I've not done this before, and I am not about to make a habit of it, but I really really wanted to post this fab story Mad Twin has written on a subject very dear to our hearts, namely what it's like to be a twin. Though I hasten to add in this story of twinniness gone awry there are no similarities whatsoever to our own relationship. But when I read it I instantly recognised (as idents the world over probably do) that slightly odd feeling that you get when you see your twin and see yourself in a mirror, ever so slightly askew.
So here it is. The only time I'm going to hand over my blog to someone else. I hope you agree with me, she deserves it....
In the throes of an ecstatic embrace, a small egg travels down a fallopian tube. The time being right and the millions of sperm being strong and willing, within 3 days it is surrounded by the thousands that have survived the harsh acidic jelly. Each jockeys for position, until at last one makes the breakthrough and invades. The new union of egg and sperm brings with it a fervour of division. The ball of cells moves down into the womb doubling all the way till it suddenly splits into two identical spheres that bury themselves in the comfort of the rapidly thickening walls. The multiplying and dividing continues apace whilst the host of all this activity (soon to be known as mother) continues life unaware of this miracle occurring within her body. It is not until she misses her period, that she thinks something might be afoot, by which time the cells are differentiating too, into areas that will soon form head, heart and limbs. As the woman begins to make sense of this life changing event, as her body starts altering; breast swelling; constant nausea; unbelievable weariness, the small spheres continue to develop. Brains, eyes, mouths, ears, noses, hearts, bones, limbs form with increasing rapidity. By the time she attends her 12 week antenatal appointment, 2 tiny but perfectly formed little girl babies are floating in the watery darkness. Two children linked by their cords to a shared placenta, dance an embryonic dance, mirroring each others movements as they touch, wave, hug, suck thumbs, kick, burp, urinate and sleep.
The pregnancy progresses, the babies, grow and grow. Their mother moves beyond blooming to elephantine and complains of back ache and swollen feet. The babies begin to fill up their environment till a month to go they face each other across the tightened womb. A week to go and by some invisible sign, the first child turns and dives downwards as if inviting her sister to play a special game of tag. The game involves hours of painstaking struggle through the dark canal that causes their mother unspeakable pain. At last with a large rush and a push, the elder child is out in a world of bright lights and confusing noises. She is removed quickly, and cries an obligatory cry, not for the pain of separation from her mother, but from a deep primeval loss of her sister. The younger child follows 5 minutes later and she too cries inconsolably until, when both babies have been Apgar checked and weighed, they are returned to their mother’s chest. To the amazement of the adults watching, they turn immediately towards each other; hands almost touching, movements almost mirroring each other; as if to say, “there you are then, now everything is alright”
Thus do Celia and Delia Appleby arrive in the world and grow into it. Twins are obviously hard work, but, their mother tells her friends, at least they entertain each other. From the earliest age, they are happiest lying side by side. When they learn to sit, they love to sit opposite each other. They touch and cuddle, laugh at each others faces, gurgle noises only they understand. It is two and half years before they speak to another human being; and although their first words come out in perfect sentences, they seem more entranced with their own secret language. They are politely responsive to their parents and kindly enough when in the company of other children; but in all honesty, their mother admits, by the time they are 5 they appear to want for nothing in the world except each other. Their favourite occupation at this age is to sit opposite each other and copy each others movements, as if recreating their first days in the watery womb.
“Deely,” her sister replies.
CeelyDeelyDeelyCeely who can tell which is which and who is who? Their parents have difficulty, their few friends struggle, strangers have no chance. When they sit like this looking into the mirror of the other, even they sometimes pause and wonder.
They are bright girls and do well at school, though this is not without problems. Their answers are so similar sometimes, and they seem to often achieve the same mark in tests, that every now and then a new teacher queries whether they have been cheating. But the school is proud of their clever twins and it is quickly explained how their congruence in looks seems matched by a congruence of thought. Concerns are raised from time to time that the twins seem somewhat set apart. They join in games with the other children but only as if they are one. On the rare occasions when one child is off sick, the other sits alone wistfully waiting for her sister’s return. But since they are polite, hardworking and a credit to their school, these worries usually fade away.
To most observers, the twins seem to be in equal control of their relationship, but to their mother’s eye, it seems as if Celia, the older twin, is always in charge. When the girls are eight she is entranced to hear they are mirror image twins. She redesigns their bedroom accordingly, so that each half reflects the other. At ten, she is fascinated when they visit a hall of mirrors. Leading her sister into the centre, she stands them so that they look beyond each other to the mirror behind to see a chain of twin,mirror,reflection that reaches into eternity. And at twelve when they go to secondary school it is Celia who decides that they cannot be separated, even though Delia expresses a half thought that maybe it might be interesting to try it for a change.
The mother who observes this also observes Delia’s occasional forays into independence. Once when Celia is ill for a week, Delia makes a new friend at school. But on Celia’s return, the friendship withers in the older sister’s disapproval. On another occasion, Delia goes swimming with a different girl and does not invite her twin. When she comes home, she finds Celia sobbing inconsolably and so she cannot bring herself to try this again.
These are minor incidents, however. At eighteen, it is inevitable that they will take their three identical A levels ( Chemistry B, Biology A, Maths C) and start a Biochemistry degree in London. They enter the big city with the excitement of any teenagers on their first trip away from home. They enjoy setting up their double room in the image of the one they left behind, the furniture arranged to reflect each other, photographs reproduced in reverse on the other wall.
At first all is well. They settle into their course with satisfactory marks. But London is not their small town and the double life that makes them so quirky at home soon gives them the reputation of being oddities. After a while, a small crack appears between them. Celia begins to find that the roaring traffic, the hustling crowds and the late night parties make her long for that small town. Whereas Delia, thinks this hubbub is full of unexplored possibility and wants them to use this opportunity to look beyond their noses. It is Celia’s will that prevails,however, and Delia finds herself confined more and more to their double room, poring over course work together. Occasionally she voices the opinion that it would be interesting to go out to a show or a nightclub, but Celia is never keen. The younger twin is left wondering in the darkness at bedtime, whether this is all that life has to offer.
Their first year passes quickly. When they return after the summer holidays it is to a small bedsit in the home of an elderly widow who lives in the suburbs. Now their journey to University is twice as long and must be shared with hundreds of sweaty commuters.
“If it wasn’t for the course,” Celia sighs after a long and compressed journey back, “I’d be inclined to move to a smaller city”
Delia sighs for a different reason, if it wasn’t for Celia, she’d be inclined to live here permanently. And that sigh causes the crack to become a small fissure. Autumn passes. The mellow mists being followed by torrential rainfall and leaves on the line. In icy November Celia succumbs to a godawful flu virus, leaving Delia to make the long journey to town alone. Each day she rushes back full of concern, to nurse her sister. But when the initial fever has subsided and Celia is sitting up eating soup and watching daytime TV, Delia relaxes a little. She chats a bit to fellow students after class and finds them warm and friendly. One night she even joins them for a quick drink in the bar. Her conscience does not allow her this treat for long, and she soon makes her excuses and runs for the train.
Celia’s sickness has a strange effect on her for a while. Although she seems better within a week, she complains that she is “too exhausted” to go in to lectures. It takes another fortnight of Delia’s gentle needling before she can be persuaded to undergo the daily ordeal of the tube train to college. Two weeks that transform Delia’s life. After the first tentative meetings with her fellow students, she finds that Jane and Anna have become friends. More surprisingly she realises that if Celia objects, this time she will keep them. But her sister is, at first, too absorbed in catching up on lost work to notice anything amiss. She heads for the library the minute lectures are over, and for over a week, she accepts her sister’s decision to wait for her in the bar. It is as Christmas approaches that she finally catches on. Classes are winding down, she has caught up with the backlog, and one day she wants to head for home straight away. Delia’s refusal surprises and then angers her,
“What’s the problem? There’s nothing going on around here.”
“Well actually,” her sister hesitates, “I wanted to have a drink with my friends”
“Friends? What friends?” Celia is puzzled, “We don’t have any friends here. There’s just us.”
Delia bites her lip.
“That’s not … quite … true. We don’t have friends. But I have now, and I’d like you to meet them properly.”
Delia explains about Anna and Jane, how they got talking and how Celia’s trips to the library have kept the conversation going.
“They’re nice, really they are. Please come and see.”
Celia is about to resist, but when she sees her sister’s stricken face she has no option but to give it a try.
The evening is not a success. Anna and Jane have a livelier temperament than either of the twins, which is why Delia is drawn to them. But to Celia their talk seems loud and vulgar. In her rush to judgement she misses their knowing glances and ironic asides. After an hour and half, during which she has barely said a word, she whispers to Delia that she wants to go home. With a sigh her sister makes their excuses but on the way back is uncharacteristically sharp. At home she faces her Celia across the room and snarls,“Why do you always do this to me?”
“Immediately dislike anyone I choose to like. And worse, just sit there, not even being prepared to make an effort”
“But—” Celia is overwhelmed by the onslaught. “I didn’t do anything. I didn’t. You know I didn’t want to come out but you did. So I tried. And I really did try really. But what could I say to them? I mean all that rubbish about Big Brother and pole dancing. What a waste of an evening.”
“They’re having a laugh,” growls Delia exasperated, “They don’t take it seriously but it’s fun just to chat. Life doesn’t all have to be about molecular structure and optical isomers. There are other conversations.”
“And I don’t want to have them,” shouts Celia.
“But I DO,” cries Delia.
They look at each other horrified by the implications of what they have just said. They are suddenly aware that of the chasm that is opening between them and stand teetering nervously on the edge.
It is Celia on this occasion who pulls back and sighs,
“I’m sorry, I just didn’t get it. But if you want to be friends. Well I’ll give it a try”
Delia is grateful for her sister’s response, she realises what this has cost her. They hug and make up. For the last week of term they agree to compromise. Twice they stay in, twice they go out and once Delia goes out alone. The evening separation is hard but, they agree, it does them good to have a break from each other. They leave for the holidays reconciled, yet conscious of the fragility of the peace that they have made.
Christmas comes, Christmas goes. There are reunions, long walks, too much to eat and drink, presents opened by the fireplace, late nights and lazy lie ins. Their disagreement is forgotten for this short respite with their family. But as they start the train journey back to London, the conditions of their ceasefire hang unspoken in the air between them. The term starts nervously, with each twin trying to make sure the other sees how much they are trying to make it work. But try as they might, Celia cannot like Anna and Jane, and Delia will not give them up.
It is the flood at Anna and Jane’s house that brings about the final crisis. Once Delia’s friends are over the shock, they ask the twins to join them in their next house. Celia wants to say yes, but her sister immediately says no.
Backwards forwards forwards backwards
The argument rages until Delia reaches a cold clarity. Unless she can persuade Celia to make this move, they will be trapped together in their double room in a chain of twin mirror reflection reaching into eternity. In desperation she throws down her final challenge.
“If you won’t – I will.”
Celia freezes. Somewhere inside she knows this is the only path across the canyon that now yawns between them. But she cannot see how to make the first step. Instead she turns her back on her sister and retires to her bed.
Delia tries to rouse Celia but she is ignored. For the first time in their lives they go to sleep without saying good night. All through the next day Delia packs while her sister’s back is firmly turned against her. That night whilst Jane helps bring Delia’s boxes down to the car, she maintains her steadfast pose until the very last minute. Delia makes one last entreaty to her sister,
“Come with me. Please”
Celia turns and coolly says, “You seem alright without me. I’ll stay here thanks,” and turns away to avoid the sight of her sister’s tears, a reflection of her own.
Delia drags herself away. But she rings the minute she arrives in her new home. Celia does not answer. Delia rings again and again. The next day she calls round but the landlady is out and her sister will not come to the door. On Monday she hopes to see Celia at lectures but the older twin does not turn up. On Tuesday, she catches their landlady who reassures her that Celia is upstairs and all is well, so she decides to leave it for a few days. She tries to adjust to her new life as a singleton and finds it wanting. She likes Anna and Jane, but the evenings in their company in their new home seem somehow insubstantial. She misses the twinly end of the day chats, their intuitive responses to the same incidents. She does not want to go back, but she feels as if she has been washed over a cliff and is drifting randomly in the current. A week without speaking to her sister is unbearable. On Saturday morning, she decides to visit Celia one more time, determined to find a way back in.
Meanwhile all week, Celia lies in her bedroom, hugging her duvet. Occasionally she gets up to eat toast or have tea, but then she subsides miserably underneath the covers. Once or twice her landlady knocks to ask if she is alright. She shouts an effort making cheery reply and remains on her bed. In her dreams she wanders through a hall of mirrors calling for her Delia. But she cannot find her sister anywhere, and all she can see is mirror after mirror reflecting each other into an uncertain eternity.
At the very moment Delia turns into her street, Celia awakes. Half asleep still, she looks into the mirror and thinks her sister is back in the bed opposite.
“Deely,” she jumps up to hug her. But all she finds is the cold hard glass of the mirror.
Without thinking she throws herself at the mirror as if it can bring her sister back to her. She hurls and hurls herself at the implacable glass until at last it shatters and the splinters and shards are thrown across the room into her face, her body and her arms. She is dimly aware that she hurts and is bleeding, and there are voices calling her. And Delia is there after all, to staunch the blood and call an ambulance as if she has never left.
Now a locked door separates the inseparable sisters.
Delia visits every day. Her sister seems smaller somehow, still wrapped in bandages, eyes slightly dulled with medication. They never say much, the nurses notice. Instead they sit opposite each other mirroring their arm movements as if performing some strange religious rite.
Which is which and who is who?
There are days when even they wonder.
copyright c Virginia Moffatt, 2007