When my boyfriend Peter and I find ourselves on the sofa, silently sitting side by side, scrolling through whatever demands to be scrolled, he will occasionally turn to me with an image on his screen and ask me to explain it, to tell its story. Recently, he showed me this evocative pic, and this is the story I told him. (Obviously, it is not the actual story of @theduponttwins, who are lovely people, I’m sure.)
Side note: pictures have appreciated in value, it seems. This one is currently worth 2,326 words.
Nicolae thought about the unruly mobs as he lay in bed with his eyes gently closed, pretending to sleep. He did not want to lie in bed and think about the mobs of course, but the one thing he wanted even less was to sit up for the next several hours, discussing the mobs with Elena. Her advice in such matters was usually pretty good, but even she acknowledged her tendency to err on the side of bloodlust.
Nicolae dreamt about the unruly mobs from 2:45am to 2:49am and again from 3:32am to 3:33am, but their second appearance was fleeting, so he didn’t recall it when scribbling in his dream journal. If he had, he might have seen the writing on the wall.
Nicolae awoke after seven hours and 59 minutes. Under normal circumstances, that would have enraged him, given his obsession with getting a perfect eight hours of sleep. (The seed of that obsession was planted by his mother, a poor, unlettered shepherdess who was also one of the great undiscovered beauties of her time and correctly believed that sleep had a more powerful effect on one’s appearance than any cosmetic ointment, cream, or salve.) These, however, were not normal circumstances. Nicolae was awakened by a senior aide whispering in his ear.
When an aide awakens a callous, capricious, sleep-obsessed tyrant sixty seconds ahead of the tyrant’s well-established schedule, the aide rarely bring good news. After hearing the updates from overnight, Nicolae scowled at the aide and ordered coffee to be brought up. He gave no thought to sleep patterns ever again.
While this was happening, Elena lay on the other side of the bed with her eyes gently closed, pretending to be asleep. A lifelong morning person, she had been wide awake for the better part of an hour, but the last thing she wanted was to endure Nicolae’s early-morning wishy-washiness. He was much more decisive after lunch.
Sitting at a small table that the couple had received from a family friend after he was named president of the state council, Nicolae wrote down his dreams as best he could remember (which, as we have said, was not good enough) and considered his options vis a vis the aforementioned mobs. On the one hand, he thought, change was in the air. On the other, he thought, fuck change.
When the coffee arrived, it was bitter and cold.
By sundown that same day, eight days before Christmas, Nicolae had given The Word, and Romania’s streets ran red with blood, as they did in legends of old. The more things change, am I right?
Elena swooned at Nicolae’s bold choice, but her thrill was fleeting, because for the first time in his life–well, not the first, but the event was rare–the so-called “Genius of the Carpathians” had miscalculated. Historians can debate Nicolae’s deeply flawed decision until the sun envelops Mercury, Venus, Earth, and perhaps Mars in its suffocating embrace several billion years from next Wednesday, but what is indisputable is that five days later, three days before Christmas, Nicolae and Elena raced to the top of the Central Committee building and boarded a helicopter to avoid being slaughtered by protestors.
As he helped Elena into her seat, a magnificent silver ring slipped from Nicolae’s finger, a ring given to him by his grandfather, which he had received from his grandfather, and so on, and so on, no one knows how far back, but it is clear that the tradition began long before helicopters roamed the skies, and certainly long before a repressed Irish homosexual reduced a national hero to a pulp novel, blood-sucking bogeyman and a proud country’s name to a synonym for superstition, dysfunction, xenophobia, and corruption.
Nicolae’s great-great-great-et cetera-grandfather’s ring rolled out the door of the helicopter, onto the roof of the Central Committee building, and plummeted into the square below. A writhing mass of revolutionaries waited there, but their eyes were too full of hatred to see the ring, so they unknowingly stomped it into a gap between two cobblestones with their snow-covered boots.
The story of the cobblestones and the workers who quarried them is a tale for another time. It is an excellent story, but very, very sad.
Three days after the government helicopter bearing serial number R239EWER498 rushed Nicolae and Elena northward, then northwestward, then flew no more–three days after that, A picked up the ring.
As is often the case with As, there was a B. A was not A’s name, but B was actually called B from the moment he emerged from Mother’s body. Father had put “Bogdan” on the child’s birth certificate, but Mother would not use it due to a lecherous uncle who went by the same name. It was thus that Bogdan became B.
A’s birth name has been lost to history. He no longer worries about it.
On Christmas Day, three days after the ring was lost, word spread from house to house that Nicolae and Elena had been captured. Downed by a missile in the mountains? Shot by a farmer who mistook them for wolves? Eaten alive by Romani? News traveled so quickly that the truth could not keep up.
Mother and Father put on their warmest coats, wrapped the week-old A and B in their warmest blankets, and joined thousands of other Romanians in Palace Square. Huddled near a makeshift fire at the base of the Central Committee building, their transistor radio bleated that Nicolae and Elena had been quickly tried and executed. The crowd erupted in cheers. Mother remained quiet, unsure that assassination–what else to call it?–was the best course of action for the new government to take, but Father was elated. He put A on the ground to jump and shout and hug everyone nearby, and when he picked up the child again, A clutched Nicolae’s ring in his right hand. (There was a smoldering cigarette butt in A’s left hand, but Father never noticed that.)
Father took the ring before Mother could see it and hid it in his breast pocket. On New Year’s Day, while Mother enjoyed a Sunday visit with her sister on the other side of town, Father brought A and B to an orphanage, sold the ring for a tiny, tiny fraction of its true value, and boarded a train for Budapest. Six months later, in the middle of Hungary’s largest bell pepper farm, Father died from an undiagnosed heart defect–a small hole that had existed since Father’s birth, but which yawned much wider when he stretched across the counter in Bucharest to shake the pawnbroker’s hand.
On the day that Father sold the ring, Mother returned to the family’s empty, quiet apartment at 4:03pm. The sun went down and the lights of the city came on, and still there was no sign of her husband or children.
By the time Mother went to bed, she had connected the dots and heaved a quiet sigh of relief. If things had been different, she probably would have mourned her lost boys, if not her husband, but the country was falling apart day by day, so having three fewer mouths to feed was something of a blessing. Mother rolled onto her right side and slept for eight hours exactly. She awoke feeling refreshed for the first time in years.
As for A and B, the day after Father dropped the twins on the doorstep of St. Vasile’s, ten aid workers from a French NGO descended on the orphanage and took as many children as they could carry in their white passenger vans, intending to relocate the youth to more stable facilities in more stable countries.
Like many NGO employees, Anne, Cecilia, David B., David C., Karl, Mignon, Nanette, Robert, Sven, and Wilhelm each had a pronounced savior’s complex. They also had an appalling lack of imagination when it came to naming the twins and simply decided to let A and B remain A and B. Any thought of traditional names was gone. Which was fine, because A and B eventually landed in Vietnam, where many of the traditional names they might have acquired would have been very foreign to the tongues of orphanage workers in Hanoi.
When A and B reached their first birthday (or an approximation of it, since they had no paperwork), some at the orphanage expressed concerns that the boys would never be adopted. They were charming, yes, but they could not be separated from one another without emitting loud shrieks and sobs. They were a package deal. They were also beautiful and mysterious, like spies, which made some potential parents very wary indeed. Thankfully, Phuong and Duc were not put off. This is likely because Duc had once been employed as a model, and Phuong still earned her living as a spy (though she told Duc that she worked at a women’s spa, and he had never been suspicious enough to investigate). Phuong and Duc loved A and B for the very characteristics others feared.
You may be feeling sorry for A and B now–and indeed, their lives could have been marginally better had they stayed in Romania. Fifty-seven out of 100 simulations show that Father would have died anyway, even if he hadn’t been a shady, self-serving asshole with a heart defect, but if Mother had raced from her apartment, run through the streets screaming like a madwoman, and managed to find A and B, she would have discovered a vast, untapped support network of women who despised her husband just as much as Mother loved him. These relatives, friends, neighbors, and co-workers would have babysat and changed diapers until A and B grew older. At the tender age of 13, the boys’ undeniable beauty would have been spotted by a photographer visiting an old college roommate in Bucharest. That chance encounter would have sparked the twins’ brief but fabulous career in fashion, until they died together at age 20 in an automobile accident in Hanoi, which was caused by an ambulance rushing Phuong (in vain) to the hospital.
Nevertheless, A and B have done well in this reality. Duc and Phuong raised them, sent them to school, then to college. While earning degrees in computer science, they were revered by peers and professors alike for their unearthly looks and for their batshit insane coding skills. In many parts of the world, the twins might have been subjected to a great deal of teasing for their gender-nonconformity, but Vietnamese culture already had a bit of room for transwomen–more than Romania did, surely–and that, paired with A and B’s alien air, meant that nobody really bothered them.
Throughout college, A and B worked at restaurant owned by Duc’s sister and saved every cent they could. Afterward, they took all that money and boarded a plane for New York, where they hoped to become models. They shed quiet tears waving from their seats at Duc, who watched them from the boarding lounge. (Phuong had succumbed to lung cancer a year earlier, her skin flashing translucent and golden like a cephalopod as she passed, an alarming and heretofore unknown side-effect of government surveillance hardware that had been implanted behind her right ear.)
A and B got off to a rough start in the States. Modeling agents simply didn’t know what to do with them. They had the cheekbones necessary to land go-sees and callbacks, and their unusual backstories were certainly memorable, but was that enough to sell clothes and fragrance and handbags and magazines?
Struggling to find work, A and B did the only thing they knew to do: they contacted their computer science classmates back home in Hanoi and started like-mining on Facebook. They clicked and clicked until their hungry fingers bled, cent by cent accumulating enough money to pay rent, order headshots, and occasionally send something home to Duc.
But rest assured, they have not given up on their dreams. Recently, A and B rebranded themselves as “the Dupont Twins” and launched an Instagram channel, where they post photos of themselves wearing fabulous outfits at equally fabulous parties. This has raised their profile dramatically and helped them plant their slim feet firmly in the metaphorical door of the fashion industry. B is elated and energized and plans to build on this success by adding a series of glitter makeup tutorials and shoe unboxings to the feed, but A has no such ideas, no grand visions. To tell the truth, A is feeling rudderless these days.
Here is the crux of the matter: B has always felt supremely gender-fluid, possibly trans. You might think that as identical twins, A and B would have identical outlooks, identical feelings, identical DNA. But of course, everyone is unique, even an identical twin.
A doesn’t know why he feels differently from B. Perhaps his mother smoked one cigarette too many as the twins floated side-by-side in a sea of amniotic fluid, waiting for their great escape. Perhaps something happened to A’s genes at age five, when he grabbed a scorching hot frying pan that instantly fused to his skin, sending A to the floor of the kitchen in shock. Or perhaps it is none of those things. Perhaps it is simply time for A to have an identity of his own.
When A and B go to sleep tonight, smiling at one another across the narrow path that separates the twins’ twin beds, B will turn out the Ikea floor lamp that sits near the window and sleep for exactly eight hours, awaking refreshed for the first time in years. A will close his eyes gently and pretend to sleep while considering his options. At 2:45am, A finally will drift off, but his rest will not be restful. He will dream of a massive city, a foreign city of colonnades and tramways, with helicopters flitting below heavy clouds, streets covered in snow, and beneath the snow, silver cobblestones dripping with blood.