by Beth Sherman

When we were younger, my sister and I used to read each other’s minds. I knew when she’d aced a Math test. She knew when I’d shoplifted a bottle of nail polish from the drugstore. Our mother reveled in our twin-ness, dressing us alike until age twelve. I never needed a mirror when Kara was around. One look at her and I could tell whether I was happy or crabby. Back then, we shared an outlook on life that divided the world into two camps: us and them. We even had our own language, an entire communication system no one else understood.

My mother did her best to differentiate us. “Kara is the outgoing one,” she’d say. “Kylie is harder to get to know. Kara is more athletic, Kylie’s artistic. Kara is the popular one and Kylie is a late bloomer.”

But really, these were artificial constructs, like distinguishing between shades of white on a color wheel.


My mother had a third child – a girl – who died at birth. My father was getting ready to leave us and I was sadder about that than I was about the baby. I couldn’t imagine having another sister. At the cemetery, I stared at the grave and tried to pretend I hadn’t wished the baby into it.

“You hated her,” Kara said, as we played tag amidst the tombstones.

The minister was trying to console my mother whose eyes were as blank as unlined notebook paper.

“We could have made room for her,” she said, tracing the figure of an angel on the baby’s headstone.

 As usual, I knew she was lying.


In high school, we fell for the same boy. Riley DeLuca. He had springy black hair and played goalie on the lacrosse team. When he asked me to Spring Fling, not Kara, I didn’t pretend to console her. She had decided not to go to Fling. She planned on staying home and studying for finals.

“Kylie and Riley,” I said, sifting through a rack of gowns. “It’s too perfect. How can I resist?”

“Easily.” She held up an off-the-shoulder peach number with sequins on the bodice. “What about this one?”

“Bridesmaid leftovers.”

“I think it’s pretty.”

“That’s because you have no sense of style.”

I had this vision of walking into the gym the night of Spring Fling. Me with Riley. Her with a date, it didn’t matter who. All eyes would be on the two of us, as usual. People always stared, like we were freaks of nature, an hour long special on the National Geographic channel. Peculiar, unreal. You had to keep watching. Only that night, all the attention would be on me, and she would be my shadow self, pale and insubstantial as an old photo negative.


You’re probably asking yourself why Riley chose me. I’ll tell you why: 1.) I reminded him of Kara. 2.) I let him do whatever he liked with my body. 3.) I tricked him into it. If Kara had been paying attention, she’d have known what was happening. But her twin radar had become defective. She’d been spending too much time with her friends on the track team, hanging out at the library, discussing which colleges they’d applied to. She always had lots of friends, while I only had her.

“You need to develop your own interests,” she’d say. “Join a club. Try out for a sport.”

Gliznik. Renu lamor kivot.”

But she refused to speak our secret language anymore, which was upsetting.

I had expected her to mind my dating Riley DeLuca though she only shrugged and said, “Whatever,” which made me not want to go out with him anymore.

At night, I used to watch her sleep. Her chest expanding and contracting. Wisps of auburn hair cresting on her pillow like waves. It was as if I was God watching myself sleep. It was peaceful. It was the only time I ever thought I was pretty.


“I’m sick,” I said to Kara, the night of Spring Fling.


She was watching an old episode of Friends and doing her Chemistry homework in the commercials.

“My throat hurts. I have a fever. I feel nauseous.”

“Oh, no.”

“I already paid for the ticket and the dress and the limo and the shoes,” I wailed.

 “Maybe if you took Tylenol . . .”

“I can’t. You have to go.”

“Oh, Kylie. I really don’t . . .”

“Go as me.”

We did the twin switcheroo all the time back in middle school. It used to drive our teachers crazy.

“Can’t you tell Riley what happened? He’ll understand.”

I started to cry. Wet, sloppy tears that leaked from my eyes onto my neck.

“Just this once I want to be the popular one at prom. Everything is always, always about you.”

She twirled her hair around her finger and chewed on her lower lip and I knew what she was going to say even before I went to get my dress out of the closet.


Krystal was born nine months later. Kara dropped out of high school and she and Riley lived in the basement of his parent’s house. For their honeymoon, they spent three nights at the Hampton Inn in Midland. She waitressed for a while. Then she got a job in a nursing home doing stuff no one else wanted to do – cleaning bedpans, bathing residents, spoon feeding them, changing their soiled diapers. She started taking classes at the community college, but she couldn’t afford daycare, so she quit. Riley had left by then and it was tough raising Krystal by herself. My mother helped as much as she could and I used to send checks, even though Kara never cashed them.


After Kara left school, people forgot there used to be two of us. They started acting like I was her – expecting I would get good grades, excel at sports, have friends. It turns out that stuff isn’t as difficult as I’d thought. I’d never really tried before because I expected she’d always be there first to one up me. But once she was out of the picture and the field was clear, I excelled at everything. I even beat all the other girls on the track team in the 500-yard dash.


When people ask about Kara, I tell them we drifted apart. These things happen, according to my mother. You have the life Kara should have had, she says, somewhat bitterly. Law degree. Penthouse apartment. Sports car. She makes it sound great but something’s always missing. It’s like I’m going through the motions, watching myself in a mirror that’s cracked and foggy so I can’t see what’s right in front of me.   


Kara never wanted to talk about what happened at Spring Fling. But I refused to let the subject drop. One night, right after Krystal was born, when she’d had too many Heinekens and she’d been up for 20 hours straight working a double shift at the nursing home, she gave in. The story came out in pieces, like a broken plate: the crowded, sweaty gym, the lousy cover band, how she was the one who suggested going to the Chemistry lab, it was quieter there and she’d forgotten something she needed for a project. I tried to picture it: The Bunsen burners and stools at each station. The chalk boards rinsed clean. The tables showing the different elements. How Riley pawed her like a bear, ripped her dress and all the while she was screaming no no no no but it was like he didn’t believe her.   


Because I always gave him what he wanted even if she never would.


She knew I wasn’t really sick. She knew. When she got home the night of Fling, she stared at me with such hatred in her eyes I took a step back and knocked over a lamp. I could tell she’d guessed I was faking everything. Not that I ever meant any of it to happen. That wasn’t the plan. It’s just that going anywhere with Riley no longer appealed to me. It seemed like an exhausting charade. To get dressed up and pretend to have a good time when I’d still be a shadow of Kara – her lesser, boring self.


 She thinks she’s gotten rid of me. Visiting our mother when she knows I won’t be around. Ignoring my calls. Sending a perfunctory card at Christmas with a picture of Krystal, who looks more and more like me every year. But she’ll never be free. It’s a twin thing. Because I know exactly what she’s thinking, even after all this time. Right this second she’s feeling so sick of her life that she’s longing to sprint out of it, into a future where there’s only one of her. Not two.  

About the author:

Beth Sherman received an MFA in creative writing from Queens College, where she teaches in the English department. Her fiction has been published in numerous publications, including Portland Review, KYSO, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Sandy River Review, Blue Lyra Review, Gloom Cupboard and Panoplyzine. She has also been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net and has written five mystery novels. https://twitter.com/bsherm36 https://www.bethsherman.site/

Photo by Marina Abrosimova on Unsplash

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s