July 30th, 2016.
Janus didn’t live as long as his predecessor, so you could say that I’m lucky in some sense of the word. But it still sucks - not being able to fight the obstacles and the warning signs. Not being able to outlive the first one, like it’s some sort of race. But whatever. Honestly, whatever.
It’s the midst of summer break, and I’ve decided to buy a plane ticket and visit my Aunt Shelly in Texas. It’s been a while since I last saw her, and I somehow miss her. I don’t know if I really do, or if I need some sort of escape. She bought a ranch out in the country where she spends a lot of her time, and it might be a good idea to crash out there and hide away from the media. And my parents, whose presence stifles me more and more by the day.
Since my interview with Vivian Wilson, things got even more intense. What turned into curious interest morphed into a monster of its own; my parents receive death threats on the daily. I wish I could say I feel for them, but I’m the one dying here, aren’t I (even if it is a bit of an exaggeration as there’s no signs of peril in the near future)? Of course, I fear for their safety, and I guess I really didn’t do good by throwing them under the bus the way I did, but it relieves me knowing that I won’t have to deal with the turmoil in my mind and the hostility in the house anymore.
Kal has also been blowing up my phone. The second I got back to my parents’ house after the interview, I had a million missed calls from him. It annoys me that he lives to far to make easy trips to my home, and the only way we can communicate is through other means, but it doesn’t help that I sort of snub him. I just can’t face to hear his broken heart over the phone. Not yet, anyway.
I sent him an email, telling him that I am perfectly fine, and that I would be outside Houston for the week so there is no point in coming to visit or call me (I don’t know if the phone service or Wi-Fi is at its best over at the ranch), but that we can talk once I get back home. I know that I should really be under hospital surveillance in case I suddenly deteriorate quickly (the closest hospital from Shelly’s house is pretty far) but I’m sure I can survive for another six days. I just need space to breathe.
I haven’t told my parents that I’m going, when I start packing for the flight at four in the morning. I throw as many things as I can into my suitcase, aiming to be as quiet as I can. This is the second time I’ve tried to secretly escape them. Like I did before, I will leave them a note so that they are not alarmed. Shelly knows I’ll be arriving in secret, and the second I called for her aid, she was instantly ready to help me out.
I can’t wait to find a place to clear my thoughts out, and figure out how I will spend the rest of my flickering, withering life.
Aunt Shelly’s ranch really is right in the middle of nowhere – it seemed like it took forever once we got on the road. News had gotten around quickly that I was on a trip to Houston, and sort of unsurprisingly, a dozen camera men arrived at the airport. What’s so astonishing about a human being moving through transit? I’m not doing anything – I’ve never done anything. But my last public appearance was the interview, and it’s no wonder people are fighting for my attention yet again.
Do you really have heart failure? Anne, how is your condition currently? What are your plans for the future? Do you think this is a result of being cloned?
Strangers with cameras were swinging questions at me from every angle, and I just kept silent, kept my shades on and moved along with my suitcase, following my aunt. I didn’t want to look out of breath, but surely enough, I was starting to feel it. It’s what dying twice does to you.
Aunt Shelly shielded me from the camera flashes as we threw my stuff into her car, before getting in and speeding out of the godforsaken place.
And now, at some time in the afternoon, I sit on the front porch of her house, staring out at the lazy, quiet scenery. It’s nice to know that I have some place to really sit and think. All I can hear is the sound of nature - the low hum of the earth, under the tweets and the chirps. I watch birds flock the sky, with the sun on their backs as they pass through the daylight. Though it’s July, it’s not a particularly hot day, and in fact, I’m shivering a little. I just sit in silence and stare off into the distance until my eyesight blurs.
Shelly cooks a pot roast for dinner, with fresh vegetables from the local farmer. It’s been a while since food wowed me, but boy, does this taste damn good. The flavour just melts in my mouth, tenderly. I look up to Shelly, signalling my approval of the food.
“I’m glad you like it,” she smiles. “Though I’m not surprised. I’m pretty sure I make the best pot roasts in all o’ Texas!” Though my mother originates from here, her accent has weakened over the years, living in Cali. It’s almost nice to hear such a strong southern pronunciation of words like that. It makes her feel more welcoming, in a way.
Eventually, I ask her. “Why did you let me come here?” it comes out confused and slightly interrogatory, but it’s not my aim. I just want to know why it appeared that she jumped at the chance. It’s quite a quick-fired question that she instantly seems taken aback by it.
“Well, dear, that’s because I know you need this. You would never ask for somethin’ you didn’t need. Nobody asks to visit a distant relative in the spur of the moment over nothin’.”
“I know, but… weren’t you hesitant? Thinking about my parents?”
“Thinking what about them, darlin’?”
“That they would be angry.” I say, consuming more of her home-made.
“…Annie, I understand your situation. That’s why. I know your parents - especially your mother. I understand why you needed a break from ‘em. I don’t blame you.”
“Especially my mother?”
“Yeah, because I grew up with her. I know what she’s like. What she has always been like.”
She sighs. “Finish eatin’, wash up and then I might tell you.”
I’m happy to discover that Shelly has cable and service, but unfortunately no Wi-Fi. That’s not the end of the world – I can still call Kal when I need to. Once I’m finished clearing the dishes, I wonder around the house. I take notice of all the family photos, and look for my mother in them. She was raised in a huge family of cousins, aunts and uncles as well as her immediate family. It was the only way they could afford to live at the time – when my aunts and uncles were old enough, some couldn’t move out for college due to lack of money, and some ended up getting local jobs as engineers, farmers and mechanics whilst the women became local teachers or nurses. In fact the nearest kindergarten became known as the Hughes’ school, because most of the teachers came from the Hughes’ family (my mother’s maiden name) and never really left.
I see old photos of my mother, back when she was a child in the mid sixties, swinging on a tyre swing in the yard of her house. There are a bunch of other children that I don’t know, and the weirdest thing about the photo is how everybody is looking elsewhere but my mother. It’s like she was the only person aware that they were even being snapped. She isn’t smiling – just staring knowingly into the camera, legs propped over the huge black rubber wheel. The camera isn’t exactly of the best quality, but it adds to the nostalgia. I stare at it a long time before moving onto the next photo: a family portrait of my mother and her immediate family. Every nuclear family within the extended household had their own photos, and Shelly has them hung up on their wall. I wonder why they’re not at the original ranch, but then I remember that it’s 2016, and photocopies are not hard to come by these days.
My mother looks around seventeen in the family photo. Her smile is larger than life, and her skin looks kissed by the sun. My grandparents smile too, with grins that somehow my mother manages to merge together and adopt. I lift my hand to stroke some of the dust off of the photo, slowly.
“Your mother was always somethin’ else,” Shelly says, causing me to jump.
“Jesus! Are you trying to kill me right now?” I ask.
“I… I’m sorry. I forgot you wouldn’t even notice me. I was looking at the photo too.” She says. “Have you taken your meds, by the way?”
I huff. “Yes, I have. I don’t need reminders to stay alive.”
She stays silent for a second, ignoring my snide comment, before continuing on about my mother. She lights up a cigarette first before taking a seat on the couch nearby. The house smells like mahogany and old-school nicotine, all rustic and lonely. I know she spends her time smoking like a chimney when she’s here. “Do you mind?” I scoff.
“Siddown next to me.” She pats the space on the sofa.
“Do you not get it? I’m ill. I don’t need your cigarettes in my face.”
“Honey, whether you die in twenty years or next year, you’re gonna die. I’m not saying it’s OK, but it’s gonna happen. This won’t be what kills you.” She waves the thing around. “Your heart will be. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but…”
“You’re not being very considerate. Why did you let me come here if this is what you’d do?”
She sighs. “Jesus Christ, Annie. You sure are a fighter. I remember Rose kicking fights like you do. In fact, I wanted to try something out. That’s why I did that,”
“Try what out?” I ask.
“Back when Rosie found out she was ill, I came to visit. I did the same thing around her, and she yelled at me for it. The same way you are. It’s interesting to see if you would react any different. You know, walk outside or something. It just fascinates me.” She burns the cigarette out after taking a last drag, leaving it in the tray on the table before her. I see a pile of wrinkled cigs and ash all underneath, and I look up and I see her aged face. It’s the sun, and it’s the nicotine. “I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable. You can sit now.”
“Well… I don’t know why it’s so fascinating anymore. What more did you expect?”
“I don’t know what I was expectin’. I just wanted to see if Rose is in there somewhere, or if it’s all just Anne.”
“Why?” I whisper. “How do you think that makes me feel? Knowing that you’re looking for someone else in me?”
“There’s someone else in all of us,” she says. “I can promise you that. And if there isn’t, then you have never known love. Agape. Eros. Philia, Storge, whatever.”
“Tell me about Mother.”
She raises her eyebrow. “I see you haven’t forgotten.”
“Well…as a kid, she was the slowest. Not because she was slow… but because she was very intricate. She has always believed in perfection. Call her the Aristotle of our time,” she chuckles. “But as a child, we would always be waiting on her. Over somethin’. If we were going out, she would be inside tyin’ her shoelace for five goddamn minutes until each lace was equal in bow size. She would make sure all of her buttons were done. She would comb her hair down to the last strand. Sometimes she was too scared to leave the house, because she was afraid of the disorganisation. She didn’t like the mud, or the animals, or going out to the woods like the other kids. In fact, that photo of her out of the swing is an odd setting for her. She was feelin’ brave that day.”
“What… what do you mean? Was she afraid?”
“Not of getting dirty, but… she wasn’t a fan of how sporadic the universe has always been. And she felt like if she couldn’t control it, she couldn’t face it. I mean, she grew out of trying to make everything perfect, but some of it stayed with her. She moved onto something else; it was no longer about being clean or neat or presentable, but it was about raisin’ the perfect family,” she smiles, shaking her head. “Once, when we were up late one night, she was tellin’ me how she wanted her future to look. She wanted to find a nice, strong man and get married. She wanted three kids. No more, and no less. Three. She would make that very clear. And all their names would start with the same letter – preferably her husband’s, as some sort of homage. Lucky for her, her dream finally came true. She got what she wanted. She got the three kids and the husband. So when the universe failed her once again on that night in 1995, I understand why she couldn’t cope with it.” Her eyes fade with her smile, and she looks at the floor. “She got too attached to her three children. She couldn’t just have a new child – a different one. It had to be the same girl. It all makes sense now. I thought she was having a new child to replace the old one, so that equilibrium could be restored. But I realised somethin’ when I stared into your eyes, back when you were little. I felt that there was more to it, but I didn’t wanna seem crazy. When you grew up into a toddler, and into a kid, that feeling stayed. Now I know. She didn’t just want anyone. She needed Rose back, to keep everything how it was. I mean, if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. When she lost somethin’ as a kid, she would never accept replacements. Even if it was somethin’ stupid like droppin’ a candy on the floor. She would want the same thing back or nothin’ at all, which was why she was always cheated out of candy by all the others.” She smiles. “She was a weird kind of perfectionist. It wasn’t just about things being in the right place. It was about the right things being in the right place. The right people. The one thing she forgot about was…the right time. There was no such thing as time in Roseanna’s universe - there never has been. If it took two days to tie her laces perfect, so be it. It didn’t matter that the world was still spinnin’. That’s how she has always been.”
I stare at my aunt for a long time before sighing. I knew my mother was a lot of things, but didn’t know that she was this broken – this out of synch. I knew she was a dedicated person, but I didn’t think of her as someone who let concepts consume her to the point that her life could go no other way. Yes, she may have wanted the perfect family, but to the extent of cloning a lost child? She couldn’t have just moved along with the universe?
Then I realise the fact that she knew that either way, Rose and I would die. And I realise she knew all along that we would just be chapters of a book, here and then gone. She knew I wouldn’t live long anyway, so in her eyes, I was something of a film being played on repeat. I guess that’s if I take the approach that she was certain I would die too – seeming as her false hope may have led her to think I would be the Rose that survived. Maybe that’s what she wanted - real completion. She would never leave anything unfinished or undone by the looks of it, so she had to make sure there was a glimmer of a chance that Rose would live longer this time. I’m nothing but a product of my mother’s dreams of perfection. God, this sucks. This really, really sucks.
“I’m going to bed.” I tell her, before leaving.
Shelly collects the paper from outside the next morning. At nine AM, there is frost painted on the windowpanes outside, and the world is fog in the shrinking darkness. I haven’t spoken to my parents since the day before I left them in the evening. I’m sure they’ve tried to call, and if they didn’t find my note (which would be near impossible, I left it right on the goddamn bed), they may have heard of me through other means. Like, through the overly-curious media. If they ever found out where I was staying, I would get a spade and dig an actual tunnel to the core of the earth and slide into the lava until I no longer exist.
I pretend to be asleep when Shelly comes into the spare bedroom where I crash, but she says something which forces me to wake up from my fake slumber.
“They published Farrow’s letter. It’s here, on page five.”
I look down at the paper quickly, already in an upright position from the abundance of pillows I have to rest on. “Pass it here.”
“It’s not exactly the best thing there, but it does consider both sides of the story. He said that either way, he held himself completely and totally responsible for any of the consequences. And that’s why he had to take his own life.”
“Can I read?” I whisper before coughing my voice out of my throat.
It’s a pretty anticlimactic letter. I mean, not really something my mother would bawl over. Unless they cut stuff out. Maybe. I can’t really come to any conclusions, because I never got to read it when she did, but I know that she wouldn’t cry like she did over this. And the way she said sorry - why would she say sorry when it’s evident that Farrow blamed himself for the whole thing? Why would she act completely culpable that day?
I lie still in the bath for a long time, soaking in the warm water. Sometimes I try sliding all the way in, but I feel the pressure on my chest and I lift myself up again. The steam rises and swirls above me, and I watch it until my sight blurs. I don’t want to get out.
I throw on the first clothes I see in my suitcase, sighing and looking out to the murky, unchanging weather. I stare down at my phone, and after stiffening up in indecision, I finally choose to call Kal.
“Anne?” he says.
“Hey,” I whisper, smiling softly to myself.
“Are you OK? I got your email.”
“I’m fine. I’m much better than I have been in a while, actually.” I tell him.
“That’s good to know. That’s all I care about.”
I chuckle. “I miss you.”
“I was sort of bummed out that you didn’t flee to my house over the break.”
“I needed to see my aunt, Kal. I just had to. I haven’t seen her in a long time, and I felt like she is the only person that could help me organise my thoughts.”
“Fair,” he sighs. “But I miss you too. I think about you all the time.”
“Listen. When I’m back, we need to schedule a date. A real date.” I say.
“A real date? Not an artificial one? Not a synthetic one?”
“Ha-Ha.” I roll my eyes. “Whatever. You decide what it is - whether it’s a movie or a restaurant or something, I don’t know. If you have enough gas. Or we could meet up somewhere, halfway.”
“Why don’t you wanna come to mine? Your parents know me. Surely they would drive you here.”
“It’s… it’s not that.” I say.
“What is it?”
“I’m scared they’ll think I’m weird. All of your friends. And your family. I mean, don’t they know that you talk to me?”
“How many times do I have to say that it doesn’t matter?”
“Well it does to me, OK?” I snap. “I don’t want to know I’m the talk of the town or the butt of the joke behind closed doors. I’m sorry, Kal. I just can’t do it. I can’t let them know me. I care too much for that.”
“They see you on TV all the time.”
“Exactly my point.”
“…Anne, you’re a wonder. There’s nothing to be afraid of. My parents don’t think you’re weird. My sister wants to meet you. She’s getting married soon, and she said you can come if you want.”
“So I just got a wedding invitation as a ploy to lure me over to your house?” I grin.
“Something like that.” He laughs. Our conversations can yo-yo, but they still manage to reach a good peak. Even if I think he’s angry with me, we’ll end up joking again within seconds. “I miss you.”
“Tell me you love me.”
“I love you.”
“I love your accent.”
“Well, thanks. Now, do you love me back?”
“Love is an understatement!”
“That’s good to know.”
“Kal, I’ll come to visit you one day. But… I don’t know when. Just one day.”
“Anne?” he asks, suddenly sounding cautious or wary of something.
“In that interview… you said you were dying. Did you mean that?”
“Oh God,” I mutter. “I was just saying that. For shock factor, I don’t know.” I lie. I’m not exactly dying, but unless I do something to improve my condition, my life expectancy will plummet. I consider a transplant every now and then, and sometimes even a pacemaker. I just don’t know if I have the energy for it.
“You have a heart problem, right?”
“And… what does that mean? Will you live long?”
“Please, Kal. Not now.”
“I need to know you won’t just drop dead without warning.”
I mean, technically I could. “I won’t. I promise. I just need rehab and drugs and stuff. Maybe an operation.”
“Ok,” he sighs. “OK. Just making sure.”
“I love you,” I tell Kal. “Remember that. No matter what.”
“Don’t say ‘no matter what’. You’re making me anticipate things. Bad things. Undisclosed things.”
“We need to set up a date for our date,” I say, diverting the subject. I’m not in the mood for my emotions to mirror the weather outside. Kal doesn’t respond for a long time, as if trying to let his negative thoughts blow away before he speaks again.
“Sure,” he says. “Sure. I’m on it.”
“Make sure the food is five star, or I won’t even step foot in that place.”
“I’m booking a hotel in Dubai as we speak.”
“I said a date, not a getaway.”
“It’s a one-day trip. We hop on a jet, fly there and then we take a midnight flight back.”
“OK. Got it.” I laugh. “I’ll be waiting by the jet at twelve noon.”