My Short Stories

Now It’s My Turn

I was seventeen when my mother died of the nameless illness that had wasted her body for the past six years. I’d been living with my dad and his wife, visiting my mom less and less over the years because she was resting or getting vitamin infusions or doing her exercises, whatever she could to keep control over her body. None of it worked, you could see that when she fell into her chair or shuffled across the floor or slurred her words, stopping mid-sentence to reach for drifting thoughts. The illness was her whole focus. Not me. I was never her focus.

“You’ll be fine,” she’d say, teeth gritted, pulling against a strap hitched to a doorknob.

Except that I wasn’t because every day, Clarice was waiting for me.

My age, she was slim where I was heavy, graceful where I was clumsy. Her lustrous black hair swirled while mine hung heavy down my back. My twin, and my opposite in every way. Winston, the Pug that Dad got me when I first came to live with them, hated Clarice. He snored on my bed while I did my homework but when Clarice burst in, brimming with energy and malice, he raised his head and growled.

“Stupid dog,” she’d laugh. She would try to entice him with treats and promises of long walks, but he wouldn’t leave me.

She got worse after Mom died. While I sat at my desk, Clarice would stand behind me, placing her hands on my shoulders, pushing down with her full weight. “Stop it.” I’d try to twist away from her but she wouldn’t stop. Or, she would stick her foot out as I passed, making me stumble.

“Clara, watch where you’re going,” Dad would say. “Sit up straight, for godssake.”

If I was washing dishes, Clarice would bump her hip against me and a glass would fall from my hand, shattering on the floor. If I was carrying clean laundry up the basement stairs, she’d reach through an open riser and grab my ankle, making me fall onto the wooden steps, bright whites sent tumbling down, coming to rest on the dusty basement floor.

“That’s alright, Clara,” my step-mother would sigh. “We have plenty of glasses.”

“Don’t worry about the laundry,” she would say. “I’ll put it through again. It’s no trouble.”

Dad signed me up for dance classes. We drove there on Wednesday afternoons at four in heavy traffic.

“How’s school?”

“It’s ok.”

“You know, if you ever want to talk about your mother…”

“I know.”

Encased in my leotard, I clung to the barre that ran along the mirrored wall, trying to stretch my leg out behind me. In the glass, I could see Clarice pirouetting about the room, graceful as an ice skater. Closer and closer she came to me until her body clipped my raised leg. She spun away. I crashed to the floor.

“Dance may not be the best option for Clara,” the instructor told Dad. “Maybe a gym membership?”

“Slow and steady wins the race,” the personal trainer told me as I trudged upon the treadmill, hands gripping the sides. “Just keep moving, and I’ll be back in ten minutes.”

“You’ll never burn off all that fat,” Clarice said. “Let’s kick it up a notch.”

And I was running, forcing my heavy legs forward, gasping for air until finally I fell and landed in a heap at the back of the machine.

“I want to go home,” I sobbed to my Dad. “I just want to be left alone.”

I haven’t left the house lately. Winston and I stay in my room. I can hear my dad talking on the phone, saying “This is how it started with her mom…” I know it doesn’t matter if I stretch or drink vitamin infusions. I see myself reflected in the mirrored closet door.

Sometimes Clarice sits beside me on my bed. I don’t mind, and neither does Winston. He doesn’t growl at her anymore. Her cheeks are rosy, her eyes are bright and her body vibrates with the energy she’s sucked away from my mom and me.

. “It’s too bad for you it worked out this way,” she says. “If only Mom had been able to carry us both to term, and not just you. But this is what happens when the womb chooses one fetus over the other. Now, it’s my turn.”

She pauses at the door, looking back at me for the last time. “It’s only fair, you know.”

Winston jumps off the bed and trots after her.

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