By AJ Atwater
Before the grocery store with our splendid second floor apartment burned to the ground, my identical twin brother sold Encyclopedia Britannica door to door in our neighborhood until 2004, the year the place burned. Six months later, with a wad of insurance money in our hands, we’ve left our temporary motel room on a sunny morning to drive around looking for a way to spend it.
We’re the Nivin brothers, and we’re dressed in pants of black, string ties, and our white shirts are crisp as crackers.
We have spittoon-smooth heads and pale blue eyes. Our pale skin glows in the dark. We were told this by identical twin sisters we nearly married in the seventies, the Charlotte twins. But in the end, it was the loyalty bond to each other’s twin that kept us from walking the aisle, instead opting over the years for delicate afternoon teas. And on this sunny day as we drive around, intoxicated by the money and the future and looking for something, we stop by for delicate afternoon tea with the Charlotte twins. One of them, I don’t know which one, the one I nearly married or the one my brother nearly married, said we should give another thought to walking the aisle, what with the loss of our daily habits, our life possessions gone up in smoke and well, now we’ve got money in hand. They tell us this and set their still-girlish hands to rest on the sleeves of our white shirts. We’ll ring up the minister, they say, as my brother and I go out the door and hop into our old car and from there, we drive down a side street where our grocery had been and park at the familiar curb.
The grocery was a lively trade; a red and yellow awning stretched the length of the storefront, and a shiny tin roof reflected the sun before it became nothing that one day but blackened blocks of encyclopedias and fried can goods and now an empty lot. The rise and the fall, I say to my brother, as our old car idles. He nods and gazes at the lot as if calculating up our loss of personal history, the things of the spirit that once existed here, the precise and specific inanimate objects that gifted us balance and sustenance and substance. He says the twins are remaking their beds now, what after our delicate afternoon tea, and we know we are the envy of most men, for the twins are lovely women and have lovely manners and a lovely home and have those delicate girly hands. Yet their proposal, he says, feels to me like a bygone not a forthcoming. He says this in his simple Honest-Abe encyclopedic way. And so it is, with one last look at the empty lot, I take my brother at his word.
I accelerate and pop the car heavily back onto the main drag. Our old car sways, and I make for the open road. We’re whizzing along in no time. We roll our windows down, and I put my hand out to catch the breeze. Our string ties flick, tickling our chins, and we giggle at exactly the same moment we pull those ties off, dangle them out windows like women gleefully shedding bras, drop them, watch them become tiny black thread-like creatures dancing away from us. I grin ear to ear, and my brother smiles too as we roar past familiar territory into the unfamiliar. My brother scrabbles around in the glove box for our sunglasses that had been gathering dust, and we pop them on. We loosen our crisp-as-crackers shirt collars at the same, identical time. Then, holding fast and hard onto our cash payout, we zoom over the next rise and in a puff of dust, disappear, unflinching, out of sight.