By Chef Cheeseanonioncrisps
We were never supposed to be two. There was only ever supposed to be one of us.
“I hate twins.” My mother once said to me when I was four, after seeing two identical little boys on the street. We were standing in an alleyway as she said it, I was crying because I fallen over when she bolted, still clutching my hand, and scraped my knee. She was still standing, but sort of hunched up, like it was only the fact that there wasn’t anywhere to sit that prevented her from curling up into the foetal position. Beside her, dribbling into the drain, was a puddle of the stuff she’d retched up once we were ‘safe’ in the alley.
My mother really hated twins. I don’t want to know why. When I was younger, I used to ask her, now I never want to find out. Whatever happened to her, whatever inspired her hatred, it was potent enough that it affected her whole life- and ours. I’m scared it might infect me as well- I’m terrified that it was me. That something about me and my sister was so horrific that it scarred our mother for life.
We were the result of a one night stand- when we were teenagers my mother told me that she’d been really drunk that night and hadn’t even got his number. She emphasized that it wasn’t rape.
She didn’t want to contact him anyway, she was looking forward to doing it all herself. She never spoke about her childhood and we never saw our grandparents, but I don’t think it was a good one. I think she was really excited at this chance to be a good mummy. When the scan showed a little girl, she immediatley decorated the spare room with bright pink wallpaper, patterned with flowers and fairies, and bought countless pink and purple baby grows. It was her first baby, she didn’t know how big she was supposed to get. We were small, she was already seven months pregnant when her doctor decided that she needed another scan- too late to abort us.
I’m not sure how she kept herself going all those weeks, or why she decided to keep us. I can only assume that, after we were born, she couldn’t bear to give us up for adoption. Maybe she still wanted just one child and knew that they’d never let her give one of us away and keep the other.
I don’t know- I don’t remember. I only know that, shortly after we were born (or maybe even before, maybe this had been her plan ever since she found out what we were) she decided to raise us as one.
So there’s only one birth certificate, with the name Annabelle Bailey written on it. I was Annabelle some days and my sister was Annabelle on the others.
It worked surprisingly well. Each night before bed we’d meet up in the cupboard under the stairs where the ‘unused’ twin spent her time and swap out- making sure that whoever was going out knew enough about what had happened the day before that nobody would notice too much.
We got quite good at describing our days, even now I have some memories that my sister says aren’t mine, but they seem as clear and detailed as if they had happened yesterday. We had to be good, when we started school teachers had little patience for a girl who seemed to learn things quickly, but then forgot them by the next day. Some thought we were messing about, others thought we were slow- either way, we learned to teach each other what we’d missed.
I don’t remember our mother explaining that we should live like this, though I know at some point she must have. The cupboard under the stairs had a lock on the outside, but that couldn’t have stopped us from letting each other out. I’m not sure why we never tried it.
The only thing we did that was even close to that, happened when we were eight and Mum promised us a trip to a pizza restaurant because we got top marks in a maths test.
I had done that maths test, but my sister was the one who was going to be rewarded. For days I brooded over how unjust this was until, the day before we were going to the restaurant, I decided not to swap out. I just walked straight past the cupboard and went up to bed, leaving my sister to sit by the door, wondering what had happened to me.
I didn’t enjoy that day, not just because of how guilty it made me feel to leave my sister locked in the cupboard. The pizza stuck like cardboard in my mouth when I remembered that, though there was a bucket for her to pee in (that I would later have to empty out) and we always kept a litre bottle of coke or lemonade and some snacks in there, she probably would have used up all her supplies by now. I didn’t even want to picture the bucket.
What upset me most though, was the fact that I got away with it. None of my teachers noticed anything different, none of my friends noticed anything different, not even my own mother noticed anything different. Now I look back on it, I wonder if going out two days in a row wasn’t just about the pizza. Whether it was actually me trying to find my own identity by seeing if anybody saw me differently to my sister.
That evening I swapped out with my sister and neither of us tried anything like that again.
I should mention that, while I’m pretty certain I was the one who went to the pizza restaurant, it could just as easily have been her. Sure, I have vivid memories of sitting there, chewing cardboard pizza, feeling guilty- but I have equally vivid memories of sitting in that cupboard, alone, feeling worried that my sister had forgotten me.
Sometimes it’s hard being a twin.
When we left home, we considered acting like normal people, but it was too late. This was the only life we’d known, we couldn’t change, so we kept things the way they were. When we first moved into our flat, we timed it so that one twin moved in and then the other came by two hours later, as if we’d just popped out for something. There were no cupboards big enough, so we used the wardrobe, but, when our Mum was hit by a bus and we found out that she’d left the house to ‘her daughter Annabelle’ we moved back in and started using the cupboard under the stairs again.
You might wonder why I’m writing this now.
Well, a few days ago, I decided to look through the attic. We’ve been here a few months now but never checked it out- even when we were kids, our mother was the only one who went up there, saying the floor wasn’t safe.
When I went up there I was cautious, crawling along the floorboards, terrified that I might accidentally fall to my death, while at the same time wondering if I should get an exterminator in because it smelled like a raccoon died in the walls- when I saw the door in the wall.
I opened it up, barely registering that it was bolted from the outside and screamed when I saw that there was a body behind it. I could tell it was a woman because it was wearing a dress, but it had clearly been here a while (I almost vomited when I realised that this was what the smell was) and I only recognised her as my mother when I saw that she still had her hair- strawberry blonde curls, like mine.
It took me a moment to realise that it couldn’t have been my mother- that my mother’s body was in the local graveyard, that I’d seen her coffin go under, that I’d been in the funeral parlour- until I noticed the empty plastic bottle by her feet. And the empty packets of food. And the (I really did throw up at this point, spending a full five minutes emptying my stomach and then another minute retching up bile) full to overflowing bucket.
There were scratched on this side of the door. And places where it looked like she’d hit it repeatedly (I’m guessing with her bare hands, since her knuckles were bloody) though she must have realised that nobody would have been able to hear her from this high up.
It looks like I wasn’t the only one with a secret twin.