Same same but different, a short story by Anne Hayden
A young woman, bereft since the death of her twin, tries to forge a new, singular identity
I’m sitting in a cafe in Melbourne when that song comes on, When Will I Be Famous? There I am sipping a flat white, they love their flat whites over here, and listening to this Aussie lad bang on about how he’s really into minimal techno. I’m nodding away to the sounds of Bros and smiling to myself, he probably thinks I’m being ironic or something. Molly would have been so much better at this online dating thing. She wouldn’t zone out in the middle of a conversation and start daydreaming about some boyband from the 1980s.
We used to sing it together at a karaoke bar called Same Same But Different during our J1 summer in New York, her on lead vocals, me on backing. We’d mock fight over which of us could have Luke Goss, the one we had decided was the better looking of the identical twins in Bros. But I knew if the unlikely situation did arise, Molly would get Luke and I’d have to settle for his slightly less handsome brother Matt. She loved that song, she was the one who wanted to be famous. In the end, she had her picture splashed across the newspapers for the worst possible reason. “Tragic twin” they called her.
The guy, his name is Luke funnily enough, is going on and on about how you can never replicate the sound of vinyl on a computer. I want to point out that minimal techno, as far as I’m aware, is made on a computer but I resist the temptation.
Instead I say “I was in New York a few years ago and I bought this Talking Heads record in a second-hand shop, but then I brought it to the cinema and my friend sat on it and broke it. I haven’t bought a record since.”
“It’s a dangerous game alright, the old vinyl,” Luke jokes.
It wasn’t my friend, actually, it was Molly who was the culprit, but I don’t mention that because then he’d say something like “oh, you have a twin sister” and I’d have to either lie or explain things. Moll was driving me mad that day, it wasn’t just the record, she had talked all the way through the film too, I can’t even remember about what. I gave her the silent treatment on the way home on the subway. It all seems so silly now. We fought a lot that summer, I was tired of her finishing my sentences and speaking for both of us, a throwback to when I had a stammer as a child. Old habits die hard, I suppose.
Luke is looking at me curiously, he might have just asked me a question, something about New York, I’m not sure. I shouldn’t have brought it up.
“Are you ok?” he asks over the sounds of coffee being ground and milk being steamed.
“I’m sorry, it’s just . . . I’ve got this toothache, it’s killing me. I think I’ll have to go home.”
“Oh . . . ok, well another time maybe.”
“Yeah, I’m really sorry to rush off, thanks for the coffee.”
A toothache? Where did that came out of? I walk down Brunswick Street, wondering what to do with myself for the rest of the afternoon now that I’ve put the kibosh on the date. I moved to Australia a few months ago because I was tired of everyone’s pity and morbid curiosity at home. I wanted a fresh start, to be my own person, and that’s impossible in a city like Dublin which is really just a big town. Everyone you meet knows someone you know, and sooner or later everyone knows your story.
But all this bloody sunshine makes it much more difficult to be alone. I constantly feel like I should be sitting with a group of friends in a beer garden or taking romantic seaside strolls. I should have thought about this before moving to Australia on my own. Maybe I should have gone to Seattle, I hear it rains a lot there.
The recession was my official excuse for leaving but mostly I was trying to get away from my parents. I couldn’t stand their sadness anymore, their voices had changed, become flatter. I once caught Dad listening to an old voicemail from Molly; I knew what he was up to because I’d done the same thing. Birthdays are the worst. While she will remain forever 21, and perfect, I continue to age, with the croakiness and crankiness that that brings. We all wonder what she would be like if she were here. Would she have made it as an actress? Got married? Had kids? We picture a parallel universe, one with her in it.
When we met people in New York that summer, Molly and I used to tell them we had twins’ telepathy, felt each other’s pain, that sort of thing. The Americans really buy into all that stuff. We’d tell stories of how Molly knew when I’d broken my leg, or how we were able to transmit messages during exams, but it was all nonsense. We never experienced that sort of psychic connection. I don’t know if such a thing really exists.
That said, on the night she died, 3,000 miles across the Atlantic, I sat bolt upright in my bed at 4am, as if waking from one of those nightmares that has a silent scream at the end. I didn’t remember any bad dream but I did have a feeling of dread. It was 11pm in New York, which I later learned was the time the taxi slammed into Molly as she walked home from a night out in Brooklyn.
I had cut my summer short by returning to Dublin to repeat my oral Irish exam. That fact has haunted me for years. If I hadn’t failed the exam, I’d still have been in New York, and maybe I’d have been able to stop her from stumbling onto the street that night. To make matters worse, I’d been enjoying our separation. Even though I was at home while she was living it up in the Big Apple, the independence was freeing. It was also the first time in my life that I’d had my parents’ undivided attention. I know by now that it’s not my fault but I still feel guilty sometimes, simply for the fact that I am alive and she is not.
And then there was Stephen, Molly’s college boyfriend. They were still going out when she died so I’m not sure if you’d call him ex-boyfriend or what? There doesn’t seem to be a name for it. In the months after, he turned up at my door late one night looking for a Molly-shaped shoulder to cry on. I opened a bottle of wine and we sat up talking for hours. Some time after we’d moved on to the whiskey, Steve leaned over and kissed me, kind of clumsily, and I protested but then kissed him back. I knew it was wrong but at that stage I’d have done anything to feel something different. We kept most of our clothes on even when he was inside me, and we were ever so quiet although there was no-one to hear us, as if being quiet somehow made it less of a crime. But when I let out a moan, he stopped, went soft, and I still don’t know if it was because my moan wasn’t Molly’s or because it was. As he sobbed into the crook of my neck, I wondered if my skin tasted like hers. I saw him a few times after, but we never found a way to talk about what happened.
After that, I tried changing my look, thinking it might be easier for everyone if I looked less like Molly. I cut my hair short and bleached it blonde, invested in a new wardrobe, ditching the jeans and hoodies we used to wear. But it’s not just our appearances that were similar, we had the same voice, the same laugh. Sometimes I’ll say something, and I’ll see a shadow flicker across my mother’s face and I’ll know she’s heard a ghost.
Now here I am in Melbourne, with my new hair and my new clothes. This part of Brunswick Street reminds me of Brooklyn, with its vintage shops and cafes selling 600 types of bitter-tasting coffee. But I barely have time to experience the pang Brooklyn brings before I hear a voice that unmistakably belongs to Deirdre McCarthy from school. I stall for a second then keep walking but she’s spotted me, there’s no escape. “I don’t believe it,” she says, running across the tramlines to give me a hug, a small ball of bluster. “I heard a rumour you’d moved over. It’s been years since I’ve seen you, it must have been . . .” she trails off as she remembers the funeral was the last time. “I’m sorry . . . it must still be so hard for you. How are you doing?”
I don’t know what to say really, after all this time I still don’t know what to say when people say things like that. All I can think about is how I wish I could tell Moll that Deirdre McCarthy has an Australian accent six months after getting off the plane. She’d get such a laugh out of it. I mutter something about my teaching job and about the weather, and tell her I’m running late. We exchange phone numbers and promise to meet up but we won’t. I came here to break free of the past, not to meet it for a pint in an Irish pub in St Kilda.
It’s not as simple as it sounds, though, escaping the past, even when you put yourself on the other side of the world. In fact, I seem to think about Molly more than ever these days. It’s probably because I haven’t made any real friends here. The girls at the school I work in are nice to me but they haven’t fully invited me into the fold. Early on, one of them was bitching about her sister taking her favourite leather jacket without asking, and she asked me if I had any siblings and I said I was an only child. I thought she might have felt bad if I told her the truth, but it’s hard to undo a lie once you start. Now I watch my words around them and I’m sure they can sense my cautiousness, in the same way that I can tell when my friends at home are minding what they say around me.
The online dating isn’t quite working out either. The problem is it’s hard to reveal much of myself to anyone without explaining about the missing half. But I’m starting to accept that, whether I like it or not, my identity will never be entirely my own.
I have my head in the clouds thinking about all this as I’m walking around but soon I find myself stopped outside a hair salon I’d seen a few days ago. I suppose I’ve been making my way here all along. I enter and ask if they can fit me in. Cut and colour? No, I tell the woman, no cut, I’m going to grow it out. Just a colour, but not the blonde I have now, it never suited me anyway. I want to go back to being a brunette, I say.
While I’m staring intently at a magazine to avoid the hairdresser’s small talk, a text comes through from Luke. He hopes my tooth is alright, wants to see me again. “Promise I’ll try not to go on like a broken record ;)” he writes.
I’m dying to ring Mam and tell her about the hair, she hated the blonde, but it’s three in the morning in Ireland and the last thing she wants is the phone ringing in the middle of the night. She never wants to hear the phone ring in the middle of the night again. She prefers Skype anyway, says she likes to be able to see me when she’s talking to me. I sometimes think it’s because my voice alone is not enough to separate me from Molly. I text Luke back instead, warn him I’m no longer a blonde. “Same same but different,” he replies.
We meet a few days later near Flinders Street Station in the city centre and walk to a bar in one of the graffiti-lined laneways. Hip-hop music is spilling out from a window, and between that and the street art I could be back in New York again, but that’s ok. We stay for another drink, and another. Luke asks if I’m going to stay in Australia.
“Not for too long,” I say, “I think I’ll be ready to go home soon.”
“Can’t keep running away?”
“Something like that.”
“My brother’s living in Dublin, I keep promising to visit him. Maybe I’ll move over there for a while, he seems to like it. What about you, have you got brothers or sisters?”
“Well, I had a twin sister,” I tell him. “But she passed away.”