Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mirror image

We sit in a deli, munching on chips and waiting for our sandwiches. I trace the black and white checks on the little table and glance around.

There’s a young couple to our right, good looking and likely aware of it, if their faces are any indication. It’s the look I wear when I’m made up – chin raised a bit higher, a slightly haughty, bored with it all expression. They stare silently at each other across the table and I’d be willing to wager that the only reason they aren’t speaking is because we’re within hearing distance.

To our left is an elderly couple, their bodies curved toward each other like weathered parentheses. I can only imagine what lies in the protected area between them, but that doesn’t really matter because, like most sentences, everything I really need to know is already out in the open. Further explanation would just ruin the effect of their shared side of the table, or the battered ring on his exposed left hand.

A group of teenagers sits, barely visible, around the corner of the counter. They’ve ordered their food to go, talking and laughing loudly amongst themselves while they wait. The crew making our sandwiches seems to find their exploits more interesting than the other patrons do.

And what about the two of us, this final pair? What, if anything, do these people notice about the way we sit and the way we speak to each other? I try to picture ourselves through a stranger’s eyes and it’s difficult.

She recently dyed her hair a dark, chestnut brown and I wonder if it dilutes our other physical similarities. I don’t think I look good as a brunette and prefer to keep as close to our original blonde as possible. Dark versus fair – she calls herself “the good twin”, but we have different opinions on what constitutes goodness. In fact, we have differing opinions on just about everything. Can they tell?

Our sandwiches arrive and, between bites, we continue our conversation. She lowers her voice, while my louder tone mingles with the laughs round the corner. We’re discussing a trip I’m taking soon and, though she isn’t angry as I expected her to be, she doesn’t understand my wanderlust. Everything she wants is right here in her own country, in her own backyard. She thinks everyone should be content with what they already have. It’s only one of the many ways we frustrate each other.

I complement her on the choice of restaurant and she smiles, offering me a taste of her sandwich. I don’t give compliments and she very rarely shares with me. She claims I always take what I want anyway, and perhaps that’s true. But we both seem to be trying harder today, and I wonder if our thoughtfulness seems as new to those around us as it does to me. Like the palpable awkwardness of a first date, can onlookers tell that we are more at home screaming at each other than having a normal conversation?

We’ve just finished wrapping up what’s left of our meal when I feel a hand on my shoulder. I look up and into the smiling face of the old woman, her husband waiting patiently behind her.

“You look just like your mother”, she says, patting me once.

“Thanks”, I reply.

I glance across the table expecting to see my own face, twenty years older, smirking back at me. But I don’t. This is the moment when she always says, without fail, “Actually, I’m the better looking one” or “She’s the evil twin”.

Instead she says nothing. And suddenly I wonder if what she, and everyone else, has been seeing, is my reluctance to be like her.