The Difference Between Us
How stupid to carry the shoes: guilt overriding common sense. Nestled under my arm the box digs into my ribs, and I wonder how I’ll manage my suitcases. Swollen soles throb; my feet look like trotters, my legs like skittles – I am a mess. Pushing aside an unread book and wash bag I scrabble in my handbag for nicotine gum. I am trying to give up – smoking dulls my complexion, yellows my teeth. Eva doesn’t smoke. The flight number flashes on the screen, the belt groans into action and people surge to claim their luggage, knocking me off my fashionable, unforgiving heels. I hobble forward.
As I push my trolley through the arrivals lounge I see her. She looks preternaturally beautiful, and my heart sinks then swells with pride in such rapid succession I feel faint. Or is it the heat? She glows like a nymph in a river of sweaty faces. She is daydreaming, not watchful, so I watch her, unobserved, and realise, with dismay, that she’s lost weight.
‘Not that she needed to,’ I snipe, penitent immediately. Eva’s been ill; there’s been a traumatic break-up. Correction: she was dumped. But Eva is never dumped; she is the one who grows tired and moves on. Until David. I note that other than weight loss Eva looks in rude health.
The last time I saw my twin was a few hours before my departure. She was getting ready for an evening out and the house shook with excitement. Her date was a local celebrity, an ex-footballer whose career had been cut short, purportedly, by a knee injury. He spotted her at a beauty contest. Eva was not a contestant, much to the relief of the other girls; she worked as a stylist and make-up artist. Our mother described David as ‘a good catch’.
So all eyes were on Eva the night I left. She wore a turquoise dress, emphasising her green eyes, and her blonde hair had been curled and piled high on her head, accentuating her height and leanness.
‘Where are my yellow shoes?’ she bellowed from the landing as I dragged my bags across the hall. ‘I can’t find the bloody things anywhere.’
From the bedroom our mother cooed, ‘Eva darling, why don’t we look in your wardrobe. I’m sure they’ll be there. We’re not looking hard enough.’
‘We’d better be bloody f
ast about it. The car will be here in a minute.’
‘Why don’t you wear the red ones, Eva? They’re gorgeous,’ I offered picking fluff from my jumper and hoping my tone didn’t betray me.
‘Because red is tarty, Monica.’
Outside a horn tooted and Mum emerged from the bedroom, pink faced and flustered, holding a pair of silver courts.
‘They’ll have to do.’ Eva snatched the shoes, slipped them on and waltzed down the stairs. We scurried after her as she whirled through the porch door.
‘Give me a hug, sweetie. Sorry I can’t come to the airport. You understand. I’ll come and visit when I’m a happily married woman!’
And with that she was gone.
Mum touched my shoulder and said, ‘Plenty of time. Study, work, live, love. That order.’
Pushing her way through the crowds she flings her arms around me. I could snap her in two if I squeeze hard enough.
‘You look well,’ she says.
‘Fat.’ I force myself to laugh. ‘I’ve puffed up like pastry.’
‘You look amazing. Come on.’
Driving home Eva talks incessantly. Familiar scenery flashes before my eyes. This is home, where my heart is, I think.
‘How does it feel to be back?’ Eva interrupts my thoughts.
‘Good. I miss this place.’
‘I’d so love to get out of here.’
‘Then you should. Why not?’
She looks at me and I’m worried that we’ll crash. ‘Because I’m not as brave as you. Or as clever. People know me here. And there’s Mum.’
‘She’d cope. If you really want something, then go get it. It needn’t be forever.’
‘Sound words, Egg. Perhaps I’ll travel when you’re done.’ The nickname – short for Egg-head – comforts me; she has not used it for years.
I wonder if there’s anything for me here anymore. Anyone. I try to be casual. ‘Have you seen Tony? He know I’m visiting?’ I hope he’s forgiven me.
‘Saw him the other day. He asked after you. “How’s your sis, Eva? Haven’t seen her in an age, must be twelve months.”’ Eva’s impersonation is good. Too good. The cadence is spot on and goose-pimples rise on my arm.
It’s been thirteen months – I last saw him four weeks before I left.
Tony was the kind of guy everyone liked. Nice-looking, affable, flawed. Ever so slightly boss-eyed, a bit like Benito Del Toro. I’d been in love with him since high school.
Eva teased me mercilessly. ‘Monica loves Toneeeeeeeeeeeeeeee,’ she’d say, fake-fainting on the sofa.
But he didn’t go for girls like me. Or so I thought. I figured he liked Eva – most of the guys we knew did.
One evening, at a bar on the harbour with friends, Tony mooched over. He invited us all to the launch of a new club he was managing, but no one could make it. No one except me. I had nothing on that night, other than studying for my exams; I rarely did.
Eva shrugged, pouted and said, ’You win some, you lose some, huh, Tony?’
Ignoring her, Tony turned to me and said, ‘It’s you and me, kid. I’ll pick you up at eight.’
He winked as he walked away. The ‘picking up’ made it feel like a date.
‘Monica and Tony Sanchez, eh? Who’d have thought it?’ Eva said. She was laughing, but I didn’t care.
I couldn’t decide what to wear. My black dress was flattering but too frumpy. I needed something to transform the look – statement shoes perhaps – but I didn’t have any. Eva did. Spiky-heeled yellow shoes with outsize bows. They weren’t her favourites, but I knew she would not lend them to me.
As I crept out, a tote held f
ast under my arm, Eva said, ‘You look nice. Very,
err,’ she struggled for a quietly insulting remark, ‘refined.’ A heel jabbed at
my ribs as I quickened my pace.
The club was packed and no one could see my feet anyway. But Tony was attentive; we sat on bar stools and talked and talked and talked. We made each other laugh.
Later, as we walked to the taxi rank, Tony took hold of my hand. My palms were sweaty, the soles of my feet ached. The yellow shoes click-clacked.
‘They Eva’s shoes?’
I shrugged and looked at the pavement.
‘She wasn’t worried you’d look better in them?’
‘No danger of that,’ I mumbled, twirling strands of hair round a finger.
‘She is lovely, that twin of yours.’ He emphasized ‘twin’ and his tone was jocular, but I didn’t understand.
‘Non-identical twin.’ I cursed the shoes; they reminded him of Eva. My confidence evaporated.
Without replying he steered me into a doorway. The wood felt cool against my back. Eyes closed he leant in, kissing my neck and ears. The scent of sandalwood engulfed me; his touch was passionate and tender. He inched towards my face. Images of Eva looming in my mind, my mouth dried up and despite my desire I was unable to return his kiss.
Ashamed I pushed him off and ran; his confused words couldn’t keep pace, I was fast – even in those heels.
In the taxi I tore off the shoes. I wanted rid of them. My feet were blistered and bleeding, unused to the stringencies of such footwear, and as we crawled along the harbour seafront I hurled them through the open window. The tide was in. I heard a faint splash and imagined them sinking to the sea bed; the ribbons unravelling, soaring like a mermaid’s hair, Eva’s yellow shoes drifting with rusty cans, old trainers and fishermen’s abandoned weights.
I left a month later. Deferring my university place, I travelled, and forged a life independent of Eva.
Before I left, Tony called a couple of times and though I wanted to, I couldn’t pick up. On my voicemail he asked what he’d done wrong. ‘Call me,’ he said. But I was too embarrassed. I wanted to tell Eva about the shoes, but never found the right time.
As Eva watches me drag my bags from the boot of her car she says, ‘This is going to sound weird, but did you take my yellow shoes with you?’
My stomach turns over.
‘Tony said something.’
‘He saw you in them.’
Memories return. Of how messed up I was. How jealousy convinced me he couldn’t possibly like me, that I was a poor substitute for Eva. How months later, in a foreign city, I realised the twin reference was meant as a compliment; bitter tears of regret mingling with the wails of car alarms and sirens. I hope he’ll give me a second chance.
‘Where did you see Tony?’ I say.
‘In his bar.’
I want to confess, it has weighed on me too long.
‘I’m sorry.’ It pours out: my confession. ‘I brought you something. To make up.’ And I pull out the box. A pair of shoes: Manolo Blahnik’s. A month’s salary.
‘I would have lent them to you,’ she says.
‘You wouldn’t.’ I smile.
‘You’re right. I wouldn’t. It served me right. Thank you for these. They are truly gorgeous, much lovelier than the others.’
Clutching the shoes Eva grins. ‘I have a confession to make too.’ Python sly smile. ‘You stepped into my shoes...’
I wonder what on earth I have, or had, that Eva covets. And then I know: Tony. I cannot move.
Leaning forward, she grabs my suitcase handle and wheels it to the front door.
‘Come on, slow coach.’
I kick off my shoes and stand still, watching her step into the house, watching the difference between us increase, the slate flagstones on the drive cool against my aching soles.
About the Author
Laura Wilkinson grew up in a Welsh market town and now lives in a never-to-be chic area of Brighton. As well as mothering two ginger boys, she works as an editor for literary consultancy, Cornerstones, and in education. She has published short stories in magazines, digital media and anthologies. Her debut novel, BloodMining, is published by Bridge House Publishing. Her current work-in-progress is a novel set against the backdrop of the 1984/85 miners’ strike. Find out more here: http://laura-wilkinson.co.uk. Or follow her on Twitter: @ScorpioScribble. She loves to hear from readers.