"Their Handsome Father, Ned Wakefield"
With her trim, youthful good looks, Alice Wakefield could almost have passed for the twins’ older sister. “Mom,” Elizabeth called out cheerfully from the Wakefield’s sun-drenched kitchen with Mexican tiling, “don’t forget your trim, youthful good looks on your way to work!”
Alice Wakefield walked back into the kitchen, laughter sparkling in her blue-green eyes. “I can’t believe I almost forgot it,” she said. “I’ll forget my own head next!”
Elizabeth faltered. “…Jessica?”
They both had one hand on Alice’s trim, youthful good lucks. Their identical blue-green eyes met.
“…Elizabeth?” Alice said.
“Yes,” Elizabeth said, nodding. “Did I inherit my sunshine-blond hair from you? Or is your sunshine-blond hair a copy of mine?”
“I’m standing in the kitchen,” Alice said. “I’m an interior designer. Last night I prepared duck a l’orange, creamed asparagus, and a chilled parfait. My daughters are carbon copies of me. My son is a younger version of Ned Wakefield. In this house there are rules. In this house there are protections. In this house there are prayers to keep a mother safe from her son’s bed, to keep a daughter safe from her father’s bed. Do we keep house like Lot and his daughters?”
“We break no bread of theirs,” Elizabeth recited automatically. “Their ways are not our ways, we keep no faith and hold no trust with them. For Alice, the kitchen. For Ned, the study. For Jessica and Elizabeth, the bedroom. For Steven, the university.”
“Keep Steven contained,” Alice murmured.
“Keep Steven contained,” Elizabeth repeated. “Keep his dark athleticism, his tall good looks, his six feet of height, his slim build, his warm brown eyes out of doors, out of mind, out of body. Keep Steven’s body from my body; guard the Wakefields from the Wakefields. Swear to me that you are not my sister?”
“I swear to you,” Alice Wakefield said, “I am no sister. Are you my mother?”
“I cannot recall having the mothering of you,” Elizabeth said. “I cannot recall. I look sixteen – am I sixteen? Or am I thirty-six but look sixteen? Have I the secret of twenty hidden years in my body, or no? Am I a woman, or a woman’s copy?”
A man entered the kitchen. A man with dark good looks, tall athleticism, a brown-eyed build, with six feet of body and more, entered the kitchen.
“Man,” Alice said, “brown-headed man and brown-eyed, what are you to us?”
The man froze. He had a cup of coffee in his hand. “I hold the coffee cup,” he said slowly. “A man’s drink, to prepare for a man’s work. This makes me Ned. This coffee will take me to a law office, makes me a lawyer. Husband to Alice, who looks sixteen. Father to twins, who look like my wife. Twins who match each other in all ways, twins who match my wife in all ways but one. Alice looks like the twins but is not forbidden to me. The twins look like Alice but must never be touched. I am not Steven, their brother, who lives in exile.”
“Steven-who-lives-in-exile,” Alice and Elizabeth chanted in unison. “Steven who is cast out. Steven who has no twin but his father. Steven whose body is a single copy, whose body has no counterpart, Steven whose body is a threat.”
“I have a dimple in my left cheek when I smile,” Elizabeth says. “I know this for three reasons: My twin has a dimple in her left cheek when she smiles. The mirror tells me I match her in every way. The third reason is that the people around me are telling me the truth. I trust in the truth of the mirror of the family; no Wakefield can lie to another Wakefield. If a Wakefield breaks trust in the matter of a mirror, that Wakefield can no longer lay claim to the name, and is cast out. I am not cast out. I can tell only the truth. My twin and I guard three doors in a locked room. My twin can only tell lies. My twin’s lies are consistent and reliable, and therefore are as solid and real as the truth. Jessica’s lies are the truth. Tell me, is Jessica in this kitchen with me? Am I facing my sister in safety, or my mother in peril? Who gave me my blond beauty? And when will they ask for its return?”
“Brown-eyed man,” Alice said urgently, “three of the women in this house have blue-green eyes, sunshine-blond hair, and a tanned, youthful figure. One of those women is available for your body. Two of those women are forbidden. Two of these women are in this kitchen with you. Which of us is forbidden?”
“Blonde beauty,” the man said, “have you forgotten who you are forbidden to?”
“I cannot remember,” Alice cried. “Did I inherit my forbidden beauty from my mother? Or did I grant it to my daughters? Which rights do you claim of me, Wakefield man – a husband’s? Or a brother’s? Or a father’s? Are you Ned-forbidden-to-Jessica-and-Elizabeth? Or Steven-forbidden-to-everyone?”
“My friends all have crushes on your six feet of height, your athletic eyes, your dark build, your brown hair,” Elizabeth said. “Do they have father-crushes or brother-crushes on you? Tell the truth and never lie.”
“The boy is the copy,” the man said. “I am the man and not the boy. Last night for supper I had duck a l’orange, creamed asparagus, and a chilled parfait. My wife made it, my wife Alice, who keeps me from my daughters’ beds.”
“When my son was born he looked like his father,” Alice said. “When my daughters were born they looked like their mother. Every moment since, this family has stood in dead peril, but we have not fallen yet.”
“None of us have fallen yet,” Elizabeth said. “None of us have brought mother-guilt into the house. None of us have smeared the Wakefield name with wrong-bedding or brother-mistake. My friends want Steven. My friends want my father. My friends long for my brother, who wears my father’s face, and my friends long for my father in my brother’s body. My boyfriend Todd has brown hair and sufficient father-distance for wholesome coupling. I take my body and my body’s needs out of the house. My daughtering is pure. I am a perfect size six. The perfection of my size is six and always divisible by itself. Do I stand in the kitchen with my mother and my father, with my mother and my brother, with my sister and my father, or with my sister and my brother?”
“I can prove myself Ned,” the man said. “I can prove myself to be Ned, and not Steven the castaway.”
“I cannot prove myself,” Alice said. “No one touch me. No one approach me. I have no memory before this morning – I have never seen a duck, I think.”
“There are footsteps on the stairs,” Elizabeth whispered. “Are they my brother’s? Are they my sister’s?”
“Who comes down the stairs?” Alice shouted. “Who approaches the family Wakefield?”
No one answered. No one moved. They all looked exactly alike. They are standing there this very moment, uncertain of what is forbidden to them, and in what quantities. They all have sunshine-brown hair and dimpled green eyes. None of them are smiling. The smile they are not smiling is identical.