--IF YOU ARE TIRED OF EVERYTHING YOU POSSESS, IMAGINE ALL YOU’VE LOST
They frightened me.
My husband snickered when I shared this, reminding me again without directly saying so how fragile and needy I could be, like my mother, who killed herself by jumping out of a speeding car.
But they did scare me, these twin girls, not yet six, glaring dull-eyed each visit, sitting too silent and close to one another as to appear attached, Siamese, a pair of well-dressed puppets or morbid dolls.
They were our counselor’s daughters, Christina Chin’s girls, and they materialized at all of our own daughter’s functions because, I supposed, David invited them, which would be his way of staying connected to Christina, with whom he was having an affair.
“But they never speak. They just sit there looking angry and bored.”
“Listen to you,” David said to me. “You’re not even making sense. It’s impossible to be bored and angry at the same time.”
I almost laughed. This was me he was speaking to, the one he had sex with. Bored and angry were a pair of emotions I always felt during the act, they being as compatible as pain and suffering. If he would ever open his ears, his eyes, he might learn.
Audrey, our girl, liked to pretend she was a mermaid. Naturally I encouraged this fantasy while David was appalled. “Christina agrees with me,” he said. “She says it’s different than just having imaginary friends.”
“I thought we agreed we couldn’t afford to see Christina anymore?”
“I’m not paying her. She’s a friend.”
And he had the nerve to call me paranoid.
Nevertheless, I believed there were fringe benefits to fantasy. For Audrey, it meant she became a fantastic swimmer, fearless, more lithe and adept than girls or boys twice her age.
We threw her a pool party on her seventh birthday. Because she was so focused on her swimming, Audrey had but a few friends, and therefore the twins stuck out among the few attending children.
No worries. I watched her dive and applauded the tiny water explosions--none bigger than a floral bouquet-- that would make Olympians envious. Not only that, but my Audrey was lean and long and could hold her breath for an eternity.
Across the pool, David and Christina chatted. They were friends now, so they no longer needed to conceal themselves. Their laughter had a hollowed-out sound as it boomed up to the rafters. They stood by the gift table. He looked handsome and happy, younger. When we were first dating, David wrote me poetry. Sometimes they were little bits of the sweetest words and phrases, folded up like origami. He was afraid to give me the piece about Mother entitled, “Fragile,” but he must have known it would make me love him like no other.
My horoscope said this was going to be a year of discovery. I remained alert and aware, but so far nothing. David thought horoscopes were trivial if not skittering the edge of satanic. I’d never known a more confident man. The thing David believed in most was certainty.
However, he didn’t like my scrap book of news stories. He said it was creepy to collect other people’s bad news, meaning the hundreds of car crash clippings. He tolerated my doll collection even though it had grown so vast, especially of late, that he made me move them to an upstairs coat closet. When I explained that they weren’t all for me, he pointed out that Audrey was past doll age already, that she had never liked playing with them in the first place.
Last Tuesday an odd thing happened. Out of the blue, David said, “Sometimes you really worry me.” I couldn’t tell if it was part of a ruse, the beginning of the end he and Christina had hatched for us. I was beginning to feel a momentum shift. Perhaps it had something to do with my horoscope.
Now I took in the girls. Christina’s twins looked like morose mini-versions of her. They had big moon faces and black eyes. Their skin was the color of mayonnaise left out of the fridge too long.
At the end of the pool they sat in lawn chairs butted up arm to arm. Neither one seemed surprised when I approached.
“Aren’t you girls going to swim?” I asked, even though they wore matching red dresses, white tights and shiny patent shoes.
I couldn’t get them to look at me, to acknowledge me. Something in the pool had their eye and they studied it with the bland interest of an alligator.
“Did you know your mother is sleeping with my husband?”
I had no idea how those words got out, but once they were I felt a streak of pleasure as I had not experienced since puberty.
“She is,” I said. “Right now they’re over there plotting how to destroy me. Pretty soon you’ll be moving to our house and you’ll have—“
Each girl raised a hand at the same time, in a slow, stilted motion similar to a railroad barrier rising before an approaching train. Their finger pointed.
I don’t know why I hadn’t heard the screams until now, but as my ears tuned in it was apparent I’d come in mid-action. And, oh my God!
What was that? David in the water, fully-dressed, Audrey in his arms.
I would have dived in, but David moved so swiftly, as if he were a sea creature himself, as if he’d planned this part, too. But how could he?
My husband followed the pattern I’d seen on hundreds of television shows, the nose pinch and mouth blows, the chest thumps. In between, he managed, “You said you were going to keep an eye on her while I organized the presents,” and that’s when I knew it was a setup.
When I looked at Audrey, I saw how little she resembled me and I wondered if that evening in the hospital had been invented, a mirage. I waited for her eyes to flutter open, for a spewing fountain of chlorinated water, but none came. This part of the story was finished.
They have a pool here. They’d never let me, but even if they would I don’t care to swim. My favorite is watching. There’s a certain glee in hearing the maw of voices and cannonball splashes, to be assured that life goes on.
Christina’s twins come all the time. They sit in the same place, in the same lounge chairs, dressed in their tomato red dresses. I’ve been here all these years and the girls keep coming, never swimming, never speaking, never aging.