Thursday, June 23, 2011

Eugene Lim | from STRANGE TWINS

From Strange Twins
by Eugene Lim

How I got the job is an interesting story. Like all her hires, I was recruited. It was when my twin brother invited me to a party.

A self-help book my brother had secretly ghost-written was having a launch party in the old-fashioned pomp and gilt of the Hotel Europa downtown. Its publisher was projecting tremendous sales so had spared no expense. I’d no idea what I was walking into (my brother had called a few days prior, surprising me with an invite), and so when I arrived and saw that I’d misjudged the event’s size and glitter by several orders of magnitude, I realized it was going to be difficult to get any time at all with my brother, the epicenter of the maelstrom, whose tuxedo’d point from the mezzanine balcony I could amusedly observe drawing the aim of scheming vectors and incurring trails of vaporous gossip. Also, I was painfully underdressed. So I was both relieved and delighted when, twenty minutes later, he spotted me and instead of waving or just blowing me a kiss, immediately made his way over.

My brother said, “I only have a moment and then I’ve got to go back to making this whole shit-wheel turn, but I wanted to tell you about mom and dad. Did you know they died last month? No? Well I’d no idea either, but I received a reminder from the lawyer that the inheritance had been direct-deposited. I haven’t thought of them in years. No offense, but I barely have time to think of you. Ha ha ha. Ever since I found out I’ve been trying to remember things about our childhood. I think I remember some things, maybe a shape or a locale… Of course I remember being outcasts. That’s practically all I remember. Did we play games? Were we good at school? Tell me, because I’ve forgotten, what did mom and dad look like? I can’t remember. Just general facts: were they thin or plump? Tall or short? Do you remember their hair cuts? No? Drat. I think we should get together and talk about this. We lived with them for our entire childhoods, we should be able to at least recall their names, don’t you think? Look around your place. Maybe there will be a photograph or some other clue. Oh and I have to give you your half of the money.”

Someone, one of his handlers, urgently began calling his name and an arm appeared to guide him away. “Let’s meet next week!” my brother cried out while being whisked away. “Call my secretary and we’ll have lunch!”

Then he was too far away, and I no longer could make out what he was saying. The crowd had spontaneously lifted him off his feet and was now passing him over their heads back to the center of the party. He no longer was trying to shout anything at me but smiled a big grin and waved as he was shuttled in that odd way back down the stairs and back toward the deep and charismatic voices of wealth and power. I was happy to have gotten the promise of a date out of him, even if there was only slight chance he would keep it.

After that interchange, I remember planning to only gawk at the trendy crowd of lusters and confidence artists for the duration of a glass of free Riesling, hoping to then go home to a cup of chamomile and my police procedural, when someone tapped me lightly on the shoulder.

I turned to see a woman with long grey hair that she wore noticeably and elegantly loose. She had on a silver evening gown with an ingenious cut that seemed to jut out of her muscular frame by mesmerizingly clear, spindly cantilevers. A strong and beautiful woman, I thought. She said, “When I’m in a situation like this and I see all this individuated extravagance I—maybe it’s the mark of a perverse nature—but I, I think how, simply, each of us will die. But not only that. Which in itself is just a kind of morbidity, but also that the humble or swollen, generous or rapacious egos so displayed, that each of these was born through an unlikely yet destined chain of events and so could, on one hand, be seen as simply one particular facet of a constantly changing shape.”

“Huh?” I said.

And then she turned toward me, the captain, for it was she, the woman with whom I now sail. And it was as if my exact response had been the password to begin a very necessary, dangerous, and confidential exchange between dumb agents. We were vessels being used by listening-in and remote-controlling darker forces. She took a finger and rubbed the side of her nose three times in a particular way. I touched each of my earlobes, almost involuntarily.

She said, “If I had a twin, and I’m not saying that I do, I would say we grew up in a simple house, squatting on a hill that overlooked a debased island, one used only as a trash dump.”

“Go on,” I said.

“If this were the case and in no way am I admitting that it was, then I’d say our mother and father were examples of a kind of utopianist, a type of idealist or religious seeker. In short, they were drug addicts and debilitated. My twin and I (should those two referents signify any aspect of reality) raised ourselves eating handouts from the market women and making toys and tools out of the junkyard, which was an ocean that seemed to us then almost as infinite as the real, but was not, no not nearly.”

“I see,” I said.

“You see what?” the captain said.

“No, nothing. Please continue,” I said.

The captain touched the tip of her tongue with her pinkie. I took out a pair of zebra-patterned sunglasses and placed them on top of my head. She said, “If this happened to have happened, and please understand I deny and affirm nada, squat, zilchy-zilch, then it may have occurred that my twin and I began experimenting, playing, fooling around with at first electronic equipment then computational devices and then daisy-chained elements and then nets within and without other nets and then highly personalized and only occasionally brought-forth, never-uttered languages. With this expertise, if one is to believe such a tale, an action I neither endorse nor condemn, my twin and I might have begun reaching out from our trash island to stroke the belly of far away commodity exchanges, purring stock markets, and deeply dreaming arbitrage centers. Twins of this type, in this manner of story, may have taken odd numbers from that ambush of bewildered and half-sentient financial tigers, unliving or savage or mystical or deformed digits buried inside calculations and data and spreadsheets never actually handled but whose shadowy existences were made necessary by other gravitational events or other more obvious and prosaic numbers closer to the minds of drone bankers. Twins of this sort, though it isn’t in my nature to speculate on their existential possibility, may have corralled these iridescent integers into more worldly shapes so that they, the hypothetical twins, could, should they want to (should they exist to want to), purchase not only the entirety of their own debased island but fleets of archipelagos and pinwheels of peninsulas and infinite itineraries of isthmuses for, in short, these perhaps possible twins were now—had become—bandits of an extreme order and therefore godly rich.”

We had moved to a quieter nook, off-center from the party. Our voices were low and we simultaneously and craftily provided up easy-going, happy countenances to any potential uninvited observers. Underneath I was growing excited. This was the drop-off, no doubt, the hook.

That is: I’d, maybe we’d, decided it was.

“And finally,” the captain whispered, through smiling teeth, “these people in this terribly funny story I must have heard from who-knows-where, spent years looking into the infinitely resolving space of capitalist markets. They dove deep into pools made up of pure cipher. They danced on precipices made of solidified, special mush which pitched unquestioningly and perilously onto a galactic void. Such was their extraordinary adventure that these two—if such a two could be—lost their minds. Gradually their gray matter sprouted lesions and bunions and whorls and growths, an accelerated and spontaneous and unexpected response to what they’d seen and contemplated. A madness that allowed them each, for a time, to function, but a madness nonetheless. As proof note that one built a self-operating electric chair and died on that pessimistic throne listening to magnificent German opera stars skipping on a degraded disk, while the other, should this funny ha ha joke I’m passing on from something I must have hee hee have read somewhere be taken to its oh ho ho inevitable conclusion, this other twin ha ha, she must have bought an extravagant ship to wander, oh yes, just to wander—yes?” the captain concluded, turning suddenly somber, “Indeed, yes, just to wander.”

I burst out in a stage laugh, not as convincing an actress as I wanted to be. “Oh that’s a funny one,” I sputtered, “but tell me, ah this is cracking me up. But tell me, what became, I should really want to know, what became of the, of the twin’s, of their parents?”

The captain turned to the wall and hissed, “Long lost. Long long lost.”
I nodded soberly with tears in my eyes and told her I accepted the job on her ship. The captain and I then quickly left the party by separate exits.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Eugene Lim.

Eugene Lim is the author of Fog & Car recently published by Ellipis Press. Lim works as a librarian in Brooklyn, and has published fiction in The Brooklyn Rail, sonaweb, Sleeping Fish, and elsewhere.


  1. I believe this story (if such a story exists) will be a thrill to read.