The year is sometime in the distant past and our setting is a quiet suburban town. The crime rates are low and the resident satisfaction is high. All the children know each other and families sleep with their doors unlocked. If you come at just the right time, you will likely see a few pies cooling on freshly scrubbed windowsills. Nothing out of the ordinary happens in this completely ordinary town which is why this came as such a surprise to us all.
Rob reached his hand across the rippling sheets to his wives which was dappled in the fresh sunlight. She murmured and rolled over to face him. “Good morning.” she whispered.
He forced a smile, “I’m really glad you let me sleep in the bed last night Patricia, the couch was getting awfully lonely.” he said with a half-hearted chuckle.
Patricia sighed, “Yeah Rob, that was the point. But we’ll figure out next steps later, right now I have to pack.” She sat up and smoothed her hair before pushing off the sheets and walking towards their closet.
“When are you coming back again?”
“Depends how long these negotiations take but probably no more than a week.”
“While you’re out there, you should see your sister. You haven’t talked to Betty in ages,” he said as he propped himself up on his forearm.
“Yeah, I might just do that.”
A few minutes later Avery and Scottie were roused from their beds as their mother cooked them breakfast and packed their lunches. “Rob, can you take them to school? I really have to head to the airport.”
“Of course honey.” He walked Patricia to the door where they hugged but she tilted her head so his kiss landed upon her cheek rather than her lips.
“I’ll see you guys in a few days, I love you,” she called into the kitchen as the front door closed behind her.
After her first meeting on the second day of her trip, Patricia went to her hotel room where she decided she would indeed reach out to her sister. She looked up the number for the Bellevue psychiatric unit and found out their visiting hours. After napping and freshening up she called a car to take her.
“Who are you here to see?” the receptionist asked as she gnawed the cap of her ballpoint pen.
“Beatrice Parker. And I was informed that I’d be able to visit her in her room, is that still the case? I want her to feel comfortable.”
“I’m sorry ma’am but Betty had an incident earlier this morning that no longer permits her to have visitors in her room but we do provide a common area for visitors to spend time with our guests.”
“Okay, then I suppose that will suffice,” Patricia answered reluctantly as she signed into the visitor log.
“Right through those double doors there, second door on your right. If you get lost or someone bothers you just press one of the red buzzers in the hallway.”
Patricia sat on the faded green sofa and waited for her sister to appear. Suddenly she felt hands on her shoulders and she leapt off the tattered cushion. Her heartbeat felt as though it had recently been swallowed and hadn’t had the time yet to move to its proper place in her chest. Standing behind the couch was someone wearing her own face but the cheekbones were slightly more hollow and below the face was baggy sweats and slippered feet. Patricia laughed nervously, “Betty, why would you scare me like that?”
Her twin laughed, “Hiya sis, it’s been awhile. What brings you to my neck of the woods?” Betty moved to sit an old armchair across from the couch as Patricia settled back into her seat.
“Yeah, yeah it’s been awhile. I’m here for a business trip actually, it was supposed to be no more than a couple days but the negotiations seem to be taking longer than we thought. I’m glad I could come see you while I’m here though, I’m staying at the Hilton on Fourth street and it would just be silly to be that close to you and not stop by. How’ve you been?” she folded her hands in her lap and tried to make herself very small in this chaotic room in the hopes she wouldn’t be noticed and labeled as an outsider.
“Been good, yeah really good actually. They take good care of me here, way better than mom ever did- God rest her soul.” The two took a moment of thoughtful silence to remember the screaming in the hallways that plagued their nightmares as children. The nights at the dinner table where their mother couldn’t tell them apart or thought they weren’t her children at all were especially prevalent in Patricia’s mind as she stared into the reflection that was her sister.
“That’s good, I’m glad to hear it. And you’ve been keeping up with your medications and everything?”
“Yes indeed definitely. They’re real sticklers about that here,” Betty leaned in and winked as if the two shared an inside joke. If there was ever a joke to be shared in that knowing look, Patricia had long since forgotten it. “But enough about me, how’re you? How are Rob and the kids? I just love getting your letters, helps me to stay updated with the goings on,” and then in air-quotes, “out there.”
“We’ve been good. Rob just became a partner at the firm which has put us under a lot of stress but I know he feels accomplished. It’s been tough because he hasn’t been able to be around as much and I’m trying to further my own career at the same time but we’ll figure something out. The kids are doing well in school- Scottie gets a little distracted but baseball has been great to use up his extra energy. I’m really sorry that I haven’t been able to send you any letters these past few months, things have just been really crazy at home.”
“I wondered why you stopped, I really do so look forward to those letters. It gets kind of boring in here.” Betty looked to her sister’s face for sympathy, where she found none.
“I’m sorry Betty, I do the best I can.”
“Yeah well that was always good enough for you, wasn’t it?”
“What are you talking about?”
Betty stood and leaned in towards her sister, “You always got whatever you wanted. You’re the good twin, the pretty twin, the smart twin and you leave me to rot in this hell hole. It’s not fair! It’s never been fair!”
Patricia looked around nervously as the other patients seemed to be completely oblivious to this sudden outburst.
“I liked Rob! You knew I did! But he wanted to take the better twin to prom and you said yes. And now you’re perfectly married with your perfect kids in your perfect house with your perfect life and what do I get? A Dixie cup full of pills three times a day and food served to me on a plastic tray! I don’t belong in here and you know it.”
Suddenly two orderlies appeared and held Betty by the arms, “Come on Betty, let’s go back to your room for some quiet time.”
As she was escorted away she called out over her shoulder, “It’s not fair! It’s not!”
Patricia’s hands shook on the drive back to the hotel and when she closed the car door, she felt her arm strain with the effort. Meanwhile, across town, Betty paced in her room.
“You can’t take that! It’s my personal property! I still have rights you know.” Betty yelled as the nurse carried two cardboard boxes with her out the door. The nurse turned down the hallway and entered a room filled with confiscated items. Another employee was putting a baggie onto one of the shelves and turned as the door open, “Hey Carol- is that more stuff from Betty?”
“Unfortunately. Mike this stuff is really weird and getting weirder- do you think we should be worried?”
Mike took one of the boxes from her arms and began to sift through the contents, “It’s definitely strange but I don’t know. Being a twin can be hard on some people I suppose, kind of hard to be yourself when there’s someone who’s doing it better.” He picked up a photo from amongst the dozens that littered the bottom of the box, “Where does she get all these pictures anyways?”
“Her sister used to send them in the mail, a whole film stip every couple weeks. Such a shame she ruins them like this though.” The picture Mike was holding was a family photo of Patricia, Rob, Scottie and Avery sitting on their front porch. Light came through the picture where Betty had cut out Patricia’s eyes. The box was full of photos of similarly blinded Patricia’s.
The next morning Rob was awakened by a figure sliding into bed next to him. He rubbed his eyes as he slowly adjusted to the morning light, “Oh hey honey. You’re back early?”
Betty’s red lipstick sliced a smile in her porcelain face, “Yeah I was able to wrap things up last night and I took the first flight home to come surprise you. I know we’ve been in a bit of a rough patch as of late and I just want to say I’m sorry, I’m really proud of you and all you’ve been able to accomplish at the firm. I know it means you can’t be around as much but I’m rethought things and I’m more than willing to take a step back at work so I can be here for you and the kids.”
Rob smiled and put his arm around her, kissing her forehead “Thank you so much Patricia, that really means the world to me. I’m glad we could finally agree. Besides, your place is meant to be here with the kids anyways.”
Betty kissed him passionately, “I couldn’t agree more.”
An hour later, Betty made her way downstairs where she cooked a lavish breakfast. After feeding her sister’s husband and children she kissed Rob goodbye as he left for work and shuffled the kids into the car. As she began to back out of the driveway, she realized she had no idea where either of their schools were. She doubted they would be able to give her directions either so instead, she thought quickly, “Who wants to skip school today?”
“Me! Me! Me!” they both chirped from the backseat.
“Great! We can make Daddy his favorite dinner for when he comes home.” She pulled the car back into the driveway and the kids ran into the house. After dropping their backpacks in the hallway, Scottie went to play in the backyard and Avery went upstairs. Betty took a nap on the couch, tired by her long evening of travel. When she woke she turned on the television and tuned into a news story already in progress. The reporter was sitting at a polished desk and holding a photo of her, “-ran away from the Bellevue psychiatric unit sometime last night. If you have any information regarding her whereabouts please call the number on the bottom of the screen. Staff at Bellevue has labeled this patient as delusional and potentially dangerous so please, help us find her and return her to the care she needs.” Betty frowned, wrote the number down on the back of a rogue receipt laying on the coffee table and clicked the television off. “Rob should be home in a few hours, if I start making dinner now I’ll likely have enough time to make something special for dessert,” she thought to herself.
In the kitchen Betty opened cupboard after cupboard looking for a pot, “I hope that spaghetti is still his favorite,” she muttered to herself. After she had completed the fourth step of the recipe, she realized she had made a mistake. Her entire figure began to reverberate with rage until she finally exploded and dumped the pan into the trash while releasing a series of various curses and cusses. “It has to be perfect so that I can be the perfect wife and this can be my perfect family and my perfect life. Patricia has gotten away with one-upping me for far too long,” she muttered to herself as she began the recipe again.
That night the four of them sat at the dining room table, enjoying their meal. “It’s delicious honey but I thought you hated spaghetti.” Rob looks questioningly at Betty as she chewed an especially robust bite of salad.
“I figured I’d give it another chance,” she smiled tightly as a voice in her head scolded her for being so careless, “I think it turned out quite good.”
Rob smiled, the fog of inquisition passing as quickly as it had arrived, “Well I’m glad you’ve changed your mind. It’s been my favorite meal since high school.”
“Oh really? I had no idea.”
After tucking the children into bed, Betty changed into a lace slip dress that she was sure Rob would adore. Sure enough, her entrance through their door was met with, “Honey, you look great.” He pulled her towards him and he began planting kisses along her neck.
“One second, I have to make a quick call.” she said as she pulled away and slunk quickly downstairs. She snatched the receipt from the coffee table and dialed the number on the kitchen phone.
A perky voice answered on the other side, “NYPD anonymous tip hotline, how can I help you?”
“The runaway from Bellevue, Beatrice Parker, she’s staying at the Hilton on Fourth Street.” Betty whispered into the phone before forcing it back onto the hook. She smiled to herself and started up the stairs.