Chalk and Cheese

chalkandcheese

Photo courtesy of: http://www.photovolcanica.com/VolcanoInfo/Oldoinyo%20Lengai/Oldoinyo%20Lengai.html

Hidden under her ratty brown blanket, the blinds closed, the doors double locked, no TV, no radio, Thimble’s last link was her phone and off it went.

It had to be her twin sister Station. Who else was there? She had disposed of all the nuisance calls and long since dissuaded friends from contacting her. Now only Station persisted in phoning.

The call would be to confirm their regular Thursday lunch. “Same time, same place,” Station would chirp: twenty years and as predictable as trouble. Thimble snaked her arm out of the blankets and groped for the phone. She was amazed by her sister’s opening remark, “It’s Armageddon.”

“What?”

“Armageddon, the end of the world as we know it.”

“I know what Armageddon is.” It was a word from Thimble’s part of the dictionary but hardly a phrase Ms. All-Will-Be-Well would use.

“I’ve had it,” her sister explained.

“So no lunch?” Thimble said shooting up from under the muggy blanket, overjoyed at the prospect of finally freeing herself from these ordeals.

In her attempt to bring order and serenity into her world, Station was the one person Thimble had not been able to shake off. Had they not promised their mother, on her deathbed, to support one another, Thimble would have expunged Station from her life years ago. But obliged by their vows, the twins continued to meet weekly, disagree on every topic, and pick at their differences like ever-fresh scabs.

Was this the moment it would end?

“One more kick at the cat,” her sister said. “For mom.”

“Meaning?”

“Let’s try a new approach and if we can’t come up with something, we’ll call it a day.”

“Good,” said Thimble finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, which might, of course, be a train.

Thimble had been working towards total isolation for over a year. Now retired, there was no reason, barring fire or death, to leave the house except for these weekly lunches. She’d arranged to have food and other necessities delivered and only reread books she knew had happy endings.

“So,” Station said. “Shall we give it a go?”

“What would that look like?”

“Who knows? We’ll come with one sympathetic thought for the other. Maybe you could bring a book of poetry, I’ll bring… well whatever?”

Thimble had agreed. Now hours later she was stewing under the bed covers wondering what she could do or bring to show good faith. Not that her faith was good, in fact she was the first to admit she had none at all. That was the problem when the allocator gave faith out, She’d given theirs all to her sister. Thimble was more discerning. She saw the world for what it was—chaotic.

“Chalk and Cheese. That’s you two,” aunt Charlotte had announced years earlier, causing Thimble’s young self to ask who was who and what it meant.

“Different, that’s what I’m saying. You’re always asking why, Thimble. Go with the flow like your twin.”

Her sister always talked about the flow like it was pink feathers and soft scented landings. Thimble suspected the flow was lava.

When their father, determined to get at least one scientist out of his twin pack, had shown them a picture of the whirling universe before it settled down and made fish and folks, her sister had cried jubilantly, “It’s beautiful, papa. It’s twirling so fast. Who knows where it’s going.”

That, to Thimble, was the problem. Who knew? “It’s out of control,” she’d said.

“You’re my scientist,” her papa announced proudly. “You want to know the why and wherefore of everything. To predict the future.”

Thimble agreed; she’d leave the arts and crafts to her flaky sibling. But the challenge was choosing what sort of scientist to be. When the schoolyard erupted in fights, Thimble wanted to discover how to stop kids from being cruel to one another. When she heard of wars and people starving or being tortured, she wanted to find a way to prevent such brutality.

Unfortunately, you couldn’t control the random ravages of nature and only the least consequential human behaviors—the need to eat more broccolis or wear bike helmets—seemed to respond to marketing or laws.  And no sooner was one problem solved than another loomed up. Often when scientists or politicians (spurred on by votes, funds or fame) did address concerns, the solutions often precipitated worse evils.

Over the years, Thimble attempted to join forces with others of like mind. She’d worked for a political party that promised to put citizens first and volunteer agencies that were supposed to address child poverty and what happened? Nothing. In her own city, one of the most prosperous in the country, people slept on the streets and children went hungry. Even worse than the local scene were stories of the horrors in far away countries.

“I can’t take it any more,” Thimble had said to her headboard one night. “It’s a roller coaster.  We’re like bugs who just settle down for a bit of sun and find we’re in for a ride.”

Noting that most bad news came from the media, Thimble decided to turn off the source: first the radio, then the TV and finally the newspapers. Then when she couldn’t cut off the disturbing conversations she heard on the bus or in a café, she started to wear earplugs.

“How will you know if a tornedo is coming or if you shouldn’t eat pork sausages?” her sister asked.

“You’d call and tell me.”

“What about the good news you’ll miss?”

“It gets steamrolled under the bad.”

“Put the bad news in a big vat with butterflies…and shake it up.”

What did that even mean?

Cutting ties with the media helped, but it didn’t avoid unsettling news. Friends and colleagues shared their discomforting accounts of lovers deceiving them and poignant tales about children left to roast in cars. Thimble began to avoid human contact. She spent all her waking hours in her lab with her silent and predictable specimens following well-documented protocols until, finally, she reached retirement.

The twins had never seen eye to eye on anything and as they got older their universes moved further and further apart. While Thimble walked upright in her straight fitting dark blue suits, Station swirled through life like a meteorite heading for earth. And as much as Thimble insisted on orderly meetings, same time, same place, occasionally Station surprised her and dropped by uninvited to her house.

“Why is it so dark in here?” her twin asked, squinting at the neatly piled boxes in the hall. “Are you going somewhere?”

“No, I just cleaned out the garage that Mom left in a mess.”

“Debbie said you’d dropped out of the book club.”

“They choose depressing books. We end up talking about something troubling.”

“You can’t hide under a barrel.”

“But you don’t need to stick you head in a bee hive.”

The night of Station’s announcement, blinds closed, door locked, the schedule for the next day taped to the fridge, Thimble fretted about what she could do. Perhaps she had gone too far; her next stop was under the bed. Station was her last connection to the outside. Was there something she could do to meet her half way?

Early the next morning when she retreated to the attic to sort things out, Thimble discovered a dress her sister had lent her the previous summer. The temperature had soared (global warming, what next?) and Station had offered one of her own loose fitting outfits. It was so Station: no design just random colors and a jagged hemline. Thimble hadn’t even tried it on.

“I should have known you’d rather burn alive than wear that,” her sister had said.  “Far better a tight navy blue suit for this weather.”

Thimble stood up, careful not to bump her head on the low ceiling, and shook out the dress. Even in the dim light from the dingy attic window, the rainbow of colors danced.  Wouldn’t it surprise Station if she wore it to lunch? She could wear her coat over it and take it off immediately she got home.

When she held it against her body, it came alive. Hesitant to harm the delicate fabric, Thimble carefully washed it in the sink and hung it on the shower rod to dry. No way would she attempt to iron it, it would go up in flames.

That evening, Thimble cautiously tried it on. It swished against her surprised legs as she floated about the house. Thursday, an hour before high noon, as Thimble was doing her routine street check before leaving the house, she heard a threatening noise from the backyard. Gathering the folds of her dress, she hurried to the back window to check for an intruder.

“Probably a cat,” Station would say. More likely a thief who knew her routine, Thimble thought.

Someone, dressed in a twin of her own blue suit was closing the gate. Squinting against the harsh sun, she recognized Station: flat, rigid and erect.

~ Melodie Corrigall

Published in Wild: A Quarterly, July 2014. http://www.wildquarterly.com/fiction/2014/7/16/chalk-and-cheese