A first chapter
Blood is much darker than you think it is. When you see it in the movies, all gory and pouring from some poor heroine’s mangled body, it’s almost crimson; a crafty mix of food dye and corn syrup to add some viscosity. I’ve just realised though, that blood is actually much closer to a burgundy. It looks even darker when it frames platinum blonde hair, like it’s doing right now. My sister is so precious about her hair, she spends enough fucking money on it. If she were watching this scene right now, she’d be freaking out about the sticky liquid melding with her imperiously styled hair.
It’s just then that a thought pops into my head: now is probably the first time in weeks that I wouldn’t have to stand outside the bathroom door banging on the hard wood, screaming at Avery to get the fuck out of the goddamn shower before there’s no hot water left for anybody else. I start to giggle then, these horrific, strangled chuckles that well up through my chest and escape out of my cracked mouth. It’s not long before I am bent over at the waist, my hands grasping at my thighs while the laughter rocks up my spine. The fucking shower is finally free, I think, and keep laughing.
I’m not sure exactly when my knees give out, but that’s exactly how they find me, how they find us, an hour later. I am on my knees, arms wrapped around my waist because I swear to God if I let go then the pieces of me would just come apart, and the blood that is coming, still fucking coming, from my sister’s slit wrists has almost reached me and I will have to wash this shirt. That’s how they find us, the twins, always together even now, one giggling feebly and the other one dead.
3 Months later
I swear this fucking bus is only ever late when it’s pissing rain. Fuck. The annoying thing is that I know Mum is only inside the house, 30 feet away if even, well-capable of driving me to school. It’s not like she’ll be doing anything else today, for Christ’s Sakes, other than sitting around watching Jeremy Fucking Kyle from the couch in that awful grey dressing gown that she hasn’t washed since it happened. Jeremy won’t tell you what to do when your kid offs herself, Mum, I want to scream at her.
‘Nothing’ is the answer, in case you were wondering - you do nothing.
I pull a packet of 100s from the pocket of my school trousers and slip one into my hand, trying my best to shield it from the rain. I feel around for my lighter in the same pocket, the green one that I found under Avery’s loose floorboard beside the half ounce of weed. It’s funny; even after 18 years of being a twin, she still thought she could hide things from me. I suppose she could.
It takes around 3 seconds before the cigarette hisses in my hand, dampened by the incessant rain. I groan in frustration and flick it to the side, more evidence for my parents to attack me with later. I’m digging around in my bag for my earphones when the bus eventually pulls up, my ass up in the air for everyone to see. I grin as I hear someone wolf whistle and give a little shimmy, secretly hoping to God that my belt keeps doing its job. These trousers have started to hang off me a little around the hips and right now would most definitely be an inopportune time for a wardrobe malfunction.
I straighten up, still with a slight grin twisting my lips and turn around to see Jones sticking his head out of the bus window, fingers still at the edges of his mouth ready to whistle again. I shake my head and blush slightly as I see heads turning my way; I can feel the old tug from before, the one that kept me out of the spotlight, the one that kept me from drawing any unnecessary attention to myself. I brush it off and toss my head back as I let a hint of swagger sway through my sauntering hips.
I am not who I was before.
A few pairs of eyes still stick to me while I make my way towards Jones, and I meet them gladly, even sparing a second glance for that boy who’s in my Bio class, I think. A drop of rain falls from my hair and lands squarely on the bridge of my nose; I squint my eyes to watch it travel down the smooth slope ahead, and I am mesmerised for a split second before it dismounts. I look away when it hits the grey of my school trousers. I’ve only recently started to notice the way water seems to pool in the unruly curls of my hair. Truth is, I’ve never let it grow this long before. I didn’t know that my hair would form these spirals on my head, or that it could look copper in the sunlight. I didn’t know I wanted to see it like this, untamed and sort of beautiful.
I roll my eyes to myself. Beautiful. Catch yourself on, you narcissistic prick, I think, and then realise that I’ve thought it in Avery’s voice.
She had an enthralling voice, my sister. It sort of drew you in, the way she softly drawled your name, as if it was a sacred spell she was reciting. I’d seen her in action before, trying to convince someone into giving her what she wanted – a kiss, a favour, a secret or anything else of that vein – and it was like watching a type of hypnosis; the victim, usually some poor prick looking to get with her, would find themselves leaning closer and closer, just trying to soak up more of the honey that seemed to pour from her lips.
It used to make me laugh when we were younger. I could see exactly what she was doing to other people; I thought it was funny to watch my sister manipulate people, to see if she couldn’t get us a bigger allowance or a later lift home. She’d wink at me when the job was done, and I would always get to revel in the glory of whatever prize she’d beguiled for us. It was a twin thing: if she got it, I got it. She got things for both of us.
I guess it stopped being fun sometime along the way. Maybe it was when she started using that voice on me.
I drop myself into my usual seat on the bus and flash a grin at my friends. The seat beside me at the window is empty; truth is, I used to sit there staring out the window while Avery held court with everyone who couldn’t resist her. Now, the seat beside me is vacant like it has been since it happened, and I sit where she used to, probably tossing my newly grown hair around like she always did with hers. I join in on whatever the guys have been talking about before, blinking and laughing to keep the attention away from the way my index fingernail scrapes along the inside of my thumb – the one habit from my old life that I can’t quite kick. Still nervous to speak out as loud as the others, so used to being interrupted; but my friends turn their heads to listen when I talk now, just like they used to do with her.
he bus journey is short, like it always is, and we get to school before the conversation is finished. Where I used to walk three feet behind whoever Avery was entertaining on any given day on the way through the front doors, I lead the way now; the guys follow, still discussing last night’s match enthusiastically and everyone else moves out of the way. I silently give myself a kick and an internal whisper of “don’t be so fucking up yourself” before striding through the main hall on the way to my locker. My fingertips move to clutch the tips of the sleeves of my school jumper – another habit I can’t quite kick – as I try to ignore the looks; it’s difficult to know whether they’re the ‘oh no, the poor lad with the dead sister’ looks, or the ‘I wonder if he has a date to the Debs yet’ looks. Either way, I’m still not used to all the attention. When I stop at my locker, and I take a quiet breath and unlock my fingers from my sleeves, pushing them up to show my forearms. Another quiet breath and I pick out my books from my locker and load them into my bag, consciously avoiding the fumbling and deep blush that used to accompany this task every single day. Luckily, it was never an issue - nobody ever looked away from her long enough to notice that I’d turned beetroot and was trying desperately not to drop anything while stuffing my maths book into my bag.
The morning passed too easily, too quickly, like it always did on a Thursday – guidance counselling day. Every Thursday at 12, when everyone else was falling asleep in Ethics class, I was in the hot, stuffy office with Ms. Lane, trying desperately not to slip-up and tell her all the ways my life has improved since my twin sister killed herself.
I’ve gotten really good at it, playing the grieving sibling. I know all the right places to sigh and let my eyes well up just the tiniest bit, the right times to avoid eye contact and let my throat get a little bit constricted so that my words come out tighter. I know to how to fidget to make her think I’m anxious about spilling my guts, and how to smile a brave smile that convinces her I’m okay and moving well through my supposed grief. I spend a half an hour explaining how much I miss her, and pulling out some made up memory about Avery from when we were kids, and then I’m free again and she doesn’t suspect a thing.
Truth is, most of my memories of Avery don’t really have me in them. You know when you’re remembering something and you can kind of see it in the third person, like you’re watching the memory from the outside? And that never really makes sense, because obviously you were there, and you should be watching it back through your own eyes. For me though, I really was on the outside of everything she did, everything we did. I was always a tag along, there because you had to include the twin brother, there because I was destined to stand three feet behind Avery for our entire lives.
Outside of Ms Lane’s office, I stop for a second and let the feeling of lying wash over me. It’s almost enjoyable, seeing how good I am at this; seeing how enthralled she is in me and my sweet vulnerability, how willing she is to buy into my stories and bared heart, seeing how her eyes melt at when I’m near my easily produced tears. For one tiny second, I think I see Avery down the end of the hall, peeking around the corner. I even go to take a step towards her before I come back to reality; to tell you the truth, I’m not sure I would have taken the step even if she was really there.
I straighten up and stride back to catch the end of Ethics class; one benefit of the mandatory dead-twin counselling is that it gets me out of the bulk of these god awful classes of debating the ideals of faith, Religion class in disguise. Before I reach toward the handle of the classroom door, I run a hand through my hair and pull my shoulders back. You wouldn’t have known I was tall before, and even a bit broad at my shoulders. It took me weeks and weeks to learn to straighten up; that it was okay for people to look in my direction sometimes, and okay to not always have my head tucked into my collar. It took more weeks after that to get used to the looks, and even more to start enjoying some of them.
After Ethics is lunch, which always passes to quickly now; I can’t believe I used to think it was long and torturous. I head up to the counter and buy a cereal bar to stave off any weird looks for not eating, and take my usual seat in the middle of everyone, tipping back a bit again the wall. We seemed to have moved on from the soccer to discussing someone’s 18th this Friday night; Colin volunteers his shed for pre drinks, and the lads turn their eyes to me to see if I approve. I nod gratefully and say sound, thanks Colin and that appeases them enough to look away and start planning in more detail. I didn’t used to get a real invite to pre drinks, let alone be the one who decided if the sacrificed house would be good enough; it was just assumed that I would come with Avery, and I did. The girls start to discuss what to wear, making the guys turn back to their earlier soccer analysis, and I get away with slipping my cereal bar into my pocket.
The bell makes me jump slightly when it rings, fucking hell can you please not do that in front of everyone, and we trudge off to our lockers moaning about the afternoon run of classes. Turns out the Leaving Cert simply doesn’t disappear when your sister dies and your family falls apart – thank fuck, because as stupid as it is, I need the thing to get into college and out of that house. Avery had always wanted us to go to Trinity together, her to do Law and me to do something else. That was always the plan, and I was almost surprised when I realised I really don’t want to fucking do that. So much so that I have mentally banned the word ‘Trinity’ from my CAO form, along with any other Dublin-based colleges. My options are currently all variations of biochemistry across Limerick and Galway and Cork, with some less fancy science courses lower down to fill the form out. I’m not worried about those honestly; maybe it makes me sound like a bit of a dick, but there’s really no doubt that I’ll be going to do Biochemistry in NUIG – school was always easy, and now it’s even easier, especially with an idea of moving to another county to do something it turns out I’m really, really interested in. This is all going through my mind in Biology while everyone else has their heads stuck in exam papers that I did last night.
School mostly passes like that now, easily and full of my friends pulling me into conversations and asking my opinion like it really matters, lying through my teeth to Ms Lane, and feeling pretty okay until I hop off the bus. Maybe that sounds like a usual day in 6th year, plus a little exam anxiety, but I’m still getting used to the routine. Before, it wasn’t uncommon if I didn’t speak a word to anyone except Avery for a whole day. People used to address her to speak to both of us, and she would answer for both of us always. It didn’t matter I suppose, because I guess I thought that she thought. Or she told me I did. I had a built-in best friend who could read my mind, and no real need to speak out loud, or speak to anyone else. My sister made our friends for us, and I liked them; they liked Avery, and I was part of Avery.
It took a while after she died for our friends to get used to speaking to me instead. Obviously, there was the mandatory period of tiptoeing around the guy with the dead twin, and I got that; I didn’t want anyone to be uncomfortable around me, or have to try to think of stuff to say that wasn’t I’m sorry, are you okay? But a couple of weeks after, when they were planning to go out for a few drinks after the half day on a Friday, I said I’d come along without being asked; and after that, they always asked. They asked me first, asked me instead of others, asked me like they really cared if I said yes. That had never happened before.
It’s pretty nice, to be honest. Don’t be a prick.
My foot hits the wet path when I get off the bus and I’m brought back to reality. I walk up towards the door, trying to pull my keys out of my bag at the same time and not doing a great job of it. The closer I get to the house, my shoulders start to hunch over and I pat my hair down, pull my sleeves down around my fingers. It takes me two tries to get the key in the door when my hands are shaking and fumbly, so I know she hears me coming before I walk through the door. It doesn’t tempt her to move though; she’s sat in the same place she way this morning when I left, pulling the rope of her dressing gown through her fingers. Her head turns towards me and I know all she sees is Avery, our faces carbon copies, our uniforms the same. She always walked through the front door first after school and I know Mum is still expecting her when she first looks up. She sees Avery and then she sees me and her eyes glaze over, and I just walk right upstairs.