It was midsummer, the heat rippling above the macadam roads. Cicadas screaming out of the trees and the sky like pewter, glaring.
The days were the same day, like the shallow mud-brown river moving always in the same direction but so slow you couldn’t see it. Except for Sunday: church in the morning, then the fat Sunday newspaper, the color comics print on your fingers.
Rhea and Rhoda Kunkel went flying on their rusted old bicycles, down the long hill toward the railroad yard, Whipple’s Ice, the scrubby pastureland where dairy cows grazed. They’d stolen six dollars from their own grandmother who loved them. They were eleven years old, they were identical twins, they basked in their power.
Rhea and Rhoda Kunkel: it was always Rhea–and–Rhoda. never Rhoda–and–Rhea, I couldn’t say why. You just wouldn’t say the names that way. Not even the teachers at school would say them that way.
We went to see them in the funeral parlor where they were waked, we were made to. The twins in twin caskets, white,smooth, gleaming, perfect as plastic, with white satin lining puckered like the inside of a fancy candy box. And the waxy white lilies, and the smell of talcum powder and perfume. The room was crowded, there was only one way in and out.
Rhea and Rhoda were the same girl, they’d wanted it that way.
Only looking from one to the other could you see they were two.
The heat was gauzy, you had to push your way through like swimming. On their bicycles Rhea and Rhoda flew through it hardly noticing, from their grandmother’s place on Main Street to the end of South Main where the paved road turned to gravel leaving town. That was the summer before seventh grade, when they died. Death was coming for them but they didn’t know.
They thought the same thoughts sometimes at the same moment, had the same dream and went all day trying to remember it, bringing it back like something you’d be hauling out of the water on a tangled line. We watched them, we were jealous. None of us had a twin. Sometimes they were serious and sometimes, remembering, they shrieked and laughed like they were being killed. They stole things out of desks and lockers but if you caught them they’d hand them right back, it was like a game.
There were three floor fans in the funeral parlor that I could see, tall whirring fans with propellor blades turning fast to keep the warm air moving. Strange little gusts came from all directions making your eyes water. By this time Roger Whipple was arrested, taken into police custody. No one had hurt him. He would never stand trial, he was ruled mentally unfit, he would never be released from confinement.