The Black Twins

The black twins were arguing. The black twins were there because they were twins and because they couldn't get along. They were beautiful, these black twins, beautiful black female twins.

Dr. Phil wasn't going to stand for it. What respectable psychologist would? Who ever heard of twins -- two people who had shared the same womb -- that hated each other? Dr. Phil knew exactly what to do. He addressed them not as twins, but as two different people. Two separate souls. He said, to one, "It's not about her. It's about you. Why do you let your life be defined by others? Why do you insist on competing? Why do you compare?" Then he turned to the other twin, and told her the same thing. It was, obviously, worth repeating.

"Brilliant," Oprah said. I, riding atop the cross-country-skiing simulator at the International Health Club, concurred. Oprah hated to interrupt (because she is polite and does not, like the twins, argue), but she wanted to know something, and this, she said, was something for everyone to think about: "Why do we let ourselves be defined by others? Why don't we let ourselves be guided by our own internal compasses?"

It got me -- sweaty and breathless atop the simulator, alongside others in the same condition on similar machines, staring at the same TV -- to thinking.

My wife is pregnant. She says she feels a tightness. She says it feels like what's inside her is taking up room, but there's no more room to take up.

When she told her sister this, a sister who has two sons and has read many books about children and pregnancy and who orchestrates, every night, the sleeping of her sons and her dog and her husband all in the same bed, her sister said it could be twins.

I know the twins my wife might be carrying are not black, but I can't help fantasizing. I don't say this to show off, but I used to want to be black myself. I had what some might think as a very silly reason for wanting to be black, though it seemed important when I was fourteen: I wanted to be a basketball star. I didn't want to be a pasty white point guard, which was what I'd have to be since I was not, am not, tall. I wanted to dunk. I wanted to fly and hang in the air. I wanted to be a gleaming, oil-dark, aerodynamic black man because I believed what everyone -- white, black, Korean, Indonesian -- told me: that black people had something inside them that no other color had. Something, in their legs, actually, that lifted them up.

So if, by some miracle, we did have black twins, of course we would love them; and, actually, who's to say we might not love them more? They might not be as beautiful as those black twins on Channel 4, and they would certainly not be as rich -- those black twins looked as though they'd come from a place where jewels had been hung on their ears, around their necks, rings slid onto their long, elegant fingers. A place where they had music and dance and horse riding lessons. A place where the meals were prepared by hired hands. Where rooms and bodies were cleaned by hired hands.

We have no hired hands. We have no jewels. We take our food from boxes and cans. And our home! Our home, I might as well add, came down the highway in two separate pieces. We will love as many babies that come out of my wife, but unfortunately, we will not be able offer the luxuries offered to babies who come from rich places. We will not be able to pay Dr. Phil to come into our home and talk to our poor pale twins who, due to misaligned internal compasses, might not be able to stop scratching and biting each other.

I can't help being afraid. I wish I could say hey, no problem, I saw what Dr. Phil said about "it's not her, it's you", and what Oprah said about compasses and that when the time comes I could just use these words on our twins. But I know myself. By the time the twins are old enough to realize that they hate each other, that they can't, despite having shared the same womb, stand the sight of each other, I'll have long forgotten what it was that Dr. Phil said to those beautiful rich black twins. Instead, when I see our twins arguing, I will probably become frustrated, or angry, and yell at them. I might yell, "Stop yelling! Stop arguing! Love one other! As your mother and father have loved you!" Which will only make them store their hate in their hearts and unleash it against each other when they are alone. Which will cause a great disturbance in our home that, because it came down the highway in two pieces, will begin to split in two, the seam opening just enough to let in all manner of bugs and rain. Of course, I'll try to find the books Dr. Phil wrote so long ago, which, by then, might be outdated, and even out of print, which will mean at least they'll be cheap, and I can afford to buy a dog-eared, ruffled copy for the twins, hoping they won't turn their noses up at it or rip it out of each other's hands, hoping that maybe they'll share, and that they'll read those wise wise words and see how blind they were, and finally open their eyes, saying, "hey, yes, let's work together, let's help our father fix the seam in the house so that afterwards we can go shoot some baskets with this same father who has been trying to teach us how to jump, how to hang in the air, how to fly." The twins will be apologetic, and they will thank me, and I will say thank you for thanking me, but I'm not the one who deserves to be thanked. Thank this man, I'll say, tapping the book, tapping Dr. Phil on his benevolent face. Thank him. He's the one that deserves it. He's the one who deserves your love. He's the one who put this home back together.

- - -

"It's okay," my wife tells me, when I tell her my fears. "There is probably only one."

She says this, but she doesn't know. Neither of us do. We have no idea what we're in for -- no idea what we're getting. So here's what I do: every night, before we sleep, I lie down with my ear against her stomach. I wait. I listen. And when I hear the noise -- the gurgling and bubbling universe inside her -- the noise that sounds like more than one, I whisper the story of the black twins, a kind of cautionary tale I hope makes it through. I know what you're thinking: They won't understand! Not yet. But I hear it's the vibrations that count, the sound of the father's voice going in.

About the author:

Matthew Vollmer's work has been published in Paris Review, Tin House, McSweeneys Internet Tendency, and is forthcoming from Virginia Quarterly Review. He lives in Lafayette, Indiana with his wife, Kelly, and their very new son, Elijah.