“What if our parents had known they were insane?” Morgan asks.
“What if they did?” Olivia replies.
They’ve had this conversation, or a variation of it, a few times over the last five years.
In a truck-stop diner a hundred kilometres from home, her hair hurriedly bleached and dyed, him with a cap pulled low over his furtive glances about. On a subway carriage in NYC, comforted by the anonymity of the mass of humanity around them. On a small charter plane, only eight other passengers, just after heavy, gut-rattling turbulence. On a ferry to Calais. In a Starbucks in Prague.
Over an expensive dinner in an expensive restaurant on their anniversary.
“What if they did know they were insane?” She clarifies.
It’s the same conversation. Morgan, the younger sibling by just over an hour, wants to believe that self-awareness would have changed their parents’ actions. Would have saved them so much pain. That but for being born into a different generation – one that didn’t value self-examination, diagnosis and self-medication as much – their parents might have sought help, been better people. Their mother less cruel; their father less monstrous.
Olivia, who dotes on her twin, but doesn’t feel the luxury of illusion the way he does, knows that the world doesn’t work like that. That bad is bad, and sin is sin, and besides, people know what they are, deep down. The way she sees it, it’s a dumb question. Never ask a question you can’t live with the answer to, her daddy used to say, and it was the one helpful thing he ever gave them.
What if their parents knew what they were doing to their kids, and did it anyway? How would realising that make anything better?
Usually when Morgan asks the question, and she answers it, the rest of their time for a while after goes quiet. They lie in their hotel bed, back to back instead of facing each other the way they usually do. She always tells him it’s more comfortable on that side when she has a stomach-ache. She knows that really she’s punishing him for not letting their parents die in his heart and mind.
That phrase – it wasn’t the only useful thing her daddy ever gave them. He gave them the ability to live on the fringes, on the outside. To always find money, somehow. And he, and their mother, gave her the instinct to hurt Morgan when she was frustrated.
The mornings after they lay back to back, he’d wake to find that she wasn’t there in the bed with him. Whichever town or city they were in, whatever the situation, on those nights she’d have to sneak out into the world, and find something. Get something, and take something in return. Warm a bed, and lift a wallet or purse.
It hurt Morgan, she knew, and maybe that was partly the point. But at the same time, she needed something. Needed to feel something, inside. Needed to be touched.
Morgan and Olivia often masqueraded as a couple; married or eloping or on an adventure, sometimes for fun or sometimes because conditions demanded it. The way they looked at each other… were with each other… nobody ever seemed to question it. But they never touched each other. Could never touch each other. These years travelling, isolated from all except each other, Olivia got hungry for the warmth of another person. Just a hug. Just her hand, held.
The things that had happened to Morgan… that their parents had made happen to Morgan… meant he couldn’t be touched. Bad things happened to him when they tried.
One night, drinking red wine and eating hundred dollar steaks, a cool sea breeze on their skin, he puts his fork down and places his hand flat on the table.
“What if our parents had killed us before we killed them?”
She places her hand down near his, her fingertips as close to his as she knows he can bear.
“What if they did?” She replies.
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