Kaon

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The universe was a thing that existed only in contrast: black and white, in light and shadow, yin and yang, good and evil. Twins were such a thing. Gray in conception, but without division, they became monsters- sideshow freaks, a man with two heads or a woman with three arms.

When they were born, they were the same. Blank slates with empty eyes, they were identical- except there was no such thing. Kay was smaller because she had gotten less amniotic fluid in the womb. Kay was hungrier, greedier, and she fought to get more milk than her sister. Em smiled and cooed and made burping noises and played with toys and wiggled her fat little fingers at the cat.

Em's hair grew in quickly, full and shiny with little ringlet curls at the end. Kay was bald so long passerby started to look on with worry. Her parents pasted bows all over her head, but they only showed off the nooks and crannies of her skull. When the strands of hair started to creep in, they were thin and ragged, twisting the wrong direction and splitting at the ends. It never quite grew the way she wanted it to. Em wore her hair in braids, in elaborate updos, just down floating around her face like bits of a halo. Kay wore hats.

They divided. Kay stayed as far away as possible. Em was high school valedictorian- Kay dropped out and went hitchhiking a few states away with a guy in a rusted-out van who left her at a bus stop when she couldn't beg enough money for more gas. She found a bridge to sleep under a few years later, just long enough to nurse an ulcer that gnawed and gnawed until it finally burst in a cataclysm of fire and agony, laying in her own sweat and vomit until a cop gathered her off the street with the other homeless.

Her one phone call was to her parents.

Em was no longer at home, but she visited, making brief stops in her orbit. She'd had a baby, a perfect boy with a perfect toothless smile. A completely painless birth- of course, she'd said yes to the epidural. Who wouldn't?

Kay lacked motion for some time before the prickling questions started, the urges to better herself, the advertisements helpfully left in her old bedroom for GED programs. Maybe it was resentment that kept her sedentary- maybe it was the energy it took to watch Em on her parade, flitting from high school friend to relative to a new college friend, showing off her precious baby and exclaiming over how much work it took to be a mother and a student at the same time.

Where Em got the energy to do it all was a mystery when it was too much for Kay to get up and shower. How Em glowed and beamed smiles when she had been sitting in a physics class for hours and then posted selfies of herself and her son at some kiddy swimming class, and Kay's hair was coming out in tangled clumps.

The GED program flier taunted her with its simple design and cheerful slogans. Your life can be anything you want, the block letters proclaimed, and she tore the paper in two. The church tract peeking out beneath spoke in forbidding Impact lettering, a grizzled Old Testament God judging her beneath. There are only two possibilities: yes and no.

It felt appropriate to tear that in half as well. So she did.

Her parents called it laziness. Em, two psychology classes into a minor, called it "learned helplessness". Kay didn't call it anything- there was no such thing as "possibility", no such thing as "choice". There was only whatever was left over when Em was done being fed. The fluid universe wasn't enough to sustain them both. The charming learned more and more charm, gathering like with and overpowering the blank space around them. Strangeness dripped into strangeness, sedating into dust and decay, crumbling and sticking underfoot.

Kay left her parents' home a year later and ended up a live-in maid at a roach motel enough states away that it was more than a day's car ride, and thus longer than her mother could stand. Two years later, her appendix burst while she was unclogging a toilet.

Em called her in the hospital, apologizing for not coming when she was so sick. But she couldn't travel- she'd just had twin girls, and one of them just wasn't strong enough to leave the maternity ward yet. None of the doctors seemed to know why.

Through crumbling lips and sticking, strange breath, Kay might have told her it was because the other girl was the possibility of yes.

About the Author: 
Victoria is a special ed teacher's aide with a wife, a cat, and less and less free time.