b. alex mill
There was a water fountain inside the small building near the entrance to the park, made of polished steel, unblemished by oily fingertips, and dispensing bright, clear water in a shimmering semicircle. Here Marcus, tired from his brief run and attracted by the prospect of relief from the intense heat, stops to quench his thirst. As he approaches the fountain he pauses, surprised to see himself—he does not remember seeing a mirror there before. He remains completely motionless as he stares at himself, his expression fixed like a statue’s. He had always liked the way he looked after a bit of exercise: his eyes shining, his thick yellow hair slightly damp and blown back from his face, his flushed red cheeks conspicuous against his smooth white skin. He is filled with an intense feeling of admiration and sees a distinct look of admiration on the face before him. But when he raises his hand to run his fingers through his hair his reflection is unchanged. Such confusion! He waves his hand in front of his face but it will not appear in the mirror; he taps the glass repeatedly, but still does not realize his mistake. Can’t you tell, dull man, that that is a window in front of you, not a mirror? The person on the other side of the glass has no reason to mimic your actions; in fact, he finds them rather puzzling.
When his reflection motioned for Marcus to join him outside, his confusion was diminished, but only slightly. How could such a perfect double of him exist? Who was this strange man and what could he want? But then, a possibility occurred to Marcus: he was adopted as an infant and knew nothing of his birth parents; this person must be a relative, perhaps even his twin brother. Marcus’s suspicions were confirmed when the stranger finally spoke: “I am your brother, Marcus. I recently travelled to Duncan, where we were born, to examine the records of the adoption agency there. I learned that my mother’s name was Ellie Rippo and that she died shortly after giving birth to identical twins—you and me. We were separated and adopted by different parents; our adoptive families were not told of the existence of a twin. Strange as it may sound, my parents also named me Marcus.”
Hearing these words, Marcus was overwhelmed by powerful and conflicting emotions: an immense sadness over having lost his brother for so many years and an equally powerful joy over having found him again at last. Tears began to stream from Marcus’s eyes, and once again his brother’s face mirrored his own. The two men embraced one another eagerly and each sobbed into his brother’s shoulder until both their shirts were soaked with tears.
When Marcus felt he had recovered sufficiently from the shock of his brother’s story, he invited him to his home so that he might introduce him to his wife and so that they might talk further in private. When they arrived they were met at the door by Marcus’s wife Chloe, whose wide eyes made her astonishment perfectly evident. “This is my twin brother,” Marcus said. “Twin brother!” Chloe answered. “He was able to use the adoption records to find me,” Marcus explained. “His name is also Marcus.” Chloe’s eyes grew wider still. Despite the fact that she had a thousand different things she wanted to say, she found she was only able to repeat “Marcus!” again and again.
Once he had explained the remaining details to his wife and made his brother comfortable, Marcus began relating the highlights of his young life: “I was raised in a small town in the Northeast. My adoptive parents had four other children and never had much time for me. They didn’t really understand or appreciate me. I did very well in school; in fact, I was skipped ahead at one point. I was also the star athlete of my high-school. You can see some of my track and field trophies on the mantle—there are many more that I keep in boxes in storage. However, no matter what I achieved, my parents treated me as though I were nobody special. I was never close with any member of the family and now I rarely have contact with any of them.
“I left home when I entered university. I attended a very prestigious school, ultimately graduated at the top of my class, and now I’m in graduate school studying business administration. I met Chloe in my second year of university. I didn’t want to get involved—I had a lot of men and women after me at the time—but she was so infatuated and pursued me so persistently that I felt I had no choice but to marry her. Of course, it didn’t hurt that her family is incredibly wealthy and influential. Her father is the head of one of the biggest companies in the country, and he’s guaranteed me a prominent position there once I complete my Master’s degree. I expect to be running the company before long.”
Marcus’s account of his life had just the effect he had hoped it would on his twin, who was very impressed indeed. When he had finished, it was his brother’s turn to share his life story. The similarities were uncanny: he had also had a great deal of academic and athletic success and was similarly underappreciated by his adoptive family; he had even married a young woman from a wealthy family he had met at university and was presently studying business administration. The similarities did not end there, however. As Marcus continued to talk with his twin, he discovered that their interests, hobbies, opinions and even their mannerisms were exactly alike.
Most captivating of all for Marcus were the physical similarities between them. His twin had precisely the same fine facial features, the likes of which Marcus believed he had never before encountered in another human being. He had Marcus’s bright blue eyes, his narrow, perfectly straight nose, his small mouth with its thin red lips, and his elegantly pointed chin. In addition, he had Marcus’s greatly cherished, wavy yellow hair, and even kept it the same length—just above the shoulder.
Not satisfied with the superficial observations that could be made at a distance, once Chloe had gone to bed Marcus began a more thorough examination of his twin’s body. He sat down close beside him and was struck by the wonderful smell that filled his nostrils: it was so appealing and familiar that it made him almost ecstatically happy. He took his twin’s hands into his own; they were just as soft and delicate, with the same long, graceful fingers. His skin was wonderfully smooth and pliant; he felt he could never grow tired of touching it. Marcus went so far as to remove his shirt in order to examine his torso (it was perfectly sculpted, just as he expected: slender without being thin, muscles clearly defined without being thick and bulbous). Removing another person’s shirt without warning typically causes shame or embarrassment, but how could there be any bashfulness between Marcus and Marcus?
The time passed quickly, and before long Marcus saw that the sun was already beginning to cast its long morning shadows. His brother had planned to stay at a hotel, but Marcus insisted he stay in the guest room of his home. He had also planned to travel home the following day to return to his wife and his studies, but Marcus insisted that he stay at least a week, arguing that they could both afford to take some time away from school under the circumstances. With their plans for the immediate future settled, the two separated, albeit reluctantly, and went to sleep in their adjacent rooms.
In all your life, have you ever spent a happier week, Marcus? You, who have never felt truly close to anyone; you, who have never been satisfied with anyone, including your wife; finally, you have met someone who meets your exacting standards, who gives you the respect you deserve, who understands you completely. And with your wife frequently away at work and all your responsibilities temporarily put to one side, you can spend nearly all your waking hours alone with Marcus.
However, just as a life cannot be called happy until it has ended, a week cannot be called happy until it has passed; and before this one was over there were signs that it would not pass without a good deal of unhappiness. Each day Marcus’s feelings towards his brother became more intense and uncontrollable. At first he simply felt, as one might expect, profoundly close to Marcus. He felt as though he had always known him and always loved him; he felt that they belonged together and should never have been apart. But as the week drew on, Marcus found that he did not want to spend time with anyone else and did not want his twin to do so either. Whenever he discovered his twin talking on the telephone to his wife, Marcus would experience fits of violent jealousy. And if the two ever had to be apart, however briefly, Marcus would be overcome by a crushing loneliness. In such circumstances, Marcus would sometimes look in a mirror and imagine that he were looking at his brother, and he found that this brought him some relief; but more often than not he would soon be curled up in bed, sobbing quietly.
Eventually Marcus began to feel as though he were not completely separate from his twin. His twin was not another person exactly, but rather a side of himself he had not seen before. He stopped using their individual names and instead referred to his twin and himself collectively as the Marcuses; and he insisted that Chloe do the same. If Chloe asked what Marcus and his brother would like for dinner, he would correct her angrily: “the Marcuses don’t care what you make; we’re going out for dinner alone.” If she asked when his brother would be leaving to return home, Marcus would scream: “this is the Marcuses’ home and we’re never leaving.”
Most threatening of all to Marcus’s happiness was his growing sexual desire for Marcus, the force of which increased each day, like a river fed by melting snow. The twins were exceedingly demonstrative with each other, continually hugging, holding hands, or playing with one another’s hair, as though they were attempting to make up for all the brotherly affection they had missed out on during their many years apart. Marcus soon realized that whenever he had any prolonged physical contact with his twin he would become aroused and have to hide his erection. He would also frequently catch himself in the midst of detailed sexual fantasies involving Marcus; and before long he found that great exertions of will were required to stop him from reaching into the front of Marcus’s pants each time they were alone.
Marcus was initially shocked and ashamed by these intense sexual feelings; but after much reflection he decided that he had nothing to be ashamed of. His twin was the most beautiful person, man or woman, that he had ever laid eyes on, and so it was only natural that he should be sexually attracted to him. And not only was he beautiful, but he was also as perfectly suited to Marcus as any sexual partner could be. True, they were brothers, but only in a purely genetic sense. After all, they had not grown up together; for all intents and purposes, they were perfect strangers who had only just met. In fact, Marcus believed that their relationship could be more perfect and more beautiful than any other imaginable. Is romantic love not meant ideally to be a union of two people—two individuals coming together, becoming one? Could this ideal ever be more perfectly realized than by the Marcuses? He understood, of course, that most people would not understand; but Marcus had never let the ignorance and shortsightedness of other people stop him from doing what he knew was best for him.
As Marcus’s sexual energies became more and more focused on Marcus, his relationship with his wife naturally suffered. He recognized that his life would become extremely difficult if Chloe were to learn of his secret passion, and so he avoided her as best he could and said as little as possible when forced to speak with her. In addition, he now found the idea of sex with his wife, which he had never much enjoyed at the best of times, utterly repulsive. Under the circumstances, he decided it would be better if he were not sharing a bedroom with Chloe, and consequently asked her to sleep in the living room. The excuse he provided was that he was having problems sleeping and thought it might help if he had the bed to himself temporarily; Chloe agreed to his request, but she was not fooled by his explanation. She understood what was going on in her husband’s mind. She saw the desire in his eyes when he looked at Marcus; she saw how his face flushed when he touched him. And she saw the disgust in his eyes when he looked at her; and she saw how carefully he avoided touching her.
Nonetheless, her love for Marcus was only increased by this continual rejection and neglect; and as her love increased so too did the sadness and pain she felt at receiving such treatment. Chloe found it impossible to eat, and at night a monotonous stream of dreadful thoughts kept her from sleeping. Her hair fell out in fist-sized clumps, her skin shriveled up, and her flesh wasted away as though it were evaporating into the air: soon little more was left of her than her bones and her voice.
There came a time when Chloe could no longer stand being isolated from her husband. All day she followed Marcus and his twin everywhere they went; and the more she followed them the more desperate she became. When they finally returned home late in the evening she let herself in the back door quietly and followed Marcus into his bedroom. He is startled by her sudden appearance and amazed by the sight of her emaciated and exhausted face. So much to say; if only she could find the words! She wants to beg him to love her again and to make this new Marcus leave their home forever; but she is unable to speak.
Marcus is annoyed by her sudden intrusion and perplexing silence. “Is there something you’d like to say to me?” he asks abruptly. Chloe returns his question in a pleading tone: “is there something you’d like to say to me?” Marcus is infuriated by her question. “I have nothing to say to you,” he shouts. “I want you to go away.” Chloe cries “go away?” and refuting his words, she rushes toward him and tries to throw her arms around his neck. He backs away from her and yells “keep your disgusting hands off me. I’d sooner die than let you hold me.” She falls to her knees, crying profusely. “Hold me,” she begs him. But Marcus says he will not let her manipulate him and runs from the room, slamming the door behind him. Thus rejected, Chloe hides her wretched face in the soft, thick carpet.
Marcus is in desperate need of comforting after such an unpleasant scene and he knows just who can provide it. He enters the guest room and immediately wraps his arms around Marcus’s torso. There is no need to explain: Marcus knows what has happened. As he lingers in his arms, he notices that Marcus has become erect, and his erection excites and emboldens him. Just as he had so often wanted to, he stretches his hand toward the front of Marcus’s pants, undoes them, and pulls them down to his knees. The sight of Marcus’s erect penis is so beautiful that it nearly reduces him to tears. He encircles it with his right hand without delay. To the touch, it is lovelier still: so perfectly smooth and soft, and yet so firm. As he moves his hand up and down the shaft, he becomes more and more aroused; he had never dreamed any sexual experience could be so exhilarating. Finally, just as he feels the semen gushing from Marcus’s penis, he hears the door open and sees Chloe standing before him, her mouth open wide with shock.
She shuts the door again without a word, but Marcus follows her and chases her down the hall. “I know what you’re thinking,” he yells. “But I’ve done nothing wrong. It’s perfectly natural.” In a rage he orders Chloe out of the house; but as she’s leaving, a look of fear crosses Marcus’s face. “You’d better not tell anyone what you saw,” he says.
When Marcus returns to the guest room he finds his twin gathering his belongings and preparing to leave. “I can’t bear this shame and humiliation,” his twin declares. “It’s obvious that we can’t be together and so I want to leave as soon as possible.” Leaning his head backwards and stretching his arms out to the heavens, Marcus asks: “Oh Lord, has anyone ever loved more unluckily than I? In all the many thousands of years of human existence, could anyone else have experienced a yearning like mine? I have finally found the person I love more than any other and I see him standing right in front of me, and yet we can’t be together. And what makes it so painful is that there is nothing keeping us apart—no oceans or mountains, no walls or locked doors—nothing except a ridiculous taboo! I know you love me, Marcus, and want us to be together. Every time I smile at you, you smile back; every time I reach my arms out to hold you, you do the same. And even now as I am crying, I can see the tears in your eyes. Please don’t go! Surely you must be as attracted to me as I am to you—there isn’t a person alive who wouldn’t want to be with me.”
Just as these last words leave his mouth, Marcus’s expression changes dramatically, becoming bloodless and still. “Perhaps it was always me I loved,” he says. “If only this reflection of myself had not turned out to be flesh and blood I might have been happy; I would not now be tormented by this awful, insatiable desire. Oh how I wish my desire had no object; how I wish that we were one instead of two. The only possible escape from this torture is death—and perhaps death could unite us in a way.”
Suddenly he grabs at Marcus’s collar, ripping open his shirt and exposing his chest. He tears at the marble white flesh with his hands, leaving streaks of bright red blood, and as he does so he watches his flesh torn in kind. Seeing his own blood pour forth he can endure no more, and taking a large mirror from the wall he brings it down on Marcus’s beautiful face in an explosion of glass and blood. In the resulting confusion Marcus feels himself knocked to the floor, and as he struggles amongst the shards of broken glass more and more hot blood covers the surface of his skin. In desperation, he takes a shard in his hand and slashes repeatedly at Marcus’s neck, and as he does so he can feel his opponent’s strength melting like frost under the morning sun.
Chloe soon returned, and when she did she found Marcus lying motionless on the floor, barely conscious, and surrounded by vast pools of blood. The lovely body he had once been so proud of was now hideous to see. Yet when Chloe beheld him in his present condition, despite the painful memories of how he had treated her, she felt no satisfaction or bitterness, but only pity and grief. As she bent down over his body, he asked her in a labored whisper to turn his head so that he might lay his eyes upon Marcus one final time. When she had done so, Marcus muttered “Oh God” and tears fell from his eyes; loving Marcus as she did, Chloe could not help but cry “Oh God” as well. And when he said “goodbye, Marcus. I love you,” she repeated his words again. Finally Marcus laid his weary head down on the soft carpet, and those eyes that had once loved nothing better than to gaze upon Marcus’s beauty were closed by death.
B. Alex Mill is an academic living in St. Louis who writes short fiction.