Culture  Inkwell: Halves

Sometimes, they wake late at night and realize they’ve forgotten who they are. Nothing but a sense of emptiness and loss and it terrifies them each time. They flail about – eyes wide, legs tangling in the sheets – until they lurch out of bed and meet each other half way, their fingertips and palms and arms and chests and cheeks pressed flush against each other through the glass as they wait for their breathing to slow. Siamese twins, mirror image, reflection and photograph and soul; they are one. Perhaps it isn’t that they’ve forgotten; perhaps they’ve never known.

It’s then that they darken their eyes and smear their lips with their mother’s rouge: much too deep – obscene, provocative, unintentional. Brief moments of separation, but then they catch each other’s eyes and they’re together again: in car doors and in puddles and broken glass; all the way down to the tunnels and the trains. They sit side by side in a single seat by a window and they ride the line from one end to the other and back again until they feel whole once more.

Tonight, a man, stumbling and slurring grabs fistfuls of their hair and calls them a word they don’t understand and she’s scared for a moment, until a boy, not much older than her, steers him away and asks her name. At a loss, they remember what the man had called her. The boy laughs and says that’s what he had thought, that her lipstick and kohl-smudged eyes gave her away, and as the train slows, he stands and motions for her to follow. They hesitate a moment too long, so her blouse catches between the sliding doors and she feels a tug, but then she’s free and rushing after him.

Soon there’s deafening music, the smell of sweat and her father’s aftershave. It’s too hot, too crowded and she can’t move, can’t see and her chest and lungs and heart and insides clench. There are hands, on her hips, insistent, demanding; her breathing quickens, and she pulls away, free – but he’s there, leaning against a wall, hand extended in a mockery of welcome and he grabs her forearm and exclaims that he’s been looking all over for you, darling.

She shakes her head and twists away. She doesn’t know what this is, hasn’t seen it in movies, or read about it in magazines, or heard it sung in songs. And then she’s in the restroom, door locked behind her, and, oh, God. But there is no one, not even God, who she’s been told is merciful but she’s never believed that and perhaps she should have, but no.

She’s alone, was alone even while out there pressed between hundreds, she realizes. She curls her fingers around the white porcelain sink and pulls herself close to the mirror. Her other half, her reflection, stares back at her. Relief, and she smiles, and it smiles back. Hello, she whispers; hello, it mouths. Could you help me? she asks, for she has never asked anything of it, but all it offers is mimicry, and the boy, his voice muffled, utters empty promises through the door. And please, she cries, please save me, but her shadow, her only friend for so long just stares and pities, and does nothing, for they are no longer they, but her and it and she knows not who she is or who it is, and then, there are not just two of them, not just two halves, but a thousand splendid pieces shattering.