by CG Thompson

‘Your car’s still parked on the grass,’ I tell Cole.

‘I know,’ he says, in a desultory way that means he isn’t planning to do anything about it.’

‘The fine’s $25 a day, isn’t it?’

‘You know it is.’

Our city frowns on parking cars in the front yard – or the back yard, for that matter. Apparently it’s a gateway offense that leads to more serious offenses, like putting recliners on the porch.

‘For just $25 a day,’ Cole says, ‘the cost of twelve cups of coffee – you can help a city plaster its neat, green, water-wasting rectangles with collections of metal, rubber, and glass that are loosely referred to as vehicles and waste gas instead of water.’

‘Thanks, I will sit down.’

I sit on the sofa that once graced a fraternity house and probably has enough information to blackmail half the student body, past and present, if it could only talk.

‘Abate the nuisance,’ Cole says, loosely quoting from the leaflet the city deposited under one of his windshield wipers. ‘Nuisance must be abated, or resident will be drawn and quartered. Quartered. One fourth of a hundred, hence $25.’

Cole and I are identical twins, and I haven’t gotten used to looking at myself and hearing words I’d never say, at least not in that order, or with the same attitude.

‘Please remove your collection of metal, rubber, and glass to the paved driveway that causes runoff and pollutes rivers and streams. If you do not have a paved driveway and are unable to pollute ’

‘Cole –’

‘You have the right not to park, but anything you park can and will be used against you.’

Three years ago, we were college freshman with almost identical SAT scores. Then Cole injured his knee, jogging with his girlfriend Christmas Day of sophomore year. She didn’t see the empty beer bottle, accidentally kicked it into his path. His knee required two surgeries.

He points at me with the TV remote. ‘Comfortably Numb.’ ‘Is There Anybody Out There?’ ‘Eclipse.’

He’s listing songs from Pink Floyd, riffing on an old Facebook game where you answer questions using titles from a single artist.

‘Straight to DVD,’ I say, meaning he’s skipping the questions.

Wish You Were Here.’

‘Fine. Go ahead and play for both of us.’

Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way,’ he quotes.

‘Not a title.’

‘Apropos, nonetheless. A nuisance, really. One that should be abated before reckless endangerment occurs.’

‘I agree. Quiet desperation is sucking the life out of you.’

‘Go directly to Jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.’

I counter with U2. ‘Beautiful Day.’ ‘Pride.’

Cole missed a year on the track team, decided not to return. He took enough painkillers for both of us, then began skipping classes. His major was geology, and he planned to become an environmental lawyer to fight coal companies that pretend they’re doing a public service when they remove the tops of mountains. Instead he spends his afternoons watching Law and Order re-runs.

‘Speaking of $200, the city can make that disappear in a week,’ I say.

‘Eight days, to be exact. ‘Another Brick in the Wall.’

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.’ ‘Desire.’

At night he washes dishes at a pizza place. Before that, he sold sunglasses in the mall, until the mall, mismanaged, went bankrupt. Its stores sit, waiting to be filled.

‘Keys are locked in the car,’ he says. He raises both arms, motions as if he’s conducting an orchestra, uses the remote as a baton. ‘In two beats, the horns come in. And now’ – pointing to a corner where his laundry basket spills over with old computer games – ‘cue the transmission.’

‘I know it’s an unusual concept, but – spare key.’

He motions to the imaginary orchestra. ‘Let’s have a little vibrato from the mufflers.’

I move to the edge of the sofa and grab his wrist. ‘What the hell, Cole?’

He snaps his arm, almost pulling me onto the floor. He was always the slightly stronger one, the slightly smarter one.

‘I was just about to cue the spark plugs.’

‘Oh, don’t do that. You might have to stand up.’

He drops the remote into one of the empty coffee cups on the floor and looks at me. ‘Symphony in D Minor. That would be discordant-twin minor. In a major way.’

With discordant twins, one develops a problem the other doesn’t have – autism, depression, you name it. It’s a complicated matter that can start with mitochondrial DNA and apparently end anywhere.

‘I don’t think a knee injury counts.’

‘Yes, the injury. Nuisance that cannot be abated. Collection of femur, tibia, and patella loosely referred to as a knee. Let’s fine it $25 a day.’

‘Injury. Past tense. Not a problem now.’

‘Girlfriend gone. Track-times shot. Scars that did feel a wound.’

‘You took a houseful of painkillers.’ I wince as soon as I say it, try to soften the truth by continuing to talk. ‘So now you’re bringing Romeo and Juliet into this?’

He fishes the remote from the cup and points it toward the door. ‘Nobody Home.’ The words do double duty – describe his state of mind and tell me to leave.

‘Cole…’ I say it as a lamentation, and it is.

He points again, The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

I stand slowly and feel him staring at my knees, my two unscarred, unscathed knees. I look across the room, at the wall where a previous tenant sealed up a fireplace but left the mantel.

Wish You Were Here,’ he says, addressing me at mid leg.

Where the Streets Have No Name,’ I tell the mantel.

I open the door and step onto the empty porch, feeling a pain that begins in my knee and travels to the hollow, muscular, blood-pumping organ that could loosely be described as my heart.

C.G. Thompson is a three-time finalist for the James Applewhite Poetry Prize and a runner-up for the 2017 Barry Hannah Prize in Fiction.  Her short stories and poems have appeared in Fictive Dream, Prime Number Magazine, Jersey Devil Press, Yalobusha Review, Redheaded Stepchild, Boston Literary Magazine, and North Carolina Literary Review, among others.