She lay unconscious on the bathroom floor. Her eyelids fluttered open, and she looked at her hands that felt filthy. The chain was gone. The bathroom door was ajar.
On the closed toilet lid there were clean clothes. A man’s t-shirt, a pair of draw-string pants, and they looked like an endless bolt of gray cloth. They smelled like bleach. The toilet was white and porcelain and clean. There were no rugs. There was nothing of color in the room. There was a single towel hanging near the sink, and it was a dull white, stained with old stains and washed until frayed.
There were many details. The tile floor, for instance, tessellated in U block patterns that could turn into E’s if observed with a tilted head. The floor tiles were white and matte and grimier near the walls. The walls were also tile and also white, but square and shiny. There was a baseboard heater. The baseboard was off-white and the grate was dusty. The dial for the heat on the wall near the door read Electric Heating, the T in Heating rubbed raw so it looked like Electric Healing.
She was alone in the room, and she appeared uncertain of her future. The house was quiet, with no sign the man was nearby. She moved the clothes to the floor and sat on the closed toilet lid, without expression or movement, and stared at the tile for several minutes.
Among her unseen thoughts were: Never coming out of this room. Drowning herself, what it would feel like to drown. A news story about a deep-sea diver huffing and puffing and drowning in his own swimming pool. Virginia Woolf. Greenhouse effects. A Mennonite farm where her mother would buy daffodils every spring before she died. The night before, the act of the man taking her by the arm and the act of her stumbling drunkenly behind him, thinking he was kinda handsome. The humor in the term “flophouse.” A memory of an old boyfriend vomiting on the lawn of a friend on New Year’s morning, and how she had not looked directly at it but she’d smelled it, and it had smelled like a bad year. The man from last night who owned this house pulling her along, telling her, “I am your long-lost twin brother.” That story of the girl-twins who knew each other inside out, who spoke their own language, who died the same day. There was no soap in the bathtub, no mat to prevent slippage. No shower curtain. No mirror. Hunger. A wish for wool socks. A realization of the bathroom itself, the whiteness and stillness of it. Rhythmic and important-sounding movie music, and how her face would set in a determined-cool manner, the star of a film who knew the score of things. The face of her father, or an impression of her father’s face. Her father, whom she loved despite his shortcomings and the fact (maybe) that he had cast off his only son. What would come next.
She smelled food that reminded her of a cafeteria.
Sliding from the toilet lid onto all-fours, she crawled to the cracked bathroom door. Beyond it was a hard-wood hallway, and across the hall was the living room. The kitchen was somewhere she could not see. She shut the door and locked it from the inside.
She looked again at the clothes that had been folded and left in a pile. A man’s t-shirt, a pair of draw-string pants. It still looked like an endless bolt of gray cloth. Slowly, she removed her clothes that stank of woods and dirt and the dried, brackish water of the nearby lake, and she put on the shirt, then the pants. Her body was ugly and blotched in the light but there is always a thrill in nakedness.
She exits the room. She finds the man who called himself her twin. They have dinner together. They live together for a while. They become lovers. She wants to go home to see their father and her brother acquiesces. The father is frightened, tries to kill his son with a knife but accidentally stabs his daughter instead. The brother strangles his father to death and takes the sister back to his house. She is dying. He carries her to a boat, rows it out to the middle of the lake. He ties bricks around both their ankles, and he jumps overboard with her in his arms.
As the brother drowns he has a vision. He is in his long-lost grandmother’s house. Everyone he loves is there, welcoming him home—his cousins, his mother, his father. A woman he has never met kisses him. It is his wife. A child runs up to him. It is his son.
In the farthest room in the house he finds his sister. In this world, she is only his sister. He hugs her, and the moment their bodies separate every bad thing that ever happened in waking life is forgotten.
In the lake, he lets go of the sister’s hand as they sink. This movie is about the brother.
Ashley Hutson lives in Sharpsburg, Maryland. Her work appears or is forthcoming in McSweeney’s, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, DOGZPLOT, theEEEL, and Wyvern Lit. Find her on the web at www.aahutson.com.