by Cecilia Araneda
When she was a little girl, her mother would tell her stories about the scar. It was the seam God had left when he’d sewn her together, after filling her up inside with her heart and her ribs. And she would imagine God with his needle, sewing away. She would wonder if he’d pricked his finger putting her together. She would wonder if he’d bled. Her mother always bled when she sewed. One time her mother jabbed her finger so bad it had left a trail of blood all over her white communion dress. And the blood would not wash out, try as her mother might, but she did not mind it – it was the blood of her mother’s love and lasted longer than the sip of wine the priest had given her.
Her mother was a frail women and was sick as long as she could remember, always in and out of the hospital, sometimes for months on end. No one ever told her when her mother about to leave, but she would always tell; the apartment would be filled with her mother’s sadness, even the walls soaked up with it. And then, without a word, her mother would be gone and the sadness would dry out. During those times an older woman would stay with her in the apartment, making sure she did her homework and making sure she was fed. The woman was her mother’s aunt, or so she was told once, but she could have been a stranger for all they spoke.
She had long moved from her mother’s home when her mother had finally passed away. The walls were throbbing when she’d sat by her mother’s bedside and she knew this time the absence would be longer. In that moment of her dying, her mother was finally able to expel the sadness that consumed her. Her mother caressed her face softly, then, but only briefly, far too briefly she would think later. “Make sure you leave your sister flowers,” her mother instructed her, and then she was gone. Her sister. No one had ever spoken to her of her sister before, least of all her mother. It was as if the words were sacrilege, the voice of them too powerful. Her sister. But maybe it was all a dream she had had.
“That’s a pretty nasty scar,” he said, running his finger along it.
And she recoiled automatically.
“Don’t,” she snapped.
“Did you have an operation?” he asked.
That was what her mother had never mentioned, ever, but she knew.
“A long time ago,” she finally allowed.
The scar spanned the length of her torso, from under her arm to below her belly button. It was very rare that she allowed anyone to see it, let alone touch it, but he had spoken to her so smoothly, his words wrapping themselves around her, carefully caressing her. And suddenly she had felt herself not alone.
It was long after the funeral that she dared go through her mother’s things, almost a year. She did not want to. In the end, all that remains is paper and photographs: testaments to sleeping memories. He mother had looked so calm in her coffin in the front of the church and she did not want to wake the memories that had long tormented her mother. She had wanted it all to have remained the way that it was: timeless and untouched. But the lawyer insisted. There were bills to be paid and accounts to be cleared, and the apartment had to be emptied. If she did not want to, he would – some of the things would be sold and others thrown away, the decision to be made on a rational worth basis. Rational decisions always disturbed her.
The air was light and dry, the thickness having long disappeared, and white sheets covered everything. She chose not to uncover anything, though – not the sofa or the chest of the side table in the corner of the living room that held so many of her mother’s nick-knacks. It was only the lost piece of herself that she was after and she knew exactly where it was: in her mother’s bedroom, bedside the bed in which her mother had died, in the top drawer of her night stand. And it was still there, her and her sister’s baby book, just as she’d remembered. She wasn’t even five when she’d first found it, so carefully boxed and covered. In it, she’d discovered tiny feet prints in black ink, with lines and cracks that ran through them, distinguishing hers from her sisters’s. And there were dates and times listed, and their weights – together and apart. And there was the hair.
When she had first found the book, her mother was in the kitchen baking bread. The book bulged where the hair was kept and she immediately flipped to it, not knowing whose it was or why it was there. It was so soft and supple, the colour the creamiest of yellows, the two strands virtually identical, except that they were separated by two small laces, one gold and one pink. And when her mother had found her she was braiding the hair together, not know why but knowing only that was how it belonged. Her mother had cried for days after, and she had not understood why a tiny braid of hair would make her mother so sad. The braid was still as she had left it then, but the hair was brittle and dry now, the pieces breaking away from each other.
She had often wondered at what point in those nine months they had come woven together. She had wondered if it had been an accident, if God had simply run out of thread. Or maybe it was something else, something in the fluid, in the way it swirled around them. Perhaps they had understood that they should have been one. Perhaps they had simply tried to correct that wrong. Perhaps. She and Angela were born attached at the torso, sharing a heart and a few ribs. The doctors had told her mother then that together they would not survive. The heart was simply not strong enough to pump through two growing bodies, tiny as they were. Apart, at least one of them would have a chance to survive. And it was a rational decision that had given her life and her sister death, no love or charity applied, neither she nor her sister had been given the chance to speak to the other, “I will give you my life.” The surgeons has simply decided that her sister was not strong enough to survive on her own, that of the two, her sister was the one whose body was most compromised by their connection. She could not imagine her sister. She never could, not as long as she could remember, and her mother had not kept any photographs. It was this that she did not understand until the day of the funeral, where her mother’s aunt had passed by and taken her hand.
“It was always so hard for her to distinguish the two of you. When she’d look in your eyes, she could never tell if you were the one that had died or the one that remained. The photographs were the worst, because she could never be certain. Your mother was confused.”
And her mother’s aunt was silent for a moment.
“At least she doesn’t have to think about that anymore.”
That evening after the funeral, she had to wash herself, scrub so hard to wash her guilt away. But the scar remained. She had caught sight of herself in the mirror, then, her face and eyes, her body. She had wondered if her sister would have looked like her if her sister had lived instead, if her sister would have had a scar. She had felt the need to touch her own reflection, then, not certain for a moment who it was looking back at her – but the glass stopped her, reminded her that only she existed. And she understood that there was nothing that distinguished the two of them, her and her sister, except the way their heart beat inside her, the way it pumped life through her. But even then, even that would eventually fade away, even her scar.
“I‘m sorry,” he’d said after the longest of silence.
She had almost forgotten he was there. She turned to him without responding in words. She simply did not feel the need. He caressed her hair, then, ran his fingers through it, slowly and methodically. She thought it odd that she would like the way it felt, the way his fingers ran through her. She took his hair then and wrapped it into hers, in and out, braiding them together. The colours were so distinct and the textures so different, but they fit so well and she was stunned how easily they’d come woven together.