05 Oct My Own Worst Enemy
My Own Worst Enemy
The unmistakable stench of death drew the flies. The contrast was striking, black fly bodies swarming around light pink plastic rollers in a mass of bloodied hair. Blowflies laid their eggs in the woman’s eyes and mouth in the limited fly-knowledge that these moist places are the best and one needs to get in and lay one’s eggs before the corpse desiccates. Some of them got in four minutes after the point of death, not from the smell but from watching from nooks and cracks in the walls, aware of the bloating and the dried-sweat salt on the too-warm skin. When the blood-containing foam started to leak from the nose, all local flies were abroad, even those biding time on the underside of picture frames. As the cell membranes ruptured and the abdominal organs accumulated gas, as nails and teeth fell, the flies joyfully considered their life-goals and their descendants. The next generation will feed on the putrefying flesh, maggots that fall down the throat eating from the inside out. In the heat and the shade of indoors, it all happened much faster than it normally would: a fly wonderland. In the secret world of flies, all know that the dead are teeming with life.
Active decomposition under a Georgia heat dome meant the coroner would take a very long time to establish the cause of death. Through long hot and steamy summer days we argued, fought like cats, hit our heads together, punched our own faces in frustration. We stayed awake full nights, not allowing the other to be lulled into the comfort of sleep. We considered the pros of running away, we considered the cons of sticking around. It was only a matter of time before the nefarious deed caught up with one, and the other.
We were born on Wednesday, September 12, 2001 and the headline in our local newspaper read “A Precious Rarity: Double Trouble for Local Mom” and there was a picture of a stork carrying two intertwined bundles. Our mother kept the newspaper clipping folded in her “memory box” which was a normal shoebox, a garish yellow. I always wanted her to buy a special keepsake box, one with a decorative clasp, to keep the record of us in. Were we not special? Giving birth to conjoined twins is an extremely rare phenomenon. We reckon our mother, and us, would have been on the news, maybe even on Oprah, had it not been for the 9/11 terrorist attacks happening as she went into labour. Our mother told us about the ultrasound scan, the nurse screamed! “One heart beating in the chest, two heads!” She “felt like she was in a movie”, Mom said, “until it got real”. She named us Ash and Aspen because we were like two branches of the same (spliced) tree.
We were born with a clubfoot but got it corrected surgically, and with difficulty we were able to learn to walk. We share a heart and a liver. We don’t share a brain but we do share thoughts so I think we share a mind. Selectively, we can act separately or as one. As babies, we heard the sounds of speech and tried to imitate it. Like an echo chamber, we reverberated the sounds to one another. Unlike other toddlers, our mistakes and cooing efforts stuck and consolidated as a language all our own. We could speak in code if necessary, if we felt threatened. We would speak in code any time there was someone near. It was possible for me to put an image in Aspen’s mind but it took more effort than just saying words.
We walked to school every day along Orchard Park and we dreaded passing the corner house. That bitch Doris used to holler out, call us “freaks”, said we “belong in the fuckin’ circus!”. She used to shout from her porch chair, cigarette clutched loosely in her fingers. She’d have plastic pink curlers in her dirty hair sometimes and we wondered why she didn’t just buy a curling tongs.
We never had friends but we had each other and that’s all we needed. Nobody wanted to hang out with us, people would literally stop and stare. Children would point and laugh but they didn’t know any better. We could dissect experiences, we’d get excited about simple things other people took for granted, like swimming. The only pool that would accept us and teach us was for handicapped swimmers. There were kids with Cerebral Palsy, quadriplegics, and us. The buoyancy conditions were interesting for us, allowing play by opposing each other mentally, attempting to swim in different directions simultaneously as it resulted in a strange tingling sensation for both of us.
On hitting puberty, we identified as nonbinary, asexual, and gender fluid. We used the pronouns “they/them”. We remained virgins and made jokes that we didn’t need to get married because we already have an other half. Our mother’s friends’ fake smiles did little to hide their pity, and beneath that, their revulsion at us. They normally called to see Mom when they knew we wouldn’t be home.
We used to sit on the grass in the local park every Sunday and make plans and fantasise. We dreamed of going so many places, Ireland and Azerbaijan, one plane ticket and two passports. We count as two people for one plane seat and have the same legal status as a pregnant woman. Given this, we were bitter that our local cinema clerk always charged us for two tickets though we only took up one seat in a half-empty theatre.
Aspen was always more carefree than me and ate junk food and smoked. Both activities made me ill. Two weeks ago, we tried alcohol for the first time, largely because Aspen wanted to. We stole a bottle of rum from the liquor store when the guy was out back and mixed it with cola. We could feel it coursing through our bloodstream and I was a little frightened by the feeling, like a surging through me. Walking home, we passed Doris’s house and the lights were off. Before I knew it, Aspen had chucked a stone at her bedroom window. Doris opened the window and screamed at us, looking frazzled like she’s been asleep or maybe drinking too. She called us “fuckin’ mutants”, said we “should be wiped off the face of the Earth”. The last thing I remember was us rushing toward Doris’s porch. Our heart was beating too fast. I felt faint and blacked out. Aspen doesn’t recall everything, only some things in flashes, remembers Doris reviving even after she’d gone still, remembers the ligature had to be pulled tighter and tighter till it seemed her neck would snap.
Aspen doesn’t need to tell me the fear of prison as I can taste this fear like metal in our mouths. It’s not like we could go on the run, not realistically. We pooled our money and got a bus to Alabama. We rented a cheap motel room in Birmingham. The teenager on reception was high and you could tell he was trying to hold it together looking at our two heads smiling politely at the check-in desk. The suicide pact was Aspen’s idea. We agreed on asphyxiation. The dim light and the colour the sun made on the closed burnt-orange curtains was comforting to us as we lay on the bed in our dingy room. Aspen’s head nestled against mine, the same shape we’ve made in sleep since we existed. We closed our eyes, could visualise the colours of the sun on the curtains under our eyelids. We held hands for the longest time. We secured the noose and, on the chair, pushed our heads through the loop. I don’t know which one of us had the impulse to kick away the chair. Joined in utero, same chorion, placenta, and amniotic sac, now same despondency, same despair, same death throes. When our heart stopped beating, a fly rubbed her wings in excitement. The others, waiting in cracks in the motel walls heard the signal and buzzed back.
Dr Jenny Butler likes to write about the dark and the disturbing. She has had short stories published most recently in Other Terrain Literary Journal, and previously in October Hill Magazine, Adelaide Literary Journal, Spillwords, The Same Literary Journal, The Raven’s Perch Literary Magazine, Fictive Dream Magazine, Literary Orphans Literary Magazine, Corvus Review, The Flexible Persona Literary Journal, Tales from the Forest Magazine, The Roaring Muse, Mulberry Fork Review, Killjoy Literary Magazine, Firefly, The Ginger Collect, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, and Flash Fiction Magazine. You can read more about her on her website www.drjennybutler.com. You can also find her on Twitter @jenny_butler_ and on Instagram @spiral_eyed_grrl