Twins

twinsJune entry Telegraph Creative Writing Group on the theme of TIME…….

 

TWINS

 

Katy Croft died badly at the hands of a strangler. As all life departed, her murderer – mad with grief- fell across her body.

Laura did not weep.  In the 25 years she’d been a fan, she knew this part in “Backdrop” was wrong for Katy, out of character. It dismayed and troubled her.

“So?”  John asked as the lights went up.

“Cheap and nasty. I hated it.”

“Times change,darling, romance is out.” he said cheerfully.  An urge to thump him rose up in her.

“You know what she means to me!”

 

They all did. Her mother, his aged parents, her first husband and the woman he ran off with, her patients, their neighbours, all teased Laura about her devotion to Katy . Yet none of them was above ripping out a page in Tatler or Hello! (sneakily, at the dentist) if it had anything to say about her heroine. When her teenage boys argued , one would say in a girly voice

“Dahling, I’m Katy Croft, I’m perfect, mwa.” Good-natured banter, the sparring of family life.

Katy’s first film “Off With the Old” became the best love story of the 80’s.  Critics raved, the public paid, and at the age of 20, Katy became a famous daughter of Cheltenham –  Laura’s home town, too. All those years they walked the same streets, yet their paths never crossed. Not as five year olds at infant school, not as teenagers in the local haunts. Katy just appeared overnight, and was adored.  Besides the fact they’d both left for London at the age of 18, they’d been born on the same day. This went deep with Laura and was the start of the powerful conviction they were twins.

Laura wrote to the Katy Croft Fan Club. Back came the answer.

“ Mrs Croft says Katy was born at  7.54 a.m. 3 March 1969….”

“Mum?” Laura was nervous.

” What time was I was born?”

“Well, round breakfast time….., 8 or so. Why?“

“Just curious.”

“Nothing to do with your astrology lark, then?” her mother asked wryly.

 

Laura Jackson, S.R.N. What a party that was!  It was 1990, the year she’d met Nigel at a Friends of the Earth rally.  Her present from everyone was a world globe, stuffed with money, and Laura glowed as Nigel kissed her. Her mother, sniffing marriage, had her mind jammed with images of matching saucepans, canteens of cutlery, and that cornflower blue hat she’d seen in ‘Valerie’s’.

Laura secretly booked a session with a professional astrologer with some of the birthday money. No comparison between the trash in newspapers, and the precise details of a personal chart. She’d given the information weeks earlier, and now sat opposite Mrs Price.

 

” I’ve done the two charts you requested, but tell me exactly what you want from our session”.

“I’d like to know the differences between my twin and me.”  Laura had no qualms about inventing a twin who had conveniently emigrated to Canada.

“Well, a difference of 3 or 4 minutes is significant, though it might not sound much. There are very fine distinctions between close births. ‘’

Laura was agog.

“Your sister has more obvious attributes of the sign Pisces. She comes across powerfully, whereas you have less need to project yourself. Is she an actress, a singer?”

Laura nodded, amazed.

“Her voice and appearance seem glamorous.  A dynamic pattern, yet her health may give her trouble. Though she appears “up front”, the physical body is not strong .  Any problems?”

“No” replied Laura, remembering a rumour that Katy had a drink problem, just because she’d disappeared for a couple of months.

A sharp pair of eyes fixed on her.

” You’ve a slight edge over your sister mentally, there’s more clarity, and perhaps more of an inner life. Are you in social services, nursing?”

“Your real push in life is to serve. Your sister is the star, yet both of you have humour, as well as a tendency to forget your bodily limits. There’s an ungrounded feeling …which means you’ll both need to make conscious efforts in your life to be practical. ”

The question that burned in Laura would not be stopped.

“Would everything you say be true if we weren’t real sisters? If we’d been born in Cheltenham at the same time, to different parents?”

“That’s profound… I can see only your subjective experience  – the way you think, feel, respond to emotions, environment. Family lines can be clearly seen in charts, yet even if you weren’t linked by blood, you’re very close to being astronomical twins.  Because she was born earlier, your sister experiences psychological changes and events slightly ahead of you. Just as it’s possible for natural twins to be quite different in temperament, unrelated people can be deeply similar.”

Laura was overwhelmed.

“What about the men in our lives ?”

“Hers are glamorous, exciting – pilots? actors? photographers? Though she appears to have more control over her life, there’s more confusion about her real “self”. You’re much more independent, self-sufficient……. partners might have behind- the- scenes jobs like research, even a connection to the law in some capacity. Detectives, police, that sort of line. ”

Nigel was a research chemist in a laboratory, but nothing was surprising Laura. Mrs Price gave Laura a very specific outline of the coming year.

With one of the most exhilarating experiences in her life about to end, Laura asked ” Can I use this information to make sure life runs smoothly?”

“No, dear. Make your own judgments. You’ll make mistakes, but learn from them. There’s nothing as powerful as direct experience. ”

Katy Croft married at Caxton Hall two months later, the groom a georgous pilot Katy had been having flying lessons with for her next film. The utter romance of it! Nigel proposed on the same day, in his quiet way. It seemed  right.

Mrs Jackson triumphed in a flood of cornflower silk and Geoff turned up from teaching English in Rio, making the family complete. He gave Laura  away, muttering as they approached the altar  ‘Let’s make a run for it!’ She fought back a giggle and a thought that popped into her mind : “What else is there?”

At the reception, Mrs Jackson pursed her lips, as Geoff goosed one of Laura’s passing friends. “Grow up, Geoff! You need a woman, not a girl!”

” Mum, marriage is out!” he laughed, enveloping her in a huge arm.

“Geoffrey, keep your voice down!” she hissed, as she waved and smiled across the room to her bridge ladies.

In the parched summer of 1997 Laura stood in her kitchen at 2.00 a.m. and switched on the radio. Katy Croft was saying

“We’d love children but so far no luck. ”

A sharp pain ran through Laura as she sat holding Mark on her knee. He was a chesty boy –  she was steaming up the kitchen, to relieve his breathing. She’d bring him down as soon as she heard him wheeze, so he wouldn’t wake James, asleep in the same room. Upstairs, Nigel snored on.

“I’ve got something to tell you”.

Nigel was wringing his hands, agitated.

“I didn’t mean it to happen, but…..well with you working nights….. I was lonely, we had coffee….. it just happened, and well, we both want the same things in life. She understands me in a way you don’t.”

Laura’s mind had stopped working.

“Who?”

“Clare”  Ah, Clare – divorced, childless. Her friend.

“We’re in love! I’m leaving. Sorry about the boys but I can’t be expected to give up my whole life for them. “

” Clare’s had lots of lovers,”  Laura was remembering the laughs they’d had.

“Five in the last 4 years, that’s not many……”  Laura knew the toll to be 39, (40 if she counted Nigel).

“Get out. Now.” She stood up, pushing him out the door, feeling violent.

Her first instinct was to phone the astrologer….. let her be there. The phone rang fourteen times before being picked up.

“Louise Price.”

Headlines next morning in the Daily Mail were  “Katy Croft to Divorce”. Her pilot had fallen for a 20 year old blonde, upholstered and knowing. A photo of them – all teeth and confidence – next to a photo of Katy:  unkempt, dark glasses, no smile.

“Alone, Katy and me.”

“…….when Saturn returns to it’s natal position in your chart.” Mrs Price stopped talking.

” I don’t understand,” Laura leaned forward.

“Between 28 and 30 everyone experiences  their first Saturn return, which is life changing. Yours is exact this month.”

“What does it mean?”

“It means you have to take up the reins. It’s a growing up transit,  the transition from youth to adulthood. You must look carefully at your own contribution to your marriage. ”

“Well, perhaps I didn’t have enough time for Nigel….. took him for granted…..but with small kids, and working night duty…..” Laura jammed her knees together, tensing up.

“Is  there a chance of reconciliation?”

“No, but it’s dreadful for the children, though I can’t really hate him.”

“Have you thought about what you’re going to do long term?”

“My mother’s here. She wants us to go home to Cheltenham, but I don’t want to.”  Laura felt at home in Chiswick.

“What sort of relationship will you have with Nigel from now on?”

“Relationship!. I want nothing to do with him!”  Laura’s eyes blazed.

“I haven’t let him see the boys. James especially is upset, but what else can I do?”

“He’s their father – the boys will need his support all their lives. You will get past this emotionally, but do think ahead. Isn’t it possible to neutralise the situation for everyone’s benefit?  This way the boys won’t feel deprived, you can share the burden of what will be a tough job on your own.”

This part of the tape Laura played back time after time on the bad days when she hated Nigel and Clare  (of course she did!). Despite advice from caring friends to take him to the cleaners and freeze him out, Laura had eventually seen reason .

Her mother, who was fond of Nigel, didn’t take sides. Widowed when Geoff was fifteen and Laura five, Mrs Jackson kept her own counsel.

“Goodbye, darlings.”  The boys sniggered as the Mini sagged under her generous frame squashing into the driver’s seat. She could talk out loud to herself on the long drive home saying what she considered too forthright for real life. It was the saying that was important after all, not who heard it.

” Laura, you’re like me. Cool, emotionally independent, not feminine enough in that fluffy, girlie way Clare is. All her eyelid-batting, the makeup, the perfume….. I suppose I never told you men like that.”

She fell silent as the old Mini left the North Circular and joined the M1.

“I’ve always had the feeling you’ve been through the motions of love and marriage, rather than really felt them. But then, is everyone capable of love? Geoff ‘s emotionally still a teenager. I’m capable of affection but not that burning, yearning thing other people go on about. I’m happy on my own. Do cool hearts run in families, like red hair or huge feet…?. ”

 

A truck driver overtook in the fast lane, she glanced up to see him wink down at her, then laugh outright.

“Yes, there’s no-one else here. Try it!” she yelled as he accelerated away. Contentment descended round her ample shoulders. She switched on the radio, relaxing back into the seat as Tony Bennett gave his all.

 Laura fell on hard times. She left the NHS, which went against all her ethics. Money was tight, but she joined an agency, staying in the very same ward at St Thomas’, yet getting better pay. Her ideals had to meet reality -the boys came first. Nigel and Clare had done everything they could to help out.  Laura eventually came to regard them as any other married friends.

“Katy Croft Takes America by Storm”

Laura took the paper upstairs and stood in front of the mirror, in her uniform. Chunky! She looked at Katy – slim, georgous.  It didn’t cross her mind this was due to a housekeeper, cellulite removal, frequent spurts at health farms, massages, facials, a personal hairdresser, a shrink, the odd spot of plastic surgery, a personal guru and the daily discipline of her personal trainer. Nor did she consider Katy had not borne children, or had farm holidays in Wales where it rained every day, the kids fell over in sheep poo and there was no washing machine. Laura only saw herself in comparison – and hated it.

She cut out the article and slipped it into the latest album. 17 of them stacked under the bed. She often thumbed through them before she dropped off to sleep, reassurance she had a soul mate, who was on the same bumpy road as her. And triumphing.

Laura joined Weight Watchers and cordoned off the two top shelves in the fridge for herself. She was taking control of her life again, and needed just that bit of encouragement to keep it up.

She had to do quite a bit of talking to get an appointment with Mrs Price. Though she had Laura’s file still, she was stooped, slower.

“Will I ever meet anyone again, I feel stuck.”

“Well, from your transits work seems the main focus at the moment.”

The old girl had lost none of her astuteness. The time flew, as it always did here, where Laura had gained such insight.

As the session ended, Mrs Price said

“In 2011 your progressed Sun conjuncts Venus. This is a traditional “falling in love” aspect. Actually this transit can happen at any age, even to ten year olds….but it’s a nice one to see in the chart of someone your age and circumstances. It’s exact in March 2011. This is likely to be a major relationship.”

“I’ll be 42!”

“Just a girl…..” Mrs Price looked back down the years between them.

“Oh, how’s your sister in Canada?”

Laura blushed.

“She’s thriving…..” It was on the tip of her tongue to explain her duplicity, but Mrs Price kept on.

“This progression is the same for her, but again I see it in relation to her health. Venus on her Sun gives a feeling of indulgence, letting go, somehow – it doesn’t have the same connotations as for you. No, something hidden will come to light, I feel sure”.

In March 2011, Laura’s house was broken into.

“Petty thieves… I’m not happy about the violent way they’ve broken in,” explained the detective, running his hands down the demolished wooden frame of the terrace doors. He was exactly her height, eyes on the same level, she noticed.  He sat opposite her at the table – John Hall, widower of the parish of Chiswick, cynical to his backbone. She looked back quizzically.

He began to say “Can I take a statement?” but instead said “It’s my birthday tomorrow.”

“How old will you be?”

“46…”

This was the most intimate question she’d asked a man for years.  She reckoned, by her age, she was cold. One of nature’s celibates.

John, in a gesture which had no connection with his head, reached over the table and took her hands in his. They felt familiar.

“Have dinner with me?”

He collected her at eight. In the restaurant, with the coffee and cognac, she handed him a small package.

“Happy birthday” she said “I don’t know you well enough to know what you really want.” Without looking at the present, he took her hands and said

” I want you. For keeps.” He brought her home and never left and Laura discovered passion. One of nature’s celibates indeed!

Geoff turned up from Australia for the wedding. He was lurching towards 60 and stuffed into a suit he’d outgrown.

” Wouldn’t a rug make me look younger, Laura?” His mind was never off his hair, or the remains of it.

Mrs Jackson, with that instinct mothers have, loved John. However tetchy he could be (25 years of London policing does not an optimist make) she knew he was Laura’s match.

Their first anniversary arrived at the speed of light, John splashed out by booking a trendy restaurant.

This marriage fulfilled Laura. She’d lost another ten pounds, her hair was newly cut, short blonde.

To their amazement, after they sat down, Katy Croft – with a top society photographer – was shown to a table hidden slightly away from them. Laura saw her elegant arm tipping back a wine glass, containing  water. There were no wine bottles, just the famous green Perrier one.

“Unbelievable…” John laughed, topping up Laura’s glass.

“Is this really happening?” Laura was thrilled, pale.

Katy went to the Ladies’ several times.  Each time she stood she staggered. On impulse, Laura stood up and followed her.

She stood in front of the mirror swigging from an elegant silver flask. Laura  felt the hard smell of neat vodka hitting her. Katy drained the flask, shaking violently, tears rolling down her cheeks. She began to retch. Laura switched to professional mode. Katy lurched towards a toilet, her head hitting the door as she crashed through it. She landed on her knees, her head hitting the side of the bowl . Snatching towels and wetting them, Laura followed .

She held the beloved head in her strong hands.  Katy was violently sick, several times. Still Laura held her, kneeling on the cold floor. She held until it was over, then propped up the slumped, perfect body against the wall. Laura mopped her face gently, hand cupped under the chin, when Katy opened her eyes.

“Don’t judge me. Isn’t there anything you couldn’t bear to live without? Isn’t there?”twins

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