They wheel me out on stage and I think how truly there was no reason for him to hire twins. Two flexible women with the same skin tone and body type would have worked just as well. No one sees my face or even knows I’m here, shut inside the tabletop. But the magician can be very demanding, and can blow up into diabolical rages, so the magician gets what he wants.
Oxygen in the box is finite.
When we left home there was no debating where we would go. Vegas is the mecca of magic, and magic is the mecca of jobs that will hire you solely on the basis of being identical twins, and nothing else. We thought it would be fun.
It wasn’t the colors that shocked me most—the dusty yellow and rust red of the landscape—or the shapes of everything: flatness sweeping into plateaus and hills that never seem to get any closer. It was the absence of trees. If you lived here all your life, would you even know what a tree looked like? Were there children in Vegas who didn’t understand the concept of leaves, sap, pinecones? We’d come to a different world, one without any green or shade or the coolness of bark under your palm. That was the first time I thought about the things we take for granted just because they’re always there.
The smell of my new shampoo fills the box with an unfamiliar fragrance, almost like I’m trapped with a stranger in here.
Our interview lasted five minutes. The magician wasn’t even there. We waited in a white room with a white noise machine and uncomfortable chairs full of girls just like us. Some wore matching outfits, had done their hair in the same style. The pair next to us had on yellow sundresses, a French braid tossed casually over each right shoulder. They sat with their arms linked loosely at the elbows. We had no gimmick, came fresh from a night curled up in the car in the same clothes we’d been wearing for days. Maybe that’s why they picked us; two sloppy young girls would never upstage the magician.
At our first rehearsal we fit easily into our boxes, accustomed as we were to sharing spaces, our bodies nestled together like quotation marks around a shared silence. We stood side-by-side as the magician explained the trick, how he’d cut us in half. When he asked if we understood we both nodded. After a beat he looked at my sister and announced she’d be the face. I’d be the legs. There wasn’t any debate or discussion. I hadn’t been inside my box yet, and so I didn’t know enough to have a preference. When we were younger there were people who made a game out of guessing which of us was which. They’d stare into our faces and screw up their mouths, getting right up close. People got it right more often than I thought they would. Maybe I underestimated them; we’d always tended to think the world was a stupid place. Whether they got it right or wrong didn’t make me hate the game any less. I guess I took for granted that she hated it as much as me.
We didn’t realize what the magician was taking from us until we’d already signed the contract. Later we read it out loud to each other in the motel room we’d splurged on, bouncing on queen beds. We were not to be seen together in public. We were not to leave the hotel together, not to be out at the same time, not even apart. We asked the magician about it the next day, certain it must be a joke. But all he said was if we couldn’t follow the rules he’d find someone who could, and then he punched the wall. I think someone watches our hotel. There’s this black Saab out there, all the time.
Once, in the middle of our act, my hair snagged on a splinter and I suffered an attack of claustrophobia, pressing my forehead against the hard wood, silently screaming. The show went on.
It wasn’t long before she started seeing the magician in private. He lives in a hotel room. In Vegas everyone lives in hotels or motels or condos that look like hotels or motels. She won’t talk about what they do, says it would be unprofessional, but I know. When she comes home she smells like him. Mothballs, Slim Jims, spearmint mouthwash.
It used to hurt, lying so still in this tight, tight space. Now it’s standing up straight that feels strange, makes my joints groan.
I wait in the box for both of them. I can’t see but I know what happens, mostly. He lifts her. He puts her in her own box, on top of mine. They do something, here, that makes the audience laugh. I don’t know what it is. I hear her toes tap the wood above my head, which is my cue to stick my legs out the secret hole. I wiggle my toes. My toes are her toes. Her face is my face. Our bodies are his. There used to be two of us but now there’s just one.
He cuts us in half. He pulls us apart. The crowd goes wild.
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