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.


Sharon Longworth said...

Perfect. No other words needed.

Philip said...

Nice. Fresh air. I bet it was the parentheses - Am I right?

Mr London Street said...

Welcome back. This is indeed perfect - beautifully written, judged and observed.

Robbie Grey said...

Very nicely done.

Baglady said...

Lovely. I loved the weathered parentheses. Great metaphor.

Nicole said...

The parentheses were my favorite, too. I have twins and spent a lot of time assuming you had a twin you'd never written about. Well, you know what they say about assumptions, ba dump dum. Wow, bad, even for me.

I think the ending is the reading equivalent of having cold water throw in one's face. I'm kind of just blinking it away and trying to take it in.

Great piece.

"As We Speak" said...

You had me at weathered parentheses and it just kept getting better.


Somewhere Circus said...

Beautifully written. Your honesty is disconcerting. I can always picture the settings, your pieces are so rich with details.

wondertwins said...

I think every child struggles to walk out from the shadows of their parents. Even in a perfectly normal family where divorce,murder and giving me up for adoption isn't going to happen anytime soon, i still struggle with that. My parents are fairly successful in their careers and they found true love in each other, but i am still adamant about not ending up like them. I pity them for having a kid willingly. My mum just says she is so lucky, my dad too, but i put myself in their shoes and i just feel really tired. Every child is a rebel in their parent's eyes, maybe even in our own eyes. It's natural. I think it's the alternative Freudian theory, with much less sex and much more logic.

Eric said...

I [paused] there on my way [home] to take a [break], [+] saw some [Shift][E] curly braces over [@] the next [Tab][L], so I made a quick [Esc].

mo.stoneskin said...

It has to be good that she didn't use the 'evil twin' line though, right?

The number of times I've shuddered at the realisation that I'm seeing things in me that reflect things i've always hated in my parents is countless. What is possibly worse now is that I see things I hate about myself making appearences in my offspring...ah well

Catherine. said...

I just love to stop by at your blog. It‘s always a blast!


T. Roger Thomas said...

The "weathered parentheses" simile is my favorite bit in this excellent piece of writing.

Afrodeezha said...

The weathered parentheses was also my favorite, but what you describe as what I initially thought was your twin, could very well be my mother and I.

I really enjoyed this and wish I hadn't stayed away so long!

Storycollector said...

Thanks. That's all I want to say. Thanks.

Lizzie said...

Great writing. Glad you're back! Brilliant observations, as always.

Is said...

You write beautifully. You stopped by an old blog of mine a couple years back and I was just sorting through old comments- glad I decided to visit. I loved the weathered parentheses metaphor.

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