Conjoined twins of misery and joy, the sisters Good and Bad, were born in the dark of the woods. Their mother had been running barefoot toward town, for assistance with the birth, when the girls demanded to be let out. Collapsing, she saw the faint movement of color between the trunks of the pine trees. So close, yet still a ways off.
The girls’ mother had been a barren woman. For fourteen years, she had crouched beside her small cot in the corner of her blind father’s cellar, amongst the canned and jarred fruit, and prayed for her womb to be opened, watered, and filled with flower babies. Stranded, there were no men that she knew. No men beside her old father. She didn’t know it, but what she wanted would be the death of her.
With a pocketknife, engraved with her father’s initials, she made a crooked incision a few inches below her belly button. Feeling inside of the cut, inside of her womb, she grabbed at what she hoped was an arm or leg. Without hesitating, she yanked. Baby Bad exited first, her sister Good dangling from her left side. The pale hand that held them weakened and fell into the mud and leaves. Their mother never had to see her daughters as the sisters tumbled face down onto their mother’s breast and lay quiet.
A hunter and his basset hound trampled straight into the scene. Blood and placenta stained the dog’s muzzle and the man’s boots. Never once did the hunter look at the conjoined girls and grimace, with either disgust or pity, as many others would, but immediately scooped the girls up, wrapped them in his flannel jacket, and ran away from the wall of pines.
Bad was crooked toothed and scarred. As much as she wished to run or to chase after the hunter’s old basset hound, Elijah, she could not. Her leg was lame; she walked with a terrible limp. Under her breath, she cursed her leg. Sometimes she cursed God. Really, she should have been cursing her mother, the cause of her disability.
After school she threw her father’s knives – the ones he used to gut the deer – at strangers in the street. On really bad days, she broke glass bottles to cut up her own hands, thrashed her head, and gnashed her teeth. All she wanted was to cut the ugliness off of her. If she could have, Bad would’ve skinned herself and crawled inside another body.
Good was tender hearted and silken haired. She caught butterflies and fireflies for her sister and made wreaths of flowers for Bad to wear upon her head, like crowns. All the beautiful things that Bad wanted to be, Good gave them to her.
Boys adored Good. During class, they wrote her sonnets on gum wrappers and blew her silly kisses. At sister Bad, they would moan and squirm in their seats, pulling faces and sticking out their tongues. Together they would chant, “Bad, take a rusted saw and cut, cut, cut yourself free.” Under the desk, Good would squeeze Bad’s thigh in time to ‘cut, cut, cut.’
“Well, you can’t have one without the other. We come from the same root, the same love.” Good sang, gracefully, cutting them off. Her voice glittered like wind chimes in the summer sun. She didn’t even bother to turn around to glance at the boys.
“Yeah, you’ll have to take us both.” Bad spat.
Some nights, Bad had a reoccurring dream that she successfully cut herself free. For the first time, she was free to bound and leap, like a wild, untamed animal. It wasn’t until she looked back that she noticed Good lying dead. From the ground, her sister’s blood pooled, bubbled, and formed a mouth. Then the mouth would speak, in a booming voice, telling her that she was destined to be a wanderer, banished and shunned from all human society.
Whenever the boys started their chanting, she wanted so badly to tell them. Tell them what would happen, but she never could. Bad didn’t have the courage. She was a coward.
Good and Bad shared a secret knowledge, a prophecy of sorts, that misplaced male confidence would bring their doom.
At night, lying in bed, they would whisper about how the boys would one day grow old and how time would never steal away their love, but only make it grow stronger, more passionate. Rotting love makes many act out, do foolish things that they otherwise would not dare to do. In their old age, the men would grow tired of asking why, why, why. Why this, why that. Why did Bad sister shoot the sparrow, why did she start the fire? Why would become a refrain that wormed itself into their brains and ate away at the tissue until they were raving mad, until it was the only word they knew how to say. Love eaten, they would then play mad scientist and attempt to separate one sister from the other with scissors and knives, daggers and chainsaws, thinking it was the only answer, believing that the world would be better off if everyone could live in a state of constant bliss.
“Who can blame them?” Good would whisper.
She understood that men in exile don’t want food or drink, but only wanted to go home. We all want to go back to our first home, back to before the time of the snake, back to peace, back to everlasting happiness. However, the boys would plot and fail, because what else could they do besides plot and fail? The only plans that work out in the end are the ones that lack a human hand.
The men did eventually come. Arrived in the early morning, while the hunter was out, and smashed every window and kicked in every door to get to the girls. They bound Good and Bad in rope and dragged them through the woods. Twigs collected in their matted hair; mud stained their flesh.
In an empty clearance, what would serve as the operating room, the men stood over the sisters. Good could not open her eyes, did not want to see her end, but she decided that the men would not be the first to speak or the last voices she heard. The sister had tolerated taunts and cruel school rhymes their entire lives. For the first time, it would be their turn, their final swan song.
“Can’t have one without the other. There is no Good without Bad.” Good started, staring into her sister’s face, the face she loved, the face she thought was her own.
“No Bad without Good.” Bad finished, staring back at Good, at the face se loved, at the face she wished was her own.
“No Good without Bad.” They sang together.
The song rose and drifted over the treetops, until not only all of the woods could hear, but the world past the pines, as well.
In a fit of rage, the men butchered the sisters apart with a machete. They hacked down the center, until nothing but blood separated the two halves. Red rivers ran all around their figures, intertwined and formed two pairs of angel wings.
As they watched, the men did not feel better. They experienced what was worse than feeling merely bad or down: they experienced true emptiness. Slow and grueling would be the eventual peeling back of sorrow and bliss, but they did not know that. What they wanted, they didn’t know that it would eventually kill them.
The hunter, older and slightly arthritic, had followed the song of the sisters. With each step, he shot his rifle straight ahead into the air like a slow applause. Even after he could no longer hear them, he fired on. The men, not wanting to be discovered in the midst of their crime, scattered toward the wall of pines to escape. In that world, they would remain undiscovered. Evil often hides other evils.
As he entered the clearing, the man longed for Elijah; he longed to not have to walk into the scene alone. Farther away from one another than they had ever been, Good and Bad laid as their mother had laid, still and pale. He could not leave them as he had left her, though. He could not carry the children home.
With just his hands, the old hunter dug a single grave. He dug his way toward grief and the deeper he dug, the harder he wept. He had to be the one to do it, for he had found them. Every thing a man borrows, he must return.
As close as he could, he arranged Good and Bad side by side, as they had always been, as they were meant to be. Then he carefully picked the leaves and twigs from of their hair. With his own filthy hands, he did his best to wipe the dirt from their faces. Before he climbed out the grave, he smiled at Good and Bad.
As the first fistful of dirt came raining down upon them, the hunter swore they smiled back at him.
–Story by Amarie Fox
–Foreground Photo by Manuel Estheim