No Matter How Far Apart

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My best friend Tabitha’s living room was filled with taxidermied beasts. Her husband had left them in the shed Tabitha never entered and she had found stuffed and mounted antelope, big horn sheep, even a wings-spread hawk. She brought them inside, filled her house with them, and I drank tea next to a bear head. They were all like ghosts: there, but not.

She said she could not get rid of them, but what was she going to do with all these tokens of her husband, hiding in the dark? When her husband left her, the first thing he did was drive over to my house. He cried and I asked him about what it was. We had been friends for a while, but Tabitha and I had known each other for a long time, so his coming to me—which happened often, when a new crisis with Tabitha arose—was unexpected. He said he had to leave. He said he tried to be the person she needed, but he could not figure out who that was.

Tabitha held a deer skull and told me today her husband went to Florida to hunt pythons in the Everglades. “They’re invasive,” she said. “Introduced there by someone that kept them as pets. He’s down there as part of this organized hunting competition. You have to get rid of the things that don’t belong.” She held the deer skull up, turned it in her hands so she stared into its hollow eyes. I tried to think of something to say about loss, but you don’t tell someone who’s haunted that the ghosts aren’t really there.

I’ve never been married, but was close once. I tell people he was just another habit I learned to quit. The first time I saw him after I left him, he was with his new wife. I spotted them across the street from the cafe where I was, circling each other like planets and moons. She looked just like me, or almost. A picture of me that hadn’t developed quite right.

This had happened right after Tabitha’s husband left. I told her all this as a way of connecting. She shook her head, said it wasn’t the same thing. The animals didn’t fill her house, yet. It was just her and the parts of another that were left behind.

“If you want comfort,” I said,  “you can’t tell me my pain isn’t real.” I shook my head, said I was sorry. I wasn’t being fair. But, I wanted the stories to be the same.

“I was left. You…you just stopped working together.” 

“It still hurt. It hurts.”

“That was three years ago, Jillian,” she said, and picked up a framed picture of her and the husband, turned it around and around again, trying to find some view of it she had not seen before.

I started seeing the man I’d lost and his new wife around town. I started looking for them, followed them now and then. I wanted to see how she’d react to spilled wine on a blouse, to when he got mad in traffic and smacked the steering wheel again and again. I wanted to know how like me she was. It meant he still thought of me, still wondered if I lay awake at night, over-thinking the politics of zombie stories or how old starlight is before it reaches us. The wife saw me once, caught me staring. My ex never saw me. But, she kept looking to me. I would turn away, trying to find anything in that place that wasn’t her, anything that didn’t resemble a life I’d never lived.

Tabitha positioned the big horn sheep in the front yard and I drank a third mimosa. On Sundays, we got together and searched for any random thing to do, but always ended up back at her place. A neighbor, watering bushes, watched as Tabitha dragged the sheep around the yard, trying to find the right place.

The thing about my ex’s wife looking just like me is that I am twin, in a way. My twin was reabsorbed into me in the womb. Her DNA and mine, all in one body, a chimeric twin. I had had tests done because of another health issue and found out, then, that I was two people, in a way, me and someone else always as a specter floating around inside me. Now and then I wondered if we’d look alike or not at all, if she would have also been left-handed or if she would date men that were always wrong or if she would dance alone, drunk, on Saturday nights to music she didn’t know the words to. I wondered if it was true that when one twin is hurt, the other feels it, no matter how far apart they are.

The neighbor turned off the water and walked over to find out about the sheep. I offered him a mimosa and made him a drink.

“It’s my husband’s,” Tabitha said. “Was my husband’s. There are more, many more, I found in our shed. I didn’t know they existed. I knew he hunted, but didn’t know he brought all of these things home, kept them.”

“Weird to do this to them and then lock them away in the dark,” the neighbor said.

“It’s kind of horrific,” I said, feeling a bit drunk. “Like, he brings these things home, trophies. They’re one thing to him, but you find them and they’re different to you.”

“I don’t know,” Tabitha said. She moved the sheep again, decided on a final spot.

“My ex’s new wife looks just like me,” I said. I went to the sheep and looked in its glassy eyes, rubbed its fur. The second thing about my ex’s new wife is that she makes me aware of my aloneness. “Like, she could be me, but here I am, drunk on a Sunday, hanging out with dead animals on your lawn.”

The neighbor said nothing. Tabitha finished her drink. She came and stood next to me, poked the sheep. “If these weren’t Gerry’s, I’d be grossed out. They’re sort of nightmarish, aren’t they? But, they’re here and they’re him.”

“There’s this movie, about these astronauts that take a nuclear bomb to reignite a dying sun. It sounds like science fiction, but it’s actually a horror movie. There’s a mutant and he kills most everyone on their ship.”

“You’re drunk,” Tabitha said and we all watched the sheep as if waiting for it to make a move. A sharp pain pulsed in my elbow and I rubbed at it, wondering if it was my twin, rumbling around inside me, trying to let me know she’s been here all along.

I called my mom and asked her if she ever wanted another girl. She didn’t know my secret and I’ll never tell her. I don’t know if she would mourn or not know what to do about something she never had.

“Do you think she’d be just like me or do you think no one would be able to tell we were sisters?” I ask.

“Why are you asking about impossible things?” she asked. “You can wish all you want, but you can’t hold a wish in your hand. You can’t send it to the moon.”

Within a week, a menagerie crowded Tabitha’s yard. Most of the animals arranged like in some museum. Neighbors emerged from their houses and gawked. Sometimes they came over and asked about the animals. Most of the time they said nothing at all.

We watched people stop and stare from the window. I asked Tabitha if this is all a little extreme.

“It’s like you’ve never lost anyone,” Tabitha said. A slight sting just to deflect her own.

I reminded Tabitha of my twin. She was the only person, besides the doctor who first told me, that I’d ever told. “She’s long gone,” I said, “but she’s always right there, too.”

“You never knew your twin,” Tabitha said. “How can you lose something you never had?”

Tabitha moved close to me, her face close to mine. She looked in my eyes and I asked what she was doing.

“I thought, maybe, if I really looked, I’d see something I’d never noticed before, like part of her implanted in you. A slight discoloration in one of your eyes or something.”

“And, what do you see?”

“Nothing,” she said. A couple stood in Tabitha’s yard. The woman touched the sheep, pulled her hand away. “You’re like two people, but I look at you and you’re the only one I see.”

I spotted my ex’s wife at the grocery store, alone, and I followed her around. At an orange display, I bumped into her with my cart on purpose. I said I was sorry and she said not to worry. She looked right into me, kept her eyes on me, saying nothing.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “it’s just that…”

“I know,” I said. “It’s like walking into a room where a movie’s playing with you in it. You think you’re alone, but you look up and there you are.” I wanted to reach out and touch her, as though it would prove something I didn’t know I needed. My hand lingered at my side.

“Maybe we were separated at birth,” she said, and I told her I had a twin, but that we had not seen each other in a long time, that she had not stayed in touch or maybe I hadn’t, that we were both at fault or no one was, but that it didn’t matter, that we both needed each other again.

Tabitha bought a hunting rifle. She said this was the only way to move on. She said she meant to rent a truck and take all of these animals out into the woods and hunt them.

“What good will that do?” I asked. I took her hands and walked her to the window. We looked out at the zoo of her lawn. “What do you see?”

“A whole lot of wild animals,” Tabitha said.

“But, they aren’t. They used to be, but not anymore. They were your husband’s and now they’re yours. There are all of these things in your house you don’t know how to get rid of.”

I called Gerry and told him he needed to come home, needed to talk to his wife. He told me they’re getting divorced and I said you can’t just decide to be done with a person and that’s it.

“That’s either the way it works,” he said, “or you circle each other forever and ever, stuck in each other’s orbits.”

I found out that my ex’s new wife, Reyna, took yoga near my apartment and so I signed up. I made an effort to talk to her and we went out after class. She asked me about my life, who I was, how my twin had lost touch, if I was in love or had anyone special in my life. I left anything out that might tell her I was anyone but some stranger she’d randomly run into here and there, no plan or coincidence in the world.

I asked her about her husband, said I wanted the whole story. She talked and I listened, compared what I had known of him to who she told about. He seemed different or changed, somehow, in the telling.

Reyna asked again about my twin and how we got so far apart. I tried to make something up, but the story did not come out right.

“It’s hard to know how one thing falls apart while another just keeps on, perfect and happy, forever,” Reyna said.

“I don’t know if it’s her or the idea of her that I miss,” I said.

“Aren’t they the same, in a way?” she asked.

“Or, maybe the idea’s the only real thing, and that’s always with us,” I said, looking at this woman who was me or at least some version of me.

Gerry decided to see Tabitha and I arrived at her house as he pulled his truck into the driveway. He got out and walked among all the stuffed and mounted beasts. He rubbed his eyes, shook his head. He yelled her name and she came out of the house.

“I’m taking all of these,” he said.

He went toward the sheep and Tabitha pushed him. “You can’t have them,” she said. “You left and these stayed and you can’t take them back.” I went to take Tabitha’s arm and she shrugged me off. She wrapped her arms around the sheep and tried to pick it up. The husband stood there in the lawn with me and watched her as she carried the sheep, struggling under its weight.

I walked into the house after Tabitha and the husband remained in the yard. I found her in the bathroom, standing in front of the mirror, crying and shaking her head. I stood next to her and put an arm around her. We looked at each other in the mirror. I watched her for some sort of change, something to tell me we could move on, to find a way to become who we needed to be. I kept looking at myself in the mirror, at all of my exposed skin. I thought of my twin and how she was inside me somewhere. I scanned the mirror, looking for a new bruise or a cut, a rupture in my skin, evidence of some sort of life trying to get out.

Photo By: Max Sat

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About Author

Justin Lawrence Daugherty is a certain kind of sea monster. He's somewhere in Atlanta, thinking about the light of stars. He never says anything of use on Twitter @jdaugherty1081. He manages Sundog Lit, co-founded Jellyfish Highway Press, and edits for New South Journal and Cartridge Lit, the latter a lit mag of works inspired by video games.

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