“I saw Siamese twins yesterday,” I said, and everyone at the dining table stopped what they were doing. Everyone, that is, except my wife Beverly, a psychoanalyst by profession, and thus seldom surprised by the curious, often disturbing diversity of the human condition. She simply swallowed her wine and smiled. The others gathered in the lofty tower apartment of our friends Julia and Carlisle Fisher did not take my announcement with Beverly’s practiced calm. Julia, bringing her wine goblet to her lips, stopped so suddenly that a wavelet of Bordeaux sloshed over the rim and fell with purple malevolence to the starched white tablecloth. Carlisle and the Pearlmans, Thurmond and Lillie, stopped chewing their escalopes de veau à l’estragon in midbite. Fran Landis held a silver saltshaker poised motionlessly over her plate, the fine stream of crystal piling up in a small pillar atop a sautéed baby potato. Howie Landis and Walter Sincak were caught daubing buttery tarragon sauce from their lips, and Georgia Sincak, mouth open, was about to insert into it a cluster of petit green beans. Her fork stopped just an inch short of its destination, her pinky finger remaining correctly rigid. Then, after waiting a few moments for further explanation, my dinner companions resumed their salting, chewing, drinking and daubing.
“Warren loves carnivals,” Beverly explained with a tone I chose to interpret as affection. “The seedier, the better.” I did not react to this remark, knowing it to be true.
Since a boy I have been helpless to resist the attraction of a carnival, no more able to ignore its tawdry allure than a hungry fish can ignore a gaudy, tasseled spinner; the tents, like shrouds, hiding exquisite mysteries in their shadowed folds; the rides, all grease and gears and noisy generators; the trailers and booths, their bright paint only enhancing their shabbiness — all of this holds for me an imperishable fascination. And then there are the people of the carnival, the game and ride operators, stringy, grimy men wearing ponytails and tattoos and dusty black satin jackets and dirty Western boots with worn-down heels, without expression pulling the rusting levers that engage the motors of the clanking, rattling rides; without words exchanging darts for dollar bills for Kewpie dolls. Who are these men? Were they ever the apple of their mother’s eye? Did they ever dream of being doctors or poets? No one cares. And yet, I have envied them. After all, they are a part of the carnival and I am not.
So the afternoon before, when I had seen the Big Adventures Amusements and Shows occupying, in all of its vulgar glory, a large field that had been empty, sterile, ordinary just the day before, I acted on my inclinations. I took the bait. I was reeled in. That’s when I discovered the twins.
“Teddy and Freddy,” I said, “joined at the waist. Well, kind of right here.”
I held my tie aside to indicate a point on my abdomen.
Now, be assured that I am not going to burden you with any allusions to the comparative vulgarities of the dinner party and the carnival, the glib reality of the one and the coarse fantasy of the other. This is not a story of the high and the low. It is simply the story of what happened on that night. And it may be a story about love.
“What are they like?” Lillie asked.
“They seem normal,” I answered, “except that they’re connected.” I had pitched my attitude toward worldly wise, nonchalant.
“How old are they?”
“Do they look alike?”
“They’re probably, oh, 30ish.”
“Did you see where they’re connected? I mean, the skin and everything?”
“I love it,” Julia said. “Siamese twins named Freddy and Teddy.” She slugged back the last of her wine like a sailor on leave. “I want to see them. I want to see them right now!”
“Me too,” said Georgia, pushing away from the table. “Let’s go before it closes.”
“I’m game,” said Thurm.
“I’d rather see a man and a woman joined at the crotch,” Howie said, never missing a chance to enhance his reputation for gratuitous lewdness. “I’ll drive.”
“And,” Carlisle asked of Beverly in an affected, nasally Eastern drawl, “what does our favorite psychoanalyst think of this strange compulsion to run out and gawk at a gaggle of Siamese twins?”
“I think it’s really disgusting,” my wife answered with unprofessional reproach, “but I want to see them too.”
“Is it a pair of Siamese twins or a set of Siamese twins?” someone asked.
“We’ll see them and then we’ll come back here for dessert,” Julia said. “Black Forest Torte.”
The women got their coats, Julia bringing a full-length fur, much too heavy for such a mild autumn evening, and we descended in the walnut-paneled elevator to the basement parking garage. The Fishers went with the Sincaks in Walter’s Volvo. Beverly and I and the Pearlmans went with Howie and Fran in their big Cadillac deVille. Howie squealed up the ramp and into the avenue and was doing 50 by the time we got to the corner.
“I’m used to his driving,” Fran said as Howie hit the accelerator to beat a red light.
Within a few blocks of our destination I could see its enticing glow in the sky. Walter had tried to keep up, but when we arrived the Volvo was at least a half-mile back.
“What took you guys so long?” Howie asked, taking something from his glove compartment and putting it into his jacket pocket. Whatever it was made a good-sized bulge.
“Not a real popular place, huh?” Beverly said, commenting on the nearly empty parking lot.
“Maybe it’s too early.”
“Maybe it’s too late.”
“Hey, maybe nobody comes to carnivals anymore”
Yes, I did. Walking through the entrance I felt the old, familiar excitement. There, ahead of us, as if anchored to the earth, was the seductive tableau, the carnival itself, the stuff, the materiality, the substance of it. There it was, the dull brassy darkness of it, its floodlit illumination punctuated by bright tubes of neon, blue and green and red, accenting the angular structures of the rides, strings of naked yellow bulbs outlining the game booths and side-show tents. Recorded polka music played thinly over loudspeakers.
Howie went to the main ticket stand and bought tickets for all of us.
“Ten for the twins,” he said to the woman behind the counter, and then I heard him say, “You can stop staring at us, sweetheart. We’s just plain folk like you.”
A strange sight we must have been, this overdressed, chattering troupe being led by a strutting woman in high heels and a long fur coat. The carnies, with nothing else to do, lounged insolently at their work stations, either openly staring at us as if we were the oddity, or just as deliberately not looking at us, as if to say — You do not impress me, you are not even worth a glance.
“Where to?” Julia asked.
“Back that way,” I answered, and we began walking, past the silent rides, the caterpillar, the snake, the moon rocket, the tilt-a-whirl; past the quiet midway, the games of chance and skill, the house of horrors, the tunnel of love; past the food concession stands, hot kielbasa, elephant ears, corn dogs on sticks; beyond all of this, back in the farthest reaches of the compound, curiously, the attraction that could have been the centerpiece, Teddy and Freddy, the real draw, the crowd-pleaser, placed back nearly as far as where the show’s motor homes and trucks were parked, out of sight, as if to hide them.
“Here we are,” I said.
We had come to a canvas partition. Next to a door-sized opening was a sign that said “Teddy and Freddy — Siamese Twins — One of Nature’s Curiosities — Cameras Not Allowed.” There was no ticket taker, only a box with a slot in the top. We put in our tickets and walked through.
“A house trailer.”
“They live in it,” I said. I pointed to a set of wooden steps leading to a small platform placed against the side of the trailer. “We go up over there.”
Shoving, giggling like children, “Sshhh,” Beverly said, we clattered up the steps. Once on the platform, we were looking through a large picture window right into the twins’ living room.
“Oh my God!” That was Julia.
Teddy and Freddy were watching television, sitting on a large ottoman, slightly facing each other, a position which probably gave them the greatest comfort and convenience. They wore conventional casual clothing except that the bottoms of their shirts had been cut off, exposing to the curious, the paying public, their irreversible and eternal bond.
“I feel like a voyeur.” That was Fran.
The twins were totally engrossed in the television show, either unaware of our presence or deliberately ignoring us. Teddy (I thought of this twin as Teddy, although he could just as well have been Freddy) absently drummed his fingers on his brother’s knee. The one I thought of as Freddy had draped his arm casually over his brother’s shoulders. When a commercial interrupted the program they were suddenly up and moving. With surprising nimbleness they scuttled to the kitchen counter where one them filled a bowl with popcorn while the other poured drinks. Then they carried the snacks back to the ottoman. We watched them for several minutes
“This is incredible!” That was Thurmond.
“I heard they’re moving to England so the other one can learn to drive.” That was Howie.
“I expected it to be fake.” That was Lillie.
“Well, what does our resident shrink think of all this?” Carlisle asked Beverly. “Name our perversion, darling.”
I turned to watch my wife, wanting to see her face as she answered, and was horrified to see Howie, at the end of the platform, aiming a small black camera into the trailer’s living room.
Instantly there was a bright flash from the camera, nearly blinding to our dark-accustomed eyes. Someone on the platform yelped, and someone else said, “What the hell!” I looked into the trailer. The twins were staring at the window in shock, Teddy’s face (I feel confident he was Teddy) was red with rage and he screamed, “You bastards!” — the voice penetrating faintly through the trailer’s wall. “You stinking bastards!” he yelled again as the twins moved with unexpected speed toward the front door, and then the door flew open and they burst through it into the darkness, Teddy screaming, “You bastards!” and Freddy screaming, “No pictures, no pictures!”
There was pushing and stumbling on the little platform as we tried to get down the steps. Julia was the first to the bottom and Teddy and Freddy, still screaming, knocked her down and fell on top of her. For a few moments there was a confusion of legs and arms and fur and dust as they pummeled her and yanked at her hair. It took all five men to pull them off.
“Run!” Fran yelled, and although in retrospect it seemed silly and unnecessary, we all began to run, to trot really, just fast enough to stay ahead of the scurrying, shuffling twins, through the opening in the canvas partition, back onto the main carnival grounds. “Bastards!” Teddy continued to scream, and since they kept coming, we kept trotting, the ladies in front, moving awkwardly in their dressy shoes, the men keeping a wary guard behind, panting, sweating, loosening our neckties, taking off our jackets. We had made it to the center of the carnival when one of the ride operators joined the twins, trotting alongside them. Then another joined their group, and soon there were a dozen of them, the twins and the carnies, all trotting after us, chanting, “Bastards! Bastards! Bastards!”
Finally the parking lot was within sight. Sensing our freedom now, we picked up our pace. But the crowd, which now numbered at least two dozen, also picked up its pace, Teddy and Freddy in the lead. We entered the parking lot and started to run full-out, and the mob behind us began running too, surging past the slower twins. I noticed Howie and Walter getting their car keys ready, and someone yelled, “Hurry, Hurry!” The car doors opened, we piled inside, the doors slammed shut and I heard the comforting sound of electric door locks clicking into place.
“Bye, bye assholes!” Howie screamed. He stomped on the accelerator, bouncing us over the curb and speeding down the street, Walter’s Volvo close behind. We were giddy with the thrill of our narrow escape. Lillie let out a whoop and Thurm pounded his fist on the dashboard. Behind us, Walter gave a couple of blasts on the Volvo’s horn.
But our initial burst of exhilaration was short-lived. We became suddenly quiet, subdued. Beverly took my hand, Fran slumped back into her seat, Lillie leaned her head on Thurm’s shoulder, and Howie drove the rest of the way to the Fisher’s apartment without exceeding the speed limit.
We didn’t go back upstairs for Julia’s Black Forest Torte. We passed around our final hugs and kisses on the sidewalk, then went our separate ways, to the security and concealment of our own homes.
That night I lay in bed, Beverly at my side snoring softly, the arc of her strong back towards me, and I thought about Teddy and Freddy lying together in their own bed in the trailer at the carnival. Was one, or were both of them, still awake, possibly even thinking about me? Did they, as Beverly and I often did, whisper together before drifting off to sleep, sharing small secrets, night thoughts offered and accepted as gifts of their intimacy? Did they ever sleep in each other’s arms? In the deepness of the night did they ever reach out for reassurance, to give or to receive a comforting touch? Were they ever in a dream without the other? Did they ever dream of liberation? Did they ever dream of running free, released, if only for a moment, from the permanence of their bondage?
I turned onto my side and curled myself around the curve of my wife’s back, slipping my arm carefully around her waist, gently pulling us together until we were touching nearly the entire lengths of our bodies. I fell asleep that way, knowing that during the night we would move apart.Find more imaginative stories and poems ... return to the Summer Fiction 2001 home page