by Fiona Haynes
A whispery chittering distorts words into breathy nonsense. I need to hear what he’s saying; I don’t know how I know but I understand he has something profound and altering to say. Trying to focus, I press my palm against the place where there should be an ear, but instead a jumble of yellowed teeth rise out of my flesh in a disorderly whorl. A thickened dry lip catches at my fingers, a secretive crease familiar only by touch. Worn smooth; I was born with my fingertips pocketed in this petty mouth. Newborn, I knew, this is the evidence of his existence, the promise of his wisdom.
I have heard him always. His voice, predictably so similar to mine, has been my company and my solace. I think he knew long before me that he would be the constant in a life of abandonment. Hurried into the angel cradle on a moonless night, he soothed me and I slept, awakened by my own stink and the gasp of the novice nun. When the boys at school dragged the concealing cap from my head and recoiled at the mark of my difference, he gently quieted their cruelty. He has been beside me every moment of this disparate life, but in the last few weeks and months, his voice has been diminishing, fading. I miss him. It’s why I’m here. The nurse smiles but avoids looking at me when she hands over the crisp clinical gown and indicates the high narrow couch. The inadequate strip of paper that separates me from the previous and next patient is a creased reproach.
Where the x-ray makes a mere ghost of me, he becomes yet more present. When first I see that friable exposure, those cloudy delicacies of bone, I weep. Not with shock or fear, as the fascinated doctor may believe, but with joy. I have known him, always, his intimacy. But here he is, his tenure assured, slender pale slip of bone embracing my shoulder, cherishing my hip. Holding my heart. Little fragments of my echo, my twin.
The doctor is kindly, or perhaps eager; undoubtedly considering a publication in some eminent journal, he offers the surgery for free. There is no imminent danger, he insists, moistening his educated lips, but in time my brother may damage further my already compromised health. He indicates the calcified spurs that stroke and poke against the skin. I press a finger against the place where my brother and I meet; his stony reassurance.
And then, the doctor says, there is the cosmetic aspect. I recognize the term as one of glossy salesmanship. It gleams, something far off, the preserve of those who stretch perfection just for the power of it. That smooth glamour isn’t mine, my worn and humble body is as far from it as a frog from a swan. I must appear puzzled; the doctor taps against my brother’s teeth with the end of his pen, a tick tick of disapprobation. The sound resonates through my skull, wakening him into sibilant murmur. Listen, listen. I can almost hear him, but for the clashing ricochet and the doctor’s palliative voice laying dreams before me.
No, I say, shaking my head, allowing my twin’s undertone to roll softness across the sudden pain. No. I cannot lose him, my dove, my own. He is through and through me, he is more mine now than ever. I want him only more clearly, his voice my safety. That is why I am here, I need you to help me hear him again. The doctor frowns, pointing to the attenuated growths he sees as extraneous, demonstrating with a sweep of his expensive hand how the crouch of bitter bones will one day turn to torment me.
Now now, he croons, think of your life without this … aberration. Imagine being just like everyone else, can you imagine? Think of it. A full life born of this … little separation. Think of walking unnoticed on a sunny day, a smile from a stranger. A pretty girl in a white dress. We can correct these mischances of nature nowadays, there is no sense in needlessly suffering for some illogical loyalty. You’ve carried the burden long enough, too long. It’s time to allow yourself liberation from this terrible encumbrance. This isn’t a person, this, tick tick, is a mistake. The doctor smiles, so honestly compassionate.
I cannot hear on that side, they tell me, but that shallow mouth is curious and gulps the doctor’s words down. My brother shifts in their flow; he is darkened by their murky augury. I wish the doctor would stop talking, I need to hear. I bring my hand to that pleat of roughened lip, find the relief within. The doctor takes my wrist, patting my hand back into my lap.
Lifting something from an opulently padded tray of minor body parts, the doctor presents with some coy flourish a perfect ear. He turns a mirror where I can see both his face and mine, and holds the warm and lovely plastic to my head. Positioned before the teeth, a supple disguise, for a moment it is real. You see, he breathes, how ordinary you will be. And I can, I can see it. The doctor brushes my wayward hair over the redundant mouth, the sculpted tip of the ear nudging through with the rosy promise of a Spring bud. No one will stare, he soothes, you will look like any other handsome young man. He chokes a little on the word, handsome. I catch his eye in the glass and he flushes.
Ordinary, I consider it. Unregarded. There would be freedom in that. An anesthetised detaching, a tranquil rebirth. I imagine a life alone, then not alone. A pretty girl in a white dress; children of my own perhaps. Could he be right? My brother a mistake, an unnecessary obstacle to a forgiving life? I reach for that succourous mouth, but stay my hand and close my eyes. I press away the muttering and pretend. There are many kinds of love, am I wrong to reach for them? A part of me, minimized and hardened by too much loneliness, shivers with a craving for soft looks, sweet touches. I will never forget him; perhaps I will find the truth of him in the son I raise. A fine boy, strong and benevolent, the best of my brother finally in completion. I open my eyes, the crescent of that perfect ear rests on the doctor’s table, as casually as if it were only a simple object rather than my shining future.
The doctor is peering at the x-rays. Pure white light glows through the phantasm exposure; my snarled skeleton, my caverned skull. My brother’s perching presence, caging my solitude, his ghastly orifice.
This is a mistake.
My brother mutters murder; the doctor speaks it out loud.
Fiona Haynes writes about unusual happenings and the power of resilience. She likes to explore character’s experiences through writing in the first person. Fiona lives in Okotoks, Alberta and works as a senior high school counselor.