Exercising the craft—April 29, 2013

By Ekta R. Garg

Prompt: A simple prompt for today’s FFF, you turn it into a great story: All you have left is this torn photograph…

http://oneminutewriter.blogspot.com/2013/04/fff-photo.html

Monica fiddled with the corner of her shirt, then moved a few imaginary hairs out of her eyes, and lifted her hand to the doorbell.  She’d gone through this routine twice already, but she still didn’t have the guts to press the button.  She still had time to turn around, time to just walk away from the door, get into her car, drive back to the airport, and take a flight home.  Home, where everything still made sense—where no one had any secrets, and everything could just proceed in its same, plodding routine.

But how do I ignore this? she thought , brushing her purse as if she could touch the photograph.  Now that I know, how can I go back to my life and have it be “normal” anymore?  And what about the babies?

She shook herself and brought her hand up with intention before she could really talk herself out of it.  Without thinking about it for too long, she pressed the doorbell.  As she drew her hand back, it shook slightly.

Come on, Monica, get a grip.  She’s just a regular person, just like you.

She inhaled deeply and let go of the breath quickly, and suddenly Monica began to wonder if she still had time to bolt from the door.  She’d only just rung the bell, after all.  Maybe, if she turned around now—

Just then she heard someone unlock the door, and she knew she’d lost her chance to escape.  In a last-ditch effort, Monica hoped she’d gotten the wrong address.  Or the wrong state.  But when Monica saw the woman who answered the door, she knew in that deepest part of her heart where truth lives that she’d come to the right place.

The woman smiled politely, but Monica could sense just a hint of wariness.

“Yes, dear, can I help you?” she asked.

Monica clenched her hand into a fist by her side.  The strong resemblance left no room for doubt.

“Um, hi…Grandma.”

The woman’s eyebrows furrowed but she still smiled.

“I’m sorry, I think you must have the wrong…”

The emotion that had begun in her eyebrows drew the rest of her face down in troubled thought and then, a minute or two later, in recognition bordered by astonishment.

“It can’t be,” the woman murmured.  “How did you—who told you where I—”

Monica opened her purse and took out the torn photo.

“I’m so sorry to shock you like this, Grandma,” she said, hesitating just a moment over the term she’d now only used twice ever in her entire life.  “I came to talk to you about this photo.  I want to know who this is.”

Monica held out the photo, and the woman took it almost gingerly.  She stared at it for a moment, her mouth now covered by her free hand.

“Where did you get this?” the woman asked.

“My father,” Monica said quietly.  “When I found it I thought it was a picture of Mom.  But Dad told me that that’s not my mother.  It was her identical twin sister and my—my aunt.”

The woman’s face crumpled, and she nodded as a few tears ran down her cheeks.

“Your father is right, honey.  This is Elizabeth.”

Monica felt her pulse increase.  “Can I come inside and talk to you about her?”

***

Virginia led the young woman into the living room, still reeling from her resemblance to Evelyn and Elizabeth.  Monica.  The young lady had said her name was Monica, offering it in a tone almost apologetic as she’d crossed the threshold that Virginia thought would never be clouded by Evelyn’s shadow again.  So what if Evelyn hadn’t come herself?  Having Monica come almost meant the same thing.

“Would you like something to drink?” Virginia asked Monica as they perched on opposite sofas.  “I don’t have too many things in the fridge.  I just got back from—uh, well, I was away for a while and just returned.  So I have some juice.  And water, of course.”

Monica declined politely and examined the room, looking at the furniture and accessories as if searching for something.

What was that about, almost telling her about the hospital? Virginia chastised herself.  You don’t even know this girl.

“So, what can I do for you?” Virginia asked, trying to sound more businesslike.  The girl clearly hadn’t come to socialize, not after so many years.

“Well, as I said, I wanted to know more about Elizabeth—uh, Mom’s sister—my aunt.  I’m sorry, I don’t know what to call her.  Up until a week ago, I didn’t even know she existed.”

Virginia felt a stab of sorrow.  She knew Evelyn had rejected her and Charles, although Charles could never quite reconcile himself to the fact that after losing one daughter to death he’d lost the other to life.  But how could Evelyn have extracted Elizabeth from her life too?  She and Elizabeth were almost the same person—literally.  How did one separate one’s self from that deepest of connections?

Virginia cleared her throat to stave off any tears.  She’d done enough crying lately.

“You said your father told you about Elizabeth.  Why did he bring it up all of a sudden?”

For the first time since she’d opened the door that afternoon, Virginia saw a small smile appear.

“Well, I never thought I’d tell anyone my news in such a strange situation, but I’m pregnant.”

She put a hand to her stomach, and suddenly Virginia recognized the signs.  The cheeks, already slightly rounded, the tummy slightly protruding, and, now that she had smiled, the sparkle in Monica’s eyes.  Despite her lifetime of heartaches, Virginia could feel the excitement of pregnancy resonate through her own body even though she had carried her own babies so long ago.

“Congratulations,” Virginia said, finally allowing herself to smile back.  “I’m sorry, though, I still don’t see what would make your father tell you about Elizabeth.”

“Oh, well, I’m having twins.  When I told Mom she had the oddest reaction.  Instead of getting excited or congratulating me or anything, she just got really pale and walked out of the room.  I tried to follow her and ask her what was wrong—I thought she was just worried about my health—but she refused to talk to me.  I’m her only child and this is the only opportunity she’ll have to be a grandmother, but she just acted like I wasn’t in the room.

“I got really scared, so I went to my dad.  He just gave me a big hug and then showed me this picture.  I’d seen it before and just assumed it was Mom, but he told me it wasn’t.  It was her sister, Elizabeth.”

At this point Monica hesitated, as if debating something.  She took a deep breath and began to speak again.

“Dad told me that Mom’s sister died in a car accident,” Monica said.  “He said it was one of those awful circumstances where everyone else except Elizabeth survived, that she was the only one to die.”

The stab of fear in Virginia’s heart twisted, raking through her carefully-organized feelings.  How long had it been since Virginia had allowed herself to think those words?  “Elizabeth was the only one to die.”  The other girls in the car had escaped with minor cuts and bruises, but Elizabeth’s fate had other plans for her that day.  And when Elizabeth had lost her round with fate, Evelyn had lost something as well.  Perhaps, Virginia mused, Evelyn had lost more.

“He’s right,” Virginia said, tears pricking her eyes again.  “Elizabeth didn’t survive that day.  But she lived quite a life before that.  If you have a few minutes, I’d like to tell you a little bit about her today.”

Monica’s face softened, and Virginia saw an expression that left no room for doubt that this girl came from Evelyn.  Virginia had seen the same look on Evelyn—and Elizabeth’s—face many times through those early years.

“I’d really like that,” she said, allowing herself to lean back into the sofa.  Something had allowed her to relax, Virginia could see, and her body language didn’t seem so stiff.

Virginia nodded and prepared to tell her only granddaughter the story of Evelyn and Elizabeth.

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