Two Sides of the Same Coin
As children, John and James had lived embroiled in a constant tug-of-war. Being identical twins, they shared a physical appearance, and there, the similarities ended.
With their loving mother dead, the boys’ father had taught them to compete against one another. Who ran fastest, who jumped higher. Who was smarter, who was better-looking; it was a constant push and pull. What belonged to John, James wanted. What belonged to James, John wanted. But it was never enough to exchange belongings. As soon as they had traded, they both wanted the original back.
And so they entered adolescence, as cunning and ambitious as the day is long.
One day, John realized how exhausting the constant competition was. He had looked into James’s malicious gaze, triumphant over some trifle, and a thought had flashed, quite unbidden, through John’s brain—I don’t want this life for myself anymore.
That moment, that life-changing instant, launched John’s wellbeing and James’s demise.
John had let go of the rope that bound him to James and made his life apart from his twin brother. But James had been tugging so hard, that when John’s resistance gave way, it sent him tumbling into a life of crime.
John moved away and lost all contact with his sibling.
Aware of the wedge their father had driven between them, John changed his surname and adopted his mother’s maiden name. Life rewarded him with marriage, kids and success, and most important of all, peace. He lived in peace and free from all competition. Little by little, with patience and hard work, John achieved what most unscrupulous people do not — a quiet, pleasant and comfortable life. He coveted nothing and lacked nothing.
Years and years passed, the kids grew up, graduated, married and had their own lives and their own families. It was in the second year of John’s widowerhood when he first heard from his twin brother.
James came to him in a dream, rather, a nightmare. John woke up sweating that night with a heart beating so hard it would pop out of his chest. He placed his head in his hands and tried to wipe the dream away. Yet, even then, the dream was foggy, and all John recalled were still images, like faded photographs, with James front and center.
He lay back down on the hot pillow, frowned, then with the herculean effort necessary for a man in his seventies, turned over the pillow. The cool satin calmed his flaming brain, and he soon drifted into sleep.
The next night, the nightmare returned. Once again, John tried to grasp it and make sense of it, but it was like a damaged silent film which was scratched, burned, and had missing bits and pieces.
“Should I seek James?” John asked himself as sleep overtook him.
On the third night of waking up in a panic, John resolved to search for his brother.
He asked his grandchild, a lanky, screeching boy of thirteen, to help him in his quest. Andrew—contorting his facial muscles into many annoyed expressions—huffed, puffed, then agreed.
He typed James’s name into the search engine.
John’s face fell when Andrew clicked on the first link. The news article detailed James’s crimes. It spoke of rackets, gangs, betrayals, backstabbing and, always in the middle, James.
John shook his head and stopped reading. Andrew continued, wondering why his tranquil, do-gooder grandfather would be interested in this person. Then he reached the end of the article and saw the photograph.
Andrew gasped as his grandfather’s face glared at him through the screen.
“Grandpa,” he whispered.
John, head bowed in—what? Shame? Sorrow?—answered in a dull voice, “I know, he looks like me.”
“Why?” Andrew asked.
“Because he’s my twin brother.”
“It says here he’s missing,” Andrew said, “the article says he was carrying a shi—boatload of evidence against some mafia boss, a much bigger fish, when he disappeared. That evidence could put this guy away for human trafficking, murder, prostitution, and then some. The FBI is seeking information on his whereabouts.”
John took a deep breath and exhaled, his tired old-man eyes fixed on his grandson’s youthful, pimpled countenance. The weight of his childhood had, in that instant, fallen on him like a ton of bricks, and it showed in his exhausted, wrinkled-paper face.
“Grandpa,” Andrew read the right meaning in his grandfather’s expression, “you know where he is, don’t you?”
John sighed, “He is among skeletal trees that cling to a jagged crag overlooking a furious ocean.”
“Is he alive?”
John shook his head, “The trees caught his mangled body in their gnarled branches, invisible to all above on the cliff’s edge, and unreachable from the ocean-beaten rocks below.”
“How do you know all this?”
“James showed me in my dreams.”
Andrew stared agape at the loving man whose twin brother was a hardened criminal.
John picked up the telephone, “He also showed me where he hid the shitload of evidence.”