It’s not easy having a twin. Someone who looks like you, thinks like you. Someone who can get inside your head, sticky little fingers poking around even though you ask her nicely to stop.
Jean and I are identical but there’s something different about Jean. You know it right away. Jean is quiet. She doesn’t like to talk to other people. She only talks to me — talks with her eyes, with her mind. I want to talk to other people but Jean won’t let me.
Jean wants me to be just like her. Or Jean wants to be just like me. Does it matter? How can it matter when we look exactly the same, the mirror image of a girl, essentially the same effect as if your vision had doubled and one wasn’t even there at all?
When we were younger everyone thought it was cute, how alike we looked. Mommy and Daddy smiled at us in our matching dresses, holding hands like tiny porcelain dolls, sweet and inseparable. But it’s only cute when you’re little. Get a bit older, keep wearing the matching dresses and holding hands, well — people can’t help but think of those girls from The Shining.
Jean likes the matching dresses. I don’t.
But what I like doesn’t matter because Jean always gets her way. When she doesn’t, or even thinks she might not, Jean throws tantrums. Not the normal kind of tantrums where you kick and cry and demand whatever thing it is you desire. Jean’s tantrums are worse.
They tried to make us normal, though that maybe separating us in school would be a good idea. I could tell from the screams ripping through my skull that it wasn’t, but it still took the first week of third grade for the counselors to retrieve us from our different classrooms and send us home to Mommy.
Jean had just…stopped. Stopped everything — eating, drinking, almost blinking — in a form of catatonic protest. She wanted me to do the same. She called out to me from across the school, telling me it was what needed to be done. I covered my ears. I didn’t want to hear her, but how can you silence something that’s in your head?
I liked my new class. I wanted to make new friends. I tried to keep this hidden from her, cradled it in my mind like something made of delicate glass, but I should’ve known by then there was no keeping a secret from my sister.
Jean had been furious when the teacher led her down the hall away from me but that was nothing compared to when she looked inside and saw my blossoming hope to become my own person, someone Jean couldn’t touch. In my head she screamed and cried and threw tantrums and gripped my throat with her sticky invisible fingers until I gave in and stopped eating too.
It’s like being in an echo chamber with your own voice shrieking at you. You know it’s not you and yet, somehow, it is.
Mean, vicious little fingers, always digging and poking where they didn’t belong. In a place that should’ve been my own but never had been. Always there, ready at a moment’s notice to seize my tongue should I try to speak against her. I grew up learning not to fight. Jean’s the stronger twin, she always has been from the moment we slipped out of Mommy, two infants in perfect replica – one screaming, one silent.
You’re supposed to love your sister. Aren’t you? When I search my heart for that feeling I always come up empty, and yet there’s still that phantom cord running between the two of us, a kind of passageway from my mind to hers like the tunnels that ran under ancient asylums.
It hurts to see other girls together, laughing and having fun, talking with more than just the murmur of their minds. The sound reminds me of dry cornstalks in autumn, whispery and somehow ominous.
When we were 13 we began to bleed on the same day, at the same time. I was excited but Jean hated it, hated the thick liquid coming out of us like dark red afterbirth, refused to even acknowledge the fact that we’d become women and so we sat together on the couch in dead silence, Jean stewing in her impotent rage against something she couldn’t control.
I tried to explain. I took her hand gently in mine. I spoke to Jean’s mind of the moon and the tides and what we’d learned about our changing, shifting bodies. She responded by digging her fingernails into my palm, bringing forth a new flow of fresh blood.
Sometimes I stared at the stains left behind on the cushion and tried to find meaning in them like a dried-blood inkblot test. It struck me to see how different they were, their seeping edges not identical in the least, and yet if you looked for long enough, they seemed to be the same after all.
Mommy tried to scrub them out but they remained, twin ghostly brown splotches marring her beautiful white couch. In the end, she threw a slipcover over it and that was that.
Mommy tried. That’s what’s important. She tried a lot of things to get Jean to be normal – to get us to be normal, together – but just like the couch it was simply a lost cause. Jean would sit there and stare at Mommy, her eyes like cold little flakes of metal, and ignore whatever had been presented to her: toys, games, demands, tears. It hurt to see Mommy so sad but my tongue was a useless slab of meat in my mouth. I couldn’t tell her it was okay, that I loved her, that I hated how Jean’s face was hard and mean and so similar to my own I felt like I was the one making her cry.
Last week, I heard her crying in her bedroom. She does it a lot these days.
I stood outside her door and caught the low murmur of Daddy’s soothing words, trying to calm her down, but the weak sound of her weeping didn’t change. She was so upset, whispering between sobs to Daddy about “facilities” and “better places”. Somewhere to send us away.
I knew what this meant. Other children, normal children, they talk to their parents. They laugh and smile and hug. They don’t hold hands and stare and talk only with their minds, only to each other. They point and laugh at children like us.
I mean, it makes sense. Mommy tried.
Daddy held her and said that maybe it was for the best. After all, we didn’t seem happy. Maybe in some new place we’d come out of our shells, as though the whole thing was something we’d someday outgrow. I opened my mouth to tell them it was Jean, it’s always been Jean, it’s been Jean for 17 years but my tongue was a heavy stone.
He told her they should try to break it to us over milk and cookies. Make it easier.
I buried this new knowledge in my head but Jean found it, she always does, digging away with her grubby little fingers in the soft parts of my mind. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when she met me in the hallway outside Mommy and Daddy’s bedroom, those hard eyes glinting at me. I tried to make my mind like a still pond on a windless day.
But it was too late. Jean always gets what she wants.
She took my hand in hers and led me to the kitchen. She got the jug of milk out of the fridge and set it neat as you please on the counter. She looked at me and demanded, silently, that I fetch the rat poison from beneath the sink.
I tried frantically to dive my own unpracticed fingers into Jean’s mind to see what she had planned; Jean pushed them away with no effort at all and instead produced a single clear image for me: the four of us on the dining room floor, dead and twisted, the poisoned milk spilled around us. It soaked into Mommy’s hair and Daddy’s shirt but it didn’t matter because Jean had gotten what she wanted – she’d rather be dead on her own terms than locked away, and she’d rather take us with her.
I’ve always known there was something different about Jean but, for all her cruelty, I never expected this.
Or did I? Is it just easier to believe her incapable of murder because she’s a monster that has my face?
She gave me a little mental push, annoyed at me for keeping her waiting.
Get the rat poison from beneath the sink.
Her tone was so flat, so matter of fact, that for a moment I wished I could kill her myself. Take my fingers – my real ones – and wrap them around her throat. Squeeze until the light went out of those cold eyes. End this madness once and for all. But I couldn’t. I told you, I’m not like Jean.
So instead, I pushed back. I told Jean no.
Jean stared at me, unflinching, and pushed again.
Get the rat poison from beneath the sink.
We stared each other down, one girl as a mirror image standing silently in the kitchen’s sunny afternoon light.
She didn’t move but I felt her invisible grip tighten around my throat, shutting off my flow of air, bullying me once again into doing what she wanted, always what she wanted!
And I found suddenly, miraculously, that I could do it too.
My phantom fingers closed around her neck and I saw her eyes go wide, eyes that could’ve been my eyes, eyes that were never scared unless I caught a glance of my own reflection but it wasn’t now — Jean was scared.
She let go of me then. She stared, unblinking, unbelieving. Her mind, for once, was silent.
She took the milk and put it away, an expression less of defeat and more of someone who’s decided they didn’t want milk after all.
I don’t know where she went, but Jean stayed quiet for a long time. I felt her fingers probing at me, gentle now that they knew what I was capable of, but I began shooing them away like flies off warm food.
Yesterday, she came to me in our bedroom and sat on her bed. She waited a moment, as though she understood the gravity of the situation very well indeed. As though I could end all this silliness now, if only I backed down.
But I didn’t. I met her gaze, the eyes that could’ve been mine if they weren’t so cold, and drilled one hard thought straight into her brain.
I hate you.
So Jean struck me a deal.
We could either exist fully together, or fully apart. There was no room for middle ground. We were one, or there would only be one left.
I can’t be silent for my whole life. I want to cry out to my parents that I’m normal, I’m all right, I don’t need to go away and I love them very much, even though Jean’s never let me say so. Even though they think I’m like her.
She’d never believe it, but the only thing Jean and I share is a face. Nothing more.
And so here we are, twin girls in twin hospital beds, our fevers rising, organs shutting down. The doctors are baffled. They’re running test after test but no one knows what’s wrong… except us.
I’ve managed to keep her out of my head so far, but I’m getting weaker. I can feel her struggling for the upper hand. She’s furious. I can feel rage wafting off of her like heat off a forest fire. She’s always been the stronger twin, and she’s never lost before.
I’m going to see if I can stop her kidneys now.
I hope my sister dies soon.