SHORT STORIES: Terminal

My five year old twin boys, identical to the exact placement of a tiny mole on their backs, sat watching an animated television show about a sponge called Bob who lived on the bottom of the ocean. Then Aaron changed the channel to a wild, shoot-em up show. Both boys moved to the edge of their seats, listening eagerly.

“All I wanna do is find me a beautiful chick and smoke a big fatty,” the actor said in a husky voice.

The boys started chuckling. Did they understand what they were hearing?

“Yeah, smoke that big fatty all the wwaayyyy down…”

I welcomed their attempt to pull me into the story, and laughed with them, happy to see their joyful exuberance. Aaron started wrestling with Jared. All of a sudden, they had become all legs, looked more coltish by the day, two beautiful youths. Most people couldn’t tell them apart. I often had trouble. It was only when they were expressing themselves verbally that their personalities came through.

Jared tended to be quieter, more introverted, but when you got him talking, he wouldn’t shut up. Aaron was the leader. Regardless of their differences, whenever one got into anything, the other invariably followed.

I changed the channel to Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?  I had to leave to answer the phone, wondering at these boys with their overly vociferous laughter, trying to act like they understood the world of adults. The call was from my father, who had late-stage cancer. The prognosis wasn’t good.

A few minutes later, Jared appeared out of nowhere sobbing as if his heart would break, lifting my mood from a black place, and in a rush of emotion, I hugged my son, happy to let go of my sadness. Aaron came out into the hallway and joined us. When Aaron saw the impact Jared’s tears had on me—how effusive my kisses and hugs—he started crying, too, big alligator tears. I opened my arms and hugged both children with equal passion, quelling their cries. The kids meant a lot to me, called up a mix of emotions, never one sentiment isolated from another. The fact that they loved their mother, that’s all that I could think about.

They started fighting again. I quizzed Jared and started piecing the puzzle together. It all started when they were sitting in front of the television. They had been playing a game. Aaron hit Jared, and Jared hit him back. They pulled each other’s hair. Aaron chased Jared around the house, knocking over a lamp. I tried to get them to sit down and play a game of cards with me, but they wouldn’t sit still, kept hitting each other. I brought them back into my arms and wrapped them up in a group catharsis and asked them to apologize to each other.

When they settled down, I sat with them in the playroom while they played with Legos.

“My nails are too long for this sort of thing,” I said to the boys when they asked me to help with some miniaturized pieces. Ruefully, I added, “If I get called upon to do this again, I may have to cut them down.”

“No,” Aaron said. “Keep them long like a vampire.”

“So you like my nails, huh?”

“Sure,” Aaron said. “They’re sick.”

Aaron jumped up, waving an airplane he built, a grin splitting his face, his merry eyes gleaming. Something sticky had gotten clumped into his hair, giving him a slightly dishevelled look and his shirt had a new rip in it. He looked happy, his cheeks reddened from the athleticism of his play. Jared was putting the finishing touches on his airplane, adding wings with a massive reach. He looked intent, focused, a budding engineer. He had more interest than his brother in building things. Aaron tended to be more the lawyerly type, arguing everything to death.

“Hey, that’s a great plane, Jared,” I said, pulling at my tangled hair so it wouldn’t fall into my eyes.

“Mom,” Aaron cried. “Look what I made!” He held up a strange, spacey, ship-like contraption with wings sticking out of it at odd places, star wars gone amuck.

“It’s beautiful, sweetie,” I said.

He swiped at his face when I gave him a big kiss on his cheek. “Ewww,” he said, but I knew he was just saving face, his grin seemed genuinely happy.

The babysitter walked in and I got up. I stood in front of my children and the babysitter, hands impatiently squared on my hips. “Be good to Emily, ya’ hear?”

They didn’t say anything, too busy showing Emily what they had made. I turned to go and the children who sprang from my loins did not even look at me, too busy flying their airplanes and driving the trucks they had built out of Legos at speeds that made me tremble. As I closed the door, I realized that my father would never get to see them grow up, and I knew without asking that it was something that tore at his heart.

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