get the idea out of her head. As if I was interested in a girlfriend -- with three sisters in the house? Forget it. And anyway, the girls my age were all pretty dumb, mostly interested in clothes and whisperings. With my mother and Aunt Sully as role models, none of the girls at my school with were worth bothering with.
Which brings me back to Papa's journal again. I guess that's the real reason I don't share it with anyone else. When I read his entries, it's almost like he's alive again in the words. I hear his voice saying the words in my head, and I talk to him in my journal. He's like an imaginary friend, only he's not imaginary; and if what they tell us at church is true, then me talking to him isn't just some dumb game. Aunt Sully has told me that my father was a good man, and she has no doubt that he has a place in heaven. At church the priests are always telling us to ask the saints for help; it doesn't seem to be all that different from me spending time with Papa. Then I don't feel so much like I'm alone -- he's my partner, and no one can split us up. Just like no one can split up Uncle Bodie and Aunt Andersol, or Uncle Bodie and Mom, or my older sisters, or Michel and Kelsa, or Aunt Sully and Uncle John.