When Maria learns that her twin sister, Lupa, will return home after eight years away, she cannot sleep. Instead, she studies her hands. She spreads her palms onto her thighs and, using only her eyes, slowly examines each finger. She thinks about the variables. For her, the sun, the dishwater, and the bathwater from three children, birthdays piled right on top of one another, no rest for her aching back. For Lupa, the cracking cold of Alaska, and Lupa never cared for lotions or expensive creams, just books with rough pages to slice the fingers in moments of distraction.
For one hot Columbian summer, their mirrored state had fascinated both Maria and Lupa. They sat underneath the sheet-covered table on their grandmother’s patio and pressed their six-year-old palms together, marveling at the symmetry. They inked each finger and compared the prints, deciding that the designs were like their names, different decorations for what must be the same body, the same mind.
But they were not the same. The summer ended, and Lupa outran Maria at school for the rest of their years together. In all of the subjects, Lupa was queen, and Maria settled for being the pretty one, though the boys could see no difference between their physical features, only their intentions.
Now, Lupa will not only be smarter, but older as well. Maria understands Einstein’s relativity. Carlos watches the science shows on television after he makes love to her at night, bouncing his large belly against her own. And as she settles in against him and prays for no more babies, she listens to the man with the soft voice explain that time passes more slowly at the equator. Closer to the poles, time passes more quickly, but the variation is almost imperceptible.
Maria sees her sister traveling down from the north where she and her boyfriend John smile for pictures and ride around in fishing boats collecting what, in her letters, Lupa calls data points. Maria sees herself sitting across from her sister at her grandmother’s ninetieth birthday party, detecting the undetectable. By comparing the shapes of their knuckles, the cresents of their nails, the lines in their skin, Maria will confirm that in outrunning her, it is Lupa who has lost. It is Lupa who is leaking vitality and racing toward gray age, and all because she left Maria, her twin, behind.