A knock at my door, not so very many days after I'd moved into the house on Carmel Street in little Riverton. One of my neighbors was there, Andersol Talles, with an empty cup dangling from her fingers.
"Sorry to bother you, but do you have any baking powder you can spare? My idiot twin and I forgot to check to see if we had any before we started mixing up this fried chicken recipe I found. Oh, thanks!" The stocky blonde woman looked at my eyes, smiled, and invited me to join them for dinner and wine. Her hazel eyes held only a sincere offer of friendship, and so I accepted, so long as I could contribute a bottle to the occasion. "Just grab the bottle and come on help us cook," she told me, and waited for me to go get my dry white wine.
Bodie was the chef; Andersol and I were relegated to sitting at the common counter between kitchen and family room while he bustled about energetically, focused on chopping vegetables for a salad, mixing ingredients for the dressing, tending the chicken frying in a pot on the stove. "That's why he's trim and I'm not," Andersol said, gesturing at Bodie with her wine glass. "If I had to do all the cooking, I'd either be fat as a tick from boxed macaroni and cheese or thin as a rail from starvation. With him as the main cook, and the gym three times a week, I manage to maintain my ahhh ... robust physiognomy."
"Can you spell that?" said Bodie, who had unexpectedly been paying attention to what his sister was saying.
"Tell me the story of your lives," I said, shocking both into silence for a few moments. "If you feel comfortable about it, that is. I just think you two are really different from anyone I've ever met, and I'm curious."
Bodie was staring at me. "I've never heard anyone ask that question and really mean it," he said. "But you do, don't you? Why do you?"
I laughed a little, "I grew up in a place so insular that people had no curiosity about strangers at all. They didn't want them to exist. I was a stranger there, and always wanted to hear about anyone else who was a stranger, a kind of kinship of foreigners. I learned to love people's stories, especially out here -- about how people arrived here in California, where almost everyone is a stranger just a generation back."
"We're stranger than most," Andersol said. We re-filled all wine glasses, Bodie put the salad and the sizzling chicken on the table, and we sat down to feast and tell the tales that needed to be told.
"I'm the older and wiser of us two," Andersol began.
"By twenty minutes only," Bodie sniffed, "and only ONLY because I kicked you out of our mother's belly to have more room for me."
"You kicked me out first because you wanted someone with sense to see if the world was safe."
"Well, maybe, and you lied."
"We're twins, and there's nothing in the world that can compare to that, at least from what I've heard from people. My earliest memory is of being apart from Bodie, and hearing him scream, and feeling like I was teetering at the edge of a really high cliff, always about to fall, the vertigo, the fear, and me screaming as hard as I could until I could touch him again. Here, look at this album, I promise I won't drag this out again, but just take a glance at these pictures of us. What do you see?"
"You're always holding hands or touching," I noted.
"Yeah! There was something scary about the world if we didn't have contact with each other. I'd bet that went on until we were, what, Bodie, about six? That's when our war began. Mom and Dad and the family doctor, I hope he burns in hell, decided that Bodie and I would be sickos unless we were kept more separate. We had our own bedrooms, didn't mind that, but now, we weren't allowed to play together unless it was raining and we had to stay in. We both had friends, but we weren't allowed to play with them together. I know it sounds wierd and totally sci-fi, but dammit, it was like trying to function with half a brain. It was like I kept reaching for a scoop of something and coming up empty when Bodie and I were separated for very long."
"No shit," Bodie expostulated, shaking his head. "We did homework better together. Math was easier. English made more sense. But in order to do that, half the time we had to lie about what we were doing after school. We'd meet at the library, but we told our parents we were at friends' houses, and those friends would never believe we just wanted to go do homework, so we had to make up stories for the friends -- "
"-- Like about smoking grass out at the bluff," Andersol cackled.
"Or about smooching with Nelly Peterson," Bodie grimaced. Then he laughed. "We had a more exciting life in our lies, just so we could do homework!"
"I know our folks were worried about us becoming incestuous, but that was never an issue with us, we just couldn't convince Mom and Dad that we weren't. Isn't that a kick? Please, Mom and Dad, we're really good and never do any of the things that you're always accusing us of -- ! We never lacked for anything growing up, but the constant suspicion was killing us. We got jobs right out of high school, and as soon as we had enough money saved up, we moved to California and got an apartment together.
"The folks gave us an ultimatum: get separate places or get cut off from family. After all those years of nagging and accusing and shouting, getting cut off didn't seem like a bad idea. " The twins looked at each other, as though assessing whether or not their choice had been worthwhile. Fleeting wisps of regret swept through their eyes, which were the only things about them that were like. "If you had two heads," Bodie said, turning to me, "which one would you cut off?"
Their parents never came to their home to visit, not even once. Andersol said that for five years, they would call their mother and father every two weeks, and each time be hung up on as soon as their voices were recognized. For a while they were angry, for a while they were sad, and then, Andersol admitted with a quirk of her mouth, they just told each other it was the Dutiful Child Game.
"Now your turn," Andersol told me, as we cleared the table and loaded dishes into the dishwasher. "Bodie and I have decided that we want to be twins when we grow up, how about you?"
A little bark of laughter escaped me. How about me, I thought. Just an everyday kind of girl, who gets up hoping that things will somehow turn out well and does her job and comes home. And looks forward to falling asleep so that she can have wild adventures. "Me?" I asked, looking into my wine glass. "I'm just a dreamer."
Six years later, I had come to rely on Andersol and Bodie as though I was an adopted triplet, closer to them than I ever had been to my sister, happier in their company than I ever had been in my parents'. The day after my father died, as I drove up broad Highway 5, I kept thinking about what I would say and do for my mother, aware all the while that it was Bodie who was helping me remember how to get done what needed to be done, and Andersol's voice that whispered to me what things I should say.
I was sitting in the kitchen of my mother's house, the one I grew up in.
The original porcelain sink was there, with its wide sloping wing and single bowl, shallow, but made wide enough to set a full size roaster in it for washing up. The kitchen table sat in front of the side window, one long side against the window sill. This way, Dad could sit at one end, I could sit at the other so that Jesse would not torment me and so that I could not punish her, and Mom could sit with Jesse at the remaining free long side so that she could pinch us both. A big stove, combination wood stove and gas stove, sat near the wall opposite the table. The woodstove pipe ran into the wall, to a hidden chimney. An ancient refrigerator squatted beside the sink, and past the refrigerator was the door to the back porch.
"Mom, I can't stay for much longer," I said to her. "But I will be back later today, I promise." I sipped some coffee from one of the glass mugs she had for years and years, with nasty bland flowers painted on the outside. The kitchen was painted with a reddish-orange color called "Tangerine," that I remembered from my childhood.
My flight back to California was lined up, the tickets bought, the rental car due to be checked in that day. But God, I was so tired, every movement an agony, every fiber of the muscles in my back and arms and neck drawn inexorably toward a horizontal position. I weighed five hundred pounds. I was beaten. I was without one last movement. So tired. Sleep.
I awoke to find that I had missed my flight. Sick to my stomach over the three hundred dollar loss! I can't afford to buy another ticket at full price, Adam will be so angry at my carelessness!
Charles, my brother-in-law, has called the airline and found out that there will be only a thirty dollar charge for switching flights plus another fifty dollar penalty. I hurried out, hoping that he was right.
Then the flight was done, and Jesse, just six years old, was looking eagerly for what goodie I might have brought her back from my business trip. Would it be a candy bar, like Dad used to bring us? or like the beautifully wrapped presents that our grandmother would bring us on her infrequent visits, in boxes from a prestigious department store, striped red and green and blue, the store's name over and over and over around the fancy clothing, always in the wrong size, and colors we hated? In exhaustion, I searched through my bags to find the package that I brought for her. The brown paper-wrapped package that I gave her had in it a pair of thick leather gloves, and a belt, all adult sized, not at all suited to her skinny little frame. Jesse responded with businesslike cheer and appreciation, even though this had to be a horrible disappointment to her. I knew that somewhere in the luggage there was a wonderful book that I bought just for her, thought of her when I saw it, bought it anticipating how much she would love it, but I was so tired I could hardly keep my eyes open and couldn't pull my thoughts together to find it for her. So tired, and Jesse's expression, trying to be appreciative and so disappointed.
And Mom, waiting for me to return, what will I do about that?