Between

I’m not a real rowdy girl, but of the two of us I’m the loud one. People like to make those kinds of comparisons when you have a twin. ‘Course, nobody ever confused us in real life because I’m the only one that knows about her. Met her for the first time the day Mama took me to the shore- hardly old enough to know any difference between me and not me. And then it happened, what everyone around these parts calls the almost-tragedy, what the world saw was mama slipping- what happened was my world separating, pulling away, stubborn even then, reaching out, the smell of salt being the same as its taste, liquid racing in from all directions to soften the fall, protecting me smooth rolling against my pink skin. It wasn’t until my twin was beside me that I realized she wasn’t there before. They say I was under for a few panicked minutes. Hard to believe it wasn’t hours the way I forgot everything but her.

Looked for her ever since, growing up, just some gawking girl like me, except when she moves her edges don’t stop, just keeps gliding like the sea. Last summer, (or maybe the one before last) things fell together again. People always need to explain things, makin’ up stories in order to understand, but I’ve never been so big with imagination or pretend types of things. All I know is what i know and I’m telling you my twin swam to the surface of the ocean and blessed me, a day so hot that the sun scorched all the red hairs on my head. It was the hour when thin-skinned people lay smothered in lotions or hide inside wired in porches tracked over with sand. I went out alone, not really a brazen beauty as they say, but pigheaded and grumpy at the noises of home, with mother always yelling ‘Alleluia’ or ‘Preach it Brother John’.

What I remember most is that air. Muggy, sticky air so thick outside my skin that it swells right through, until I’m nothing but a bunch of gangly molecules suspended in a swim. Heat’s graceful that way, I s’pose. How it takes away the split of outside from inside, the feeling of arms and limbs: like flittering in water even before I sprouted these fins.

I won’t go all the way back to the beginning. In this new space I’m in, time goes into the tub and down the drain only to fill up again. Here I hold my hands that are not hands, stretched out bones all laced together, flaps like little fans glowing pale pink. Reminds me of the light pushing through closed eyelids, pressing them to my face, spread out so wide what used to be pinky to thumb wraps round past both ears. When I’m hidden there squinting behind such soft webbing, the room is only shadows of walls and sink, can’t even see clear enough or far enough to remember how things used to be.

You know, what I love most is the quiet. Ever since I stood in the foam of the shore, my own two feet no longer there, the sand melting the skin between my toes. In that glare of light I felt her shooting all the way through me. Little pins and needles glittering with the sand, growing or shrinking, until the air rushed out, tightening every bone in me. And then loose inside this skin, her grip on my hand rushing us into the tide. We hovered in the whiteness of waves, with the pull of ocean pushing everything out my ears. I kept slipping deeper, already calmed by the swish of fins. And the sound of water; I wish I could tell you how, when it’s rushing around you or still like a day without breeze, all you can hear is a sound so perfect – the low pulse of her heartbeat like fingers tapping inside me, and then comin’ up from the water with that feeling, just knowing how sad it is to breathe air.

I can lie in this wet world forever hearing my thoughts. Right here in this tub- always like the white smoothness of this tub on my skin. Used to be mama would insist I only bathed Saturday night, keeping me proper for church on Sundays. Because she knew there was no gettin’ me out once I was in. I never climbed trees like the other brats on my street, forever stuck in such solid spaces like branch, and tree, and ground. Always preferred daydreaming I was in Noah’s ark, splashing and hollering down here, makin’ tub waves until the room smelled of sweet water.

Daddy is so surprised I’m not all wrinkled up like the skin around grandma’s mouth when her dentures are soaking. I think he’s actually grown to love his little girl with fins. Spends all his time in the kitchen, tools spread over the counters, blue prints and dull pencil nubs scribbling out every shape or size of bathtub that go beyond gettin’ clean. He’s working on one now that’s toasty warm and soft down at the bottom, with enough room to float in all directions and never feel edge.

I swish around in here, kickin’ each leg now and then just to see, quick checking the pull of under hasn’t made ’em into one. Like it best when the water’s still and looking up from underneath I see the stars poking in at night. I stare for hours out that hole daddy cut in the roof, soaking in space. Not so much the kind where planets fly, no , I think I’d be too scared to go into that darkness up there. Besides I couldn’t leave my twin behind. Nah, I like the kind of space that settles between my toes and in the joints of the knees and elbows until the whole room is liquid (the rain of mama flicking the surface). It’s been hard on mama that I spend so much time under here. Look at her, just a blur of color, no real outline, torn away from God to tend on me. When she sits so close to the tub, bent over the water that is over me, it always reminds me of that verse in the bible, my favorite from somewhere in Mark or Luke. He wept. Just that: two words, but so passionate, so flowing, like the waves that gush you from the inside out.

There’s so much water. I’m surrounded by it now, got to where I can’t even tell if I might be crying. Can’t even remember what sorrow is. In this wetness, the bathroom cries for me, water dripping down the walls, off the ceiling, slow crawling gleams, not keeping track of tears. Don’t really need to, floating weightless with my twin, clear blue moving against the warmth of my fins. Surely I did in those days before that summer, when I was just a little freckle still caught in the moment of drowning, falling away from everything.

 

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