What marvel then if thus their features wore
Resemblant lineaments of kindred birth?
— Robert Southey
‘She has sex, but no particular gender.’
— Marlene Dietrich on Greta Garbo
Listen Close to Me (an extract)‘The term, normal,’ my father asserted, ‘so far as physical signs may be seen, is purely a relative one.’
In his view it was more shameful to be morally neutered than for a girl to lack the grosser anatomical features of sexual dimorphism.
For, embarrassingly, it was my fate, when I was fourteen, to exhibit none of the distinguishing attractions shared by other girls of my age.
Reed-thin, flat-chested, lanky, and hopelessly wooden, I was aware I was less than graceful; yet more painful to me than this compromised girliness was my problematic asexuality.
‘She isn’t too bright in the dating department,’ I once overheard an ex-classmate say to her best friend, less than a year after we’d parted at our school-leaving dance.
The remark was answered by the vilest giggle.
‘Nor in the desirable man department either!’
Some moments passed before I fully apprehended they were not talking about our local Departmental store, and I shuddered as I realised the true perilousness of my position.
For I began to see that asexuals like myself are caught in the never-ending crossfire of the Sex War, destined to be stranded, paralysed with dread, stark in the middle of No Man’s Land with nowhere to hide.
Truly, I thought, asexuality must be very like bearing the mark of an hereditary disease if schoolgirls could so easily guess at it.
A Tragedy of Errors.
You should know I am the younger of consobrinal twins, a strange kinship between cousins which I have no doubt anthropologists have categorised as a particular dynastic blood class.
Let me tell you frankly, my cousin Vernon and I bear a disturbing resemblance to each other and, since our births, our strange twinship has been furthered by an upbringing indistinguishable from that of siblings.
‘How does that grab you?’
The pretty blonde girl of sixteen who kissed me forcibly on the lips I’d never encountered until that moment. She gave me no opportunity to protest.
It was as if two calf livers, slaughter-warm, had been pressed to my mouth.
The occasion was a clandestine bottle party in a derelict house to celebrate my pseudo-twin-brother’s seventeenth birthday.
I’d retreated from the candle-lit revelry of his school-pals to an upper room so she must have followed my shadow up the stairs.
Cornered in a musty recess, I’d heard a far door open and the rustle of her skirt had announced her determined approach. Yet the weak shaft of moonlight on the landing that illuminated the dusty floor must have been too dim for any certain recognition of my silhouette.
But she seemed to have no hesitation. She was quite natural and very deliberate. She appeared to know quite well what she wanted as she approached me, her eyes glittering with eager communicativeness.
She closed the inner door, turning the key behind her, then crossed the room and took me in her arms, with a powerful lock of possession, as if there were no question about it; as if she knew the market value of her attractiveness.
The kiss was as spontaneous and natural as my rejection of it.
There was an involuntary contraction of her little pale fingers and we drew apart. We faced each other for an instant, and she re-examined me with a franker admiration than could be decently tolerated.
‘Tomorrow night,’ she whispered, before she darted away. Her kiss tasted of sweet cider. ‘Seven o’clock. The Vault.’
It was a page of my life I would have wished to tear out completely.
Next evening, heavy with misgivings, I approached the so-called Vault; actually, it’s a collapsed limestone sarcophagus on the very edge of the vast burial mound that is Stoneburgh cemetery. It’s a solitary nook with every surface scrawled over or carved with penknives. The sunken lid of the monument forms a seat from which one has a wide view of the unending gloomy fens.
The girl with fair hair had arrived early; she was hunched with her elbows resting on the parapet, looking indifferently into the distance over the floodplain, where white smoke rose lazily from a marshman’s bonfire.
‘If I were a man I would bash your filthy mug,’ she wept, when I tried to explain the misunderstanding sparked by my peculiar twinship with Vernon.
She could not understand why, perversely, I’d envied my cousin’s sleek, closely-cropped head, or why, the previous week, I’d visited his barber and repeated his demand. (Vernon was, at that time, in regular training as a dedicated long distance runner, and he was convinced his military cut was an aid to streamlining his performance.)
The girl’s glance took in my meek, downcast appearance and her manner turned from a slow anger to a look amounting to furious contempt.
‘Freak!’ she suddenly shrieked. ‘I will grow up thinking I have been out with a girl!’ Then she burst out brokenly, ‘I’ll believe my first serious date was with a girl! You make me wish I’d never met you or your cousin!’
She advanced in an access of rage and, without warning, slapped my face.
‘I wouldn’t have kissed him if I’d thought Vernon was a girl,’ she added confusedly, and ran off into the shadows.
For more concerning consobrinal twins and monochorionic identical twins, see . . .
Catherine Eisner believes passionately in plot-driven suspense fiction, a devotion to literary craft that draws on studies in psychoanalytical criminology and psychoactive pharmacology to explore the dark side of motivation, and ignite plot twists with unexpected outcomes. Within these disciplines Eisner’s fictions seek to explore variant literary forms derived from psychotherapy and criminology to trace the traumas of characters in extremis. Compulsive recurring sub-themes in her narratives examine sibling rivalry, rivalrous cousinhood, pathological imposture, financial chicanery, and the effects of non-familial male pheromones on pubescence,
see Eisner’s Sister Morphine (2008)
and Listen Close to Me (2011)
and A Bad Case (2015)
and A Bad Case (2015)