Monday, 4 February 2019

Doubles - A Story of Twins


Alice was older then Evelyn- by twenty minutes precisely. They'd come into the world quite calmly and quietly, the midwife had said, at 7 am on 17th June; definite identical twins. Gemini, in fact.

Even from that first moment of new life, it was clear that they were going to be a little 'different', though no one was quite sure how or in what way. They'd been wrapped up immediately in stiff green linen and laid side by side in a hospital cot where their where their wide open eyes had gazed at each other as though trying to establish their togetherness, from the start, oblivious to the other bawling babies in the hospital nursery. Neither of them cried, even when hungry and they needed little in the way of comfort from nurses arms. Their solace seemed to lie in each other and as long the two babies were in the same cot, they were content.

No one in later years was quite sure what had become of their mother - or father either. Rumours had passed around over time of course; something about the mother's "mental state", what with her being under age and all. But for whatever reason, the twins had no known parents and their early family life consisted of growing up with others in a similar situation in the local authority children's home. Their childhood years were not unhappy, yet their guardians always felt that the twins were unlike the other children who passed through their care. Alice, being the elder of the two, possessed a slight authoritarian attitude towards her sister and Evelyn, in her turn was a little servile.

During the summer months of their seventh year, the twins played in the garden of the large building which was home. Tennis was their usual choice and a rope washing line was stretched between a flowering cherry tree and the gate to the enclosed area, serving as a net. The girls were becoming quite proficient at the game and called out the score in unison, at each pass of the ball. Any bystander would have noticed that it was Evelyn who ran to retrieve the stray ball whenever it chanced to roll, while  Alice waited patiently, racquet poised, for her sisters return. No words were ever exchanged as to the inequality of this procedure as none were needed. The girls knew their roles and complemented each other perfectly.
When they had reached their eighth birthday, a series of foster homes became available to Alice and Evelyn. They anticipated these changes with childish excitement and spent many hours discussing the likelihood of the nature of their future "parents" and home.

"It will be  family with lots of ... ", Alice would begin.
"Children", Evelyn would finish for her.

"There'll be a great big garden ... ", Alice would start.
"With apple and pear trees". Evelyn would complete the sentence.

Then they would gaze into each others eyes as if nothing else existed, and nod and smile their agreement.

Although they were not unsociable children, there were never any real friends for the twins. Each others company was always more than adequate for them. They were dressed similarly, but not identically. Alice's favourite colour was rosy pink, and her clothes were chosen accordingly. Evelyn preferred a pale shade of lilac and though the styles and patterns were the same, each sister could be indentified by others by the colour choices.  
During their primary school years it became noticeable that the girls were becoming more withdrawn from the children around around them. Teachers would call out individual names to mark attendance registers, but both would answer to both names and soon  they were referred to as "The Twins" and they could reply as one, which suited everyone.
A day was never recalled when only one twin attended school. Through epidemics of childhood illnesses where class numbers where greatly reduced, the twins could always be found patiently waiting in their places for the start of their lessons.

One of the dinner ladies at the school - as they were then called -  a Mrs Baker, often recalled the day she came across the twins in the playground. The pair were seated on the rough ground, Evelyn with a protective arm around her sister who had tears streaming down her cheeks. On asking the reason, the puzzled woman was told through the sobs,
"We've hurt our knee".
On inspecting Alice's leg more closely, brought even more surprise when it was found to be unmarked, but on glancing at Evelyn's leg, a large graze  oozing blood could be seen.
Mrs Baker recounted this tale many times and  revelled in the astounded reactions she managed to gain from her story.

Many people also remembered the annual ball at St. Thomas Secondary School, the year the twins turned sixteen.  The whole of the fifth year had longed for this ball for the past twelve months, planning what they would wear, who they would dance with and what music would be played.  The twins were also involved in the anticipations, though their conversations were only with each other.
It was expected that they would dress in their favourite colours - pink and lilac, for Alice and Evelyn respectively. There was no reason to imagine that the ball would affect any changes in preferences.
When the ball began and the twins arrived, it caused quite a stir for the whole party to see both Alice and Evelyn dressed in a profuse shade of rosy pink. No one commented to the twins on this at the time. It didn't seem quite right to mention it, but what many did comment on, later, was that when Alice was asked if she would like to dance, Evelyn followed her onto the dance floor, and when Evelyn was brought a drink, both girls took alternate sips from the same glass.

After leaving school, the twins became employed by the local hosiery manufacturer, checking and packing stockings into large cardboard cartons. Work colleagues reported that they barely spoke to others on the factory floor, in the canteen or on the bus to and from work. Yet the dialogue between the sisters was constant and eavesdroppers marvelled at the amount of talk that passed between two sisters who lived, worked and spent their leisure time in only each others company.  

Suddenly, without warning Alice became ill.
Leukaemia, it was thought.

Evelyn took leave from work to nurse her sister. Staff at the factory became more concerned as time went by and sent messages each week to the sisters. Replies were brief.
"We are grateful for your concern".
"Everything is as well as can be expected".
"We will keep you informed of the situation".
Then came the message which shocked everyone.
"To inform you of the passing  of Alice. She has passed on peacefully. No flowers, thank you".
The letter was unsigned and gave no clue as to the informant.
A small funeral took place at the local Parish Church, followed by a cremation.
It was incredulous to the to the whole community that the surviving sister did not attend either occasion.

Evelyn did not return to work. Nor was she seen around the village. When milk bottles accumulated on the doorstep of the twins home and neighbours reported no sightings or sounds had been heard, the
police were informed. The front down was broken down and the search revealed that there no signs to suggest that anything in the house had been removed or even touched.
Newspapers reported on the "Marie Celeste home of Twin Sisters", and of the disappearance of Evelyn.

Gradually the story faded from the front pages . The police search was called off, the twins former house cleared and sold ; the proceeds put into trust, for the event of Evelyn's return. The memory of the twins drifted from the minds of all who had known them.

Except one.

Dr R Hinton, GP.

Nothing could erase from his mind the memory of the day he was called to the Reilley house to pronounce one of the sisters dead. The day of whose events he spoke about to no one all through the funeral proceedings and the following investigations. Or for the rest of his life.

Alice had been laid on the bed in an upstairs room when Evelyn had guided Hinton to her side. He'd seen and assessed hundreds of corpses in his career, and there was no reason to think that this one would be any different.

Evelyn moved ahead of him, slowly, smoothly and silently as if floating rather than walking up the flight of stairs. He followed , dream-like . Powerless against an invisible pressure pushing him forwards. He felt his blood rushing through the veins in his body, making his ears pound as if by sledgehammers, as he continued his ascent. The door of the bedroom was open slightly as Evelyn moved into the room, revealing her sister, motionless on the bed, her hands crossed neatly across her chest, fingers entwined.
Turning to glance once at the doctor, as though in confirmation, Evelyn's form took it's position of that of her sister, laying her body against Alice's until the contours of each melted and merged perfectly into  one. The twins were at peace.

Copyright Brenda Gunning - 1994

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