Detective Abernathy perched on the edge of the leather ottoman, staring in amazement at the most perfectly identical twins he had ever seen in his life. Attractive brunettes in their mid-forties, they sat close on an expensive sofa, holding hands, exchanging nervous glances and stealing occasional brief looks at the portly middle aged man, dead in the doorway.
“Now… let me get this straight,” the detective questioned, “You’re saying you’re both Mrs. Roberts?” His head inclined only the slightest degree, indicating the deceased.
“Well, technically…” began the sister on the left, “… Millie’s married to Carl, but we both, eh…that is, we… took turns… playing the part of wife!”
“But Margaret never had sex with Carl.” The sister on the right added quickly, as if this detail somehow made the arrangement more appropriate. “Isn’t that right dear?”
“That’s right Millie.” replied the twin. “Just as we agreed.”
The Detective eyed them curiously. “And how exactly, did this…” he struggled for the precise word, “…relationship, work?
“Well…” Margaret continued, “…we’ve been swapping places for years, even as children.” She straightened her blouse nervously. “Whenever Millie or I got tired, or bored with a situation, we would swap. I’d take her place and she’d take mine.” Millie sat silently but nodded in agreement. “It was always really quite easy, only mother could tell us apart.”
Abernathy stared at them in wonder. Their similarities were amazing. As he sat before the sisters, finding it impossible to distinguish any difference between them at all.
“So you would periodically swap places, taking turns at being the deceased’s spouse? Living together for weeks or months, then just exchange your lives”
Millie spoke up. “Yes, it worked out wonderfully for us. Whenever we wanted a change, we’d just meet up and… exchange.”
“But surely, your… eh…husband…” Abernathy took quick turns looking from one sister to the other. “Surely, he noticed some incongruities in behavior. I mean your physical similarities are incredible, but your daily interactions, your on-going conversations, your unique personalities, there must have been inconsistencies… your husband would notice?”
“Oh yes,” Margaret resumed, “…it was an endless source of frustration for Carl. He never could figure it out. I like roses while Millie prefers orchids. Millie loves the Opera, while I detest it. There were a thousand different little things that left him confused.” Margaret looked to her sister for support. “But I believe we treated him wonderfully, despite our little deception.”
The detective adjusted his tie slowly before proceeding. “And tonight?”
“It all happened so quickly.” Millie interjected. “Carl returned home early. We weren’t expecting him until tomorrow. We didn’t even hear him come in. We were just sitting here talking and then heard a gasp from the doorway, there.” Millie pointed to the deceased and buried her face in her hands.
“He just grabbed his chest and fell over.” Margaret finished.
Abernathy struggled to comprehend the twin’s casual attitude towards the whole situation. “I can see how it would be a tremendous shock for a man to discover that his wife was literally two different people. He gathered his composure, trying to recover his professional disposition. “Relationships are difficult under normal circumstances, but surely you can understand how seeing you both together would be a shock!” The sisters tightened their grip on each other.
Abernathy continued. “Of course I’m no doctor or psychiatrist, but it’s not hard for me to see how your husband may have had a physical or psychological reaction to this…this… discovery! It’s enough to drive a person insane.”
“Yes, we know.” cried Millie. “That’s what happened to poor Randolph.”
“Randolph! You mean you’ve carried out this deception on another man?” Abernathy was incredulous.
“Well four to be precise!” exclaimed Margaret. “Randolph in the State Sanatorium. Malcolm – suicide. And Vernon ran off with a Hawaiian girl.”
“Polynesian!” Millie corrected.
Abernathy sat stunned, taking it all in. His cell phone vibrated in his pocket.
“Excuse me.” he apologized, glancing at his phone. “It’s downtown. I won’t be a moment.”
“How’s it going out there?” questioned the Police Chief on the other end of the call.
Abernathy walked to the far end of the room. “I’m not sure if there’s been a crime. But I have a lot of questions about what’s going on at my house.”
In the sixties, we may have been the only Findlays living in Canada, but we weren’t the only Tompsons. My mother’s Uncle Harry lived near Toronto, a two hour drive west. Along with his older brother Jack and his mother Kate, Harry had immigrated to Canada in the years between the world wars. He was a short quiet man with an infectious though infrequent laugh. In his late forties, his hair grayed around his temples. Harry smelled of dark leathery Cavendish tobacco, a scent warm and comfortable and as part of him as the dark briar pipe perched constantly at the edge of his mouth.
Harry’s hands and arms were calico from some mysterious childhood scalding. In his twenties he had gone off to war in Europe and spent two years in a German POW camp, though he never talked of it.
“You be polite and don’t ask a lot of silly questions.” my parents warned us. And though I managed to stifle my curiosity, I could not resist the temptation to run my hands along his mottled skin. The bleached white hairless patches on his hands and arms gave him the impression of a pencil portrait half drawn. A black and white composition partially erased. Harry was different, interesting, kind but guarded, a man full of histories we were forbidden to uncover.
In addition to his home in Toronto, Harry and Jack owned a cottage a few hours to the north, near the town of Barrie on Lake Simcoe. On at least two occasions we vacationed there during the summer with Harry, Jack and sometimes Kate joining us on the weekends. The place wasn’t actually on the lake shore, but a short walk down a hedge lined gravel road would find us on the pebbled beach of one of the largest lakes in southern Ontario. The cottage is one of my favorite summer memories, safe and secluded and appointed with old and quirky furnishings.
Water in the kitchen was drawn by a hand pump over the sink. In the bathroom, the water tank hung on the wall above the toilet and was flushed by pulling on a wooden handled chain. Outside the bathroom door, secured to the wall, a cartoon plaque with a rotating arrow could be pointed to a description of the activity of the occupant. Takin’ a nap, soaking the laundry, sitting and thinking, were but a few of the humorous possibilities. On a side table in the living room stood a party-line candle-stick telephone that rang in patterned staccato to indicate to which party the call belonged. But for me, the most fascinating feature of Harry’s cottage was a 1930’s floor model RCA Victor dial-tube radio. It was a thing of beauty.
Harry found humor in my fascination. The radio stood nearly four feet tall, towering over me as I knelt before it, inspecting its knobs, buttons and toggles. I admiringly ran my fingers along the ornate carving of the wooden panels. The handcrafted oak encasing the mysterious internal electronics shone with the well-polished pride of a prized possession. Harry had kept it in perfect condition. His amusement and pleasure were evident as I asked with excitement if I could turn it on.
“Sure, give her a go.” He said.
My hand grasped the large brown knob on the face of the radio and turned. It offered surprising resistance. I applied more pressure. Was I turning it the right way? And then…Click! But there was nothing. Silence!
Instinctively I crawled around the base to make sure the device it was plugged into the wall socket. Yes, all was in order. I looked to Harry, afraid perhaps I had done something wrong, or God forbid, broken the electronic wonder. But Harry just stood there, looking down at me, bemused.
I looked to the dial face. A warm yellow-white light dawned in the numbered glass. A slight hum emanated from within the frame accompanied by the low familiar “shhhh” of the white noise between radio frequencies. Harry’s expression warmed, matching the glow of the vacuum tubes slowly coaxing the old radio to life.
“There she goes. She’s getting a bit long in the tooth now,” he added. Bending down slightly he pointed with his milky white finger. “That’s the tuner.”
The tuning knob felt large and cumbersome in my small hand but turned with surprising ease and fluidity. The red transit line passed across the numbers on the display face. Fractional, static smeared snippets of popular songs, commercials, and news, crackled from a large speaker concealed behind brown fabric and slotted wood.
I was thrilled, yet unexpectedly disappointed. My unsophisticated brain had imagined the old radio would play only old broadcasts, “The Shadow” or “Little Orphan Annie”. Or perhaps the music would be same as the 78 records we had played on my grandmother’s old wind up Gramophone. Song’s like Gene Austin’s “Love letters in the Sand” or Al Jolson’s “Sonny Boy”. It was strange, a warp in the fabric of time, like watching Bing Crosby sing The Rolling Stones.
At the summer cottage, my brothers and I would fill our days swimming in the lake or playing croquet in the yard. Some days were taken up with marathon monopoly sessions, making up our own special rules, building and going bankrupt around the kitchen table. Mother would make us lunch of cucumber sandwiches, potato chips and pickles eaten outside at the picnic table or sitting with our Kool-Aid balanced on the arms of the brightly painted Adirondack Chairs.
In the evenings we played crazy eights or other card games. But many nights I would just lie on the rug-covered hardwood floor listening to the music playing low on the old radio. My parent’s and uncles sitting around me, their laughter and voices murmuring, I was surrounded by the furnishings of an old movie and accompanied by the soundtrack of the sixties. I would listen until the music and the voices faded and I would fall asleep and dream radio dreams of The Lone Ranger and Superman.
Often, a Sunday morning will find my wife and me going out for breakfast. We have a few places we favor and occasionally we choose the retro store with the restaurant attached, Cracker Barrel. Without fail, the place is packed.
This morning was no different. At least 40 people were playing checkers and sitting in rocking chairs ahead of us, a twenty minute wait the greeter informed us. And sure enough, before our demeanor slipped into “hangry”, we were at a table with a menu, a cup of coffee, and a glass of tea.
So how do they do it? I mean there’s only a couple of ways you can order an egg for breakfast. You fry them, scramble them, or fold them into an omelet. Yet, every weekend there’s a line out the door of breakfast junkies looking to get their Old Timer fix. I just don’t get it.
Sure, there’s the allure of shopping for everything your Granma ever wanted, but is that enough to explain it? I don’t think so. There’s got to be something else. And then it occurred to me. It came to me like a side of grits with biscuits and saw-mill gravy. There’s something in the eggs. Let’s break it down.
CRACKer Barrel. Huh? Yeah? You feel it? Makes sense now, right? You can’t see it, smell it, or even taste it, but it’s gotta be in there, Crack! I’m surprised they haven’t been caught out on the street corner offering the first egg for free… or haven’t they? I’ve never been in the kitchen, but I wouldn’t be amazed to discover the eggs over-easy being handed to the server through a slot in a heavy steel door. I mean if they aren’t all jacked up on something, how do you explain how they churn tables like a Ford assembly line? I had to prove this theory.
So I snuck out a portion of scrambled eggs in a napkin, and made my way through the parking lot full of cars and Fedora’d chickens in pale gray trench-coats, to a small pharmacy run by a guy I know. In a matter of hours I had the answer, Omega 3’s, my friend. Omega 3’s! That’s right! Alpha – Omega! The beginning and the end! It was crystal clear to me and I looked at my wife, who had faithfully remained by my side, and recognized the knowing look in her eyes.
I looked at her. She looked at me. And she spoke the words we had both suspected.
“Hey, perhaps twelve cups of coffee is not such a good thing for you!”
My dog, a lab, is mostly manic
With only occasional bouts of panic
At thunderstorms and fireworks
Set off at night by thoughtless jerks.
By nature she is always happy
And even when I’m feeling crappy,
At the door, my ass a draggin’
She greets me with her tail a waggin’.
She seems to find no imposition,
My sometimes surly disposition
And meets me still with love and gratitude,
Despite my curt and sour attitude.
Those times when I’m not glad to be me,
She is never sad to see me
Reminding me when this occurs,
To be less like me, and more like her.
I hope you are well recovered from the debilitating anxiety you suffered over the recent Presidential Election. The potential loss of your domestic help must have left you frantic. I’m so happy you were able to recruit suitable Canadian replacements. Do keep in mind they will require less food and they will bruise ever so easily. Any-who, I ‘m just dropping a line informing you of the tremendous success of my recent boating adventure.
Although nothing like the yachts in our native Kennebunkport; I found passage on the most adorable little dingy, crewed by authentic locals. You would have been thrilled. There was a former Sommelier and his operatic wife, a television personality and her photographer, a wonderfully ethic Italian restaurateur and his spouse, and an old man and his younger companion whom, I can only assume was his daughter. The entire outing was a farcical charade if ever there were such a thing.
The crew arrived toting their belongings like the porters on our Nairobi safari. Apparently their supplies consisted of inexpensive cheesy comestibles and cheap domestic sparkly because the entire group were either opening bottles of bubbly or spending inordinate amounts of time in the bathroom. They were as giddy as orphans on Charity Day at the country club pool.
We were barely under way when a group of them (to the dismay of the First Mate and completely against previous instructions) were swilling beer and congregating on the swim deck to smoke something the locals call “cigareets”. Eventually the Sommelier became so inebriated, he fell over-board. The poor fellow was much distraught and had to be restrained, tied to a paddle board and floated several yards behind us on a tether.
The afternoon was waning and so we headed back to dock with the paddle board in tow. Now that I think of it, it did greatly resemble a piece of bait tied to a lure. I suppose then not too surprising that the board and its occupant were attacked by what was later determined to be either a pod of deranged dolphins or the most effeminate swarm of sharks I have ever seen. At any rate, the poor drunken Sommelier was lost. His wife, upon waking from her nap, was inconsolable until an unopened bottle of champagne was discovered. All in all, the day was a ripping good bash about.
Please give my love to Grand Papa and inquire about an advance on my allowance. It seems the television is out in the Bentley, so the purchase of new transport is an unexpected expense. Cheers to you and the gang. I’ll be home in time for the Spring Regatta.
My wife still believes anything can be accomplished with hard work and perseverance, poor naive soul. Many years my junior, she has not yet come face to face with age discrimination. I on the other hand, have come to terms with some very harsh realities indeed. But over time I realized I needed a different perspective. Although achieving success is usually a product of determination, it occurred to me, advancement could also be accomplished through the process of elimination. If there is only one horse in the race, it’s much easier to pick the winner.
At this point, I would like to disavow any implication of mental instability. I have been tested several times with only inconclusive results. Sure there is a history of mass-murder on my mother’s side, but since the execution of the mentally disabled is a violation of the Geneva Convention, I can only assume a state of complete lucidity at the time of her demise. But, I digress.
Having been passed over for promotion several times by clearly inferior co-workers, I decided to thin the field of competition. My sights first fell on my cube-mate Ron. Ron named me Professor Evil since discovering my penchant for writing hate mail to the kids I support through Children International. Who was he to judge? He doesn’t know me! But I knew him. Yes, I knew Ron alright. I knew about his love for handguns and Bowie knives. I had just finalized plans for an overly elaborate clown-suited home invasion and disemboweling when Ron accepted a position at a different company. I wasn’t disappointed to see him go, one down. Two days later, I decided I had expended too much effort on my plan to simply let it go to waste, so I went ahead with it anyway.
Rex was the next to fall prey to my cunning machinations. He was the office manager, an honorific title at best. His position on the organization chart fell somewhere between supervisor and lackey. In addition to a name common to Labradors, he also shared their fascination for tennis balls. He kept a bright yellow one on his desk for strengthening his grip. He had the habit of bouncing it on the floor as he emerged from his office periodically throughout the day like a deranged cuckoo with his ludicrous announcements. I dispatched him by taking his ball and throwing it out into the parking lot. He immediately ran out to retrieve it and was promptly run over by a UPS truck. It was almost too easy.
Bill I eliminated with African ear mites placed into his headphones. The deadly parasites, purchased from a leather fetish nun (whom I know strictly on a professional level and recently returned from Botswana), burrowed deep into his brain and eviscerated his frontal lobe. He went unnoticed for three days, sitting at his desk cursing at himself and asking, “Where the hell am I?” It was only when he fell from his chair that anyone realized his pathetic condition. The parasites went completely undetected during his autopsy and his death was ruled as stress related to a recent Volkswagen rebuild gone horribly awry.
Tom went with an arsenic laced Beef on Weck. Jim starved himself to death as I methodically and subliminally convinced him, the only safe consumables were frozen prunes and water biscuits. Mike, my final competitor, succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning while trying to add yet another cargo attachment to his already over-burdened motorcycle. I swear I had nothing to do with this one. The investigating officer could find no good reason as to why the engine was running with the garage door down. Mike’s wife eventually informed him, in a suspiciously fake British accent, “He just liked the smell of it, Gov’ner”
At last, I was at the top of the promotion list. At the peak of my potential, where my years of experience in employee relations and dedication to my craft marginally suggested I should be. Unfortunately, the recent lack of manpower had resulted in the loss of several lucrative contracts resulting in a terrible third quarter revenue report. The remainder of my group, namely me, was laid off. Furthermore, I have recently been denied employment at several establishments due to lack of current references.