I disliked Miguel’s teacher from the moment I met her. I wanted my son to get an education worthy of a future representative of his country, not some arbitrary schooling from a young, emotionally instable woman. Admittedly, he was only a few years old, but it’s a sensitive age and I wanted to be selective concerning his influences. My wife, Isabella posted an ad, but it was harder than you might think to find a private teacher who was both available and able, so we let our current private teacher stay until we found someone better. I never saw them speak to each other, but Isabella assured me that they got along fine, and that she didn’t want her to leave us. I disagreed but didn’t have much of a choice, since it was so hard to find trustworthy staff. I always thought there was something strange about our private teacher, how she and Isabella were confusingly alike, but I never said anything since I knew I was never any good at judging faces &mdash I always preferred sounds rather than visuals, and easily mistake people, it has happened several times and can sometimes be embarrassing. Besides, it would be inappropriate to point out something like that, about the lady of the house and a simple private teacher and how their voices bore striking resemblance, so I never said anything about it, to anyone.
I always hated open waters. It’s not that I’m afraid, or ever had a bad experience of drowning. It’s just how so many men drowned in the ocean and how many ships were sunk in it. It’s not something I want to spend my days being reminded of, with a sea view from my windows. So, instead Isabella and I got ourselves a large white brick house close to the city, and not close to the beach with a view over the water, like Isabella initially wanted. I understand that’s what she liked, since she grew up close to the water, but I refused for obvious reasons and finally she did the most reasonable thing and agreed to the house I proposed &mdash it was beautiful, bricks shining in the sun. Even though Isabella had been unreasonable at first she gave in. I’m glad she did, it would have been childish to keep pushing the issue and complicate things. We decorated our home in traditional style, tasteful with dark oak and a fire place. I never really understood why people would want to decorate their houses differently than I do &mdash it’s not that I’m intolerant, I do realize people are different. I just think that it’s an obvious choice to want antique vases and heavy teak tables rather than IKEA and plastic surrounding you. Take an old, ticking clock &mdash it makes me feel calm and secure &mdash reminding me of my childhood, tip&mdash toeing around soft carpets, accompanied by the steady ticking of the clocks letting you know how time didn’t let you down, but kept on moving ahead.
Like I said &mdash I’d never call myself an aesthete, but I really do hate how our maid just don’t seem to see the dishes around the house sometimes, despite the fact that I keep telling her that I want the house to always be clean. When I say always, always is just what I mean &mdash and after all, it’s her job to follow my instructions, especially when it comes to the state of the house. I was raised to understand that the devil’s in the details, and if the details are skewed, the big whole loses its feeling of serenity. Because of that it was typical that Annemarie arrived just when a glass was standing around, a brandy snifter from the night before where the last drops already had managed to dry up and get all sticky. I remember how I put the glass in the bookshelf the night before and felt the blood pumping when I saw it still standing there, as if with a snug smile on its crystal face. It was typical timing with a new guest arriving and so typical for the maid, sometimes it is almost like she turns blind because she doesn’t want to see something. But, like I mentioned earlier, it’s difficult enough to find good staff around here so she has stayed on throughout the years, even though she drives me crazy sometimes.
I had no idea that Annemarie was going to turn up, so for me it was a total surprise when the maid called me, and told me she had arrived. It was strange to see her cross the Persian rug in the hallway, everything was so similar but yet there was something vague, something I couldn’t put my finger on, perhaps a variation in how she walked. I didn’t even know she existed. Surprisingly, Isabella had never mentioned her. I could not stop looking at Annemarie, while I showed her upstairs and said, you can sleep in the guest room, take your time and rest a little if you want, you must be exhausted after the trip, Isabella will be home soon.
My wife wasn’t around. I didn’t even know she left the house but I guess she did, the maid said and winked at me. Isabella and I had been married four years and crossed the line from newlyweds to a more normal everyday life together, so we were starting to get used to each other to the point where you barely notice the other person in the hallway. Not like in the beginning when my body reacted merely on her smell. She looked after Miguel, and I didn’t see much of either one of them during daytime, when I kept myself busy in my office, or reading in the library. When the maid said, You have a visitor, and I came to the door I initially got surprised &mdash it was Isabella, what did she mean? Not even when Annemarie opened her mouth did I hear a difference, not even when she said her name. I thought it was some kind of absurd joke and it took me seconds before I could absorb the new information &mdash there was no doubt that it had to be true &mdash she could impossibly lie about them being related &mdash there are no strangers who are that alike. But it still felt unreal. That they could be so similar. It was as if Isabella pulled a joke on me, even though it would be unlike her, already on our honeymoon when she tried hiding my underwear I told her that she had to end that kind of nonsense, it didn’t suit a woman of her position.
Annemarie brought a red suitcase with her, large and old with worn edges and a used buckle. I called the maid and pointed at the brandy snifter. I didn’t see it; the maid said and I said, Please take this young lady’s luggage. And this, I added with distaste as I waved at the sticky glass. Annemarie gave the maid the bag and smiled, and for a moment I could hint how her smile wasn’t the same as Isabella’s. I couldn’t describe completely how, just that it was crooked somehow &mdash not as perfect as Isabella’s. I often get complimented on how beautiful my wife is, perfect with her fair skin, shiny hair and the little nose, complimenting a set of almond shaped eyes and a full&mdash bodied mouth. Annemarie had the same perfect foundation, but something essential was different &mdash the hair not as sleek and the smile not as straight.
What I initially assumed would be a short visit dragged on and became a long&mdash term stay. Annemarie stayed on for weeks, quietly walking around the house, leaving coffee cups as single traces in every single room &mdash it wasn’t difficult to follow her footsteps. I mistook the sisters every day, was forced to check what Isabella put on every day to make sure I wouldn’t mistake her for Annemarie. Normally I take my dinner in my office, but one of the days of Annemarie’s visit I suggested we’d gather for a dinner, the whole family. I sat down, Miguel was there with me but only one of the women was at the table. Isabella always changed her dress before dinner gatherings and as I sat there at the table I had to call the maid and ask her, Did she feel ill today? When she answered, The Lady is in her room with a head ache, I could speak to the sister next to me, assured she was our guest and not my wife.
Although, despite their striking similarity I noticed how small differences showed up in small rough patches &mdash in a smile or an unexpected jerk of the shoulder in the middle of all the softness of the gestures. Strands of hair in disarranged, careless movements. Isabella was always so careful. Annemarie was different.
Despite such a long time together, there were still things about Isabella that irritated me. I always told her when there was something about her that annoyed me, thought that it would be better to be honest and say it as it was, so you wouldn’t need be bothered by it any longer. Most things she ended after I asked her, but there were some habits that she didn’t seem able to let go off. Like how she always had to hum along whenever I played music in sitting room with the fire place, no matter how many times I asked her to please, please stop because it really annoyed me and I wanted to listen to my music undisturbed, not with some humming sound in the background, nibbling on the great musical experiences I could have had if the music could have been alone, pure and clean with silence as back drop. There were several of those things, small things that were added up to a frustration that I couldn’t help myself feeling. The house was big but you still knew you weren’t alone.
You would imagine that sisters who haven’t seen each other for a while would want to spend all their time together, but it didn’t seem like they got along very well. Maybe there had been some falling out on their part, but I decided to just mind my own business. But it seemed like Isabella had come to stay on, as she wandered around the house day after day, although strangely enough never next to her sister. As a matter of fact, I never saw the two sisters together at all. Maybe they had their Tete a tete’s in one of the rooms, what did I know.
One afternoon as I sat by the fireplace reading and whiffing my pipe, one of the sisters sat down in the armchair next to me and started reading. I couldn’t for the life of me make out who it was sitting there; the book she read was nothing I ever heard of, some sentimental novel. I just had to know, it drove me crazy that I was sitting there next to a woman, not knowing who it was. The more I thought about it, the more it bothered me. Then it hit me. I called the maid, and asked her to turn on Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto. Helena, the maid, followed my instructions and just a minute later the first dull tones hit the sitting room, through the speakers that were hidden in between some bookshelves.
But, the woman next to me in the arm chair sat completely quiet, seemingly deeply involved in the book in front of her. I was sure that Isabella would have hummed along; she always did whenever I played Beethoven, especially as soon as the crescendo in part two arrived. So I was forced to assume that it was Annemarie sitting there, next to me. But she looked so much like Isabella. I decided to say Annemarie’s name out loud, thinking, that if it was after all Isabella, then she would say something about Annemarie being in her room, and not there. I said her name as if answering a question, it wasn’t an exclamation.
The woman looked at me, her narrow eye brows lifted so that a small wrinkle was made visible in her forehead.
Who is Annemarie?
At first I didn’t know if it was a joke or if she was serious, and I instinctively looked around as if searching for an invisible audience. I mumbled something, not knowing what to say.
Annemarie, Isabella’s sister?
She theatrically shrugged her shoulders, made an almost invisible pout of the lips and lifted her eye brows, all in the same simple gesture.
I don’t know what you’re talking about.
She returned to her book.
Completely dumb struck I sat there, mouth open wide, not knowing what to say. She spoke again.
I am Isabella’s sister. It’s just the two of us.
But Annemarie &mdash
I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Right then the maid came through the door, curtsied and said, you called, sir?
The woman who wasn’t Annemarie turned towards the door, gave a brief smile and spoke.
Helena, please get us two cups of tea.
I lifted my hand avertedly, as if to push away an invisible cup.
The woman turned to the maid again.
The maid curtsied quickly and was just about the turn around when I finally managed to collect myself enough to call out to stop her.
I didn’t know how to express myself, all I could say was Annemarie’s name.
The maid silently stayed where she was, as if waiting for a continuation.
Sir &mdash Annemarie isn’t here anymore.
The maid smiled at me, as if I was in the know of something, winked quickly with her left eye while she said, with a discrete crane of the neck towards the woman.
But she &mdash
The woman looked at me with a surprised look.
But Sir, I am Sara, the new private teacher.
I could do nothing but stare, mouth open, helpless looking at the maid for assistance.
It seems like Annemarie went back home, Sir.
The maid shrugged her shoulders before she once more curtsied to this time leave the room, where I was left, alone with the woman I didn’t know. Helena’s voice still echoed in my ear drums while I looked around the room; saw the flakes of dust covering the books and I felt the discomfort of how the books were disarranged in the bookshelf; how the porcelain figurines were placed with different distances apart on the mantelpiece and I knew, how there would also be more women, always with the same voice. I spoke her name, and knew in the same instant I saw her surprised look that she had always been there, as vague as a negative copied one too many times.
(first published in blue&mdash eyed boy bait, issue 1 )