My sister moved through the birth canal like a soft, summer breeze. She was already being photographed and passed from loving arm to loving arm when I announced my arrival with a cramp and shooting pains. I slithered through my mother’s vagina upside-down and backwards, splattering the bed with meconium black as tar.
According to Granny, I lay there clutching my placenta with abnormally long fingers as if I had dragged it with me on the way out. “One minute your mother was screaming like a Banshee, the next, the room was silent as a tomb, and there you lay, covered from head to toe in shit. T’was a bad sign.”
Granny’s always going on about bad signs so I don’t really pay her much heed. She says I’m the dark one, the yin to my sister’s yang. But, my hair is as white blond as Lucia’s and we stare out into the world through the same cornflower coloured eyes. Only my dad can always tell us apart.
Some days, Mother sits at her piano, her long, graceful fingers resting lightly on the keys and stares out the window for hours. On other days, the house vibrates with each note as if the music was trying to drill itself into the walls. Only when her back is to us can she always tell us apart. “You’re letting a cold draft into the room, Maura. Close the door and leave me in peace.” “Lucia, would you please be a dear and get me a cup of tea. Then close the door and leave Mother to her work.”
I was still a toddler when I first noticed the orb of light in the air nearby. Always hovering right there by my side. It was as if a mantle had failed to meld with my body when I had rushed into the world. Somehow I knew if I wanted to, all I needed to do was reach out and drape it over my skin. Then my grandmother would forget about signs and my mother would always know that it was me. Even when she was looking right at me.
Lucia’s own mantle shines from her and makes everyone smile when she is near. It makes Mrs. Evans tell her that her long, delicate hands are artist’s hands. Whereas mine are scrawny, stick-like protrusions. “Don’t bother finishing your art project dear; it will never be as good as your sister’s.” Lucia sometimes writes her name on my designs and always gets an A.
If I draped myself in that shining cloak my projects would always have A’s. The boys would look at me like they were thirsty and I was a tall, cold glass of water. The girls would want to play with me and help me comb out my tangled curls. But, Lucia and I hold hands and then skip home together. I am the yin to her yang. Deep down I’m afraid if I reach out to that spot of light and try it on, even for a moment, I would disappear and leave only Lucia.
Throughout our childhood we are never far apart. Except the year we turn thirteen. We beg our father for separate rooms. Lucia’s perfume is gross. My stuff is always touching hers. She likes Mozart and I like Bach. It is intolerable.
Father spends the entire summer refurbishing the attic. When he is finished, the windows of my room overlook the meandering river. If I stare hard enough I can see dark shapes move below its sinuous waters. Lucia has the gardens. The dark red and orange autumn blossoms seem to glow in the morning light from her windows. My stuff need never touch hers again. And when the doors are closed our rooms contain the lilting strands of our long-dead, favourite composers.
That first night I lie in my own room, in my own bed, feeling as if I am an overly stretched bit of elastic. I can’t breathe. And even with my eyes closed I can see the dark, twisting shapes beneath the ripples. “Maura?” Lucia’s whisper floats out of the darkness. She slips beneath the covers and we giggle late into the night. Our long fingers and fine hair wind together as we finally sleep.
It is to be a double wedding. Lucia’s fiancé is a tiny, dark-haired china doll. I see a dusky purple cloak beneath her pale skin and smile. They only cuddle together when Granny isn’t in the room. “It’s not natural,” Granny grumbles and glowers at me. “You made her this way. Always spooning together, even as big girls. We shoulda seen it and stopped it.”
My fiancé is tall; his hair is chestnut brown and always a mess. His skin is velvety and the colour of caramel. We smile at each other and sip our tea. He’s surrounded by a glow that only I can see. Granny drapes her arm through his and lets him lead her out into the gardens. “Has anyone ever told you how Maura arrived in this world? Head to toe in shit, she was.”
I sit and watch them through the windows. My bit of light still hovers beside me like a patient dog. I smile at it; I am still here and still me.
“gray_yinyang” by Ron Brinkmann. www.flckr.com. Some rights reserved.