The Other Side of Envy
by Len Kuntz
I watch her reading, and in her face I see mine, the little tic pulsing over her right eyebrow as she concentrates. Biting the edge of her lower lip, the same way I do when I’m entranced, I know that she’s hit a sex scene or something close to it. She’s so engrossed she doesn’t notice I’m staring.
It’s funny to envy your twin, someone who so physically resembles you that a boyfriend can’t tell the difference, but Jen is the version of me I wish I was. We’re only fifteen, but Jen’s already shoplifted from Nordstrom, lost her virginity to her soccer coach, is fluent in French and Spanish, and doesn’t give a rat’s ass about anyone, least of all herself. It’s like she’s a tourist leisurely living someone else’s life, a renter not at all worried if the house falls apart.
Up to the age of nine, Mom dressed us alike. Then Jen protested that Mom was causing psychological damage at our expense while having fun playing dolls.
But I cut my hair when Jen did. I do my makeup the same way she does. When Jen’s not around, I put on her clothes and try to say the witty things Jen would say into the mirror, gesticulating with my arms and hands the way Jen does.
I haven’t had a real boyfriend yet. Jen’s had scads of them. That’s how I know we are total opposites but just look identical.
When my teacher, Mr. Carter came over to my desk to answer a question I’d asked, I ran my palm across his calf. Mr. Carter is overweight and has a pit bull’s pug nose. He should have taken the bait or at least been flattered, but instead he shouted, “Fresh!” and leapt away. Now he no longer leaves his desk when I ask questions.
I’ve tried impersonating Jen, once going a party dressed in her moss green dress and pink, crocheted half cape. I’d done my hair exactly like hers. I even had on her perfume, but still none of the fraternity guys came around. I got drunk on a stairwell, called a cab, and spent the night at home throwing up Sangria.
Now she puts the book on her lap, yawning wide.
“I think I’ll take a catnap,” she says. Jen’s naps are always precisely ten minutes long. I’ve timed them. I can’t figure out how she does it. When I fall asleep, it’s for hours.
I don’t know how to tell my twin what I’m feeling, that I see myself as a failed part of her, one of those vintage mirrors with scores of black spots rimming the edges of the glass like a shroud. Still, it feels like the right moment and so I say, “Do you ever wonder why we’re so different, I mean, because we’re twins and look alike, but that’s where it ends?”
Jen opens one eye half-way, looking cute and cocksure, but maybe also bored and irritated.
“You got all the good stuff,” she says.
“Good stuff? What’re you talking about?”
“Oh come on.”
“No, I mean it. I’m confused.”
Jen yawns again, not so wide this time. “You’re all Mom, and I’m all Dad.”
“I still don’t understand.”
“Dad’s a fuck-up. He cheated on Mom with his secretary. A total cliché. Then he leaves us when we’re six, leaves Mom. That’s the kind of shit I’d pull.”
“No you wouldn’t.”
“Last week I had a three-way.”
“A quarterback and center. It wasn’t very special.”
“Then why do it?”
“Because I’m Dad and you’re Mom. Mom never bad-mouthed Dad after what he did. She’s even civil when he calls. That’s how you are—you’re beyond kind. You’re good.”
I’ve never thought of Jen and my differences that way, but rather just the opposite, her the glamorous rebel without a cause, the bad girl everyone aspires to be.
“Just watch,” Jen says. “You’re going to end up president of some big corporation, but you’ll still have kids that you don’t neglect, with a husband who wouldn’t dare cheat on you because he knows how lucky he is. I’ll end up hitchhiking my way through adulthood.”
“Don’t say that.”
“Then don’t ask what I think if you don’t want to hear it.”
I want to tell Jen she’s wrong, that she’s the one who got the good genes. She’s resourceful and carefree, the spitfire I could never be, and I’m just about to say so when Jen says, “I wish I was you. It’s what I’ve always wished.”
Pistons slam the inside of my chest. My brain feels like a cloud of spider webs set on fire. I know Jen’s not lying, because I know her better than I know myself, yet it’s still hard to believe, like the time Mom told us Dad had found someone else and was leaving.
I watch Jen’s closed eyelids flutter. Just like that she’s dozed off. I hear air rushing in and out of her nasal passages. Her chest swells and deflates.
Nine more minutes and she’ll be awake. Nine more minutes and I’ll tell her how wrong she is, how wrong I might be, that together we’re the best part of us if we can only talk about it, figure out how to make us work as one.
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Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State, an editor at the online magazine Literary Orphans, and the author of the story collection THE DARK SUNSHINE. His latest story collection, I’M NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE AND NEITHER ARE YOU is forthcoming from Unknown Press in March of 2016. You can also find him at lenkuntz.blogspot.com
9 thoughts on “The Other Side of Envy”
This is a vivid and captivating character study drawn within the limits of flash fiction. Impressive and enjoyable.
Beautifully written. I really enjoyed this
I utterly enjoyed this
An artful variation on the Abel and Cain motif. I thought the good twin’s closing thoughts of doing the girl scout thing was very effective. I had to wonder, though, if goody two shoes would have put the make on her teacher, and been disappointed in his not taking the bait. AGB
Truly wonderful story. I do agree with AGBurstein that her putting her hand on her teacher’s calf took me away from the main theme for a moment. But I think you captured it perfectly, the mutual envy.
What I loved about this story was how it came to a larger conclusion in the very last moment: the desire for wholeness with a sister.
I liked it until the end. Unlike others here, I was disappointed by the last paragraph.
Len-Loved how you built up to the envy and then their conversation was intense.l
Great story, Len, as usual. And the comments have been fascinating. I actually really liked the ending because the one thing I believed about the narrator throughout (and, in fact, that I believe about MOST of us) is that no matter how far off track we go, how many bad things we do, or what rotten choices we make, our ultimate goal is for the greatest good we can muster and/or create and that’s what we’re left with, I think, in that final paragraph. She wants what’s best.