Friday, June 8, 2012

Chapters 1 & 2, Revised

Chapter 1

      She emerged from the subway to an assault on all her senses.  Cars, buses and taxicabs honked their horns, black exhaust puffed in her face, pedestrians rushed by with to-go coffee cups still steaming, the wind blew cold, and she had no idea which way to go. She studied the streets signs, glanced at a map, and unable to get her bearings, finally just picked a direction and started walking.
       Emma Mason came to New York City and went to see The Gates in Central Park—the display by Christo and Jeanne-Claude of monuments lining the footpaths of the park. Each gate was a huge metal portal topped with an orange curtain flap that billowed in the wind, looking a bit like a giant puppet theatre. There were thousands of them, literally-- 7, 503 Gates, each standing 16 feet tall, lining 23 miles of walkways.
      Emma made her way to Central Park and once there, she walked for hours, stopping only once to buy sugar-coated nuts from a vendor. The Gates were the oddest of sights, magical and magnificent, and Emma felt compelled to follow their trail. Was it art, she wondered? What did it mean? Here and there, in the northern, quieter parts of the park, Emma left the paths, climbed a boulder to look out over the landscape, and found herself giggling out loud at the bewildering sight of the orange fluttering canvases.
       Eventually, the sun set and the temperature dropped; after all, it was February. It was suddenly quite dark and a stranger to New York City, Emma found herself a bit disoriented and unsure of how to get where she wanted to go.  Chilled, tired, and no longer able to appreciate anything but her own discomfort, she left Central Park on the East Side by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and walked over to Third Avenue. She wanted hot soup or coffee, or both, and ducked into a diner.  She was nervous about what she planned to do next.
       “Em,” A man said.  She glanced at the stranger reflexively; she didn’t know him and obviously he was talking to some other Em.  He was sitting alone, though his table remained set for two and he’d been careful not to let his belongings— his black leather gloves, and house keys -- spill onto the other half.
       There was no hostess and Emma searched for a clean table—the ones closest to the door had dirty dishes on them.
       “Em!” The man’s voice was more insistent from across the room, but she ignored him.
       She spotted a table for four; the restaurant was nearly empty and she was certain it would be okay to sit there alone. She’d have room to give her bag its own seat and spread out with a street map. Emma settled her coat onto the chair beside her.  Still chilled, she left her scarf draped around her shoulders.
        The man was suddenly there, having gotten up from his own seat to approach her. She could have been frightened but he had a gentle face, a cultured presence, and nothing about him was threatening.
         “What are you doing?” he asked. “I got us a table over there. I ordered a drink for you.” She was confused. I’m sorry, sir, she wanted to say, but you have the wrong person. Before she could speak, his expression changed. His eyes grew wide, maybe his skin blanched a shade.
         “Emily, what did you do to your hair? And where did you get those clothes?”
        And so Emma Mason met Jules Glassman-- her twin sister’s husband-- just moments before Emily Glassman arrived at the diner.

Chapter 2

       Everything went wrong the day Emily Glassman discovered her twin. Like a series of mistakes all calculated to make the equation work anyway, it put her serendipitously in a given place at a given time. Like any day that capsizes a life, she played the mundane events over and over in her head like a line from a song that just wouldn’t stop.
       On the morning of that same February day in 2005,  Emily Glassman had taken chicken out of the freezer.  She was planning to make a curry-- something rich, heavy, and bright yellow to off-set the winter’s gray.  She checked the refrigerator and the nearly-empty pantry for ingredients. She needed cream. The half-pint she had was rancid. She liked to throw pineapple and peanuts into her curry, so Emily reminded herself to pick those up on the way home as well.  She even called her cell phone and left herself a voicemail.
       It turned out to be one of those days, though, where nothing went quite as scheduled. Emily spent her lunch hour phoning in prescriptions and haggling with insurance companies, and then she got a call from a patient who was having an emergency.
       “Dr. Glassman,” Nancy whispered, “I’m hearing voices again.”
       “What are they saying?” Emily asked. Nancy had been doing well and Emily hated hearing that she was psychotic again. She wondered if Nancy had stopped taking her medications.  The last time she’d gotten sick, Nancy had disappeared for four days and finally showed up in a hospital in Delaware.
       “I can’t tell you,”  she said.
       “Is that because they’re telling you not to talk to me?”  Emily ventured a guess.
        “It’s okay,” She reassured Nancy. “I think it will be okay if you tell me what they’re saying.”
       “I can’t.  Not on the phone.”
       If it was any other patient, Emily would have told her to go to the Emergency Room, but she knew from past episodes that Nancy would hang up and never go. Instead, she instructed her to come right in, which left Emily to reschedule two patients for later in the day.
     Nancy arrived fifteen minutes late. She was both paranoid and suicidal and it took Emily a while to calm her and then to negotiate her hospital admission. By the time she finished seeing patients, hours later than she’d originally scheduled, the last thing she felt like doing was grocery shopping and cooking dinner.
       She called Jules.
      “Rough day.  I’m wiped.”
        He couldn’t hear, they had a bad connection and she had to repeat herself.  She finally ended up yelling loudly enough that people at the bus stop glared.
       “Anything I can do?” He asked.
       “Put the chicken back in the refrigerator. I’ll make curry tomorrow.”
       They agreed to meet at Empire T’s, the diner down the street from their apartment. It was no place special, but it was fast and the food was edible, so it was their standby for weeknights when things didn’t go exactly as scheduled. An older Greek cashier—he may have been the owner-- knew her name from her credit card and would often greet her with a nod, then quietly say, “Evening, Dr. Glassman.” She didn’t know his name, but always smiled and returned his greeting.
       At the last minute, Emily ran up to the apartment to see Zoey, their standard poodle. If Jules had still been there, perhaps they would have decided to stay home and order a pizza or just make do with cereal. If he’d been there, perhaps her whole life would have continued along on its usual trajectory.
       Jules had come and gone already, but the dog was excited to see Emily and wagged her tail so hard Emily thought it would send Zoey airborne. She nuzzled her face into the dog’s black curls, hugged her tightly.
       “You’re a good puppy.  I needed a doggy fix,” she said and gave her a few too many treats before she hurried back out into the cold to meet Jules at Empire T’s.
       Emily saw her husband’s belongings on a table by the door. His leather jacket was thrown over the back of a chair and two beers, still cold and foaming, had already been served and were waiting. The men’s room, she assumed and headed to the seat across from his.  She started to sit, but then spotted Jules talking to a woman a few tables away. She was sitting and he was standing, they both had their backs to Emily. Should I interrupt, she wondered? She waited just a moment; their conversation looked animated, maybe even heated, and not at all like one he be having if he’d bumped into a client.  Emily felt a bit self-conscious. Her nose was a little runny, her cheeks red from the cold, her hair disheveled by the wind, and her makeup had worn off hours earlier. She pulled a tissue from her coat pocket to blow her nose,  then tried to smooth her hair into place.
      “Emily,” Jules said, looking up as she approached.
      “Hi, sweetheart.”
       Jules looked drained and confused and Emily was about to ask if something was wrong when he cut her off.
      “Emily, this is Emma Mason,” he said, pointing to the woman he’d been talking to.  She turned her head so the two women faced each other like cars coming around the bend into a head-on collision.
       The world and everything in it froze. Emily Glassman could have been looking in a mirror. Emma Mason looked up at her and she saw herself, her wavy light brown hair parted just to the left of center, a few inches shorter, the right side tucked back behind the ear, and her black eyes pierced straight through. The expression of surprise – shock, really—that Emma Mason wore, reflected Emily Glassman’s. Only the clothing and jewelry were different. The long pink scarf, the grey wool cardigan, the jeans and hiking shoes—these were not Emily Glassman’s. Long dangling earrings flowed from Emma Mason’s lobes; pearls studded Emily Glassman’s.  Emily saw herself and knew instantly, without hesitation or question, that this was her identical twin. Perhaps Emily had known all along that she existed because there was no question about coincidence, no thought that they might be unrelated strangers who looked alike or were even simply blood relations. The image Emily Glassman took in was fully her own and there was no room for any other explanation. She also knew, in that instant that blurred their emotions into this jumbled mix of excitement, fear, and perhaps even anger, that her whole life had changed and would never be the same again. It felt like she was standing on the scaffolding outside the building of her life, quietly looking in, when suddenly and unexpectedly everything dropped, leaving her in mid-air, a cartoon character doomed to splatter on the ground below. It didn’t feel good and the air was vacuumed from her lungs while her heart waited to slow.
       “Emily,” Emma said, softly, and Emily felt the tears spilling from her eyes.
       “Holy shit,” Jules said, also quite softly.
        Holy shit is right, his wife thought. Without asking, he helped Emily take her coat off and rested it on the chair, over her twin’s coat. Emma was thinner than Emily Glassman, but the exact same height. She had the same nervous cough, the same tears now pouring forth. Jules guided his wife around the table to the chair across from her twin’s. She never asked, she just sat down and joined the stranger. Emma put her head on the table and buried it in her arms. Emily wanted to do the same, but stopped herself. The truth is, it was a moment she had never rehearsed for. One might imagine what they’d do if they ran into their unknown identical twin, but that would be a fantasy.  Emily didn’t know what to say or what to ask. She just cried.
       Emma, too, was overwhelmed, living through a moment she’d envisioned many times.  The reality never comes with quite the same flavor as a fantasy might.
       Jules got the beers, his coat and keys and gloves, and they both settled in across from her as uninvited guests at Emma Mason’s table.
      “Are you ready to order?” The waiter interrupted their silence, directing his question at Jules. The young man’s eyes bounced from one twin to the other and back again. He smiled a little, as if let in on the secret. Twins--even as adults, they make people smile.
       Jules took charge and placed an order. To the waiter’s delight, Jules said, “My wife will have what…” and he tripped over the words here, as they all would countless times that night, finally settling on, “…her sister is having,” and the same bowls of soup appeared before them soon after.
        The smell and the steam that rose from it were good. Emily could not eat a bite.
       “Do you live in the neighborhood?” Jules asked.
       “No, no. I live in Philadelphia,” Emma said. She was anxious, at a loss for what to do next. “I’m staying with a friend and her family in Brooklyn. We went to college together. She had to work today.”
       Emma Mason stuck her tongue in her cheek, a funny little gesture that few people make.  Emily noticed every little mannerism about her twin, this one was foreign.
       “I took the subway in. I came…” she stopped mid-sentence for just a second, a brief pause before she finished her thought, “…to see The Gates.”  There was a hesitation there, one that Jules might have noticed, but that Emily did not.
       “Emily does that.” Jules caught himself in his confusion and started over. “My wife does that,” he said and she looked at him.
     “Does what?” Both twins asked the question in unison.
      He didn’t know who to turn to while he answered. “She puffs her cheek out like that with her tongue,” he said.
       “I do?” Emily was surprised.
       “You do.”
       There was a lot they could have talked about that night in Empire T’s. They could have compared notes on their likes and dislikes, their thoughts and fears, their bodies, their habits, their health. The list was virtually endless and it settled on a story from Emma Mason’s past.

       “Where’s mommy?” the little, blond-haired, black-eyed Emma asked her father.
       “She went away,” her father said.
       “When is she coming back?”
       “Don’t know,” he answered.
      “I want my hair in braids. Mommy does my hair in braids.”
       Mike Mason considered the request. He was a barber, fairly new to the profession, and he cut only men’s hair. He’d looked at Emma’s hair, had the three-year-old turn in a circle, and finally he’d said, “I can do pigtails or a pony tail, or you can wear it loose. Daddies don’t make braids.”
       Emma chose pigtails that day. He took her to work with him and sat her in a corner with a coloring book. She’d listened while his stream of clients came in, chatting away about their jobs, their golf games, their families. One man offered Mike suggestions on the stock market. This went on for days, until finally he’d found a neighbor to baby-sit while he worked.
     “When is mommy coming back?” Emma asked.
     “Don’t know,” he answered.
     “I want Mommy to come back,” Emma said. “I don’t like pigtails and pony tails. I want braids.”
       She started to sob.
     “Stop crying,” her father ordered. “There’s nothing I can do.” His tone was uncharacteristically harsh.
       When she didn’t stop, he left the room, and finally the apartment. He came back, hours later, to the little girl he’d left alone. Emma, at first scared, then hungry, then finally tired, had fallen asleep on the sofa. Their cat, Pepper, sat next to her clawing at the material. The room was cool, no one had turned on the heat.
       Her father gently lifted her up, then carried her into the kitchen where he sat her on the counter, draped a huge nylon cutting cape around her, and cut her hair with his barber shears. She sat very still, barely awake, shivering, afraid to move or to cry, and he trimmed the length to the middle of her ears, leaving Emma with a pixie cut.
     “There,” he said quietly, and lifted her in his arms so she could see herself in the mirror, “now you don’t have to worry about braids.

      “Amazing,” Jules said. “If Emily…” he stopped himself, once again confused. “If you,” he said directly to his wife, “weren’t sitting here, or if my eyes were closed, I’d swear it was you talking.”
       He turned to Emma. “Your voices are the same, but it’s more than that—it’s the inflection, the rhythm, where you take breaths, it’s just too weird.”
       Emma was a talented story teller.
       “Let her go on.” Emily Glassman longed to hear more.  She wanted to go back in time to a place when everything made sense. She must have guessed that would be a long journey.
       Emma told them she’d stopped asking about her mother, but she never stopped waiting for her return. She and her father moved from Richmond, Virginia to Washington, D.C. before Emma started school. She quietly worried that her mother wouldn’t know where to find them. And she had no answers to the questions posed at school: Where is your mother? What does she do? Why isn’t she with you?
      Emma’s father was a diligent man, but he remained distant. He never said, “Don’t ask questions.”  He never had to. He was, she told them, heartbroken, if not devastated.
       There was more to the story that Emma Mason didn’t offer up and Emily had no way of knowing what she might be withholding.  She recognized something of herself in the delivery, something that made her know her twin was holding back things she very much wanted to know.
       “He didn’t date other women?” Emily asked.
       “No,” she said and she took a sip of water. The ice had long ago melted. “Dad went to work and he took care of me.”
       “It sounds like a stoic life. ”  He sounded depressed at best, or perhaps personality disordered. Schizoid or avoidant.  Emily kept the diagnoses to herself; there were times when it really wasn’t helpful to be a psychiatrist.
         “Yes.” she said thoughtfully, “Stoic is a good word to describe Dad. He kept it all bottled in, then one day when I was in college, he had a heart attack and died.”
       The waiter appeared and refilled Emma’s water glass. She took a long sip and waited for him to leave.
       “Would you like some dessert or coffee?” he asked.
       “Just the bill,” Jules answered.
       Everyone was tired and Jules knew his wife wouldn’t want anything else but, he assumed Emma wouldn’t as well.
      “Wait,” Jules said to the young man. He turned to Emma, “I didn’t mean to make assumptions. Did you want coffee or dessert?”
       “No. I’m fine,” she said, and with that the waiter left.
       “I went through his belongings after he died,” Emma continued. “I found the divorce decree, his bank statements, old tax returns, a social security card, not much else. The only sentimental things he hung on to were related to me—photos, a tap dance program from a recital I was in when I was eight, my high school awards, and two letters I wrote to him my freshman year at college. It was strange to see those letters; he died less than a year later, yet I didn’t remember writing or sending them. They were the only letters I’d ever written to Dad and they were bland and formulaic. ‘Dear Dad, How are you? I’m good. I like my classes and I’ve met some good friends. Hope you’re well.’ There was nothing more interesting to share with my father, and I felt badly that I hadn’t included him more in my life.  I guess that’s natural for a kid just off to college, but if I’d known he was going to die, I would have done things differently. When I went through his things doing his last call on housekeeping, I was looking for something. Something to hold on to, or perhaps something to explain this strange, disenfranchised life we’d had. I wished he’d kept a journal or held on to some old love letters. Something that would have given me some posthumous insight into who he was besides my father and a good barber.”
       Emily thought for a moment.
      “What was your mother’s name?” Emily Glassman asked.
      “Sandra Klee Mason. It’s funny, but I’d always just thought of her as Mommy, right as she was when she left.” Emily abruptly stopped talking.
       “No one ever talked about your mother?”.
        How could that be? Weren’t there other family members? People who had known them as a couple?
        “We moved when I was five, to a place where no one knew us. My father was an only child and his parents were both dead. He was a loner, except at work where he chatted away with the customers, but mostly he listened to stories about their lives. When he talked, he talked about sports. He certainly wasn’t going to volunteer to anyone that his wife had walked out on him.”
       “There weren’t any adoption papers? I was adopted as a baby.”
       “No.” Emma considered this, “He was my father, I’m certain of that.”
       Emma Mason’s story left her new-found twin wanting. Her presentation didn’t invite questions. There was a guardedness that Emily Glassman pushed against. It was too new and too unreal for the questions to fully form, for the story to make sense, and Emma asked nothing about her Emily’s adoption. She didn’t so much as flinch.
      “There was no marriage certificate, so I’m guessing she took that. Or Dad shredded it. It wouldn’t be unlike him to simply destroy any thing he didn’t want to be. Like giving life a haircut so short it can’t be braided.”
        The diner was empty now. It was a late weekday evening and Empire T’s was one of the few diners around that wasn’t open twenty-four hours. The older Greek cashier delivered the check and  looked from one twin to the other, then back. Finally, he handed the bill to Jules.
       “Two Dr. Glassmans.” He nodded to himself and walked away. Perhaps he wondered if he’d been dealing with two of them for years.
        The evening had to end and Emily Glassman wasn’t sure what to do, what to say.
        “Are you going back to Brooklyn tonight?”  Should she invite her new twin to stay? They had an extra room, a rarity in the city but they’d taken the apartment with plans to start a family. Emma was a stranger and she was here visiting a friend. 
       “I am,” she said. “I should be going.”
       “Then you’ll come to our apartment for dinner tomorrow,” Jules said. It was a statement, more a command than an invitation.
       “Yes,” Emily Glassman agreed, “we’d love to have you.”
       It would give her a chance to think and to figure out what else she wanted to know. And what else she wanted to share.
        "I’d love to come,” Emma said.
        Jules wrote out the address on a napkin. The three of them stood up to gather their belongings and suddenly, without warning, Emily Glassman started to sob. If anyone else was there, it would have created a scene.
       Emily sat back down and Jules flagged the waiter to bring water. Emma Mason looked confused, and then she too folded onto her chair and started to weep. The twins leaned into each other and each one found herself holding a stranger close, as if they were any pair of twin sisters in need of comfort during that particular February evening.