Violet and Daisy Hilton, were Siamese twins joined at the hip and performed in various capacities in vaudeville. They also infamously had multiple lovers, claiming “not to have been bothered by each other’s boyfriends” because Harry Houdini, who they met on the circuit, “had taught them how to mentally retreat to a private place to ‘get rid of each other’ when they needed to.”
Before Harry, there was no vanishing—
only her and me,
strangers lifting up our skirts
to find the folded hip, our unseemingly seam,
God’s curse on our unpaired mother,
said the midwife,
so, Mother sold us to her.
Then, the saxophones and violins,
the practicing all day,
the harmonies, the beatings—why,
if we stopped making them money,
there was always the institution,
bodies bound by jackets and by bars,
not just comforting flesh.
There was no me or her:
our only Us was Fear.
At 21, in Barnum’s world,
we met the Great Houdini,
greater to us not for his escapes
but for the ways out he revealed:
bringing us the daily news,
he made us read our fame,
liberate ourselves from others’ claims
and even from each other,
showed us there had always been another place
beyond the music and the slaps,
a place inside of each of us,
quiet, small, separate, away.
I could just turn on my side,
read a book, eat an apple.
O, those were fine times—
to feel the love of another, not my body.
We married, one at a time,
barely bigamy, each coupling short-lived,
for what is marriage, once you
know how to have it all—intimacy
and your own self?
They could have taken us apart,
when Harry saved us from ourselves
enough for us to find pleasure as grocery clerks,
paid as one person, perfect for Twin Pack Potato Chips,
and later in our hot dog stand.
Let the others say it flourished
for our freakishness,
we understood the fit
of frankenfurter nestled into bun.
It was the flu killed Daisy.
I called no one, died two days later,
a day alone, finally, for each of us.
Bryn Gribben has a PhD in Victorian literature and is an instructor of English at Seattle University, teaching literature, empathy, composition, and creative non-fiction, but her SU students call her their steampunk fairy godmother. She has taught at the Richard Hugo House, was the co-editor of fiction for The Laurel Review, and is currently the creative non-fiction managing editor for BigFictionMagazine. Bryn’s latest work can be found in Superstition Review, The Rappahannock Review, 3Elements Review, River River, the HCE Review, and in Suitcase of Chrysanthemums, an anthology from great weather for MEDIA. Her essay “Cabin,” in Tilde, published by 30West Publishing, was nominated for a 2019 Pushcart Prize.