1. Names & Naming
In the dream with the twins, everything is blue. She is half-awake, lying between them. Her belly is pressed to Jim’s spine and her back is sweaty against Adam’s stomach. They’re curled around each other like a tidal wave in a painting in a restaurant they all ate in once. She can feel Jim breathing; Adam exhales into her ear. She thinks of babies floating in jars. They had been like this at the beginning: suspended in a solution of sleep. Jim was born first. She met him in class. They did homework together in the quad, making do with packed lunches. She liked the way his hair curled out and over his ear when he bent over his textbook. He made her feel like she would succeed. She did. They had conversations. He told her about the things he wanted to achieve—one day, we will not be in these bodies, we will be able to zap back and forth from here to wherever in a split-second. She told him about her father. They finished their sandwiches. It should’ve been Adam. He had the name for it, the knack for tearing through. He wanted to become an astronaut. She met him at a party. She thought he was Jim. They cut class together, went on 711 road trips in his mom’s sedan. On her 22nd birthday, they went to the beach. She liked the salt water. They got drunk. Sometimes, she drove. Sometimes it was aimless. She really, really liked his mouth. He told her something funny. She laughed, gargled and spit into the sink. The ocean reminded her of Jim sitting in a classroom. Something touches her foot. She opens her eyes. The cat. She takes it in her arms and wonders who she is missing.
2. Time Wasters
This is how Jim remembers it: she is seated with bare legs crossed at the ankles. There is a square wooden table surrounded by three fold-able chairs. Her hair is cropped to her chin. The sink is by a window with a plant box. Adam leans on the counter holding an empty glass. There are no plants. On the counter there is a percolator. Jim makes them coffee afterward. She makes sipping sounds. They talk taxes, traffic, new alternatives to cigarettes. Jim presses the red button. They have both given it up. They all still smell faintly of gin. Adam lights up to be controversial, tickles the smoke with his tongue. Asshole, she says, and then crosses the room toward him to tip the balance. They lean against each other. Jim watches their backs reflected in the window and this is when he remembers he is losing his vision. There is a hole in Adam. There is a crater in the kitchen floor. It is a table. Somewhere else, Jim is learning to think of it in snatches of sound–the gurgle of liquid pouring out of a bottle, the coffee maker sputtering as it drools into the pot, the rustle of clothing being put back on. It is a one-bedroom on the 7th floor of a building without an elevator. She always arrives a little out of breath. When she comes in, she asks for a glass of water and peels off her sweater, leaves it on the couch for him to graze a hand over. He turns on the tap, swirls the spirit in with the water. He is wearing a watch. Adam is late. When he arrives he keeps his jacket on. He will prefer to take it off later. Jim always finds the ripping-ness of it a little overdone, a little like when they were nine and on a boat on a lake with their father and Adam exclaimed every time he cast the line out into the water and caught nothing. Like then, when the tide comes in, Jim is exasperated but rips anyway, working at the lines and hooks and different types of bait. Their father is blurry. She walks into the bedroom, leaves the sweating glass on the counter. They follow. There are rules, ones that allow them to laugh in the blue darkness: they don’t sleep over, they don’t go in without gin, they have no names. The twins begin in the middle of the bed, fully clothed and ornamented with glasses, watches, belts, socks. She sits in a chair. The moon turns the floor silver. She watches until she has no choice but to step into the mirror, between reflections, showing them where to tug, what to hold: leading fingers to a button, a mouth to a hollow, translating cadences that a lifetime of quarreling and chasing the same girls and fist-fighting have drowned out–she ties them around her, slides out of her slip and sets them all free. The fan is whirring, they can’t hear it. This is when Jim remembers where he is today: seated at a table in a room that smells antiseptic. His teeth are in a glass of water to his right and someone has offered him an oatmeal cookie. Music is playing in the hall. His shoes have been shined. Time is getting harder to keep track of. He tries it on in past tense–she was beautiful, they were alive. They left the window open. Adam was gone. He was on the wrong side of a convex lens. He knew it as the bed creaked under them, felt it in the clasp of her dress that refused to come away when he pulled.Two boys were standing on a boat, sharp outlines on a sunny day. The third figure is hazy. A hook falls into the water under a cerulean sky and no one is yelling. She turns to face him in the midnight sheets. What time is it? Now, there is a hole in her too. This is when Jim remembers it is years later and begins to forget everything else: did she fall asleep? Did he think of Adam floating in space? Did he kiss her hard and call her by her name?
3. Numbers & Figures
Jim fusses over his hair. Adam pulls on a jacket. Adam locks the door. She waits, orders sushi x 3. They arrive together, can’t fit through the door. Space, imagine that. They drop bombs of sake into mugs of beer. It isn’t that far if you think about it. Cheers. Jim has always known he would be the one to stay. She is wearing a watch. Are you excited? -14 days. She leans over, touches Adam’s hand. Adam winks. Bottoms up. Jim meets her on a Wednesday. 318 days. She takes her coffee black. He orders a croissant. He tells her about the machines they’ve built in the past year or so. She brings out a book that’s been lined and folded and creased. There are drawings of whales. She asks him about the laboratory and all those buttons. Such pretty things. They pretend they’ve created a monster and laugh. She glances at the clock. They meet on a Monday. Jim buys a flower x 12. 679 days. He orders the chicken x 2. It’s just across a channel, really, she says when she talks about the place she has to go. It isn’t that far. He checks his watch. Cheers. She winks. They clink sweaty glasses. Are you excited? He leans over, touches her hand. Jim has always known he would be the one to stay. -21 days. She musses his hair. She takes off his jacket. Bottoms up. She unlocks the door. They don’t fit.
4. Give Chase
They said adventure like there was something to conquer–Adam believed them and jumped through the hoops, waited in line to zip up a 300-pound suit. At take off, he was grinning under his helmet, the countdown to zero sending his mind reeling like film stamped with dancing cobalt-skinned girls. They arrived at 18:00 NVBT (12:00 GMT).The ship was white. Inside, everything is square. Four of them have come from four different places. There are three digital clocks on the wall. One of the Russians is from Moscow, the other is not. The Japanese girl grew up in Nagasaki. Adam wonders if that is near the sea. None of them ask where he is from. They leave their suits near the hatch and slip out of them like fish. Adam is wearing a shirt that has holes in it. Look, we’re flying. That first night they stay up late and play poker because the sun doesn’t come up and because everyone understands the characters on the cards. They float, sucking on squeeze-y tubes of Vodka. Adam pushes his drink out and swims into the bubble of it, mouth open. They take turns until they can no longer tell whose hand they are peeking at, which decks to take from and which to discard. Their sleep burrows are perpendicular to one another, like the four poles as drawn on a compass: N, S, E, W. There are no directions up here. None of them sleep in the burrows. They wake him up at 08:00, MSK (05:00 GMT). They catch the cards, put them in their pockets and eat marshmallow fluff from a jar. The Japanese girl is sleepy. Adam is hungover. The Russians are already dressed, running checks on the engines. There’s hardly any noise. He and the Japanese girl are deployed. They spend what they approximate to be eight hours’ time working on the installation of new video equipment. Adam’s been hired to hold the big pieces in place while the Russians speak orders into his ear and the Japanese girl tinkers with the parts that need tweaking. That’s what she has been brought here for. She has a mouth like a cherry tomato. After they finish, she enters data onto her tablet. He peeks over her shoulder and is mildly surprised to see she has written it in English: the average man has been successful today, written at 00:00 JST (16:00 GMT). By the time they are jettisoned again, Adam is in love. They continue to play poker after work. The Russians are unable to keep straight faces. Adam has seen the Japanese girl’s cards which she holds close to her chest like a fan. She says bluff like it’s an inside joke and Adam laughs on the inside, as though she is a bandit on a silver-maned horse and he’s been asked to give chase. No one has ever called him average before. She is wearing a pink sweater that has a picture of animated sushi on it. She tells him she is going to lose. She doesn’t. They’re up here for three months. They are deployed every other day. The rest of the time, Adam is just counting down. Their main task is to install a surveillance system for the lateral sides of the engines so that the crew can monitor peripheral damage from inside the ship. Can you see me? The Japanese girl taps something near the camera screen and then tries to twirl like a ballerina. The Russians laugh in Adam’s ear. Her suit does not seem heavy at all. Adam holds up the port from which the cameras extend, trying not to shake. The average man has done well today also, 23:08 JST (15:08 GMT). They play cards. He thinks the Japanese girl looks at him different. When the Russians fall asleep, she and Adam look at each other. He gestures toward the sleep pod. She enters first, he follows. It’s sparse: padding, a laptop. Do you think we will succeed? Her skin is not blue at all. When he wakes up at 11:00, MSK (08:00 GMT), she is not there. Adam pushes out of the burrow, looks for everyone. The sun doesn’t come up here, it comes around like the dial on a compass or time on the face of a clock. They are already working. She is out there alone. The numbers on the digital clocks change. He climbs into his suit as fast as he can. No need, the Russians say in his ear and refuse to open the hatch. They helped attach the dock onto the main frame while he was sleeping. Adam pushes on the button again, requesting to be jettisoned. She giggles in his ear and assures him: no need for you to come, average man.
5. Anatomy & Bodies
Thing is, it was easy in the end, like slipping two fingers into the slots of scissors: you just went and cut. She saw herself, as if in a glass—meniscus, crema, skin, the film between milk and air. In hindsight maybe she had always known it like knowing you need two feet to walk. It fit. With Adam, thinking of Jim. With Jim, what if Adam was there? She knew the dance in each twin’s time: memorized the steps from both sides, back-and-forth, had done it a thousand times before (but not like that—and then, no other way). Adam let you tear, Jim always kept his socks on. She knew where to fuss, what to muss, when to whisper, the pace at which to faster, to keep going, to slow down. Today, she has a fever—today, the belly is kind of bothering her. She is lying in bed with the fan on. Today is half a year since. Outside, it is summer time and she is sweating herself sour. She is trying not to fall asleep. The clock is ticking: pick one, pick one, pick one. To be honest, she is mostly curious: who will it look like? What shape? Rather, which? The nuances: maybe a mouth that is fond of laughing, or eyes that will need glasses. Maybe the desire to fly, or the mind to make it happen; she turns the punnet square over and over, playing Rubik’s cube. She just sees it float, face turned away. Over the phone, her mother calls her stupid. That’s fine. She didn’t know what it was like. When you were there, if you were going to let them, which you probably were, if you were there—you would have—you had to let them, both. This was how she told her friends, how she endured the jokes about twice the fun. Behind her back, they call her stupid. You do not go out with only one glove on. It felt natural, in the end. They all knew what they liked to drink, they all knew they liked each other. She knows they all still like each other. Her mother begs to differ. Not that she hasn’t toyed with telephoning, rehearsing I have something to tell you. Tell who? That would be peeling one off: do not let your left hand know, and all that. Anyway, they hadn’t called. Anyway, what was there to say? Do they talk to each other? Do they think of it? Is she still there, now that she is no longer conduit? Now there are no more shots or dancing or games. She cannot imagine the child, not really. Cannot really see Jim’s ear, or Adam’s nape. Cannot imagine a singular boy, or girl. She turns over on her side, faces away from the window. Her eyelids close slowly. Never mind, she decides. Maybe it will be like her, and all it will be good at is being in between.
Wina Puangco writes small fiction; her work has appeared in TAYO Literary Magazine, the Southern Pacific Review and Driftwood Press. She also talks about books on YouTube.