Read by Carrie Cohen & Louisa Gummer
Most people call me Dum. Even though it’s not my name, and I’m anything but.
I have my sister to thank for that. I always thought the older one was supposed to torment the younger. But not in our case. My name used to be Dominique, you see. Until one day it wasn’t.
On checking my wardrobe, I found she’d done the same with all my other clothes. And because our family has the greatest respect for the written word, my name was changed forever.
I didn’t speak for nearly a year. But the following Christmas, I got my revenge.
Back then, everyone already knew my little sister as Dee.
Short for Delilah, of all things.
Dee. Little Deedee. So cute and tasty.
Until the day I found out it’s derived from the Hebrew for hairy.
I made sure word got out. That Christmas, everyone called her Santa, and did the beard-stroking gesture. And there was nothing she could do about it, because she’d written her name in all her exercise books.
Boy, did she make a fuss.
Accused me of souring her flavour socially.
But then, she’d robbed me of my iniqueness.
Small wonder we haven’t met each other's eye in forty years.
Don’t let on, but I’ve eyeballed her far more recently than that.
Sometimes, if it’s the middle of the night and she’s snoring one of her really special snores, I can’t help it. I just think stuff the bloody rules… and instead of facing my side as per protocol I turn my head and look straight at her.
There beside me, on the mattress.
Honestly, the size of that mouth. Like a fucking lunar eclipse. She just disappears behind it.
“Roll the boulder back across the entrance, Dum!” I shout, and snap my gaze back upwards before she wakes.
She’s a stickler for rules, is Dum, and I respect that. So am I, most of the time.
Because they work.
If your physical connection is constant – day and night – then you must find other ways to give each other space. We manage this by never looking at each other… apart from in the mirror, of course, and that’s more than enough.
We stand like this, the two of us: both facing forward, but back to back. Our clothes Velcro together at the join. Tailors have retired on our business. In the shower, we use pipe-cleaners to scour the crevice between our spines.
We never turn our heads towards each other. My eyes can swivel as far as they want in her direction, but all that does is make her throb a little harder on the periphery of my vision.
Most people assume we’re conjoined. Siamese, if you want to be un-PC. But it’s always been completely voluntary.
Life is easier than you might assume. At least, it was before we went on the lam.
We complement each other perfectly, you see.
She’s tall, I’m short.
I’m practical, she’s artistic.
She’s a blonde, I’m a redhead.
I’m a talker, she’s reserved.
She’s bilious and I’m phlegmatic.
I’m young and she’s ancient (there are thirty whole minutes between us).
She’s City and I’m United.
I’m ravishing and she’s divine. It’s a wonder anyone can tell us apart.
After the tit-for-tat name-sabotage of our ninth and tenth Christmases, we might never have spoken to each other again, had it not been for End-Stage Renal Disease.
Dee gave me one of her kidneys, you see, thereby saving my life.
We were both fully anaesthetised throughout the procedure, of course. And yet... there’s a memory there.
We both have it. It can’t be real, because things are never done that way. Donors and recipients are kept on the same floor of the hospital, but in different rooms. Yet at some point during our recovery, a scene presented itself to us both independently, and stayed: the two of us side-by-side on separate operating tables, our cantilevered arms stretched out across the gap, splayed fingers touching. We’ve described it to each other countless times: the masked heads bobbing under tinsel-fringed ceiling lights; footsteps out in the corridor; the calm, night-surf breathing of the surgeon; the beeps and hums from the machinery.
It couldn’t have been cornier if Clooney himself had appeared, and yet it’s ours. Not a real memory, but who knows – some weird emotional echo? A stray nebula of meaning, floating between us? Whatever the case, it has governed the course of both our lives.
A few months after the operation, in the rudest of health, we stood facing each other at opposite ends of the street where we lived. When Dum started running, I did too. We met at full sprint in the middle, colliding with sufficient force to knock ourselves unconscious for a moment, and to confirm, via that childish, symbolised attempt at fusion, that I was in her and she in me, and that we were one.
We’ve been inseparable ever since. Literally.
We decided to make the symbolic real; to consciously couple, if you like.
Before our recent brush with the law, we’d lived happily together for years in the same flat above Kilburn High Road. The only time we ever changed body position was at work.
Or if we got in a fight. Which happens more than you might suppose.
At such times, back-to-back makes perfect tactical sense. Like Porthos and Aramis. Tango and Cash. For me, working in finance, it meant there was nowhere for your rivals to stab you. In a fistfight, it meant our kidneys were always protected. Having only one each, it was somewhere neither of us could afford to take a punch.
The bankers quickly got used to seeing Dum at meetings, velcroed to my back as I wheeled and dealt. She’d busy herself with a sketchbook or shoulder-mounted easel, interpreting everything she saw with astounding technical skill. Although her work depicted little more than the cubicles and meeting rooms of Canary Wharf, it earned some very respectable reviews.
The Lowry of the LIBOR, they called me, after those hunched figures I drew, trudging like zombies across Reuters Plaza.
In the evenings, we’d sit at home with a bottle of Amontillado, looking out at the street and discussing whatever took our fancy: existentialism, usually, or Zen, or string theory.
Or what to do if a bar-room brawl gets taken to ground.
We really did get in a lot of fights for two middle-aged ladies. But then Dee’s a sour mash girl, and I do love my Stella, so it’s hardly a surprise.
We were known in all the pubs, and the regulars quickly learned respect. But there’s always some creep who needs educating. I mean, I’m fairly easy-going. I don’t mind having my décolletage complimented if it’s done subtly, and with flair… but a man has to know his boundaries. Or rather, our boundaries. There’ll be no whispering of sweet nothings to me while your fingers oh-so-accidentally feather my twin’s shapely derrière. If that happens then there’s going to be drama, and if you’ve got a few mates with you they can join the fucking ensemble, no problem.
Dum’s trained in Muay Thai. I’m Wing Chun. Punch-and-kick-based stuff, mostly. It’s hard to master a fighting art with your twin sister attached to your back, believe me, but we managed it. It’s also nigh on impossible to practise ground-fighting when you’re virtually incapable of falling over.
You do wonder if that weakness may one day cost you.
And the day invariably comes when you find out.
It was Christmas Eve in the Queen of Hearts: wall-to-wall pissheads in silly hats and tinsel falling in your beer. For a joke, we’d snuck into the gents’ and hung mistletoe above the trough urinal... and, well, you know how suggestible some fellas are. In no time the brawl had spread all the way to the bar and everyone was joining in. I’d just stepped back to avoid some bastard’s haymaker and I felt Dee slip behind me on the wet floorboards. A moment later she’s on all fours, and I’m on her back, as well as on my back. Helpless as a tortoise, or so I thought.
I think instinct just took over. I started rotating there on the spot, as fast as I could, still on my hands and knees, aware that more and more guys were entering the melee, trying to overwhelm us with numbers. I knew Dum was completely exposed up there, but all I could do was carry on spinning, and trust her to do the right thing.
I lay there, pedalling my legs as I went round and round, taking out kneecaps: bang, bang, bang, bang… and these pussies, they’re dropping like flies, it’s brilliant. On the way past a table I grab an empty eggnog bottle in each hand, smash them together and start opening veins.
By now Dee’s really into it. She crab-walks across the room and shins up the underside of the mezzanine, so now I’m the one underneath. While I’m hanging there among the fairy lights, I bag me a couple of scalps.
I can hear Dee shouting, “Let’s get the fuck out of Dodge!” and I say yes, deary, let’s do that.
Outside, it’s a solid wall of cop cars. Blue-strobes bouncing off the falling snow, shells clicking into chambers, the lot. I decide there’s nothing for it but to charge them. That takes them by surprise, and we manage to break through the cordon.
We crab-sprint all the way home.
We each pack a small bag. Then we disappear.
We’d love to tell you where we live now, but we can’t. For your own safety.
That said, you may come across us sometimes, whilst walking in some far-flung forest. Or rather, you’ll come across our hiding place. But you won’t know it’s a hiding place, and of course there’ll be no sign of us.
Although sometimes... especially in the winter, when the snow lies thick and silent, you might think you can hear the forest talking.
It talks in the voices of two middle-aged ladies, each telling the other to please just fuck the fuck off if you don’t like it, because that’s how I’ve always basted a turkey and I’m not about to change now. And anyway, if you fuck off I’m coming with you, sweetie.
That’s us, in hiding.
We survive as soldiers of fortune.
Criminals think of us with terror, and the common people with awe. In the popular imagination, we are fused together as one.
Their name for us: Crab Woman.
Our base is an abandoned twitchers’ hide, so thickly clad with turf that even the squirrels think it’s a hillock. In our spare time…
…there’s a lot of that…
…we’ve taken up birdwatching.
It’s my ambition to see a budgie.
Since we’ve been in the neighbourhood, there’s been zero crime. Even the foxes don't try anything.
So if you’ve dirty work in mind, we suggest you move on.
There’s a brook up ahead, with a little stone bridge.
We recommend you cross it, and make your way back to civilisation.
And while you’re about it, do be good, for goodness' sake.
Because if you don’t, you’ll have the Tweedle Sisters to deal with.
(c) Jim Cogan, 2015
Carrie Cohen: Recent theatre: Mrs Tarleton in Shaw’s Misalliance (Tabard), Hetty in Gelt (Etcetera) and Myfanwy in Hula Hoops Were My Downfall (The Space). Film: Grace in Mouthplay (Tabard) scheduled to shoot in January. TV: Hilda in Dara O'Briain's In Case You Missed It. Full CV, show & voice reels at www.CarrieCohen.co.uk
Louisa Gummer is a Liars' League regular. Her recent voiceover work includes the "Vine in 1914" strand on BBC Radio 2, seducing Harry Enfield on a radio ad, guiding visitors around Stockholm's Moderna Museet, and giving instructions inside an MRI scanner.
As a freelance copywriter and corporate filmmaker, Jim Cogan grapples on a daily basis with the big themes: global skincare trends, potato cultivation in Essex, mailroom technology and risk mitigation policy in local government. He is also the go-to guy for making asset management software sound sexy. He was joint winner of the Liars' League MVP Award for Writing, 2015.