They want to excise her twin. They say her twin will eventually start multiplying until it’s more than a cyst-like extrusion from her arm. It will take over your body, they warn. She strokes the bump just above her elbow, small enough to be covered by sleeves. She swears it vibrates under her touch like a baby familiar with its mother’s touch. Her twin can’t speak, not the way normal humans can. An incomplete specimen, they call it. There just wasn’t enough for two, her mother once said.
She continues to stroke the bump, trying to soothe the quivering to its usual, constant rhythm. “She’s scared,” she says.
They respond with their usual explanation, one she has heard every visit: it doesn’t have a hippocampus to gauge fear, no amygdala or limbic system or nervous system, not enough intellectual complexity to associate context-dependent stimuli with specific suites of behavioral response. But how else could it shake whenever they mention Lidocaine injections and excisions?
“No,” she repeats. She rolls down her sleeve, tugs on her jacket and jumps down from the exam table. “Don’t bother.”
She stops by the local Meet Fresh and treats herself to a bowl of corn syrup-sweetened shaved ice, peanuts, boba and taro balls—double the taro since she’s eating for two. She doesn’t like taro, but her twin quivers with pleasure at the creamy, sweet, starchy consistency. Her twin likes a lot of things she doesn’t: waking up before the sun is out to run by the playground that has been taped off for years—supposedly a local toddler was last seen on the swings, vanished by the time the parents returned from their stroll, a lapse in playing caretaker. Her twin thinks the child is dead; she thinks otherwise: a child who escaped home, surviving on the streets before making a comeback in the business world like the protagonist of a novel. Her twin can also be kind of mean, like the time she had been looking through near-empty grocery aisles for frozen fish tofu five minutes before the store closed, and the manager offered to keep the store open just for her, even as everyone else scrambled to the cashier lines and disappeared through automatic sliding doors, he insisted, glancing down at her bare legs, pointing to the locked backroom storage that held tomorrow’s restock supply—surely there’d be some fish tofu in there. She’d rubbed her arm and the cyst-like bump pulsed under her fingers, painful and tender. No, she bit out as she stumbled out of the store, clutching her arm, rummaging through her purse for an aspirin. Her twin liked to use the word no. Later, she’d feel bad she forgot to thank the man for his consideration.
They demand she come back for another visit. She figures this time will be the last time: she will be firm, cut them off from her completely, so she and her twin can comfortably cohabit the same body.
This time, they claim the cyst will paralyze her. No one will be able to reach you anymore, they say. They have the equipment out on stainless steel surgical trays: scissors, amputating saws, swan neck gouges. No, she says as they hold her arm down and the bump begins to ache so much she can no longer tell whose grip she is struggling against, whether she is struggling at all.
They slice across her arm, peel away the skin flaps, scraping metal against flesh and pus, an endless hollowing. Out comes fluid, membranous tissue, air. Then a tiny eye, nose, mouth. A microscopic liver, stomach, lung. A heart the size of a bread crumb. Everything is dumped onto the tray, sealed in tubes for post-surgical lab examination.
There could be cancerous cells, we need to be sure, they say. Her arm is numb from the anesthetic. They pat her head, say good girl, and schedule her weekly follow-ups to make sure nothing grows back. To verify the correctness of her psychological state, cognitive state, physical state. It might have eaten away at your body’s ability to reproduce, they say as they stare at a clipboard, eyebrows furrowed. Any questions? They ask. She shakes her head. See you next week, they say. She nods.