Throughout my teenage years, on the marble-topped table in our living room, there rested a hand-tinted photograph of an angelic child. A golden-haired toddler with knowing aqua eyes clothed in a pinafore of the same shade. A shy smile flitted on rosy lips. A Breck advertisement imprisoned within the perfection of the moment.
When my friends came to visit, they were drawn to the photo and would comment, “Who is that beautiful child?”
I would shake my head sadly, my eyes downcast. “Ah. That’s my sister, Marilyn. She was hit by a truck just after that picture was taken. Mother insists on still keeping it there. So very sad. The family doesn’t speak of her.”
I never had a sister. I was annoyed that my mother displayed that early romanticized picture of me, mocking the real me, the active me, the intelligent me, not the perfect toddler who became the adolescent (and then the adult) disappointment.
In later years, on one of those evenings of tea and conversation, while we were discussing the family history of which aunt had married which uncle (interspersed with comments on my own unfortunate shortcomings), my mother said with uncharacteristic abruptness, “Perhaps if your sister had lived, you would have been happier, less lonely, a nicer person.”
I rolled my eyes, afraid Mother’s mind had finally gone. “Mom, no. I never had a sister. That was only a nasty trick I played on my friends when they asked about that photo on the marble-top table when we were in the old house. Remember?”
“No, honey. You did have a twin. She never lived, was never really born. But twins ran in your dad’s family and I was carrying twins. That’s why I had to have a cesarean. You were a big healthy baby and you lived.” She pursed her lips as only mothers can. “I thought I told you all this before.” My mother reached for an Oreo and shook her head. I was still being difficult.
“No, you didn’t. I never knew. A twin?” I wanted to hear so much more, but my mother had already left the room and I heard the can opener in the kitchen. Cat food time. A pressing duty of more consequence than focusing on old wounds. That was that. No further information deemed necessary. Such has always been the way of thrifty Yankees.
Today, decades later, I discover that idealized photograph buried in the bottom drawer of the desk I inherited from my mother, the glass cracked, the frame tarnished, and I’m invaded with longing, like whisps from a dream, stunned by how much I miss the me that could have been, the twin unborn, the sister that almost was.
• • •
Mara Buck writes and paints in the Maine woods. Her work has won awards or been short-listed by the Faulkner Society, the Hackney Awards, Carpe Articulum, Maravillosa, and has been published in Drunken Boat, Huffington Post, Carpe Articulum, Living Waters, Corner Club, Orion, Pithead Chapel, Caper, Clarke’s, Poems For Haiti, The Lake, Apocrypha, and others. Current projects include a novel and a collection of strange stories of Maine.
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