When the Florida Weekly comes out on Wednesdays, this household looks forward to reading it.
In addition to a cover story on a local trend that ranges from demographics and wildlife to ecosystems and the economy, the newspaper lists arts, music, and food events in South Florida.
Nina likes the crossword puzzle; Bob, the restaurant reviews; and I the Weekly Writing Challenge, an annual contest that runs from August through November. Each round invites writers to write a 750-word story based on one of two photographic prompts.
Since I like a good story, here’s what I wrote for Round 2, based on the photograph below.
Born without a double in a family of twins, I am Oona. The One, Mother would coo. Little Lambkin, Daddy would drawl. Princess, two sets of sisters would scoff. Imbued with a special dispensation, I wore nothing twinish, like a matching dress or a distinguishing ribbon. Yet I always sensed a missing indulgence.
Cleaning out my parents’ house fell on my shoulders. Daddy and three of my sisters—Agnes, Grace, and Annie—had already died. Elsie, the eldest and only remaining sibling, allegedly was helping me. Though physically strong, dementia was dissolving her brain. I resented only that Mother hadn’t moved years ago.
“Please,” I had begged. “Let’s find you a smaller place, where you can socialize, play cards, eat dinner with your old friends.”
“This is where I belong, where I raised my babies.” Obstinate if nothing else, she would kiss my forehead. “Every last Oona of them.”
Thomas and Mary had moved into this twentieth-century Victorian the day they married. Here they raised their two sets of twin girls and me. If anyone asked if he had wanted a son, Daddy would slowly grin.
“I want what I have.” He had me. And everyone knew I was his favorite.
“Mary had a little lamb,” he would sing as I trailed my mother far and wide. “And everywhere that Mary went, her lamb was sure to go.”
Last month, though, at 95, Mother stopped going anywhere.
Brushing away cobwebs, I redirected my attention to the attic, the last stop in my journey through my family’s belongings. Mother had neatly labeled everything as if to facilitate her life’s disassembly. That was so like her, placing everyone’s needs before her own.
But she hadn’t labeled the one thing I needed. And I didn’t even know what that was. Something unknown and untouchable stuck to the boundaries of my soul like soapsuds clinging to a basin.
“Lookie here!” Elsie squealed. Pointing to a small stack of colored boxes, she disrupted my reverie. “Christmas!”
Looking over the boxes, I noticed that each was labeled with names and dates of birth. Brushing away dust, I sat on a narrow window seat and patted the space next to me.
“Not Christmas, Elsie. It’s a birthday. Let’s look together.”
Inside each box were souvenirs related to children’s births. I smiled at Mother’s sentimentality. I wished I had found these before she died; I would have given them back to her.
“Here, Elsie.” I handed her a yellowed card. To Elsie and Agnes, it read. “Gramma sent this card when you were born.” It disintegrated when she ripped it open, prompting tears. I quickly pulled a sturdier one from the stack. “Be careful. These are very old. Like you!”
As Elsie pored over the collection, I skipped the box labeled Grace and Annie. I dug further to find the last one. Oona. I gasped. And Thomas. Thomas?
“You had a twin,” Elsie leaned in. She couldn’t remember my name, yet she knew what I didn’t. “A boy. You killed him. I heard Mother and Daddy talk.”
I killed him? I tore through the documents for answers. According to a certificate of stillbirth, Thomas died of umbilical cord asphyxia minutes after my birth. Beneath that was a letter written to Mother in Daddy’s unmistakably bold hand. Feeling every bit an interloper, I gingerly opened it.
“This bittersweet secret is a pledge,” he wrote. “Oona must never know that it was her cord that strangled Thomas. She is innocent.”
In a dankly empty attic, two sisters wept—Elsie for having destroyed a birth card, me for having discovered a death one. Wrapping an arm around my big sister, I pretended that she was my baby brother. If he had lived, would Thomas have been Daddy’s favorite? If I had died and he had lived, would he be disassembling his parents’ lives? Would he be consoling Elsie?
Although Mother often called Daddy Doubting Thomas, I realized that Daddy was, in fact, a believer.
“Hope and faith,” he always said, were opposing forces. “Hope is a dream. But with faith, there is only one outcome.” I had hoped to find what was missing in my life. But Daddy believed in what I found. He unburdened me of a truth I didn’t need to know. I was the innocent lamb; Thomas, the sacrificial one.
Inhaling Daddy’s faith, I assumed my birthright as The One. Then I dried our tears.