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MISTAKEN • by Sarah Evans

“Hey!”

Looking up from the cracked pavements, I see a man walking towards me, his eyes widening in surprise and pleasure. I know exactly what is going to happen next.

We used to find this funny.

I want to duck into a shop, to turn and run and hide amidst the jostling shoppers. Except I don’t. I stand and wait and let it hit me.

“Tim!” the man exclaims. His smile is determined and it’s only as he gets closer that I see how there’s a flickering of doubt — or perhaps it’s disappointment — creasing there at the corners of his eyes. I don’t run, but I don’t smile either. I let him come right up to me and I hear how he’s saying, “You remember don’t you? Teddy Hall. Rowing. I was stroke, you were bowman.”

People press on past us. Light glints off the stop-start of cars and buses.

The man’s hand has reached out to touch my arm in a gesture of insistent ownership; he can’t quite believe his ruddy, well-fed face is so eminently forgettable. “I’d know you anywhere,” he persists, a hint of hurt and accusation in his voice. “Dave.” He points to himself in a final gesture of defeat.

Still I don’t speak; I don’t move. Then I breathe in the traffic fumes and I say, the way I’ve done so many times before, “I’m not Tim.”

His smile falters, but it’s still lingering on his lips, ready to spring up at a moment’s notice, wondering what kind of joke it is I’m playing. Tim always did like to act the goon. But then his eyebrows turn in thoughtfully and perhaps there’s some kind of calculation ticking away, and maybe he’s remembering, because I know it’s something Tim would have mentioned, not just once, but many times.

“I’m Ralph,” I say, helping him along and then, just to be sure, I add, “Tim’s twin.”

The man – Dave – looks sceptical, but he’s removed his hand and his smile is kind of awkward now.

“Ralph?” he says.

“Yep. Tim’s twin brother.” Identical twin. I don’t need to say that. “I expect he said…”

“Well… yes.”

He’s not someone I ever met, at least, I don’t recall doing so. He can’t have been more than a casual friend.

“It happens all the time,” I say.

“You’re Ralph?” This one’s surprisingly slow to accept it. “You look just like Tim.”

I know.

“I’m sorry,” he says.

“It’s all right.” Except it isn’t.

“Well fancy that.” He pauses, waiting for me to help him out. “What a coincidence…” He seems uncertain now, how to proceed. I’m not sure he’s convinced, not one hundred percent. I wait for what will come next. There’s a slow, heavy inevitability to it. I’d like to run only my legs are too jelly-weak to take me. “So how is Tim?” he asks.

Expecting the question doesn’t make it any easier. I pause, caught between impossible choices, with neither answer remotely thinkable. And then I achieve the Herculean task of forcing the corners of my mouth up into a smile. “He’s fine,” I say. “Absolutely fine.”

“Well be sure to remember me to him.”

“I will: Dave; Teddy Hall; rowing.”

He’s still standing there and I probably should be asking after him. Is he married? Kids? Career? Only I don’t. I don’t want to prolong this, don’t want to be asked those questions back on Tim’s behalf.

Finally, he shuffles his feet and shakes his head. “Well I never. Tim’s identical twin! You look so the same. Remember me to him, now won’t you?”

“I will.”

I feel the relief of being released. I think of my twin, and the ways in which we differ.

I continue along the high street then turn into the tree-lined road, which has become familiar. Great horse chestnuts loom above. The leaves are turning brown, though it’s not yet autumn, and the barks are cracking and leaving the smooth tender trunks exposed. Some kind of disease, I heard, difficult to treat. Already, some of them have been felled. But others remain healthy.

It’s a truly ugly building, the hospital. The metal frames of the windows need painting. Everything is square and covered in grey rendering.

I know the route, the long pale-green corridors, smelling that way they do, of fragranced disinfectant, which never quite covers up the feral scent of sickness. I pass two chattering nurses. When I first came here, I’d sometimes see staff do a double take.

No one makes that kind of error now.

I push open the door into the small room with its raised bed on a metal frame. I meet Tim’s eyes and I force myself to smile. I go and sit close and I take his veined hand.

“So how are you today?” I ask, but I don’t expect more than his shrugged answer.

I tell him about Dave. He smiles, weakly.

I talk a little more and then we lapse into familiar, comfortable silence. We’ve never had to pretend, Tim and me, never needed to talk if there isn’t something worth saying.

I gaze at the frailer, wasted version of myself. We always thought we were identical; we were mistaken. I had all the tests, of course. They show I’m fine.

Absolutely fine.

Apart from the fact that one half of me is dying.


Sarah Evans has had stories published in a number of magazines and competition anthologies, including: the Bridport Prize 2008, Momaya Press, Earlyworks, Tonto Press and Writers’ Forum. She lives in Welwyn Garden City with her husband, and is part of a small writers’ circle who meet regularly in London.


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MISTAKEN • by Sarah Evans, 4.0 out of 5 based on 109 ratings
Posted on June 30, 2011 in Literary, Stories
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  • fishlovesca

    Lovely. Thank you, I hope to read more of your work.

  • http://www.paulfreeman.weebly.com Paul A. Freeman

    I was expecting a ususal kind of twin story, complete with cliches, so this piece was very refreshing.

    Great stuff!

  • J Howard

    A well-crafted story, this one. Perfectly paced, great voice, and a gut-punch ending to boot. You revealed your MC’s sadness so well in so few words, starting with that opening scene, which made me wonder: Why so morose? Seeking the answer to that question, I think, is what kept me engaged. (Sometimes the simplest devices are the best.) Nicely done.

    Excellent storytelling, Sarah! Thanks for sharing.

  • Sheila Cornelius

    I liked this sad story-with-a-twist

  • ajcap

    So many nods. Good pace and voice, easy to read and follow. Good structure with just enough description, and, best of all, great dialogue.

    Not a niggle to be seen. The foreshadowing of the diseased trees was just enough of a hint.

    Great stuff. Feeling downright envious. Cheers.

  • merlin

    Nice story, Sarah.

    I am a non-identical twin, the other half of whom died at birth. She a girl, me a boy.

    I thought nothing of it for years, then a long time ago, the other side of the world from where I was born, I went to see a Tarot card reader regarding my career.

    I had never met the Tarot reader before, and she knew nothing about me. Yet she knew I was a twin, and told me all about my sister: what she like in the spiritual world, and how she watched over me.

    Weird, huh?

    Five stars.

  • http://www.StratPlayerCJF.blogspot.com Chris Fries

    Very, very nice.

    Well-paced, with a wondefully smooth reveal. The reader shares rower-Dave’s curiosity and confusion as the identity of the narrator is discovered. The mention of the trees — some dying, some still strong, makes for a nice foreshadow of the ending that is coming and blends well with our growing awareness and understanding of the narrator’s inner turmoil.

    My only quibble is purely personal preference — I’m just not a big fan of opening with unattributed dialogue. But my hesitation at the opening was soon whisked away by the quality of the ensuing story.

    Nicely done, Sarah.

  • ajcap

    Very weird, merlin. Downright unsettling, I’d say.

    I’ve got to ask, at the risk of stealing this thread (sorry, Ms. Evans, did I mention how much I loved this story?), have you ever tried to contact your sister?

  • http://www.deborahblood.com Debi Blood

    Thank you, Sarah, for absolutely brilliant story. I loved every word of it.

  • http://allotropiclucubrations.blogspot.com Walt Giersbach

    Okay, I guesss, but I’m disturbed to see women trying to write from a man’s POV, and vice versa. (Gender Genie–http://bookblog.net/gender/genie.php–also indicates this is a female writer.) Point is, the story doesn’t seem to rise above the smallish recognition that twins aren’t identical. Broadly speaking, women seem to be more concerned with reltionships, and men–well,they go for win-loss numbers for the Yankees. Now, let me sit back and wait for vituperation from other readers.

  • Nina

    One of the best stories I’ve read on EDF. *****

  • Maryann Kaul

    5 stars. As a child I wanted a sister so badly that I built a fantasy that I was a twin and my missing half was out there somewhere. MISTAKEN embodies the joy and the pain of a relationship I never had but longed for. Thank you, Sarah

  • http://jamesstories.com Seattle Jim

    Solid story, well told, I was engaged throughout.

    However, I’m with #10 (Walt) on one thing. The ending was a bit mawkish for me. If I were Ralph, I would have told Tim about Dave and then made him regale me with rowing stories. It wouldn’t have been a throw-away encounter with nothing said. If Tim was too weak to talk, I think Ralph would have pressed Dave to get some rowing details in order to relay them to Tim and lift his spirits. That’s what guys do.

    Nonetheless, a four-star story….

  • http://thisisnotnotmydayjob.blogspot.com/ Guinevere

    Good story. Good characterization and lots of impact.

    Funny, if the guys were chatting a lot at the end of this story THAT probably wouldn’t be masculine enough for some, but them sitting in comfortable silence isn’t either. I don’t know, I’ve watched twin brothers deal with one of them being terminally ill in real life, and the story seemed pretty realistic to me. There’s no one “man way” to do things; we’re all people, all different, all more than our parts, and that’s why a good writer can write a different gender POV just fine.

  • JenM

    This was a wonderful. I wasn’t even sure Ralph was a twin until the reveal.I think you did a fine job at writing male characters personally, I had to check during reading to make sure the author wasn’t a man.

  • http://nilaewhite.wordpress.com tmso

    I don’t often comment, or vote. But, I think, you got the first five-star rating out of me. Very touching.

  • http://popsicledeath.blogspot.com/ popsicledeath

    I really liked the premise, and the writing was descriptive and technically quite sound, but it threw me how we were put into a character’s POV (hard not to be in first person), but that character seemed to be consciously withholding information so the premise could be established at the end. Felt a bit contrived, like the writer was just pushing around a puppet instead of getting insight into a real person. Seems Ralph wouldn’t have been so ignorant to the own facts in his life, nor would he have seemed so surprised and confused that someone recognized him as his twin, as it even states he knew exactly what to expect (that someone would recognize him and he would be awkwardly obtuse about it to the point of seeming as if he forgot he had a twin despite the reader being in his perspective).

    I’d have much rather seen this strong, descriptive writing in a more real-feeling scene to give the reader insight into the anguish it must be trying to navigate a world where someone mistakes you for your twin, and your twin is dying. Instead, we got a character that seems ignorant to the very facts of his life, all feeling contrived, as the story then just became about the premise the writer concocted, not about these characters or insights into their world. Especially doesn’t hold up well as a re-read, because then I know the entire first part, before the premise is revealed, is completely contrived with a character who seems to actively be withholding information from the reader, which feels manipulative and sours the story, for me.

    And, as JenM points out, yes, I too wasn’t sure Ralph was a twin until the big reveal, which is why it felt awkward, because shouldn’t Ralph have realized he was a twin? What’s the point of putting a reader into a present-tense, first person POV (assumed to be limited and an in-the-character’s-shoes experience) if the character seems in on the smokescreen, all designed to withhold information and basically trick the reader into a ‘twist’ ending? To me, it was all too much writer, not enough genuine character, at work.

    A bit conflicted by having such strong writing skills and an interesting situation end up with a ‘ahh, neat premise, I guess’ sort of shrug by the end, where I felt more tricked as a reader than entertained.

  • todd t

    Very nice, indeed.

  • Rose Gardener

    Well-written dialogue and beautifully structured story. I thought the author was a man until I read her bio.

  • VMcKay

    I saw nothing contrived in this. Ralph wasn’t surprised or confused that someone would mistake him for Tim; he expected that was going to happen when he saw Dave coming. That’s why he wanted to hide. He and Tim used to find it funny when people mixed them up, but it’s painful for Ralph when people make that mistake now, because Tim is dying.

    As for Ralph withholding information from the reader, I didn’t see that either. Ralph’s reaction to Dave’s approach, his lie about Tim being fine, and the way he thought about the diseased trees and then sat quietly with his dying twin (no need for words), reminded me of my own behavior when my father was dying.

    Very well done, imo.

  • kathy k

    Five stars. Beautifully done.

  • http://www.binniedot.com Binnie Dot

    Really liked it. Was very intrigued about what would happen at the end…had no idea. I thought it might turn into a weird horror story or something.

    PS The Gender Genie thing is amazing! It really works! Never realised I was such an obviously girly writer!

  • http://www.deborahblood.com Debi Blood

    Touching upon the gender issue, I too thought the author was male until after I read the story and moved onto the bio. (I’m terrible about reading the title/byline at the top of each story.)

    Gender Genie is awesome, Walt! Thank you so much for the link. I tried it out using different samples of my writing (taking only the first two paragraphs of three random pieces) and apparently my writing is sexually ambiguous. GG thought I was man 2 out of 3 times.

  • merlin

    Sarah,

    I re-read your story, and it lost none of its charm. I loved your description of the hospital: “t’s a truly ugly building, the hospital. The metal frames of the windows need painting. Everything is square and covered in grey rendering.” Not a good place for healing.

    @ ajcap. No, I’ve never tried, but it’s an interesting idea. Totally agree with your former comment about the trees.

    @ Walt. I agree with you about gender. I’ve done various writing courses over the years and noticed that women write about silly things like relationships, whilst men write about important things like cars and football. Hey, do you think I’ll get vituperated for writing that?…

    @ Rose. Speaking of gender, did you know that your name is a perfect anagram of Roger Endears?

    Good wishes to all!

    merlin :)

  • http://www.StratPlayerCJF.blogspot.com Chris Fries

    I couldn’t resist — I tried Gender Genie, too. I usually write from the male POV (being male, and all), but I have some pieces that I’ve done that I believe make for better stories written from the female POV. The two I entered written from the male POV, Gender Genie calculated as having been written by a male. But it also calculated that the two female-POV pieces I entered were written by a female.

    So I guess I should be relieved that my gender-switching POV is at least accurate enough for Gender Genie.

    Although I won’t resort to vituperation, I will have to respectfully disagree with Walt (#10). Personally, I think that writers of either gender can write from ‘across the aisle,’ as it were, as long as it done convincingly, with empathy and understanding.

    Why should writers restrict themselves to such limitations? I can’t write from the female POV because I’m male and not female? Well, then I probably shouldn’t write from the perspective of a politician, soldier, cop, murderer, adulterer, space-traveler, ancient-civilization dweller, time-traveler, sailor, farmer, lawyer, any form of animal, or monster, ghost, or ghoulie, since I’m also none of those.

    Fiction is, to offer a technical description, ‘making stuff up.’ I think if I can successfully empathize and create an alien from another galaxy, I should be able to empathize enough to write convincingly from the POV of half of the people I share this planet with. After all, some of my best friends are women.

    Just my opinion.

  • fishlovesca

    No vituperation forthcoming because most people will recognize that the notion that writers can not cross genders is a notion that, well, does not exist and probably never did. It is not difficult for women to write as men, though the reverse may not be so easy, for obvious reasons. Vituperate that!

    As to a “trick ending,” it is perfectly obvious from the beginning that the story is going to be about an identical twin and that the twin is either dead or dying. I confess that it did not surprise me that the author of this story was female, but that’s does not diminish the quality of the story.

  • https://sites.google.com/site/michellekingfiction/ Michelle King

    Lovely story, beautifully well-judged. The best flash tells a small story but implies a large one, and that’s exactly what this does. With this snapshot we get a full sense of the brothers’ relationship and the agony of the slow separation they’re undergoing, and it broke my heart. Five stars.

  • http://viewsfromnature.com Carrie

    I “got” that the MC was a twin near the beginning and I suspected the other twin was dead.

    I loved this story. It gave me chills at the end. I love the last line especially.

  • J Howard

    So much vituperation, so little time…

    Gotta agree with #25 Chris Fries: Writing from the other gender’s POV should always be an option; as a writer, I find it’s a great way to challenge myself, and I’ll do it whenever I think the story will benefit. Of course, like every other POV choice we make, some, male and female, are gonna be better at it than others. For me, this writer (Sarah) was good enough at it that I did a mental double-take when I realized the narrator was a guy, because I’d remembered the author was a woman. And frankly, I think she nailed it…

  • http://www.deborahblood.com Debi Blood

    I agree 100% with J. Howard (#29) who agrees with Chris Fries (#25), so I guess that makes me a very agreeable person. ;-)

    There are writers who can convincingly write from either a male or female POV. There are others who cannot, such as Anne Rice and Charles Dickens.

  • merlin’s twin sister (writing from beyond the grave)

    @ fishlovesca. Merlin is a blithering idiot. Don’t believe anything he writes. It’s all rubbbish.

  • fishlovesca

    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • http://users.beagle.com.au/peterl P.M.Lawrence

    I was thinking along the lines of Walt Giersbach’s particular points for this story – not the general one about gender shifts always being wrong, just the way this worked out here. I just didn’t want to jump in first with it.

    In a way, Guinevere’s idea that “Funny, if the guys were chatting a lot at the end of this story THAT probably wouldn’t be masculine enough for some, but them sitting in comfortable silence isn’t either” rather pushes home the point that (often, not always) women don’t “get” most men’s perspective, and no doubt vice versa (though how would I know?). If the guys were chatting a lot at the end of this story, that wouldn’t be masculine enough for me, and them sitting in comfortable silence wouldn’t be either – she simply didn’t spot the more likely possibilities, e.g. helpless rage, numbness, or whatever, still all in silence. It would also be very likely that someone in that situation (bereaved male) would lash out – possibly even with violence – at anyone who even tried to sympathise. Comfortable silence? Now, that’s weird; there would be nothing comfortable about it.

  • http://sophieplayle.com Sophie Playle

    Very nice, Sarah. Pulls the reader along well; great sense of awkwardness tinged with sadness throughout. I thought it was going to turn out that the man WAS Tim, but was leaving his past life behind. Your ending was more realistic, melancholy.

  • Kit

    Loved it. Beautiful diction and dialogue. The reluctance of the MC and the description of the hospital made me think maybe his twin was going to have more of a mental health disorder than a physical health disorder.

  • Moana Brantwood

    A touching story with true emotion peeking in your final line. It was a real experience, very thoughtfully written. I look forward to reading more of your work

  • Sarah Evans

    Thanks for all the comments and observations – it’s great to get so much feedback.

    As for ‘gender’ I find I write about 50:50 male and female point of view – but for some reason my male pov stories seem to have been more successful in getting published. Bizarre!

  • Jackie McMurray

    Sarah – You have captured one man’s struggle with death and dying in a poignant way. Thank you for a well written piece of fiction.

  • http://pittsburghflashfictiongazette.com Guy Hogan

    The pacing is excellent. The moment of truth seems to be whether or not to tell Dave the truth; but I can see that telling people the truth would only prolong the agony of the encounter, for the protagonist and the old friend. Excellent work.

  • http://kathyglascott.com K.J. Glascott

    I really liked this story and was drawn into it right away. I suspected a twin connceit–and it worked. But I thought that perhaps the twin was in prison or something like that.
    The ending was very satisfying and lovely. I didn’t find it mawkish at all–after all, emotions and feelings are a real part of life.And as far as expecting Ralph to chat up the guy he encounters on the street–why would he?–His brother is dying and proably can’t carry on much of a conversation.
    So enough analysis–loved the story and I gave it a 5.

  • http://nikkski22@yahoo.co.uk Nicole M Rodger

    To be honest, when i started reading this,i wasn’t overly keen but for some reason i still couldn’t stop myself. as i read on i find it to get more compelling than the start and have to eat my own words as this is truly a great original story line. well done you =]

  • Jon Ruland

    i gave it 5 stars, but i agree with walt. MC seemed androgynous or feminine. 5 stars in my book doesn’t mean perfect, just very very good. ;)

  • Killian

    Great story. It reminds me of the novel ‘Mistaken’ by Neil Jordan set in Dublin and based on a similar premise.

  • http://carlasarett.blogspot.com Carla Sarett

    Poetic, strong.

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  • http://lindamanning.wordpress.com Linda

    This social interchange is eloquently written, capturing each tick-tock of the moment, both in dialogue and in mood.

    So very nicely done!

  • Cezarija Abartis

    A fine story. I like very much: “I talk a little more and then we lapse into familiar, comfortable silence. We’ve never had to pretend, Tim and me, never needed to talk if there isn’t something worth saying.”

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