The mental ward where Dee had been hospitalized smelled like Listerine. It was brightly lit, and the waiting room was full of colorful chairs and outdated magazines. Dennis had been told someone would bring him back at any moment, and yet here he was still waiting ten minutes later. He checked his watch, and sighed loudly. The receptionist looked up at him, and narrowed her eyes in irritation. Dennis had been bothering her every two minutes about getting in, and not even hitting on her had helped to expedite the process.
Finally, a doctor came in. “Dennis Reynolds?”
Dennis stood up and nodded. “Hi.”
“Your sister is ready to see you.” He held the door open for Dennis. Dennis entered the ward cautiously, a little nervous about what kind of people might be inside it. However, right away he noticed that for the most part, everyone just looked kind of sad. The patients played cards at tables and wandered around the room aimlessly. He could hear crying, but it wasn’t clear where it came from. The doctor led him down a long hallway, and stopped at a room. Dennis went inside, and saw Dee for the first time in two months.
Dee was sitting on her bed in hospital clothes, and staring into space. Her hair looked lank, and there were bags under her eyes. She was pale and thin, unhealthily so, but she carried it with pride. The lack of curvature in her spine allowed her to sit like a bloodthirsty queen on a throne. She didn’t acknowledge Dennis when he sat down next to her.
“Jeez, sis. . .you look like shit,” he said. Her face became stonier, but she didn’t take the bait. He ran his fingers through her hair, feeling how greasy it was. “When was the last time you washed this?” Dee’s nostrils flared, and some color came back to her cheeks. There was the sister he knew.
“I’m in here for lighting a girl on fire, dick. Don’t test me. I’m not in here forever,” she said, still refusing to look at him.
“Easy sis, I’m just playing around –”
“Well don’t, ok. If you came here to rag on me then just leave.”
“I. . .fine. I won’t rag on you while I’m here,” said Dennis. “Although you need to stop chewing your fingernails. You’re ruining one of your good features.” He laid his hand on top of hers. Dee’s fingers were ice cold.
“They don’t let me do anything else in here. It’s awful.”
“What, like board games?” Dennis said, ribbing her. She swallowed a smile.
“No. . .like. . .well, you know.”
Before the wall mom had erected between them was fully built, Dennis had held her hair back when she did it. Later, they had encouraged each other, pushing their limits to be thinner, prettier, and more whole. He knew.
Dennis cleared his throat. “So, lighting a girl on fire, huh? Who was it?”
Dee smiled, not trying to hide it this time. “My awful bitch roommate.”
Dennis laughed, almost happy for the first time in ages.
“Oh, that’s funny as shit! What did the bitch do this time?”
Dee pinched the bridge of her nose. “She was just always under my skin. ‘Dee have you been crying?’ ‘Dee stop wearing my clothes.’ ‘Dee, you’re spending a lot of time in the bathroom.’ ‘Dee, Dee, Dee.’ I just couldn’t take it anymore.” She paused, and stared off into space. Her lips curled into a grin. “So I set her on fire when she was sleeping.”
“Careful with that smile, sis,” said Dennis, unable to contain his own. “The walls have eyes.”
She sighed. “They expect me to be sorry too which is awful. I’m not sorry. She deserved it!”
“I know baby girl, I know,” he said, throwing his arm around her shoulder. Dee leaned into him, and he wrapped around her more tightly. It had been so difficult to sit this way when she was in that awful cage. The last time they had tried was the night before they put her in it.
“Jesus, Dennis, you’re so bony,” she said. “There is not a single soft spot on you.”
“I could say the same for you. Your back is stabbing me right now.” He rested his chin on top of her head.
“I was in a back brace for four years,” she said, squirming. “What’s your excuse?”
“An ongoing quest for physical perfection.”
Dee finally settled, and sighed. “You think it’s not gonna catch up with you, but it does.”
She was so small and warm and vulnerable in his arms. The past three years lingered in the shared heat of their skin. Dee was his twin; if he lied and said he was fine, she would know.
“I’ve been doing a lot of reading in- in psychology and stuff.”
“Yeah? How’s that going?” she said.
Dennis breathed a shuddering breath. “I think I’m a sociopath. I haven’t had feelings since I was fourteen.”
Rather than reacting with shock, she grabbed his hand and squeezed it. “I have way too many. Take some of mine.”
They sat in silence until Dee fell asleep in his arms, finally looking peaceful.
Two weeks later, Dennis was rushed to the same hospital for alcohol poisoning. Dee swam in and out of his hazy withdrawal dreams. They were conjoined; they were separated with a knife. She was naked and shoved into her back brace. He ate her heart with a spoon. Over and over again, her words repeated, echoing in the caverns of his skull.
You think it’s not gonna catch up with you, but it does. It does.