Almost Like a Heart
Jay, listening closely, then hanging up the phone. Jay, turning to her, telling her he needs to go to London. Saying, ‘I have a twin.’ Saying, ‘Seems he might be dead.’
Helen, thinking how they’re three months in and she knows almost nothing of him. Birthday: July 16th. Favourite drink: lager-top. Chicken tikka and pilau rice; northern soul and Jack Kerouac; Fred Perry. Gangster films. Arsenal FC.
Helen, saying, ‘You never told me you had a twin.’
And Jay, saying, ‘Well, I have.’
In bed, Jay, eyes closed.
Helen, saying, ‘What’s his name? Tell me that, at least.’
And eventually, Jay, saying, ‘We were christened James and Jake. But no one could tell us apart. In the end, we were both just Jay. Easier that way.’
Helen, asking him which one. Knowing it doesn’t matter.
And Jay, eyes open, looking at the ceiling, silent until he says, ‘What would you think of a brother who stole his brother’s wife?’
Making love to one or the other — she can’t tell which — while one or the other is watching, eyes full of remorse. The twins, swapping — things continuing — and the eyes the same, the remorse the same.
Helen, waking — 4:03am — the sheets sweat-drenched and Jay asleep, immovable, a weight in the darkness.
Helen, wanting to hold him, to touch him, but not wanting to wake him, so touching herself instead, in that quick, quiet way she uses sometimes, and afterwards not feeling better. Not feeling worse.
Helen, falling asleep.
And Jay in the morning, already gone.
A text from the train. I have to go to the police station. I have to go to the morgue.
Helen, sending, This is awful. How are you feeling? And when there’s no reply, thinking of tunnels, how he might be sleeping with his head against the window, the juddering of the tracks. Almost five hours. All that time to think.
Eventually, the message coming through: It’s been fifteen years
Helen, phoning three times and no answer. Making coffee, thinking about her father. In the hospital, watching him die. A shaft of sunlight on the bedsheets. Like forgiveness. Pressing his cheek, feeling it give. That softness: something, but not him. Trying to cry. Sharing a cigarette outside with a man pulling a drip on a metal frame.
The phone, waking her.
And Jay, saying, ‘They’re taking me to see him tomorrow.’
Helen, waking at 3.57 am, going to the wardrobe, selecting an old summer dress, sunflowers on a blue background, the one she wore the first time with her husband. A bar, a beer-garden, the rain-wet path to the river and holding hands. The dress a little loose around the breasts now, tight around the middle. Short above the knee.
Helen, taking the mirror from the back of the bedroom door, carrying it downstairs, sitting on the couch and staring at herself, counting the sunflowers, thinking of dressmakers with scissors. The fabric spread out across a field. The dressmakers cutting hundreds of tiny dress-shapes, all joined together like a line of paper dolls.
Helen, in the mirror, not crying, and the dress a perfect fit.
The morning, warm, and she’s on the patio, the box on the table, the photographs spread out. Her father, young and pale in monochrome. A woman, not her mother. The camera — being passed between them, perhaps? — taking shots of each other in front of huge grey mountains.
Cadair Idris, July ’69 on the reverse of each one, in a hand that’s not her father’s.
Her mother, years ago now, showing her the box amongst his things. The photographs, the woman. Her mother, saying, ‘Abigail something-or-other. The one before me. He loved her, I think. She didn’t love him back, or not enough.’
Her father, keeping the box under the bed, where people keep the parts of their lives that didn’t work.
Helen, putting the photographs back in the box, leaving it on the table on the patio, going upstairs, crawling under her bed, squeezing in. Plastic boxes of cards, letters, photographs, certificates. Old phones. CD’s. A wedding album. A box, a dress.
Helen, looking up at the underside of the mattress, the slats of wood which hold it. Dust, and something written — a measurement, perhaps — red pencil: 6’ 7”, and an arrow drawn there, the head of it almost like a heart.
Helen, licking her finger, rubbing at the numbers, rubbing at the arrow. Watching it fade.
A message, saying, He still looked exactly the same.
Another, saying, As me, I mean. He still looked the same as me.
The next: He had no one else.
After a while, another: They found his body in the river. They don’t know why.
Helen, wanting to send, Did you steal his wife, or did he steal yours?
Helen, knowing the distance that years bring, how answers don’t matter.
Helen, sending nothing. Waiting.
Later, his message: When we were kids he used to say that twins’ hearts beat in time. And then, even later, The past isn’t a place I ever want to go.
At 2.24 am: I’m coming home tomorrow.
At 3.13, for the first time: I love you.
Helen, dragging boxes from under the bed, stacking them next to the door. Carrying them outside. The car. The tip. The man in green overalls, helping.
Helen, not watching.
Helen, not looking.
Driving back home, the rain against the window. Inside, upstairs, into bed. Wanting him to find her there. Wanting him not to say a word.
Wanting to be stolen, taken, christened, born, nothing left of her past in the dust beneath the bed. Her brand-new heart an arrow. And — years later — remembering the feel of it beating.
Jason Jackson's prize-winning fiction appears regularly in print and online. His stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize as well as appearing regularly in the BIFFY 50 and Best Microfictions. Jason is also a photographer, and his prose/photography piece The Unit is published by A3 Press. Jason co-edits the online magazine Janus Literary.