Face puckered by screaming and babbling, the twins thrashed in their buggy – a peculiar contraption, whereby Charles was sat behind Thomas, and so could kick his brother’s back with gleeful, innocent malice – attracting the attention of passers-by on the walk through the Seven Acres Park. Such joyful, careless innocents they were. Their mother propelled them as serenely as she could: infrequently challenging Charles or Thomas after a particularly nasty thumping had caused one or the other to cry out at an especially disruptive volume; picking up soft toys, discarded by the twins with fiendish whimsy. She was sure they were doing it on purpose, almost in collusion, conspiratorial and with playful abandon. Such mischief is the secret language of twins, even before spoken words are known to them.
The pleasant weather demanded an outing, demanded some gesture to the outside world and would, eventually, demand that the boys be thrust reluctantly into the daylight. The sun-bleached keepsakes of memory and nostalgia demand such ventures into normalcy, and their mother believed sentimentally in the nurturing effect of sunlight, and the sensation of grass underfoot. Some of their first photographs together would be taken that day.
Naturally Charles took the opportunity of being sat in Thomas’ blind spot to tug at his soft, wispy hair and to pat his head from behind, as aggressively as one too young to truly understand aggression could. He slapped Thomas’ head and bellowed in glee, a noise quite difficult to distinguish from Thomas’ bellow of indignation. The promenade had, predictably, degenerated: but the mother trusted her sons to behave when released, when the picnic mat had been laid and the juice poured into cool cups.
By this age their differences were unnoticeable, their charms indistinguishable and their properties shared. Aunts and uncles could not refer to the one without acknowledging the reciprocity inherent in the other: “But of course, Charles also has a boyish streak,” Aunt Patricia might say, after Thomas had been scolded for upturning a vase, yoghurt pot or cat. The actions and descriptions of one reflected as soundly and as clearly with the other as an echo.
And should one of the boys discover a new, rich vein of mischief, the other would invariably pursue with just and equal pleasure. The day Charles discovered the explosive quality of cherry tomatoes was one such occasion. Once Charles had uncovered the curious physics of the stuff – the outer casing or pressure chamber, containing the crucible of red flesh and volatile fluid, all designed for the purposes of one solid, glorious splat – Thomas complemented the find with the further addition of the flower pot. With this tool it was possible to detonate as many at twenty fleshy, delicious pellets, merely by placing them all underneath and jumping into the pot in unison. A major breakthrough in their quest to find the ultimate annoyance for their long-suffering mother was achieved this way: Watson and Crick, the Wright brothers, shattered flower pot and gory floor beneath them.
Those days were galore: when insects scurried like summer’s ghosts right over the water, and the two boys’ weight on a willow branch would dip her leaves through the soft, cold surface, causing the noontide sun to shimmer differently out of the dark ripples. Neon dragonflies flared and growled but meant no harm, and could convey no meaning of harm: it was possible to capture a butterfly in cupped hands, and show it to each other with a mystic delight.
Their mother, of course, knew that the summer was revealing itself to them there, but ultimately the boys were out of her house and that was the end of the matter. Love was tempered by their troublesome boisterousness, the practicalities of wear and tear, and the permanent tiredness of motherhood.
“I can’t believe you managed to get such a cheap fare,” Thomas said.
“Always book online, always.”
Charles sat down and removed his jacket onerously. Thomas ordered a coffee with milk; Charles, black.
“How are things going in Bristol?” Thomas asked, stirring sugar around the bottom of his cup with a wooden splint.
Charles felt his mouth tug itself tight. “Bloody hard work. Often they just leave me with five or six accounts to finish, no instruction, no guidance or anything. I am getting the hang of it, though.”
Sat outside the Café Blanc, the wind leafed through their newspapers and played with their hair. Occasional sunbursts sank through the back of their shirts and filled them with a heavy warmth; and then, just as suddenly, the cloud would cross over and seem to pour cold air down their collars.
“I haven’t seen mother for some time,” Charles said, “probably ought to pop up soon, and give her someone to fuss over for a few days. Besides which, there’s the matter of that, whatsit, overhanging beech she wants help with?”
Thomas was still stirring his coffee, as much out of distraction as anything else. He hadn’t spoken to their mother for some time, and didn’t particularly want to go out of his way in order to do so. He decided to keep silent.
“Julie next door has apparently been fixating upon it for some time,” Charles continued, “mortified about how her lawn isn’t getting the light it needs. The wrong type of grass, you see, can’t do with the shade. A frightful bore, but we probably ought to sort it out. Next time we’re up.”
Thomas nodded, much in the same way he would to a salesman. The idea was reasonable enough. It wasn’t particularly attractive to him, though.
The tie knot had been pulled too tight: it felt like a compact, unripe fruit; it strangled the fabric and looked careless. Charles fed the end out to undo the knot, before beginning again. Melisa flitted back in to bemoan the delay he was causing, then disppeared from his line of vision once more.
In the mirror he caught sight of himself, as spruce as ever. Some salt-and-pepper effect on the temples, his forehead perhaps slightly taller than it once was, but a well-groomed gentleman he nevertheless was. Men do look better in suits, he said to himself. That is their design.
Melisa’s red dress re-entered the mirror’s scope. Charles recognised the urgency, the tug of being late, and repeated his spiel about it being crucial to turn up “properly”, even to the detriment of punctuality.
At that same time, Thomas was returning to his flat. He removed his uniform in the familiar, unthinking manner he would put it on, make coffee, or vacuum the floor: a blinking, sighing reluctance.
Newspapers from the previous few days lay on the table. A lamp in the corner left elliptical patterns on the low ceiling, perched as it was on the overflowing bookcase. Crockery punctuated the floor space and a long, unwelcoming tobacco smell clung to the air, from where the clouds had sank into the wallpaper over untold years. There was not a photograph to be seen.
This was the late hour when true silence began. In relief of this, Thomas plucked a packet of crisps from the kitchen cupboard, split it open and relinquished himself to the sofa.
He still hadn’t telephoned Charles about that holiday they were planning. Not so much planning, perhaps – they certainly thought of Sienna more as an aspiration than a destination – and no sustained contact had been made by either party. There was the very real possibility of this idea dissolving into utter insubstantiality: it usually begins with “We really ought to,” through to “Wouldn’t it be nice?”, before inevitably, “We did once talk about.” And then, it would no longer be talked about, neither party willing to accept their belief in the initial urge to try.
Face puckered by screaming and babbling, the old men quivered in their wheelchairs – a peculiar arrangement, whereby Charles was sat right next to Thomas, and so would strike his brother’s head with gleeful, innocent malice – attracting the attention of passers-by on the walk through the Seven Acres Park. Such joyful, carefree innocents they had become. Their carers propelled them as serenely as they could: infrequently challenging Charles or Thomas after a particularly nasty thumping had caused one or the other to cry out at an especially disruptive volume; picking up medication discarded by the twins with fiendish whimsy. The nurses were sure that the brothers were doing it on purpose, almost in collusion, conspiratorial and with playful abandon. Such mischief is the secret language of twins, even after so many years, and so much distance.
The pleasant weather demanded an outing, demanded some gesture to the outside world and would, eventually, demand that the brothers be thrust reluctantly into the daylight. The sun-bleached keepsakes of memory and nostalgia demand such ventures into normalcy, and the Local Authority agreed with their nurses’ sentimentality in the nurturing effect of sunlight, and the sensation of grass underfoot. Some of their final photographs together would be taken that day.
Naturally Charles took the opportunity of being sat in one of Thomas’ many blind spots to tug at his soft, wispy hair and to pat his head from behind, as aggressively as one no longer mindful of aggression could. He slapped Thomas’ head and cackled in glee, a noise quite difficult to distinguish from Thomas’ bellow of indignation. And yet, there was a tacit agreement between them: even now, they were as thick as thieves, as close as any two persons could ever be.
The promenade had, predictably, degenerated into naughtiness and babble: but the weary carers trusted the old boys to behave when released, when the picnic mat had been laid and the juice poured into cool cups.
This piece is written in response to my friend and partner-in-theme-exchange, Gary Holdaway’s recent post, “The Wedding”, which you should probably read now because there is no point reading any other literature for the rest of your life until you do: https://garyholdaway.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/the-wedding/
It’s a phenomenal read, The Wedding. If you read only one blog post before May, read this one. I really cannot emphasise enough how much the narrative twist in this tiny, brilliant piece of fiction just killed me. Stone dead. See for yourself, I’m giving away no spoilers. But I will say: it’s worth it. A thousand times, it’s worth it.
As for this response: apart from the masterly plot device, what really struck me in Gary’s last piece was the sense of loss, but also the acceptance of change, however reluctant. Without giving away too much (READ IT NOW), we look on and see a difficult but insuperable shift. It is neither good nor bad: but it is a fact of life. I took from this sensation the theme of “Natural Cycles,” which hopefully comes across fairly demonstrably in this piece.
Echoes and repetition are prominent signifiers in this, as are guilt and self-reproach in the more burdened adult mind. But I cannot help but smile at the final scene: it is so joyful, and so funny, to think of the two brothers being together and emotionally free once more.
Final point: I am a twin. Over the last couple of years, I have seen less and less of my brother – a boy (now man) who has always been my best friend. I hope that when we are being wheeled about by our keepers, we will still be as insufferable and bothersome as always. In fact, I’m rather looking forward to it.