Science Fiction & Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

Advertisement

Fiction

A Debt Repaid

Some people will do almost anything to wipe out a debt.

You, Jessica, are no exception. When the casino men came to your dingy apartment to collect, what did they threaten you with? A bat to break your legs? A knife to take out your eye? Not a gun to kill you with—I know it’s not like the movies.

Did Big Tony offer to make you one of his girls? Did he say you could work off your debt?

Would that have been so bad? You still would have sold your body, but in the off-hours it would be yours and yours alone.

You must have told them your plan—that’s why they left you whole.

You went to the Twin Life offices that same day. Ran through all the tests. They made sure you were healthy, sane. With no history of substance abuse. You passed their screenings, signed their papers, received the down payment (more than enough to pay off the sharks) and prepared to go under the knife.

Would being one of Tony’s girls really have been so bad?

When I signed up for Twin Life, I didn’t waste time imagining who I’d be attached to when the time came. All I knew is that I would die one day, and if I didn’t want it to be permanent, Twin Life was my only option.

Bodies are rare these days, Jessica. But heads—we’re everywhere.

Those first few weeks were terrible, for both of us. Me perched on your left shoulder, in control of your left arm, but no more—forced to watch you take over my mansion. You filled my closet with cheap fabrics and hooker boots. In exchange, I filled your mirror with a two headed monster—one head young, one old. One with gaudy red lipstick and too much eyeliner. One with short gray curls and dead eyes.

Two lives became one. We go to your job during the day, have afternoon tea with my book-club on the weekends, then it’s off to the tables for your nightly fix.

They make me wear a blindfold when you gamble—say two heads is cheating. I don’t mind. I just order cocktail after cocktail, and you get mad because alcohol makes you lose your concentration.

They asked about your substance abuse at Twin Life, but never mentioned mine.

• • •

When we fight, there’s nowhere to go.

When you want to make love to a man, there’s no one to find.

• • •

My bank account dwindles. Your hangovers get worse. I reach for the bottle, and you can’t stop me. You reach for the cards, and I can’t stop you.

We each have this thing holding on to us. Controlling us. Tearing up our lives and our relationships and our sanity.

It’s been a year, and we’ve grown attached (no pun intended). You help moisturize my sagging skin. I help you fix your hair up like a tart. The bedroom smells of gin and too much perfume and frayed cards and dusty poker chips.

I love you, Jessica. But not as I should, not as a granddaughter or a nursemaid or a sister. We love each other because others find us hard to love. Friends, family—everyone runs from the two-headed monster, knowing they can’t be with the one they adore without suffering the other.

But it was that way before Twin Life, wasn’t it? For the both of us.

Meeting your brother changed me. It was the horror in his eyes, the tremble in his lips. The way he eyed the liquor cabinet and the ink stains on your fingers (you rub the cards—it’s your tell).

He loves you, truer than I ever could, but being near you kills him. He saw the neglected bills, heard the bark in your voice when you said it was none of his business.

But it is my business.

I can’t deny it anymore. The drink that ruined my first life has taken over again. I never fully realized the pain I’d caused before—before I died. This second life has given me the chance to understand. Thank you for that.

Ultimately, it’s too late for me. But not for you.

After you read this, after you’ve had my dead head removed, you must get help. You have to get rid of the monster—not the one we see in the mirror, the one that’s always been in you.

You gave up your body for your addiction. With the letter opener on the nightstand, I’ll give it up, too.

Marina J. Lostetter

Marina J. LostetterMarina J. Lostetter’s short fiction has appeared in venues such as InterGalactic Medicine Show, Galaxy’s Edge, and Writers of the Future.  Her most recent publications include a tie-in novelette for the Star Citizen game universe, which was serialized over the first four months of 2014.  Originally from Oregon, Marina now lives in Arkansas with her husband, Alex.  She tweets as @MarinaLostetter.  Please visit her homepage at lostetter.net.