by Meghan Rose Allen
Deep in the heart of Ontario cottage country, Izza Ingram’s biological family disintegrates when her parents become trapped in a moment Izza can barely remember. Lost to their parents, she and her sister Paulie form an unlikely family unit under the guidance of their parents’ friend Doug. In this trio of their own making, Izza, Paulie, and Doug try to navigate the differences between the families we are born into versus the families we choose.
LEFT AT THE LAKE, we’d wait for Doug to take us home. Doug, who had told my mother he would love her as long as the integral of ex equalled ex itself, reassured us with his lopsided grin, slathered us head to heel with a vile, cantaloupe-tinged unguent of calamine lotion, bundled us in beach towels, and strapped us to the front seat of his truck.
“You two ever hear the expression ‘all happy families are alike’?” he’d ask Paulie and me on the long drive back to town. Each time we shook our heads no, this conversation being part of the process, part of the ride. “All this is going to make the two of you something special,” Doug told us. “All this is going to make the two of you extraordinary.”
FOUR MINUTES YET YEARS Apart. Underneath the bold newspaper headline sat a grainy, ridiculous picture of us and two nurses, each holding a clock and a calendar. Isabel Elisabeth Ingram, born 11:59 p.m. on December 31, Pauletta Marie at 12:03 a.m. the next day. Forever separated by two hundred and forty seconds of the clock. Further removed by the Kawartha Separate School Board.
“They can’t both go,” a secretary told my mother the first day of kindergarten. “That one doesn’t make the cut-off.” She pointed towards me even though she meant Paulie. “They gotta be five by December thirty-first. She’s not five until January.”
We stood in the office, awkward in the same way we’d been during my mother’s surprise pregnancy with Michael. A year before, we didn’t know how we would manoeuvre around each other’s bodies as a family of five, didn’t know how quickly our time as a family of five would pass. Gone without any physical marker but our new-found inability to return to functioning as the Ingram quartet.
And as we stood there did my mother try to convince her? Did she argue, make a fuss, wave the stamped and approved registration forms in the secretary’s face? Did the unmalleable secretary wheel her chair back to get further away from us, worried that we were contagious, that our bad luck was a disease easily caught by being in close quarters with us? There’s a blank spot in my memory, like an aura of a migraine in my head.
“If I make an exception for you, then everyone will know,” the secretary told us, her voice shrill and clipped. “It wouldn’t be fair to the other children.” There wasn’t another child in the catchment with a January birthday for five years on either side; we’d be long forgotten by the time a similar situation could present itself. But the secretary, convinced of our guilt, was punishing our parents by punishing me and Paulie instead.
As I waved out the classroom window, Paulie didn’t wave back. She stared at me, dragged her unwilling feet back home, and waited for another year.
“The Peterborough Examiner?” Nuala asked me upon seeing the clipping, magnet-affixed to my parents’ refrigerator. “Isn’t that Robertson Davies’s paper?”
“Yeah, like in the fifties. Worst editor the Examiner ever had.”
“Really?” She looked puzzled.
“Sure, ask anyone around here,” I told her. “It’s a known Kawartha fact.”
I RENAMED MYSELF MICHAEL in an attempt to change the narrative of my parents’ lives. I joined groups and went to the clinic, but “They don’t think you belong here,” a nurse explained when my quotidian appointment was cancelled. “You don’t fit the profile.”
Nuala was on the street corner outside as I tried to buy hormone injections, giving illegal clean needles to junkies who shopped the corner block too. Like I was a kitten, she took me home and I gave up pretending. I went back to being Izza, identical twin sister to Paulie, older sister to Michael, long deceased.
about the author
MEGHAN ROSE ALLEN has been a fiction writer her entire life, although until recently she has spent more time writing and reviewing scientific articles than having anything to do with fiction. Perhaps one day she will quit her day job and write full-time. Meghan received a Ph.D. in mathematics from Dalhousie University and she currently resides in Ottawa.
by this author
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