The Jacob Theory
by: Bonnie Mercure
"Mom used to call us sparrows. She told us we reminded her of little birds. Jacob doesn't remember that, but I do."
Dr. Harrington nodded and wrote on her notepad. Everything I said was recorded in a yellow tablet, as if she wasn't a psychiatrist but a reporter. She pushed a gray strand of hair behind her ear and looked at my brother. "Is what Julie said true, Jacob? You don't remember?"
My brother lowered his head, undid the last button on his baggy flannel shirt then redid it. Through the window behind him a robin hopped across the lawn of the medical complex and flew away. I watched it until it disappeared from sight.
"Jacob?" Dr. Harrington said, sounding exasperated.
"He hardly remembers a thing about Mom," I said.
I turned in time to see Dr. Harrington purse her lips into a thin line. She didn't like that I spoke for my brother all the time. Since we started seeing her six months ago, he'd probably only spoken a total of three words to her. Recently, Dr. Harrington made the habit of eyeing Jacob as if he were an unusual specimen that should be observed under glass. But a lot of adults looked at him that way, like he wasn't quite human.
"I on the other hand," I said, trying to get Dr. Harrington's attention away from my brother, who had started to squirm under her scrutiny. "Remember every detail about
her." I shut my eyes and imagined her beautiful face, a face that was never without a bruise or a scratch.
"Why do you think she stayed with someone like your father for so long?" Dr. Harrington asked.
I opened my eyes and turned to my brother. He continued to fiddle with his button, dark hair hanging around his face like a shield. I didn't need to see his face, though, to know the expression he wore--the same expression he always wore whenever our father was mentioned. A beaten, defeated look that said I'm all used up. Try all you like, but there's nothing left to take.
"Mom told me she was thrilled to have twins," I said, forcing my voice to sound cheerful. "She didn't know until she was in the delivery room that she was gonna have two babies. I came first, and she thought she was finished. But then, exactly two minutes later, Jacob came. He was a tiny, sickly thing, according to Mom. Barely three pounds." I paused, ignoring Dr. Harrington's bland face. "Mom used to say he was her little miracle. Like a gift you weren't expecting."
Dr. Harrington frowned. "You've told me something along those lines before, Julie. Only last time... " She shuffled through her notepad. "Last time you said your mom told you that Jacob had been born first, had been a strong seven pound baby with a set of lungs on him that could crumble a mountain. You had been the small, sickly one--"
I waved a dismissive hand at her. "Well, I was mistaken. I remember clearly Mom telling me--"
"And before that you said... " More shuffling from her yellow notepad. Jacob sighed, as if in resignation. "You told me that you and Jacob had weighed a pound and a half each, could fit into your mother's palms like baby squirrels."
"Again I was mistaken!"
Dr. Harrington learned forward and looked at me as if trying to solve a puzzle. "I can't help you or your brother if you insist on telling me these stories, Julie."
"They're not stories," I said. "Our mom used to tell us a lot of things. Like one time--"
She raised her hand. "Enough. Lets stay in the present, shall we?" She settled back into her seat, flipped her notepad back to its current page. "How are the two of you getting along at the Donalds? Any problems?"
"Jacob and I would like a new foster home." I looked at my brother. "Right Jacob?"
Ever so slightly, he nodded.
"They're religious freaks," I added.
"But they're good to you," she said. It wasn't a question.
I shrugged. So what if they didn't hit us, lock us in a closet or use us for cheap labor? We didn't like it there, for reasons Dr. Harrington would never understand. They had two real children, Cindy and Ken, who were more spoiled and selfish than average kids who had the luxury of a stable family. Jacob and I were like a huge charity foundation to the Donalds, a reason for them to feel good about themselves. "These are our foster children," they'd say to their friends, never mentioning our names, as if that didn't matter.
Dr. Harrington laid her notepad on the desk, a sign that our session was over. She stood and smoothed the wrinkles from her skirt. "Next time, I want honesty from you, Julie." She faced my brother, gave him the 'specimen under glass' look. "And you need to open up more, Jacob. How can I help otherwise?"
He shrugged, got to his feet, and the two of us left without saying another word.
. . . .
"Why do you always lie to Dr. Harrington?" Jacob asked as we walked the two miles home. The Donalds gave us bus money every Friday, but Jacob and I liked to walk. After sitting an hour with Dr. Harrington and her professional notepad, we always felt a little squirrelly, and the long walk cleared our heads. Besides, it was the end of March. After a long Wisconsin winter, spring was finally showing itself here in Wintertin. Jacob and I loved spring.
"It's better than not saying anything at all. If you don't start speaking soon, she's going to think you're brain dead."
Jacob kicked at a rock on the sidewalk and muttered something under his breath. The afternoon sun shone on his face, and looking at him was almost like looking in a mirror. Our eyes were large and brown, and we forever had dark circles under them; our faces were skeleton-thin, our skin a tad too pale. Jacob and Julie, sixteen-year-old twins, survivors of a sixteen-year hell.
"She gives me the creeps," Jacob said, his tone reasonable. "It's my right not to talk, isn't it?"
I rolled my eyes. Every authoritative figure Jacob came across gave him the creeps. "I think we're gonna be seeing her for awhile, so you might as well start talking. You don't want her to write you off as a total kook."
We turned and looked at each other at the same exact moment. Jacob grinned and we broke out in waves of laughter. A couple of seniors from Rockside High passed by in an old truck. They honked and a brown-haired boy stuck his head out the passenger window. "Hey, it's Jacob, the sister fucker!" he yelled, and they drove away in a rusted streak.
That didn't stop us from laughing. The picture of Dr. Harrington with her all-too-professional notepad writing Jacob off--writing anything about Jacob instead of me, for that matter--made us laugh until we had to lean over and clench our stomachs in agony.
Times like these were why I wouldn't change who we were for anything.
. . . .
The Donalds lived in a suburb where every house on the block looked suspiciously like the next, where the lawns were lush and green, the front walks free from litter and cigarette butts. Swing sets, bright and shiny under the afternoon sun, sat in backyards, and in the gardens you could see hints of tulips and daffodils making their annual appearance. The neighborhood smelled clean and fresh. For Jacob and me, the suburbs were a whole different world.
Inside we found a note from the Donalds on the kitchen counter. Jacob and Julie,
we couldn't wait any longer. Did you forget about our dinner engagements with the
Adams? Frozen pizza in the freezer.---Bill and Helen.
I crumpled the note and tossed it in the garbage. Of course we hadn't forgotten. But the thought of spending an evening over at the Adams made me want to retch. If anyone was known to give Jacob the 'specimen under glass' look it was John and Vera Adam. To them we were just a couple of ill-bred, slightly tarnished welfare cases whom their philanthropic friends had taken on.
"What do you wanna do now?" Jacob asked.
I smiled. It was a rare occasion that we were left alone. Cindy and Ken had more than likely been dragged along to the Adams, too. I glanced at the clock above the stove. It was a little after five. We had two, perhaps three hours until they came home.
"Race ya upstairs?" I said.
Grinning, Jacob took off through the kitchen and toward the stairs. I followed. My brother had about a three second lead on me but I didn't care. I watched him from behind as he ran up the plush-carpeted stairs, taking three at a time. I was close enough to grab the back of his shirt, and for a moment I thought about yanking on it so he'd fly backwards. I didn't, though. I let him win.
At the landing Jacob stood, breathing hard and still grinning. I punched his arm. "You cheated. You didn't wait for me to say go."
He shrugged. "My room or yours?"
"Mine. The bed is more comfortable."
We turned right and entered my room, which was exactly like Jacob's across the hall. Clean and white, with scarcely any personal items. We thought of them more as hotel rooms than our own personal bedrooms--just places to stay until we turned eighteen.
I plopped on the twin bed, moved toward the wall and smoothed out the white comforter. Jacob flopped beside me. We were both on our backs, so close our hips touched. We hooked our arms together; our chests rose up and down in steady exhalations.
"Where do you want to go?" he asked.
"The old place."
"You always want to go there."
"Why wouldn't I?"
"I like to go across the lake," Jacob said. "I feel like a bird then."
Mom's little sparrows, I almost said. But I didn't want to ruin the moment.
"Next time the lake," I said. "Okay?"
We shut our eyes and concentrated on our breathing. After a few minutes we breathed in the same rhythm. My heart slowed, and beside me I felt Jacob's do the same. Our connected arms were like vessels. Energy flowed from Jacob's body to mine, until we were one entity, like it had been in the beginning, on the night of our conception.
A sensation of lightness came over me. Jacob and I left our bodies, floating upward like clouds of smoke. Jacob's arm was still connected to mine, though now they blended together into one, like melted steel.
I looked down at our still bodies on the bed. We could go just about anywhere now.
Any comments you would like to send about "The Jacob Theory",
please email me at Bonnie@dowse.com