By Jenny K Brennan
Part 1 of 3
Includes violence and a shitload of bad words. Be warned.
Denny waited and kept her head down. She listened and shrank in the sudden unease that made her skin crawl, thoughts roil, and fingers flutter uselessly when attempting to turn a page in the book she tried to read. There was nowhere she could go. She was trapped, caught in the open, unprepared. The only protection she knew was within. Feigning superiority, pulling that blanket of numbing arrogance over her and cower below its brittle protection.
Maybe she would go away, the woman approaching. Hope flared, faded. Because Denny couldn’t lie to herself. But she wouldn’t show weakness, because no one could ever be allowed to se the trembling echo of the her that could have been. Never.
Maybe she could run. Maybe she could avoid the confrontation. It would mean revealing her fear. By standing up, closing the book, and walk to the stairs that would take her out of the sub way platform, through the upper level, out into the night. She could catch another train. But she would have to use the stairs to go that route, and that’s where she was, on her way down.
Footsteps, a metallic hollow echo. Denny knew. She shouldn’t have known. They were just steps coming closer. But the vague recollection instantly turned to knowledge. She shouldn’t be surprised. It had always been that way. She should after all know herself.
Even after dying, the sound of boots on stone whispered of fear of its own echo. Kris stood at the bottom of the stairs, lingered for a moment, then stepped on to the tiles. A thin squeak as damp rubber scuffed glazed ceramics cut through the air, intrusive, sharp. There was something about those strides, and then the pause. Something Denny had always hated. A deliberate slowness, the way they seemed to have a goal, yet never hurried.
The lower level of the Stockholm central station kept its peace, chilly, reeking of indifferent infrastructure, rushed humanity in uneasy rest. Stairs descended and dipped down between two parallel train tracks which framed a mosaic tiled floor in grays browns and misty blues. They continued into darkness and destinations determined, scheduled, and mapped. Straight ahead, in the centre of the big floor, a square cube of painted concrete, a utility shack of today, took pride of place. A metal door, dotted with subway art halfheartedly scrubbed and scraped at by unenthusiastic cleaning crews, faced the stairs. A single bench, bolted to shack and floor, faced the south tracks.
A solitary woman and a homeless man, each in their own destitute universe, shared the bench in silence. Denny waited for the next ride home and the old man, seeking a moments haven away from the world above, would be escorted out soon enough, along with his bottle of forgetfulness. Further along the man made cave, a triad of teens stood mumbling, smoking, waiting for their own coach to come and bring them to wherever.
Denny kept her eyes on the tale of horror opened in her lap; but words became Senseless scribbles. What was fiction when existence was fear, gloom, and riddled with “what if”?
She listened, inwardly recoiling from the stride she knew so well.
A low rumble became audible, matured into racket as it approached. Denny trained her eyes on darkness turning bright, watched as the tunnel spewed out its metallic traveler. It wasn’t hers; the next ride to Haninge was still twenty minutes away. It never crossed her mind to get on the train and go somewhere other than there, anywhere. Maybe that was her train. She would get on it and…
The train slowed, stopped, opened all doors with a release of pressure and tension of springs and coughed up its load.
An old woman stepped out and stood still for a moment, adjusting a purse strap. A pinched face permanently etched with apprehension, tightened further in disdain when she noticed the old man, turned to fearful when the triad of young men broke out in laughter.
Denny assessed the gathering of kids for a moment and deemed them harmless. Loud didn’t mean dangerous. If you come across a silent person where thoughts are hidden, intent impossible to extract, then by all means beware. Those kids had a mouth, no brain, no harm. She dismissed them.
She turned to the plump old lady making her way along the platform as the train pulled away.
Annette Larsson glanced at the young woman and the sleeping bum as she passed, meeting Denny’s eyes for a split second before looking away, hurrying past. Click clock, scurrying heels sang, click clock, square hard surfaces replied.
Denny watched her as she approached the bottom of the stairs, the only way out, besides endless dark tunnels of rail, rats and who knows what else. Denny didn’t like it. Kris wouldn’t bother an old woman would she? Oh yeah, she would. Click clock, click clock. As Denny turned to observe, she saw Kris. How long had it been? Not long enough.
Kris couldn’t give a shit. No matter what the subject was, she just simply didn’t give a fuck. A generous portion of skin and a metal studded navel showed between camouflage pant lining and sleeveless top. From one belt loop dangled an I-Pod, one front pocket bulged. Either a cell phone or a huge chunk of pot. No, Denny thought, thinking of all the times Kris had been picked up, questioned by frustrated police, and been set free. They never got her, because she never carried.
She stood with her head bent to the IPod, adjusted a set of ear buds, nodding in sync with what she heard. A wide silver band on the thumb scraped against the plastic. Her lips moved in silent sing along. She let go of the player, straightened up, and noticed the old woman coming toward her. She grinned. Denny froze, wished she could fade back into the pretend world that lay open in her lap.
Kris was the same, just worse. Black T, frayed edges, black cap turned backwards over a short tangle of purple hair. She used to be beautiful. Like Denny, actually exactly like Denny, but Kris had hated the constant comparisons. And now she had done it again. Found something else that would make Kris Kris, and not just Denny’s twin sister.
Her face was clean, from make-up if not from embellishment, Denny noticed, surprised. Kris never appeared in public without layers of protective paint, until now. Denny found it impossible to look away. No makeup could enhance, or restore, Kris’s face. Permanently etched in skin, a blue dragon stretched out lazily on one cheek with its tail trailing down and across her neck in a possessive strangle-hold. The resting dragons head lay high up on the brow while the only visible limb, the front left leg and paw, dug its sharp claws into the edge of Kris’s left eyebrow.
Kris stood still, blue eyes assessing, calculating. Watched the approaching figure. She stood where the old lady needed to pass. She waited, baring her teeth in a predatory grin.
Annette kept walking, deliberately not looking anywhere but at the stairs. She was almost there, almost home free, almost… Hurrying, passing.
Kris liked what she saw. White knuckles on a chubby hand gripping a floral embroidered purse. As if Kris would bother with that crone’s petty cash.
She moved, pushed head and shoulders forward, and shoved her face up close to Annette’s.
“What sup girlfriend?” Loud and mocking it achieved just the reaction she wanted. The little old lady jerked back and gasped, stumbled, nearly crumbling to the floor.
Laughter erupted from the idling teenagers.
Annette released a pitiful shriek as she absorbed the girls beautiful, horrible, face in a split second. She had never seen anything like it. Why would anyone paint something so terrible on one’s face? She stumbled on, cared not for dignity, and hurried up the steps. Up and out, home. Oh dear, oh dear, A hand flew to her chest; calm little heart, Oh dear, calm yourself. It’s only a girl.
Kris chuckled and shook her head, watching the old fraidy-cat disappear from sight. She liked the look of fear, the scent of power, and some bitches were easier than others. Granny was no challenge, but still a quick fix for boredom. Oh, Granny, hope you sleep well tonight.
She sighed and looked around the station, grew still. Just sitting there with her sticky fingers in a book. Why read words on fucking paper when there was music? Movies? Parties? Well, that one did. She went to college to prove she was smart.
Kris stood still for a long moment, frowning. She tilted her head and reclaimed her mislaid grin as she watched Denny pretend she didn’t see her. The bitch sat as far away from the sleeping old drunk as she could. Kris let her eyes glide over the closer figure, ignoring the old man. Denny, fashionable and proper as always, leaned back. Leather pants covered legs that stretched out, crossing at the ankles. Dark brown boots in brushed leather with modestly high heels. Oh, isn’t’ that precious. Little sister learned to dress finally. Kris raised her eyebrows in reluctant admiration that she would never admit to, a feeling shredded and disbursed almost immediately by disgust and a hot flash of contempt. Denny wore a black v-necked sweater, and long mahogany hair fell over her shoulders, placing half her face in shadow.
Denny, you bitch. Surprise at seeing her sister after years of chosen distance, sputtered and disappeared among old feelings. That face, so like hers it was atrocious. It stirred up Sparks from sores of inflamed memories buried deep, but forever smoldering. She checked the blaze with a pinpoint of control beneath a rockslide of resentment. She exhaled, hissed through her teeth, reshaped her features into cold diffidence, and started toward the unavoidable.
Denny heard her approach but refused to look up. She stubbornly kept her eyes on the words in a story she failed to remember. Deliberate steps slowed and stopped. Ear buds produced a tinny beat that Denny recognized as Kris’s own; from an early album. She dug through memories and found the title— Bitch fight —among the cacophony of Kris’s music. Fast, hard and violent. What else was there? It was not only dark and violent; it was a message, a promise. She sighed as she remembered the lyrics, “I heard you’re playing tonight, let’s have some fun, I’ll bring my gun.”
A song about hatred, a song about Denny. She pushed the disturbing thought away.
The tinny beat faded and for a moment, breathing played solo. She tensed. She wished it wouldn’t bother her. Kris stood over her, polluting the air between them with all things untold. She couldn’t pretend to read so she lowered the book and raised her head, focused on the middle distance, avoiding her sister’s eyes, and waited. Denny could wait, Kris didn’t have that ability.
The wall beyond the track, on billboards impossible to avoid, products delivered their sales pitches with beautiful faces, well thought out camera angles, and calculated sticky phrases. Only colors, shapes and useless information.
Kris stared down at the stubborn head. Up close, she noticed a thin gold chain hanging from Denny’s neck, holding a pendant “S”. She stared at the gothic script for a long moment. She put a finger on the gold letter. Denny didn’t twitch. Kris smiled; the tension in Denny was palpable, fake cool nothing but fear. She pinched the little pendant between thumb and index finger, turning and twisting it, felt an urge to dull the mocking shine, scrape polish into ugliness, and break that disgusting glare of perfection. She licked her lips.
“So you’re fucking the word-fag are you?” Denny said nothing. Kris started grinning.
Denny sighed and looked up at her other self. Their eyes locked in communication that needed no words; it was all there, sharp as a knife, but distorted and muddled by time, newer edges, different shapes impossible to unravel. History twisted and disjointed, but after so many years established as fact.
Denny jerked her head up and smiled. “At least I’m getting something real. Not like you.” She let a slow gaze travel along Kris’s appearance and crinkled her face in distaste. Then she closed the book, shrugged and displayed her palms, spreading fingers in exasperation, as if it was self evident and she couldn’t believe it had to be explained, “You know, like someone with a real job? Someone that won’t fuck you just to get that shit you sell.”
Kris sighed. She had heard it all before. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you’re trying to piss me off.” Shrugging. “My shit is the best.”
“I wouldn’t know.” Denny said, straightening up. “I’m not a junkie.” Nice face-paint. Who did you have to blow to get that done?” Kris nodded and grinned, dropped the necklace and pulled on Denny’s bra strap, let it snap back. Denny grimaced. “Is that the best you can do?” She clenched her teeth and forced a smile, keeping her eyes leveled on Kris.
“Maybe…” she said in a low even voice.”Maybe you shouldn’t touch girl’s bras. It might give people the wrong impression.” Kris face darkened. A weak point in that façade had collapsed, an exposed nerve ignited. She rocked back on her heels, scraped the back of her neck with ragged nails, considering. Her eyes fell on the old drunk. “Is that your new daddy?” she asked with quiet menace.
“Yeah, he doesn’t fuck little kids as far as I know.” Denny pushed on, “Speaking of kiddy fuckers, seen daddy lately?” Kris said nothing, but had turned a shade more flammable. Denny moved the thriller from her lap, dropped it on the bench, stood up and faced her identical twin. She knew what not to say and What she said next ranked high on the top ten list of No-no’s.