Noria Jablonski


Pam introduced herself, and one twin said, how do you do?

The twin said she was Fern and that, she jerked her head, was Rose.

"What pretty dresses those are," Pam said to say something.

Rose pinked and Fern laughed, "What, these? Honey, these are our old show clothes! We got caught in that bitter, bitter cold rain last night—pajamas and these affairs are all we've got that's dry, and we can't go pounding the pavement in pajamas."

"Show clothes?" said Don, folding a perm paper over the ends of the short hairs at Moira's nape. "You gals in a show?"

Darkly, Rose spoke. "We were in a show. Lots of shows."

Fern changed the subject. "So, Miss Pam, think you can make us pretty? Are we too tall an order?"

Pam asked what did they want exactly, shampoo-sets, haircuts, a color?

"Something to fluff us up a bit," said Fern.

"Something not too pricey," said Rose.

Pam said, "Whichever of you is going first should go on back to the sinks and maybe whichever of you is going second would like a manicure while you wait." She said it loud so Sheila could hear what a valiant effort she was making to drum her up some business.

"We couldn't afford a manicure," said Rose. The way she said it, Pam felt terrible for bringing it up.

Fern said, changing the subject again, "Normally, we have a girl who comes to us. We never go to beauty parlors because we can't sit in the chair, so I'm not sure how you want to do this. What's easiest for you, Miss Pam?"

"What do you mean can't sit in the chair?"

"See," said Fern, "because we're attached."

Pam had assumed they were standing close together, arms linked, sisters joined at the hip. What she saw now was that they were literally joined at the hip. Pam said, "Well. This complicates things, yes indeedy."

Don whistled through the gap in his teeth and said, "Siamese twins! The real deal!"

"Conjoined twins," Nurse Moira corrected him.

With Fern leading, the twins clipped across the floor, sort of sideways, crabwalking to the sinks. Sandy poked her head out the bathroom door, a pearl of shaving cream adorning her ear-lobe. "What about Siamese — oh!"

Then the front door opened, and it was Evelyn and her mother, Sandy's one o'clock. Olive. Evelyn was old so her mother must've been ancient, somewhere in her nineties at least. Olive was a smaller, grayer, more powdery version of Evelyn. Olive walked in a slow underwater way with a pair of orthopedic canes with four prongs like midget table legs on the bottoms.

Evelyn said bye, she'd be back after she did errands. Sandy loudly asked Olive how she was today. "I had cheese toasts for lunch," said Olive. "I only eat cheese toasts."

Pam shampooed Fern and Rose, who were fine at the chairs at the sinks — those chairs didn't have armrests. She was thinking about her mother, how her mother was still bitter about childbirth, as if it were something Pam did to her on purpose. I wonder how she'd have felt if she birthed a Fern and Rose. I wonder how I'd have felt if I'd done that.

With the skin of their faces pulling back smooth while Pam massaged their scalps, she could see what beauties Fern and Rose had been. Such fine bones. Such thin skin, roadmaps of purpley red veins showing on their eyelids, and a bluish vein Pam thought at first was a bruise—then she thought it was smudged makeup until she tried to rub it off—underneath each of their right eyes.

Toweling anyone's hair dry is a motherly thing to do, but drying the twins' two heads, Pam felt especially motherlike. Then she shuddered, imagining what a C-section was like back in the day when Fern and Rose were born.

Noria Jablonski is the author of the story collection Human Oddities. Her stories have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Swink, Monkeybicycle, KGB Bar Lit, and Who Can Save Us Now?: Brand-New Superheroes and Their Amazing (Short) Stories. She teaches at UC Santa Cruz and was a 2007 Artist in Residence at Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito, California.

John Pixley is a columnist, playwright and sometime performer living with a disability and two cats and a parakeet in Claremont, CA.