Academic journal article Chicago Review

Two Stories

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Two Stories

Article excerpt

Train

She has always suspected the existence of her twin sister. Her parents share a knowing, guilty eye contact whenever she brings up the idea of siblings at the dinner table. The dinner table is vast and covered with goblets, unused place settings, beautiful glass, and silver. The dining room is unusually dark. Her fantasy life has been coincidentally full of secret siblings; girls like her, pale and thin, with delicate wrists and platinum hair. They have many special attributes, powers, and features. Invisibility, flight, hermaphroditic genitalia.

On her twelfth birthday, she receives two pieces of mail. The first is from her parents, who are on another of their extended holidays. They are thinking of her fondly on her birthday and hoping that she is being a good girl and keeping up with her schoolwork. She is, in fact, finishing up two different reports, one on the mutant amphibians that have been raining down on some parts of the country, and the other on tortured heretics and martyrs of bygone days. The second letter is from her twin.

You may have always suspected my existence, the twin writes. Just as I had always suspected yours. In fact, I proved your existence through deductive reasoning. A certain warble, a gravitational pull, an absence in time and events that could only be explained by the presence of a twin. But it is only now-now that the woman I always thought was my mother is dead-that the true circumstances of my birth have been revealed. It is imperative that we meet. Health circumstances prevent me from traveling. You must come to me.

Nothing in the preparations is difficult. Beth has been preparing for such a journey for years. Her parents' fondness for travel has created an independent child, a child who knows how to manage her money and ask for information from strange men. The exclusive neighborhood in which they live is well guarded. It is under constant surveillance. There is no threat in standing on the corner to hail a taxi, and the train station is far enough out of town that few suspicious characters congregate there. Once she gets out of the city, in fact, away from the river and the trees, she discovers that the landscape is completely empty. She can see for miles in any direction. It isn't the sort of landscape that harbors fugitives.

The journey will take weeks. The twin has managed to end up in a foreign country, as far away as she can be from her sister without being on the other side of an ocean. Beth is required to bring certification of various inoculations, papers she will need to pass through several smaller, less inviting nations en route. She is a thin girl. She barely eats, and when she does it is only chocolates or jelly beans. She imagines her sister's face and she imagines the immediate intimacy they will feel together. It is impossible to believe that her parents haven't been somehow unscrupulous in this whole matter.

She passes cities which rise in the distance out of desolate plains, buildings of mirrored glass, buildings with mysterious green lights on top. She passes oil wells rising in the dawn light like the skeletons of dinosaurs. She travels across dried-up gullies which serve as borders and farther and farther through scrub deserts. It had never occurred to her that so much of the world was dry and barely inhabited. She travels between mountain ranges as brown and lifeless as the valleys they surround. Eventually she will have to go through vast jungles. The travel agent suggested she pack rubber hip boots in case the train derailed or bandits forced all the passengers out into the humid air to give them their valuables. But every time she falls asleep she is in the desert, and every time she wakes up she is in the desert, so that the desert comes to seem synonymous with the lid of her head. If she is scalped, it will be the desert itself which is removed, and her moist trembling brain will be exposed to so much sunlight that it will shrivel into an anorexic husk. …

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