“Do not feel embarrassed.” Helena pats Cosima’s shoulder; squeezes. She has a deft touch. “My little ones make spills, all day long: never calamitous.”
Cosima bends forward and pulls her into a tight embrace—keeping the wine-dark stain on her lap off of Helena’s homely skirt. “I just really liked these pants,” she says, like a dope.
Helena rubs her back, fingertips lingering on jutting shoulder blades. “You are too thin, Sestra.” She lets go to cup Cosima’s face, gaze laced with warm, motherly reproach. “Was there much turbulence?”
“There was enough,” chortling, lazily reaching for the handle of her carry-on. Which Helena snatches first. Cosima pecks her clone’s cheek and holds her free hand, swinging it as they walk. “Spilled my drink right after takeoff. Covered up with the blanket, and fell asleep for nine hours.”
“Good, you are well-rested. Look,” she points out the impossible-to-miss floor-to-ceiling window. “The sun is rising.”
“I guess Sarah’s off to bed now, huh?” Cosima asks.
Helena shrugs. “She has looked forward to seeing you.”
They leave the airport by bus and head for the nearest train, to Huxley Station. Cosima sticks her tongue out at every kid along the way who gawks at her ruined white corduroys.
Helena makes a few of these kids recoil in horror by showing them only the whites of her eyes. The rest of them love it. One even does it back.
“Why are so many literal children out so early?”
Helena replies, “Daylight savings time.” Which began three months ago. Then shows Cosima only the whites of her eyes.
“How the—uh, ‘heck’ do you do that, man? You’re gonna give me a migraine.”
Seated together on the train, Helena pats Cosima’s knee. “Sarah cannot do this either. Only Charlotte, and myself.”
“Can’t wait to see Charlotte,” she says, placing her hand over Helena’s.
Helena’s other hand claps down in the time Cosima blinks. “Yes, you must wait. For their return from the woods.” (Cosima’s other hand now, weighing down with all its rings.) “This has been Cal’s night with the little ones.”
“Guess he’s a ‘handy’ guy to have around,” she says. Random kid across from them groans. Cosima sticks her tongue out.
Helena’s hand slips free from the pile, and back on top. “Sarah likes his hands very much.”
“Please, not in front of the children, Helena.”
Sarah’s truck (still difficult not to think of as Siobhan’s) is there when they reach (Siobhan’s) house. Before turning the knob, Helena puts a finger to her lips very seriously.
“Sarah sleeps now. You know of circadian rhythms?”
Cosima nods. Helena lifts the carry-on, rather than rolls it, through the doorway. When she starts upstairs with it, Cosima stops her, whispering, “I can take it from here. And I need to change out of these pants.”
“Third door on the right,” Helena whispers even lower.
She leaves Helena at the base of the stairs, and comes to the first door on the left. It’s open. She tiptoes past.
She winces, smiling as she does, like always, at the sound of Sarah’s voice. Sets her luggage softly thudding on the floor, and peeks back into the room, giving a short wave. “Hey, Sar. Sorry, Sar.”
“Wasn’t sleepin’,” Sarah says from the bed. The curtains have been pulled back, the window half-open, sunbeams and a lilac-scented breeze pushing in. “Not even tired. I guess Helena told you ’bout circadian rhythms?”
“She asked if I knew of them, yeah.”
Sarah laughs carefully, so it won’t carry. “Aw, it’s bollocks. When you’re pregnant you have no rhythm.”
Crossing her arms and leaning against the door jamb like a grown-up, Cosima retorts, “Your twin who gave birth to twins would say different.”
“Not me,” eyes closed, head back on the pillow. “Not with Kira, an’ not with this one.” Sarah’s eyes pop open, and she gawks at Cos’s unfortunate dark stain. “Look like you ran into the old Meathead. Don’t—don’t tell her I said that.”
“You haven’t said a thing, you’re sound asleep. I’m not even really here.” She pads to the bedside and gives Sarah’s forehead one long kiss, and a shorter one (still long); and runs her hands through all that hair, and can’t stop smiling.
Then asks, “Whatever happened to that fish blade?”
Sarah gently shoves Cos away at the waist. “You got to get out of those.” Then puffs her cheeks in thought for a sec. “An’ I have no clue, actually. Can’t remember.”
Cos moves to the center of the room, where the sunbeams strike her legs. As she’s unclasping her belt, Sarah asks, “How’s Delphine?”
“Delphine’s perfect, and,” checking her watch, “at work as we speak. Or, ‘don’t’ speak: As you sleep, I mean. I need to adjust my watch.” She works the pants down around her hips, corduroy coming unstuck from the fronts of her thighs.
Sarah’s pushing the bedcovers back for her. “There’s time for that later. Get it? Time.”
The pants are down to her knees. “Helena was gracious enough not to ask about Del. Just by the way.”
“Our sister, full o’ grace. Lover’s spat?”
“Nothing like that,” she says, tugging a pant leg past the ball of one foot as she balances on the other. “Work and school keeping us apart. She wanted to come, but...”
“Sure.” And that is that.
Pants splayed on the floor, Cos stops herself from pulling off her shirt, for various reasons—already bunching the hem. Smooths its creases and crawls into bed. “Nice,” the sheets are still cool.
“Say, Cos, out in the hall, where’d you think you were goin’?”
Covering herself up, “Uh, third door on the right?”
Sarah shakes her head, right side to the pillow. “Meathead’s tryin’ to give you her room,” she says. “Take this one. I won’t be here while you’re snorin’ anyway.”
“I don’t snore.” She pinches Sarah’s nose. “And maybe Helena...” (Wants this one?) Stroking Sarah’s arm. “You really dig the graveyard shift?”
“Scrapyard shift, you mean,” and Sarah laughs at her own joke so Cos doesn’t have to. “An’ what’s not to like, I ask you. It’s quiet, an’ dark: peaceful, right? I’ve been tearin’ through that stack of books Charlotte brought with her.”
“Don’t tell me. Quantum physics? Supercontinents?”
“Nahh, not yet. She’s already smarter than me, but there’re still a few months more, at least, ’fore she’s too smart for me.” Her bare knees jostle Cosima’s. “That’s where you come in, ey, Geek Monkey?”
“Am I ‘too smart’ for you, Sar?” teasing.
“’Course you are,” warmly. “With your doctor girlfriend, an’ tattoos of sacred... geometry.” Fingering the spiral under the covers; not needing to see it. “Got any new ones?”
“New girlfriends? No.” A sigh comes out that she hopes after the fact sounds playful. “Tattoos? Nope. Some new piercings, though.” She sticks her tongue out at Sarah. “That’s one.”
Sarah doesn’t crack. “Cheers. Can’t abide any foreign objects hangin’ out in my mouth, personally speakin’. But go on.”
Rather than lift the covers, she guides Sarah’s hand under her shirt to the foreign object at her belly button, fiendishly cataloging her clone’s saccadic eye movements throughout.
“You’re mockin’ me with this, aren’t you?” grinning. Now Sarah pulls their hands to her own tummy (over her tank top), and what’s still an innie, for now. “Next trimester this thing’ll poke your eye out.”
“Not with my glasses on.” Cos stops to rub noses. “And, uh, the others are under my bra, so.”
“Nothin’ too freaky? Freaky Leekie? You know those Neos almost had you, in the beginnin’. Say,” Sarah’s voice shrinking and hoarse, “airport security must’ve been freaky.”
Cos swallows. “You think I got on a plane? I’m just a dream, Sarah.”
“Yeah, I get it; talkin’ to myself...” A big cute yawn.
The two of them are woken up by Kira and Charlotte jumping onto the bed, Cal having dropped the kids off in time for breakfast, as promised. But he left (Kira says) glad Sarah was getting some sleep.
“Glad, unlike you, huh Monkey?” planting kisses in Kira’s hair. “Can’t have that, can we?”
Charlotte greets Cosima with a slightly reserved (nervous?) hug—it’s been a while, and kids grow up fast.
“You like the woods now, Mini-Me?”
“I like the birds,” Charlotte replies, breath hot on the birthmark above Cosima’s clavicle. “Kira likes the bugs. Do you like France?”
“I like the bread.”
“Did you bring any?” ask Kira and her mum.
“Uh, sorry! I mean, it... has to be oven-fresh, or what’s the point?”
Kira points out that they have an oven, and Charlotte utters, “Aunt Helena’s making breakfast.” And Cosima makes the choice not to take it as a warning. Sarah shoos the girls out of the room (trampling the corduroys on their way out).
Says, “What’re you still doin’ here, Cos?” as her arms stretch high. “I woke up, didn’t I?”
Cos is lugging her suitcase in from the hall. “Guess dreams come true, babe.” Tie-dye booty shorts, packed right on top. She holds them up and gives Sarah an eyeful.
Sarah winces, rubs her temple. “Given me a migraine. Remember you’re in your thirties, babe.”
“Damn, still a hater.” They’re already on.
“I’ll be down in a minute. You, piss off.”
At the round kitchen table, Cosima sits next to Charlotte, who’s next to Kira, who’s next to Arthur or Donnie, who’s next to whichever one he isn’t. Leaving two as yet empty seats.
She leans her elbow like Charlotte’s doing, for a reason to say, “Your arm’s pretty much as long as mine,” as Helena surreptitiously slides a plate onto her placemat.
Charlotte blushes. “Not quite.” Her arm reaches across Cosima’s, pointing, to better acquaint her with what they’re now expected to eat: “Apple sauce; peanut butter lamb sausage patty; hash browns mashed with bananas and bleu cheese.”
“Oh, my god.”
A glass of ginger ale, also from Helena, who’s smiling like she’s gotten away with something. “Do you like lamb?”
“Sure! Uh, maybe,” Cosima says. “I don’t think I’ve ever had it. At least, not like this.”
“In French, the word for ‘lamb’ is agneau,” from Charlotte, eager to impress. “Maybe you’ve had it over there?”
“Over there, do they put peanut butter on it?” Kira asks desperately.
Helena kneels and gently wipes applesauce from Arthur or Donnie’s mouth. “You are too thin, Sestra. Eat now. Applesauce is Alison’s recipe: very palatable.” She and her little ones exchange a few soft phrases in Ukrainian. “This means they want seconds.”
“Here you go, Charlotte.” Sarah, in from behind. “Best one yet.”
She places an old, weathered hardback on the table, between Charlotte’s and Cos’s mats; Cos takes a gander at its cover: The Patchwork Girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum.
“No way! I loved those as a kid.”
Charlotte says, “I’m close now to a full set,” as Sarah kisses the top of her head (then Kira’s, then, uh, Orange’s and Purple’s), “in varying editions. Rachel finds them, they’re from all over.”
“Oi, you mean Rachel’s been sendin’ you those?”
“Breakfast, Sarah?” Helena, patiently, closing the fridge door.
“Thanks, but I’ll just make some toast, Helena. Give mine to Cos, won’t you?”
“This one’s actually from Kansas,” says Charlotte.
“Mum, when can Aunt Alison leave rehab? I wanna see her.”
Cosima’s head lurches up from the patchwork girl. “Whoa, why didn’t anyone tell me? Rehab?” She adjusts her glasses with a knuckle.
“Physical rehab,” Sarah says—in an oversized flannel shirt—watching the inside of the toaster glow. “A couple days more, Monkey.” To Cos: “She ran in this marathon, an’ bloody...”
“Knee bent backwards. No blood. She will win the next.” In the meantime, Purple and Orange can gorge themselves on her applesauce, their mother looking on engrossed.
“She studied kinesiology,” Charlotte mutters, “I don’t understand her carelessness.”
Cos involuntarily looks down at Charlotte’s leg brace—then to Sarah, who starts as the toaster dings.
“Well, accidents happen to anyone, right? Even in their, ah, chosen fields. Wouldn’t you say, Cos?”
“Especially in our chosen fields,” making Sarah chuckle before she can catch herself.
After, she dunks a spoon into the open jar Helena left on the counter, and spreads applesauce on her toast. “Don’t judge me,” at Cos’s eyebrows. “It’s basically jam.”
After breakfast Helena packs applesauce sandwiches, and walks Artie and Donnie over to her workplace, the daycare. (“She reads to ’em from her memoirs,” Sarah says; Cos doesn’t ask if she’s joking.)
Sarah naps often and anywhere, accompanied by Kira or Charlotte or Cos, with all of them dreaming on beanbags in the basement playroom when Helena’s bunch comes home.
And it was Sarah’s night to cook dinner, so she calls for pizzas. And once it’s Sarah’s turn to leave for work she tucks that oversized shirt into jeans, and asks Cos, “Care to come with?”
“Sure,” still wearing those shorts.
They pull up to (MK’s) trailer. “This’s my office, so to speak. Watchin’ cameras, all that shite.” Between games of gin rummy they pass (Rachel’s) copy of Queen Zixi of Ix back and forth, giving woeful performances of its scenes; eating leftover pizza.
Cos props her feet up on the couch’s armrest after her turn as Zixi. Flipping to the copyright page: “Where do you think Rachel found this one?”
“I don’t give a shit, pardon my French,” Sarah says, seated by the window and shuffling cards.
“Shit! I need to adjust my watch.” She winds till the hands are rent backward. (Still thinks it’s neat to watch them go.) “Charlotte has actual fond memories of Rachel, you know?”
“Let her. I might have one or two,” tidying the card stack.
“Does braining her with a pencil really count as a ‘fond’ memory?”
She splays the cards out again. “No, not really.” Waves for Cos to toss her the book.
Cos tosses, and leans her head back on the cushion, adjusting her bra through her shirt to get somewhat comfortable. “Something Charlotte said at breakfast made me feel stupid. Well, it reminded me of this time I felt stupid. And... I guess that’s the same thing?”
“Yeah? I guess.” Sarah’s flipping through to the watercolor pictures. “What was it, then?”
“Being sick made me stupid. It made the cure all that mattered. When I was cured, nothing would be able to touch me.” Her hands in the air for no reason, groping at nothing. “But when we had the cure, and Del and I were giving it out... that’s when I felt stupid.”
Sarah closes the book. Hand under her chin, looking at Cos skeptically, lightly mocking. “Curin’ all of us, that’s the part that felt stupid?”
“Yes, because I actually thought we were ‘saving’ all of us. I had to see it for myself: that we can still be paralyzed, get cancer, lose limbs. Have strokes. Some were homeless or missing and we couldn’t... even find them.”
“We’re human, after all.”
“So you see the stupid part? I was so careless and thoughtless to take so much for granted. Because Charlotte can’t, you know?” She joins her hands behind her head to still them. “She’s never been able to. Neither can Rachel, ever again—because of what we did to her.”
The cheap coffeemaker beeps. Sarah takes a breath and straightens her back, before standing. “Cos, that’s not stupid.”
“One of us looked right through me; literally couldn’t recognize her own face. Just, totally face-blind.”
“Yeah, I met that one,” pulling two mugs down from the shelf above the sink. “Krystal Goderitch?”
Cos’s rasp isn’t quite a laugh. “Not this one—I’m terrible with names.” She purses her lips. “It was a color, like Helena’s little dudes, but for real. Mauve... I think? Talk about an existential crisis, man. I wasn’t right for weeks.”
“Could talk for hours, couldn’t we?” pouring into mug one. “Look, about Charlotte... she’s gonna be fine, ’cause she’s got us,” and mug two. “She’s here for the summer right now, but, why not longer? As long as she wants. That goes for you too, babe.”
“Yeah, thing is, I only packed three outfits. And these shorts are two of them. And my corduroys...”
Sarah places Cos’s mug on the coffee table, and sits back down groaning. “My closet’s yours, that shit won’t fit me soon enough. And Helena’d give you the shirt off her back. No problem there.”
“My real question—because what’s fair is fair,“ propping herself up on an elbow: “You asked about Del, so. Cal?”
Small sip, testing the temperature. “We aren’t together. But, he’s around. An’ everybody’s happy.” Bigger sip.
Cos drags her mug across the table, onto the couch with her. “I still don’t understand why you want to work here. I mean ‘here’ here.”
She looks at Cos for one bemused second. “Same reasons MK had, I guess. Some of ’em.” Another sip. “You think I’m nuts?” (Cos kinda nods.) “You’re worryin’ too much.”
Cos tries to take a sip and her glasses instantly fog up. But she leaves them on. “What, me worry?”
Three days later, she’s in one of Sarah’s bathing suits, everybody readying for a day trip to Shite Beach. She’s heard a lot about this place.
“It won’t be the same without Uncle Felix,” Kira claims, helping Helena put tiny shoes on Artie’s and Donnie’s tiny feet.
“There’s always next time, Monkey.” A picnic basket under each of Sarah’s arms.
“Besides,” Charlotte says at Cos’s hip, “this time is still special, because we have Cosima.”
Cos smiles down and strokes Charlotte’s cheek. Charlotte shows her only the whites of her eyes.