identical twins

photo by E.J. Bellocq

photo by E.J. Bellocq


Welcome to our third installation for this year’s flash fiction february at the dictionary project. We are delighted to share with you this piece by Mary Woo, writing on twins. Enjoy!


identical twins,  a pair of twins who were developed from a single fertilized ovum: they are always of the same sex and show great similarity in physical appearance.


My sister, Coco, she likes them big. She likes an arm she can swing on. She likes stomachs that spill over waistbands like oversized ice cream cones. She likes big, broad shoulders with chunks of skin to hold onto.

Me, I like them small. I don’t like to feel threatened. I want to know that I can toss them across the room if need be.

In this way, we are compatible. She gets what she wants; I give her what I don’t want. But most of the time, we take what we get.

It’s funny. I know that you, and so many others, wonder about us, about this lifestyle and what damage could have possibly led to it. What loss. What depravity. An absent father? A crazy mother? I loved my mother very much, and never felt such shame as when she found us here. But what do you expect, raising two daughters and never teaching them anything about life? But I don’t want to talk about that.

What about the ones who come here? What about their damage, their sin? I don’t know why the giver, and not the taker, is always the wicked one.

Me, I fall in love all the time. Coco has been in love only once. He was a Parisian, just her type, smug and pretty. She saw him every day for two weeks, and then he disappeared. She cried and cried until I told her we were running out of money and there was no time for tears. What did she expect? Sometimes she is so…

Well, anyway. Of course we laugh! A lot, in fact. What, you think we got into this line of business for serious academic pursuit? We make fun of all the men who come here. They don’t know, they think we moan and groan and mean it. You’d be surprised how many different sizes and shapes—


The Parisian, he came back one fall. I was the only one here; Coco had taken a daytrip to Brussels. He waved at me through the window, held up a rose. When I finally realized who it was, I knew he was mistaking me for my sister.

I couldn’t let her go through that again.

“Coco, my love!” he said to me, cupping my cheeks, his eyes watering. He grasped me to his chest.

I took him into Coco’s room, which felt like a greater betrayal. Coco’s very particular about her stuff. She has dolls and posters and perfume bottles carefully curated from antique stores. She would be angry to know that I had been among her precious things. These are the things that belong only to her.

Don’t look at me like that, like I am some kind of monster. I was only trying to protect her. Coco’s heart has always been more fragile than mine. Even at birth, she spent two extra days in the hospital because her heart was not pumping enough blood.

The Parisian, he took me, saying over and over, “Coco, I missed you,” and in that moment I became Coco, not Anna, not the strong one, the first twin. I was weak and loved.

And then, he was gone again, just like I knew he would be, and I was pleased that I had saved Coco another lifetime of grief.

Well, it wasn’t long before I realized I was carrying the child of this man.

Yes, I’m usually very careful! But it was passionate, and we were in love. I mean, they were. Call it, getting lost in the moment. Or God’s will.

I knew I wasn’t fit to be a mother. My life revolving around someone else’s? Never. I couldn’t do it.

I had to tell Coco the truth, and we agreed Coco should raise the child as its mother.

The months passed and Coco took on more work as my stomach grew to repulsive sizes.

Was she mad? I don’t know. Coco is incapable of true anger. And with twins, well, it is so hard. Because we need each so badly, you see. Because we are parts of the same. Something changed, though. Our thoughts did not overlap as much, and our laughs were fewer.

The child was born, and in this way, Coco became a mother, and I became an aunt, and we were no longer mirrors of each other, but an ungainly triangle, feeble and diluted.

When the Parisian came back, she presented the child to him, and told him he was the father. He began sending money, and she would send him pictures. He came to visit for a few days every year, and for a few days, they were a family, whole, and I was on the outside, looking through the window of their happiness.

One day, they disappeared. Coco, child, father. She didn’t even leave a note.

Sorry, I only cry because that is the most hurtful part. No note, no word. What, did she think I would try to follow her into her ordinary, tedious life?

I suppose I am happy for her. In a way, I am with her, still. You see, we weren’t exactly identical. I’ve always had this birthmark, right here, next to my eye. And when the child was born, there it was. Same birthmark, same spot.

Every time Coco looks at the child, she will see me, and that makes me happy.

Well, there you are. What was it you asked?

I recognize you. Yes, you were here something like twenty years ago. We had a fun time, no? You were so smug back then, ordering us around, throwing dollars at us like we were circus monkeys. Now look at you. Old and gray and sad. You look like you’ve learned how life can toss things back in your face. You come here, curious. I hope that I’ve given you a good story. Not the one you were expecting, I suppose.

That is all. Now I must work. You can show yourself out, I’m sure.



pic of MaryMary Woo works as a freelance writer in Washington, DC, where she lives with her husband and dog. This story was inspired by the Fokken sisters, twins and Amsterdam’s oldest prostitutes.

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Filed under flash fiction february

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