The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 10, No. 2


by Chris Adrian

Someone was murdering the small animals of our neighborhood. We found them in the road outside our houses, and from far away they looked like the victims of careless drivers, but close up you saw that they were plump and round, not flat, and that their bodies were marred by clean-edged rectangular stab wounds. Sometimes they lay in drying pools of blood, and you knew the murder had occurred right there. Other times it was obvious they had been moved from the scene of the crime and arranged in postures, like the two squirrels posed in a hug on Mrs. Chenoweth's doorstep.
     Squirrels, then rabbits, then the cats, and dogs in late summer. By that time I had known for months who was doing all the stabbing. I got that information on the first day of June 1979, two years and one month and fourteen days after my brother's death from cancer. I woke up early that morning, a sunny one that broke a chain of rainy days, because my father was taking me to see Spider-Man, who was scheduled to make an appearance at the fourth annual Leukemia Society of America Summer Fair in Washington, D.C. I was eight years old and I thought Spider-Man was very important.
     In the kitchen I ate a bowl of cereal while my father spread the paper out before me. "Look at that," he said. On the front page was an article detailing the separation of Siamese twin girls, Lisa and Elisa Johansen from Salt Lake City. They were joined at the thorax, like my brother and I had been, but they shared vital organs, whereas Colm and I never did. There was a word for the way we and they had been joined: thoracopagus. It was still the biggest word I knew.
     "Isn't that amazing?" my father said. He was a surgeon, so these sorts of things interested him above all others. "See that? They're just six months old!" Colm and I were separated at eighteen months. I had no clear memories of either the attachment or the operation, though Colm claimed he remembered our heads knocking together all the time, and that he dreamed of monkeys just before we went under from the anesthesia. The Johansen twins were joined side by side; my brother and I were joined back to back. Our parents would hold up mirrors so we could look at each other—that was something I did remember: looking in my mother's silver-handled mirror, over my shoulder at my own face.
     Early as it was, on our way out to the car we saw our new neighbor, Molly Matthews, sitting on the front steps of her grandparents' house, reading a book in the morning sun.
     "Hello, Molly," said my father.
     "Good morning, Dr. Cole," she said. She was unfailingly polite with adults. At school she was already very popular, though she had been there for only two months, and she had a tendency to oppress the other children in our class with her formidable vocabulary.
     "Poor girl," said my father, when we were in the car and on our way. He pitied her because both her parents had died in a car accident. She was in the car with them when they crashed, but she was thrown from the wreck through an open window—this was in Florida, where I supposed everyone always drove around with their windows down and never wore seatbelts.
     I turned in my seat so I was upside down. This had long been my habit; I did it so I could look out the window at the trees and telephone wires as we passed them. My mother would never stand for it, but she was flying that day to San Francisco. She was a stewardess. Once my father and I flew with her while she was working and she brought me a cup of Coke with three cherries in it. She put down the drink and leaned over me to open up the window shade, which I had kept closed from the beginning of the flight out of fear. "Look," she said to me. "Look at all that!" I looked and saw sandy mountains that resembled crumpled brown paper bags. I imagined falling from that great height into my brother's arms.
     "Spider-Man!" said my father, after we had pulled onto Route 50 and passed a sign that read, WASHINGTON, D.C. 29 MILES. "Aren't you excited?" He reached over and rubbed my head with his fist. Had my mother been with me, she would not have spoken at all, but my father talked the whole way, about Spider-Man, about the Mall, about the Farrah Fawcett look-alike who was also scheduled to appear; he asked me repeatedly if the prospect of seeing such things didn't make me excited, though he knew I would not answer him. I hadn't spoken a word or uttered a sound since my brother's funeral.

Spider-Man was a great disappointment. When my father brought me close for an autograph, I saw that his Spider-Suit was badly sewn, and glossy in a gross sort of way; his voice, when he said, "Hey there, Spider-Fan," pitched high like a little mouse's. He was an utter fake. I ran away from him, across the Mall; my father did not catch me until I had made it all the way to the Smithsonian Castle. He didn't yell at me. It only made him sad when I acted so peculiarly. My mother sometimes lost her temper and would scream out that I was a twisted little fruitcake, and why couldn't I ever make anything easy? She would apologize later, but never with the same ferocity, and so it seemed to me not to count. I always hoped she would burst into my room later on in the night, to wake me by screaming how sorry she was, to slap herself, and maybe me too, because she was so regretful.
     "So much for Spider-Man," said my father. He took me to see the topiary buffalo, and for a while we sat in the grass, saying nothing, until he asked me if I wouldn't go back with him. I did, and though we had missed the Farrah Fawcett look-alike's rendition of "Feelings," he got to meet her, because he had connections with the Society. She said I was cute and gave me an autographed picture that I later gave to my father because I could tell he wanted it.
     When we got home I went up to my room and tossed all my Spider-Man comic books and action figures into the deepest recesses of my closet. Then I took a book out onto the roof. I sat and read Stuart Little for the fifth time. Below me, in the yard next door, I could see Molly playing, just as silent as I was. Every once in a while she would look up and catch me looking at her, and she would smile down at her plastic dolls. We had interacted like this before, me reading and her playing, but on this day, for some reason, she spoke to me. She held my gaze for a few moments, then laughed coyly and said, "Would you like to see my bodkin?" I shrugged, then climbed down and followed her into the ravine behind our houses. I did not know what a bodkin was. I thought she was going to make me look inside her panties, like Judy Corcoran had done about three weeks before, trying to make me swear not to tell about the boring thing I had seen.
     But what Molly showed me—after we had gone down about thirty feet into the bushes and she had knelt near the arrow-shaped gravestone of our English sheepdog, Gulliver, and after she dug briefly in the dry dirt—was a dagger. It was about a foot long, and ornate, encrusted with what looked like real emeralds and rubies, with a great blue stone set in the pommel, and a rose etched in relief on the upper part of the blade.
     "Do you like it?" she asked me. "My father gave it to me. It used to belong to a medieval princess." I did like it. I reached out for it, but she drew it back to her chest and said, "No! You may not touch it." She ran off down the ravine, toward the river; I didn't follow. I sat on Gulliver's stone and thought about all the little dead animals, and I knew—even a little mind could make the connection—that Molly had been murdering them. But I didn't give much thought to it, besides a brief reflection on how sharp the blade must be to make such clean wounds. I walked back to my house and went down to the basement to watch The Bionic Woman, my new favorite.

After Colm's death I got into the habit of staring, sometimes for hours at a time, at my image in the mirror. My parents thought it was just another of my new autistic tendencies, and they both discouraged it, even going so far as to remove the mirror from my bedroom. What they didn't know was that the image I was looking at was not really my own; it was Colm's. When I looked in the mirror I saw the face we had shared. We were mirror twins, our faces perfectly symmetrical, the gold flecks in my left eye mirrored in Colm's right, a small flaw at the right edge of his lips mirrored by one at the left edge of mine. So when I looked in the mirror, even the small things that made my face my own made my face into his, and if I waited long enough he would speak to me. He would tell me about heaven, about all sorts of little details, like that nobody ever had to go to the bathroom there. We had both considered that necessity to be a great inconvenience and a bore. He said he was watching me all the time.
     There was a connection between us, he often said, even when he was alive, that the surgeons had not broken when we were separated. It was something unseen. We did not have quite two souls between us; it was more that we had one and a half. Sometimes he would hide from me, somewhere in our great big house, and insist that I find him. Usually I couldn't, but he always found me; I couldn't hide from him anywhere in the house, or, I suspected, anywhere on earth.
     After he died I found him, not just in mirrors but in every reflective surface. Ponds and puddles or the backs of spoons, anything would do. And invariably the last thing he would say to me was, "When are you going to come and be with me again?"

Molly appeared that night at my window. I was still awake when she came. At first I thought she was Colm, until a flash of heat lightning illuminated her and I saw who she was. Glimpsing the dagger flashing in her hand, I was certain she had come to kill me, but when she came over to my bed, she said only, "Do you want to come out with me?" Another flash of lightning lit up the room. The lightning was the reason I had been awake—on hot summer nights Colm and I would stay up for hours watching it flash over the river. Sometimes our parents would let us sleep on the porch, where the view was even better.
     She sat down on my bed. "I like your room," she said, looking around. There was light from the hall, enough to make out the general lay of the room. Our father had built it up to look like a ship for Colm and me, complete with sea-blue carpeting and a raised wooden deck with railings and a ship's wheel. Above one bed was an authentic-looking sign that read, Captain's Bunk; the other bed belonged to the first mate. While he lived we had switched beds every night, in the interest of absolute equality, unless one of us was feeling afraid, in which case we shared the same bed. The last time he slept in the room he had been in the captain's bed, and because the cycle could not go on any longer I had been in the first mate's bed ever since.
     Molly pulled my sheets back, and while I dressed she looked around the room for my shoes. When she found them she brought them to me and said, "Come on."
     I followed her—out the window, over the roof, and down the blue spruce that grew close to my house. She walked along our road, to the golf course around which part of our community was built. The site, once a Baptist girls' camp, had in the century since its founding turned into a place where well-to-do white people lived in rustic pseudo isolation. It was called Severna Forest. You couldn't live there if you were Jewish or Italian, and in the summer they made you lock up your dog in a communal kennel. The golf course had only nine holes. It was a very hilly course, bordered by ravines in some places and in others by the Severn River. Molly took me to a wide piece of rough on the fourth hole, only about half a mile from our houses. Though the moon was down, I could see under the starlight that rabbits had gathered in the tall grass and the dandelions. I bent at my knees and picked a stalk. I was about to puff on it and scatter the seeds when Molly held my arm and said, "Don't, you'll frighten them."
     For a little while we stood there, she with one hand on my arm and the other on her knife, and we watched the rabbits sitting placidly in the grass, and we waited for them to get used to us. "Aren't they lovely?" she said, letting go of my arm. She began to move, very slowly, toward the nearest one. She moved as slowly as the moon does across the sky. I couldn't tell she was getting any closer to the rabbit unless I looked away for a few minutes; when I looked back she was closer, and the rabbit had not moved. When she was about five feet away she turned and looked at me. It was too dark for me to see her face. I couldn't tell if she smiled. Then she leapt, knife first, at the little creature, and I saw her pierce its body. It thrashed once and was suddenly dead. I realized I was holding my breath, and still holding the dandelion in front of my lips. I blew into it and watched the seeds float toward her, to where she was stabbing the body again and again and again.

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