Note: I wrote this in December ’11 for a contest I didn’t win. It’s strange that fiction was my grad school discipline; all I’ve written since then has been creative nonfiction. I haven’t given up on fiction, but I think the work it takes to perfect it through revision is work I’m not always successful at seeing through to the end. Anyway, after a couple of rejections and no-response-to-submissions, I’ve just decided to post it here. Let me know if you think it has potential.
My Body, Broken For You
Once, just after their father left, I wished they would just slide out of me, like so many of the other eggs before them.
Perhaps that caused it.
They were fully split for a time, identical but separate, two girls already playing pranks, daring the ultrasound techs to tell them apart. One darted here then wriggled left, and the other followed so close behind we’d all have to wait a half-hour to distinguish one’s vitals from the other’s.
But three weeks after I squeezed my eyes shut and hoped to find them floating among my fifth forceful pee in an hour, they had fused, clinging to one another for the love I’d denied them, clinging so tightly they’d joined at their hips.
When they were tugged out of me one month early, I peered over the surgeon’s partition and spotted one wriggling thing, a tiny, too-wide, creature that looked for all the world like a Hindu talisman I’d passed in the window of a rug shop once. I didn’t know it then, but later, when I’d stopped fearing them, I would look up that Sanskrit idol and find that I was thinking of Kali: six-armed black goddess of change and of death.
That was my daughters.
They were covered with thin, furry pelts they would shed in the month that they would’ve been full-term. Viv didn’t cry for two full minutes. Nadia was born with a veil.
A resident gasped before he caught himself. An intern fled, retching, from the operating room. My obstetrician apologized, looking slightly green himself.
It was good that their father left me when he did. If he couldn’t bring himself to settle into co-parenting when the idea was purely conceptual and when we both thought I was carrying a single fetus we’d assumed would ripen into something more cherubic than grotesque, he did not have the constitution for this.
They were not fun, upbeat girls–and they can’t be faulted. They’d come home on more than one occasion, each year of grade school, with bloodied welts where some uglier, pretty-faced, one-headed child had stricken them with stones. Once, when they were nine, Viv veered toward a van where a man promised them fame and five hundred dollars, while Nadia, who knew better, asked him the name of his circus. Before they were seven, seven doctors begrudged them their hope for successful separation.
And they were saddled with me as their single mother.
The girls found it impossible to hold their heads high, because I couldn’t. Everyone seemed to blame me for their condition, especially them.
They wanted answers. Why had I carried them all those months, knowing the quality of life they would have? Why, when I saw Viv’s one listless eye, had I not seen fit to correct even that? Why was Nadia brilliant, when Viv could barely concentrate on a passage of literature long enough to grasp its basic meaning? Why did they feel so unworthy of more than anyone’s sidelong glance? How could they live, knowing they might spend many years, graying and shriveling with age, without ever knowing the full flush of romantic love?
There seemed no end to their injustices. And they wanted it known that they blamed me.
I could never bring myself to tell them the truth: I’d kept them because I thought they’d never be able to leave me. I’d kept them because their every infant embrace felt like a Ferris wheel and my heart missed the joy of a carnival.
It was their father who found them the doctor, long after they’d stopped hugging me, long after they’d vowed to move someplace remote and live like queens in a village who’d believe them to be deities.
I would not have given my consent to the surgery, had I not believed they’d kill me in my sleep if I didn’t.
Here in the waiting room, I have been sitting across from their father and his new West Indian wife. She is speaking patois to her own teenage daughter, who glances at me before sucking her teeth and snickering.
We have been here for twelve hours, pining for news of a successfully reconstructed pancreas, of the lengthening and shortening of intestines, of two fully functional diaphragms.
I try not to stare too long at the girls’ stepsister, as I imagine them strutting on either side of her through a mall. I force a smile at the pep in their gait, their chins buoyed by the confidence that no one there knows what they were. Their sister is, for once, at ease being seen with them.
They would’ve been seventeen soon, but often, I imagine them at forty, sharing a chair, still conjoined, ’round a campfire.
They have husbands and undamaged children.
They are telling ghost stories and their laughter swirls with the embers.