Abyss (Short Story)

I have a twin brother.

We were born on the same day, but he only survived for less than half an hour. He was the elder one, as he came out of our mother’s womb seven minutes earlier than me. Immediately after greeting the world, my brother was taken to the intensive care unit. He could not breathe properly because his lungs were severely underdeveloped. He weighed less than three pounds, and one of his arms looked like a meat ball sticking to his shoulder. I did not know whether my brother managed to see the world; doctors pronounced his death while I opened my eyes for the first time. I was fortunate enough to be a healthy baby with fully developed organs. I was a bit nutrient-deficient too, but that was not life-threatening.

My parents seldom mentioned my brother to me during my early childhood as if his death had faded into the periphery of life, except it never had, since my existence was a perpetual affirmation of his short visit to the world.

My father told me about my twin brother when I stopped wetting the bed and could remember things. He showed me ultrasound scans of my brother and me. My brother looked exactly like me, despite his smaller head and lackadaisical face. My father wanted the story to inspire me about the preciousness of life and brotherhood. After all, I stole too much from my brother: the nutrients that belonged to him, and even his life; it only seemed right that I should live a decent life on his behalf.

I had waited for four years to finally see my brother. It was a peaceful afternoon, with the early spring breeze carrying the whiff of moistened soil and chilled grass, and my brother was sitting on the rusted window frame of the bedroom, and his lungs perfectly functional, his arms supple. I knew it was him; it was all too familiar. He looked just like me, but he was not me. He was not a ghost either; I could reach his palms and see the pinkish blood vessels on his neck.

Unlike anyone I knew in the city, my brother came from the cornfield with straw men, splendid sunsets and freedom. Wearing braces with his navy-blue trousers, he looked at me with a mocking smile; apparently, he did not like the dolls I made up with napkins. At that time, my parents could not afford a television despite working all day and every day for the border security of China, but a three-year-old boy knew little about poverty. I spent most of the time listening to stories on tapes or radio stations while making shapes of animals, houses and solitude using napkins before they were stolen by other kindergarten kids. My brother was not very talkative at four. He joined me and listened to the radio.

I never revealed to anyone that I saw my brother except for our mother and Jie. Even at four, I understood that nobody would take me seriously about seeing a dead person. I told our mother when I was about five, after waiting for months to reveal the secret to her. I was chatting with my brother in my bedroom when our mother came in. My brother suddenly disappeared into the sky by jumping out of the window. I only got accustomed to his scary jumping after several years. Using the sincerest tone I could imagine at five, I pointed to the window and told our mother that my brother was there just now and jumped into the sky. I told our mother not to worry because he did that every time and would always safely come back to me in the next few days. Believing that I just had a nightmare, our mother patted on my back gently and mumbled words of comfort and phrases that did not really enter my ears.

My brother did not have a name, so I simply referred to him as ‘Hey’ all the time. Since his first visit, he had been quite regularly meeting me throughout my life. I did not know when and how my brother would come and visit me, but whenever I somehow thought of him, he would be there, and he never learned the courtesy of prior notification. We read each other’s mind and finished each other’s sentences like every other twin did.

We usually met every alternative day; too much bonding time could be irritating, especially after I had my first girlfriend. Like all teenage boys, we compare all our measurable body parts; I was jealous that he grew more beard than me. I downloaded pornographies using our father’s office computer and brought home to watch with my brother. During those exciting nights, we often did something that most teenage boys found most irresistable. We would also touch each other’s most sensitive part so that those unsettling nights could finally reach the long-awaited climax.

My brother and I were completely different people. I could never understand where he was coming from, but somehow I wished I could be him at times. For instance, one month after my parents bought our first television when I was thirteen, they filed for divorce: more money bought more distrust too, or they were just tired of seeking redemption for a dead twin. In either way, it seemed that I should not blame my parents. I soon had a new woman in my life, a new mother, someone whom my brother referred to as ‘the plastic whore from dad’s office’. At that time, I barely knew the word ‘whore’, not to mention its plastic counterpart. Shocked by my brother’ s bluntness, I also admired his courage. Our mother promised to visit me once a week, but she gradually stopped seeing me after she was pregnant with another man. My father also burnt all photos of her. My step mother was young, charming in every perceivable way, but I still struggled to call her mom. There were some years when instead of verbally abusing me, she was relatively nice to me, but I decided to keep the secret of my twin brother from her.

* * *

Jie was the other person I shared my secret with, and almost twenty years had passed since I first shared it with my mother. After our college graduation ceremony, I decided to propose to her after dating her for three years. I wanted to introduce her to my brother before we started our own family. I was trembling, taking hundreds of deep breaths and struggling to locate my feet. I told her that I had a twin brother, and we met up regularly. I comforted her that it was alright if she could not see him, but he would nevertheless wish us the best for our wedding. Before I could finish my sentences, Jie gently kissed my forehead and put me down on the sofa in my rented apartment. She handled me a cup of warm water and some white pills, ‘You drank too much sorghum wine during the ceremony just now’, she told me.

‘No, you must listen to me,’ I held her hand while splashing the pills in her palm, ‘my twin brother died soon after I was born, but he has still been visiting me occasionally. He is not just my brother; he is my friend and only friend from childhood. You must trust me, Jie; I do not share this with anybody, but whatever I say to you is true, completely true…’

‘Of course I trust you; I always trust you my darling. But let’s discuss this some other day, shall we?’ Jie replied, at the same time she flashed me with that familiar gaze which passively but firmly instructed me to be quiet and have some rest.

She sounded so sure in that sentence, just as what I expected. In fact, she sounded too sure for me to realise the discrepancy in her tone. I swallowed the pills Jie handled to me, closed my eyes and silenced my breaths.

The truth was, I could never fight back to that gaze, a message that calmed me down and anaesthetised me every time. I could stare into her abyssal eyes for an entire night. I loved her eyes but was also afraid of those eyes. I loved them because I could always discover sparks of sophistication in those dark marbles, and that was perhaps the reason for me to soon propose to Jie rather than any of my previous girlfriends. I was scared of those eyes because it seemed that I could not conceal anything from them; I was totally transparent in front of those abyssal eyes. I was incredibly vulnerable, but I never got hurt. Jie substantiated the wisdom that being a transparent person could be a blessing at times, especially when I became so tired of masking myself.

Soon after Jie left that evening, my brother came and visited me. He woke me up with loud footsteps and laughed at me as if he was watching a cheap comedy. My brother, who was sceptical about love and never had a girlfriend, always joked about the fact that I had twelve girlfriends before meeting Jie. Things just did not work out for the other twelve; perhaps my insecurities were just incompatible with my fervent eager for socially-accepted partnership.

‘So you told her’, my brother giggled, revealing those vicious wrinkles on his forehead, ‘and she hasn’t broken up with you yet’?

‘Oh fuck off’, I shouted to my brother, ‘you are giving me a headache’, even though it was in fact the wine that gave me the headache.

‘How was the proposal; I mean, why did she leave?’

‘I did not propose; unfortunately, she only wanted to talk to me some other day.’

‘And you idiot just believed in that shit?’

My brother was right. Jie did not discuss that night with me again. Instead, soon after the graduation, she departed for Hong Kong for an autumn show, reminding me that she always wanted to work as a fashion journalist who travelled often and far. In the meanwhile, I fell sick. I wanted to see her and continue that unfinished conversation. I felt as if I got a hot tomato made up with childhood secrets burning in my throat and desperately needed to be deported from my body. To make things worse, Jie did not call me at all while she was in Hong Kong and left a message blaming the poor signal.

I spent two weeks recovering from the cold fully. The moment I could walk on the street, I walked to Jie’s apartment to plot some surprises for Jie before she came back. I bought some refreshingly pink roses and designed several wallpapers using photos of Jie and me, an idea suggested by my brother, a romantic scorning all romance.

Jie’s corridor smelled welcoming and enchanting, and her doorknob felt lukewarm and arousing. I opened the door, putting my leather shoes next to Jie’s umbrella. How careless was Jie; she should have brought an umbrella with her to Hong Kong. I walked through the living room and bedroom, feeling the greetings of her favourite perfume. I opened her fridge and found some fresh beers; Jie never drank alcohol. The ferns in the pot looked too fresh for me to discover the cigarette bottoms buried beneath the soil.

In the kitchen, I found Jie cutting cucumbers while another man hugged her back.

Accompanying a sharp scream, Jie’s knife produced an acute sound after it dropped onto the floor.

‘Who’s he? Why are you with him?’ I could feel the blood pumping and burning in the vessels on my neck.

Jie did not answer.

‘Please… Please tell me that he is taking advantage of you… Right, Jie?’

‘It’s not his fault; it’s me…’ Jie broke into tears, ‘I have been seeing him for quite some time. I wanted to tell you, but you were always so nice to me.’

‘I am nice because I love you. I always thought we were going to marry…’

‘It means everything to me, but I cannot forgive you.’

‘What is it that you cannot forgive me? Just tell me; I will do anything to make up for you.’

Jie hesitated. She rolled her eyeballs to the ceiling and squeezed her sweaty hands while the man put a hand on her shoulder.

‘You mentioned your brother the other night… He is not your brother, right?’ Jie mumbled these words, carefully but clearly, ‘You do not have a brother… You think I don’t know?’

My head felt like it was hit by a gigantic iron stick. I wanted to explain to her about my brother, the person so vividly existed throughout my life. But I did not know where to start.

At that moment, I found Jie’s eyes, her abyssal eyes, unwavering and ruthless. I was again silenced and anaesthetised by those eyes.

I perhaps cursed the man and broke the vase. I perhaps walked out of Jie’s apartment and headed home with a broken soul. I perhaps cried and begged Jie for another chance.

‘I’m sorry she broke up with you because of me’, my brother was at his most expected place when I came home, ‘Take it easy man; there are many more pretty chicks around’. He used the same magical phrases every time I broke up with someone.

But this time, my brother could not easily get away.

‘Do you know since the day I first met you, how much I have been through because of you, you dirty, shameless bastard?’

‘I am here because you think of me. You want me.’

Silence could be frightening. Images of Jie, her eyes and cheeks, together with the strange man hugging her, uncompromisingly filled my brain. I loved Jie so much; I was thinking about marrying her just two hours ago. But I loved my brother too, or did I?

‘Plus, you would not want me to disappear from your life, and don’t you forget that I’m always here for you and only you’, my brother sounded annoyingly calm.

I took a deep breathe and picked up the fruit knife on the table. I stabbed it into my brother’s throat.

‘Don’t you ever come back to me’, I said; my unwavering and ruthless tone was not even recognisable to myself.

My brother looked at me with shocking eyes. He did not expect his own twin brother to do this to him. My brother’s blood quickly soaked the knife, my sweater and my heart.

I laughed and cried. I felt sad yet fulfilled, after so many miserable years. I could finally listen to my heart and do something just for myself. I could finally be myself.

I always expected to see my brother; I disbelieved in the existence of my brother.

I’m sorry, my dearest brother.

* * *

A year after I broke up with Jie, I married Xuan, a partly blind woman with almost dead eyes. I did not regret that I killed my brother. I felt a sense of relief that I would not talk with him anymore. I could, however, still see in him in my dreams at times, where he sat somewhere far away and looked at me with pitying eyes. Although my brother and I never chatted again, I still liked to steal some glimpses of him.

I saw him read books or fly kites in cornfields in front of splendid sunsets. He looked pure, perfect and clean. He looked exactly like me. For one moment, he was also me, my fear, my desire and my destiny.


The rationale behind this story can be found at https://wb713.wordpress.com/2017/07/21/mobilising-philosophical-insight-rationale/

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