Better Half

I am a twin. None but my parents know this about me. My family doesn’t discuss it, and I rarely have any cause to bring it up myself. I was born first, then my brother. His passage into the world, however, was barred by some cruel obstruction. I do not know the exact details of the matter. In any case, the doctor’s clumsy hands failed the recovery effort, and my brother died. It was a complicated thing for my parents to reckon, being blessed with one child and losing another in the same stroke. Too complicated, in fact. They ended up taking solace in revisionism, and my poor baby brother was stricken from the family record. Perhaps in the fullness of time they have actually come to forget about him. I cannot say for sure.

He hasn’t left me, though. The bond between twins is a strong one, and he has always been with me. My eyes and ears have given him windows into life, and through them he has grown alongside me. We learned to read and write together, to talk. Through my senses he could experience an education. We have been two beings nurtured in one place and time. And yet, we are different. My mind is that of a living man, and his, if it can even be called a mind, possesses the wisdom of the dead, the great hindsight of all who have failed and fallen. He is emancipated from the concerns of the body and all things physical. Having died at the first moment of lfie, all the falsehoods and stupidities of the mortal world passed him by. He is a will within me separate to my own that has never known error, a voice of perfect moral and intellectual reason.

This is no great advantage to me – it is a curse, and a tortuous one at that. It is still my baseless, fallible whims that put guidance to our vessel. My ignorance and naïveté still shackle my judgement, even though I hear the cries from the other side, telling me my errors with every act. All who live are prisoners to their own fallibility, but I, perhaps alone, am condemned to be able to see just how dark and squalid a dungeon that is. Even as I write this, I can feel my brother’s cold hands putting the same thoughts to words with far greater artistry and articulation. I can see in this way the perfected form of all that I do, the perfect course through each challenge that I face. But there is a river between our wills that cannot be forded, and no matter how I struggle against it, how I yearn to follow the great wisdom of the infant dead, my own errors and sins have the final say. It is they who pull the strings, they who give the sinews motion.

I am powerless. My brother’s eyes see every coming misfortune, and yet I walk towards each one, unable even to protect myself against what pains I know I will suffer. Each moment is filled with a dread that cannot be quashed – it cannot even be expressed or acknowledged. It is the weight I must bear for wisdom upon which I cannot act. When I fail, I am aware of the steps that would have taken me to success. When I succeed, I am aware of the steps that I will soon be walking to failure, even should that path be months or years in the travelling. You cannot know the anguish of dedicating yourself in full to works that will never see fruition, to loves that will end only in dejection, in full awareness that all does not end well. An infant might burn itself, not knowing the dangers of an ember. My life is that of a grown adult who sits before the fireplace, constantly gripping on hot coals with all my strength though I know that I will suffer harshly and gain nothing.

I am damned too to know that the torment is not mine alone. Already in the slow death-march of time, I have heard my brother’s voice turn from one of passivity, to surprise, to anguish and frustration as I misguide our shell away from the light of proper judgement and facility. I fear that he will come to scorn me, to loath the failed and wretched thing that tethers him to a world full of such failed and wretched things, when he is half-submerged in more pleasant waters.

But onward I must trudge, hoping only beyond hope that I might be the beneficiary of some great stroke of fortune that none could foresee, or that my days of hardship might be ended before their time by some equally unknowable calamity. Blessed is the blindness that hides our ugliness, and blessed too is the ignorance that clouds the path ahead. A human’s eyes are at their best half-shut and bleary. Wakefulness is too great a burden for so flawed a beast.

The Lovers 2, 1928 by Rene Magritte

The End

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