Mama sat at the kitchen table, shedding flour from her apron onto the floor. We held hands and walked in through the archway. Our steps were perfectly aligned. We didn’t even have to look at each other’s feet to do it anymore. Patricia was holding the bunny today. Yesterday was my day. This meant today was not good. It did not mean it was bad, though. It just meant I was not the one in control. We had decided from the start that our fuzzy stuffed bunny gave us power. Only the one who had it could speak. She was the one in control. Some days that was fine with me. I always felt that Patricia was a better leader, more competent. “Mama, can we go outside to play?” Patricia asked in the same way I would. Just as I would ask in the same way she would. “After dinner, sweethearts,” Mama said without looking up from her cooking magazine. “I have to watch over you, so you keep away from that well.” The well was always Patricia’s idea. It was the one thing I didn’t understand. But I had learned not to question Patricia; I couldn’t question Patricia, so I had grown to enjoy the long hours we spent staring into the depths of the well together. I didn’t mind not knowing the reason why we were doing it. Sometimes it is nice just to do things. The kitchen smelled like sweet ham. Patricia liked sweet ham, so I did too. “But Mama, what else is there to do until supper? Our room is clean, and we already read two books.” “Only two? Oh, girls, you can do better than that!” “But Mama, it gets boring when I’m the only one reading.” Mama finally looked up from her magazine. She closed it and brushed the stacked pages across the table like a broom. Flour floated off the table and into the air. I had never seen snow, but I imagined it looked like flour. If flour and snow were the same thing, then I had seen a lot of snow. “Why don’t you let Isabelle read one, then?” Patricia giggled at that suggestion. If I could have, I would have too. “It’s not Isabelle’s day.” Mama let out the sigh we had grown to know and love. We used to think it was scary. It said a lot even though her mouth didn’t move. But now, it was comforting. It was something we heard every day. No day was complete without it. It used to come with words, like a side of mashed potatoes, hefty and filling. Nowadays, it was served a la carte. “Why don’t you read to Cecelia, then?” “The baby. The baby!” Patricia jumped up and down with joy. I wasn’t expecting it. I quickly followed suit, but too late. I made an awkward mess of ourself and Patricia was quick to shoot a glare in my direction. I could not respond. I had assumed Patricia didn’t care about the baby. She refused to call her by name. It made me sad to call her baby. The more I did it, the more she felt like an object. But I had to do what Patricia did. We were the same, which meant we spoke the same. Mama led us up the stairs to the baby’s room. It had been our room until Mama started getting big. She was grateful that she didn’t have to repaint the pink walls. She had said she would rather paint our new rooms any color we liked. We said we would still be sharing a room, and that we would like it to be pink just like our old room. Actually, I said it because it was my day. But Patricia was thinking it too. The baby’s room was nearly identical to ours except it had a crib instead of the bed that we shared. “Why don’t you read one of her books to her? Read as many as you’d like. Dinner will be ready soon. I’ll call you down.” Mama quickly left us alone with the baby. We were rarely left alone with the baby. Mama usually kept a watchful eye on the baby, as if she were a precious jewel. This left more time for us to do what we wanted without hearing Mama’s painful sigh. I prepared myself to take a step in the direction of the small bookshelf on the other side of the room, but Patricia did not move. She looked at me. “Let’s take the baby outside to play.” I could not say anything. Normally, that does not bother me. Patricia and I are always on the same page. But this was not what I was expecting. “Let’s show her the well.” I watched absently as Patricia handed the bunny to the baby, then picked her up and cradled her in her arms. She was a good baby and didn’t make much noise. Mama always said that’s how I was. It was the one place where Patricia and I were different. Patricia used to cry all day and all night as a baby. It was more of a scream than a cry, really. It only stopped on the day that we decided we were the same. Everything else about us was the same: same birthday, same face, Mama always dressed us in the same clothes. So, why shouldn’t we be the same person? It made lots of sense to us both, and Patricia was finally happy after four years of misery. I followed Patricia out of the room and in the opposite direction that Mama had led us moments earlier. I felt as if I was falling apart, watching her trail ahead of me with no regard to the fact that we were not being the same. I could not remember a time that we were not walking right alongside each other. I could say nothing as she handed me the baby and opened the window at the end of the hallway. I watched silently as she crawled out and stretched out her arms for me to hand her over. I looked down at the baby in my arms. She smiled obliviously. I had never felt it before, but I knew I loved her. Patricia flexed her fingers, urging me on. I looked at the baby once more. She squeezed the stuffed bunny in her tiny little hands. I wondered if I could speak, since she was holding the bunny and I was holding her. I wasn’t sure if it was physically possible. I feared what would happen if I tried. I passed the baby over and crawled through the window. We walked down the fire escape without a word. I tried to catch up with Patricia, but it felt as if she was walking faster and faster every time I took a step. I focused on the grass around my feet and the swishing noise it made as I moved through it. I worried that at any moment, Patricia would step on a rock in the middle of all that plush and fall, sending the baby flying through the air. I loved the baby. No fall happened. Patricia stopped where I expected. She crouched down and held the baby close to the edge, holding her in a sitting position on the stacks of stone. “Do you hear that, baby? That’s what the ocean sounds like.” I squatted down next to Patricia, mirroring her position. She turned her head sharply and looked at me. “I hate this baby.” Although I could not speak, I felt my face form a look of shock. “Ever since Mama had the baby, she doesn’t care about us. We have to read our own books. We have to dress ourselves. We are in charge of the sameness. She used to love it, remember? We had so much fun being the twins. Now, we’re just the big sisters. I want to go back to being the twins.” Patricia loosened her grip on the baby. I watched as she started to lean back. She wriggled, still with that oblivious smile, hugging the bunny to her chest. I imagined her falling into the depths that lay just inches behind her, and felt my stomach sink even deeper than the bottom of the well. “Goodbye, baby,” Patricia said as she released her hands from Cecilia’s sides. The baby’s eyes widened as she realized there was no longer anything supporting her carefree wiggles. “No!” I yelled, grabbing the baby and cradling her in my arms. “This baby never did anything wrong!” “Isabelle, it is not your day!” Patricia lurched for the baby. I turned away and pulled the bunny gently from Cecelia’s grasp. “I don’t care, Patricia.” I held the bunny over the vast darkness of the well before us. Suddenly, I felt a wave of confidence rising from my toes, pulsing up through my legs. “I don’t want to be the same anymore. We are not the same person.” Patricia’s entire body quivered as I released the bunny into the stone tunnel. I wondered how long it would take to make it to the bottom. I never heard it land. A sharp scream filled my ears and I shifted my attention back to Patricia, whose face was covered in fat tears. She sobbed and screamed, just like she did as a baby. I looked down to see the baby in my arms, still smiling.
By Gelaine Vestal