The hump on Grandfather’s back never made him a
monster. Mother explained how people,
when they grow up and back down, sometimes their bones tip like a ship tossed
on the sea. Grandfather was once six
feet tall, but time wears a man down. He
was still young when he got sick. His
body started to die before he did.
Like a grand reunion, we all came to the house to clean it out. My three uncles went through his clothes, but none of them would fit right because Grandfather’s homemade patterns made room for the hump.
“Maybe you’ll get a hunchback just like your ol’ man.” I said.
Uncle Axel sniffed and said, “Not likely.”
Uncle Fezick twisted his moustache and scowled, “Maybe we should keep them for you when you get a hump.”
“I will sew new clothes ‘cause these are dreadfully out of date.” I said.
“You will watch your mouth, young man.” said Uncle Carl.
The jangle of the phone in the hall called Mother (who had said nothing) out of the closet with a swoosh of her fringed dress and clunk of her heals. I stared at the mock-Persian carpet while the uncles bickered about ridding themselves of the clutter.
“Burning it would wreak to high heaven what with all these synthetic fibers.” Uncle Fezick scowled.
“Can I have that pocket watch?” I interrupted.
“Not likely.” Sniffed Uncle Axel.
And Fezick scooped some pooch into his mouth and called to my Mother, “Henrietta, you need to control you son.”
Mother stepped back into the room, her face grave. “Father has taken a turn for the worse. We need to get to the hospital immediately.” She pulled her fur stole and beaded purse from the coat hook.
“This could be it.” Said Fezick.
“This is the fourth trip into town this week.” Said Carl.
“I’ll drive.” Said Axel.
Where a once vibrant soul housed the shell of my Grandfather the remnant of life lying in that hospital bed disguised any zest for life the man once had. His ashen face drooped out of control and his skeletal frame was exposed under the thin blanket.
I pushed my way into the room and bent over his ear. “Grandfather, may I have your pocket watch? The one in your tweed smoking jacket?”
“Eh?” His bushy, eyebrows raised on his forehead, but not with enough oomph to open his eyes, “Young Seril is that you?”
“It is.” I answered.
He promptly fell asleep.
Uncle Axel shoved me aside and wagged a finger at me. “Know your place young Seril. You are last in line to inherit anything.”
“But you said you were just going to throw it out.”
“Don’t whine.” Said Uncle Carl. “Into the corner with you.”
I stomped over to the corner, pulling my itchy socks off of my calves and rubbing my legs. I still got mad at God for taking my father during the Great War and letting my three uncles live.
The white-coat entered the room with his clipboard in hand. “Good evening to you all.” He motioned to the adults, but never noticed me. “We’ve come across something very interesting in your father, Mr. Grinstone. He has become our most unusual patient.”
I perked up my ears. What could be so interesting about my dying grandfather?
“Tell me, have you ever heard of an x-ray?”
My mother and uncles all looked at each other and shook their heads.
“It’s a relatively new process where short length cathode waves impinge upon a solid body allowing us to differentiate between bone and tissue. In short it can be used to detect fluid in the lungs. We suspected Mr. Grinstone had developed tuberculosis so we took an x-ray of his lungs. What we found was extremely alarming.”
My mother put her hand over her heart. “Oh dear.”
The doctor continued, “Do any of you know how your father got the hump on his back?”
“He’s had it all of his life.” Said Uncle Fezick.
“Was there anything... unusual about it?”
“What do you mean by unusual?” said Uncle Carl.
“Yes.” Said Uncle Fezick.
Everyone turned to him. He obviously knew something the rest of us did not.
He cleared his throat. “Apparently, he was born with a sort of malformation that could have landed him in the circus if his parents hadn’t had it surgically removed when he was very young.”
“What?” said Mother, “What sort of malformation?”
“Why didn’t you tell us about this?” Uncle Axel spat his chew into a spittoon and reached into his pocket for another wad.
“It wasn’t something you shout from the rooftops,
Axe. Father would not be made into a
public spectacle. He is a proper
“What sort of malformation.” Mother asked again.
Uncle Fezick sighed. “He had an appendage like a third arm. It was removed before he entered school so that other children wouldn’t mock him. None of that matters now. He lived a fine life without any inhibitions from the surgery, besides it leaving a protrusion from his back...”
“Grandfather had three arms!” I burst from my corner. “What a sight that would’ve been! He would have been the star of the macabre circus!”
“Seril, please!” Uncle Carl scorned.
“Hush, child! You’ll wake the old man.” Uncle Axel tapped me hard on the head.
“Perhaps he shouldn’t be present to hear this.” Uncle Fezick raised an eyebrow.
“That explains everything.” The doctor said.
“What does?” my mother asked.
“The results from the x-ray. The thing we found.”
“Thing? What kind of thing?” Mother’s worry lines dug trenches into her face.
“The extra arm did not belong to Mr. Grinstone. It belonged to his conjoined twin.”
I was told to leave the room and wait out in the hall, but not wanting to miss the news about my grandfather’s condition, I cupped my ears to the door and listened.
“Are you telling me Father’s extra arm was actually a piece of another person? That is preposterous!” Fezick’s voice seeped through the door.
“”I’m afraid it’s true Mr. Grinstone. Not only that, but the person is and always has resided within the internal workings of your father.” The doctor said. “The x-ray will explain everything.”
“How ghastly!” Mother inhaled sharply.
I could no longer remain excluded so I opened the door and poked my head in knowing full well I could get a spanking for it. Luckily, no one noticed. They were all staring bug-eyed at the x-ray posted up on a light board. Mother had her hands over her mouth with tears in her eyes. Uncle Carl was biting his knuckle and Uncle Axel had a dribble of tobacco running down his chin.
At first I wasn’t certain what I was looking
at. Having never studied anatomy the
crisscrossing of white lines appeared most puzzling until I realized they
constituted Grandfather’s ribcage. His
spine was a series of spiked pinecones curved over like the neck of a swan and
underneath the bulge was a white, pockmarked mass that as my brain churned in
curiosity came into focus. It was half a
skull. A skull embedded within the
confines of my grandfather’s own skeletal structure. And not only a skull, but other bones
attached in such a misshapen way that even I could determine they were not
meant to be there; a third and miniature hip bone, a shoulder blade beneath his
sternum, too many ribs.
I clutched at my chest, sickened by the thought that this might happen to me. I felt my ribs, stretched my shoulders and grabbed my neck to make sure I was a properly formed boy with only one set of bones. Poor Grandfather! He had lived with his own twin buried within his body! I vowed I would never bother my mother for a brother again.
“I never knew something like this was possible.” Fezick whispered. “Thank heaven he lived his life unaware.”
“It’s possible he might have suspected something, especially if the third arm moved on its own volition and not under his control.” The Doctor said.
Uncle Fezick paled. “He told me he would cover the arm under his clothing to avoid it being noticed and that at the end of the day when he undressed it would slap him in the face. I thought he was joking.”
Mother choked under her hands and Fezick found the nearest chair to sink into.
“It is sort of an undeveloped parasitic twin in that the second twin could not survive without the first. I have never seen a case of it outside of Far East.”
“I think we could all use some fresh air about now.” Said Uncle Carl as he buttoned his jacket.
“Wait.” The Doctor implored. “There’s more.”
“More of what?” Fezick stood. “Is it not enough that during our father’s last days on this earth you tell us he is some sort of Titan spawned from Cronos himself and we must bare this shameful humiliation to the name of Grinstone on our consciences for the rest of our days?”
The doctor cleared his throat. “The condition is hereditary.”
Again and with dread I checked over my body for signs of extra parts. My uncles all looked at each other, shaking their heads furiously.
“Good heavens.” Said Uncle Fezick, sitting down once more.
Mother looked over and noticed I was in the room, but said nothing. I took it as a sign that it was alright for me to be there.
“Maybe, if I ever have a cousin, he will be in the circus.” I said.
Although he wouldn’t hit me in public, Uncle Fezick
gave me a look so vile I could feel the spanking I was sure to get once we were
“Perhaps I will take Henrietta and young Seril home and come back to pick you up for diner? Then you can discuss this matter without further interruption.” Uncle Axel tweaked my ear.
“Quite right.” Said Fezick.
Uncle Carl and Uncle Fezick did not return until after I was in bed. For a moment, as my door opened spilling in the light from the hall, I thought my uncle would drag me out of bed and give me the whipping I deserved. Instead he came up to my bedside and dangled Grandfather’s pocket watch in front of me.
I didn’t reach for it, thinking it might be a trick. After a moment he grasped my hand and placed the precious watch in my palm.
“He said you could have it.”
Then he tousled my hair and left the room, closing the door behind him. I could hardly make out the brass filigree there in the darkness so I wedged the watch under my cheek and slept with it there.
Not two days past and again we were summoned to the hospital. Grandfather had slipped into a coma.
“There is no chance of waking him I’m afraid.” Said the doctor.
Mother removed her gloves to place her hand on the old man’s head.
“He is basically brain dead.” Uncle Fezick stated.
“However,” the Doctor cleared his throat. “The twin seems to be surviving despite the failing of the host body. He has his own heart, organs and brain. If you would allow us to use this body for scientific research we could dissect the twin and remove the upper torso...” The doctor’s words reflected in the horror of my mother’s face.
“How ghastly.” She gasped, dabbing her mouth with her gloved hand.
“How would mutilating our father’s body contribute
to science?” Uncle Fezick’s down turned mouth looked like he smelled a skunk.
“Well, it would be beneficial for dealing with future deformities and the surgeries needed to alleviate discomfort. Your father spent his whole life with limited mobility and certain lack of ease because of this. Knowing how to separate... remove the unwanted growth could have....” He sighed. “Honestly, the twin could live for mere hours, but the surgery would allow him to see his family with his own eyes. Remove the mask so to speak.”
“He has eyes?” I asked
“Shush, Seril.” Carl smacked the back of my head.
“The x-ray revealed many aspects about him. Considering the neural connections it is possible that he felt everything your father felt. They shared the same legs, same spine. He might have even heard you, but could never speak or make his presence known in any way. For all we know, he could biologically be ... the true sired genetics of ...all of you.”
The adults were silent, deep in thought.
“You don’t have to be witness to the surgery if you’d rather not. All I need is a signed permission form.” The doctor dropped his shoulders knowing the decision was out of his hands.
“Well, I suppose if it’s in the name of science.” Mother considered.
The Uncles broke in with ready-made arguments like they were just waiting for Mother to express her opinion in order to purposefully choose the other side.
Axel placed a hand on her shoulder. “Darling Sis, if this is too much for you perhaps you should let the men take over.”
“Father is never coming back to us you know that, don’t you Henrietta?” Uncle Fezick said.
I interrupted. “Mother is the oldest and the bravest of you all.” To which earned me a slap from Uncle Carl.
“Know your place young man. We served in the war.” He hissed.
Mother turned to him, “How impetuous all of you. There is no place for feminine delicacy in a sticky situation such as this. I am in no way being sentimental towards Father. I am trying to allow his pathetic twin a few moments of unrestricted life. This is the time to be strong, boys.” She turned to the doctor. “Perform your surgery Sir, and if the twin lives please allow us a brief moment together to say hello and farewell to him. However disfigured he may be; he is family.” With that she shooed every out into the waiting room.
The Doctor prepped for surgery as quickly as
possible. The frail remains of
Grandfather would not support life for long.
While we grieved his loss out in the hallway, I couldn’t help but let
grotesque images of what was happening behind closed doors enter my young mind.
Axel was rambling on about Grandfathers valiant struggles as a cripple and his
honourable deeds in life and I was picturing his head being severed from his
shoulders and another head popping out in its place.
“Mother,” I interrupted again, tugging on her sleeve. “I won’t be a hunchback like Uncle Fezick said I would. Unless there is another boy growing inside me. Perhaps I should get an x-ray as well.”
Carl rolled his eyes. “Seril. I mean really. Can’t you ever keep your mouth shut? Henrietta, your boy is in need of some serious fatherly discipline. Ever since Jacob abandoned the both of you, this child has been allowed to run wild.”
“Quite right.” Mother put her arm around me. “He sure isn’t getting any positive male role models from anyone in this room! Perhaps the three of you should focus less on him and more on the sorry, companionless state you all find yourselves in.” She stuck out her turn and stared at the far doors.
I looked up at Mother’s regal face and beamed with joy. The Uncles were dead quiet after that.
Three hours later the doctor pushed open the far doors. His smock was red and brown with blood not unlike the butcher down the way.
“Grinstone Family.” He said and we all stood up and followed him through the doors. He stopped at the washing station and methodically rubbed his hands under the water.
“Well?” asked Axel. “What is the outcome?”
The Doctor sighed. “The twin lives, but not for long. It was... difficult to distinguish between which organs belonged to your father and which ones supported his system. He has one operating lung, but the liver and kidneys... well, you don’t need me to paint a picture. The nurse is sewing him up right now, but he might not last until she’s done, so you can go in now, if you can handle the sight of blood.”
Mother pulled out her lace kerchief and placed it over her nose. “Seril, can you keep your composure?”
The Uncles might have argued but Mother’s shaded look shut them up.
I cleared my throat. “Yes, Mother.”
“Take my hand.”
I did. We entered the operating room together.
The smell was unfamiliar. First thing I saw was a woman in a soiled
white uniform sitting under a bright lamp sewing shut what looked like a red,
wool carpet bag. A carpet bag that
breathed. The raspy, pulsing noise came
out from under a mask. A mask that
surrounded a deflated, brown football.
The sheet was soaked in blood.
Another nurse behind and in the shadow was wrapping something in brown
paper. I knew one half of Grandfather
was in the brown paper and the other half lay struggling on the steel table.
His legs were under a sheet but they might as well have been detached. They were lifeless. The torso was flat - flatter than a biscuit – flatter than my school slate. The ribs had been cut away and the shoulders were crooked and skinny, hunched over like a bird. One arm smaller than mine was curled and bent under the neck like a chicken leg. No chin. Half a skull. One eye drooped down to his folded ear like his face was melting off.
I just stared. Everyone stared as the nurse synched his flesh together around a metal bar that prevented his lung from collapsing. I watch the brown sac of hair inflate and deflate. I saw where it was stitched around his trachea.
“Excellent work.” Axel bent over the lamp to admire the nurse’s sewing skills.
“Thank you sir.” She answered but didn’t look up.
I could do that. I could be a doctor when I grew up. Now might not be the time to mention it, I thought. Mother was holding her kerchief so tight around her face I thought she might suffocate herself.
The fingers on the chicken hand begin to move. The nurse paused and watched them for a moment. One eyelid opened, then the other. The eye with a socket was fully working because it focused right on me. Then it slid up to Mother’s face and over to the Uncles. The mouth twitched.
“Lydia.” The nurse beckoned to the other and she came closer.
“Oh my.” She said. “I’ll get the doctor.” and rushed out.
I stared at the paper package and clung to Mother’s skirt.
“Is he trying to speak?” Axel asked. “This is phenomenal.” They all stepped closer, pushing me up until I was touching the table.
The twin clicked his tongue inside a toothless mouth. The fingers stretch and flinched. He was reaching for me.
The doctor came in. “What is going on? “ He watched the man struggled to move an arm he had never had room to move before. “I’ll be. I believe the patient has cognisant abilities. He is trying to communicate.
Between laboured breaths, a sound came out of his
I wasn’t sure if I couldn’t move out of fear or fascination but I stood there transfixed. “Great Uncle,” I said. “What is it you want?”
The man blinked and looked down at my vest pocket. “Mm...mmm.” His skinny, crooked finger pointed at the watch.
“This?” I asked and took out the device. “Grandfather’s watch?” I placed it into his little hand and his fingers clamped around it.
“Mm... mine.” He rasped. His eyes closed and his breathing stopped.
The nurse never finished her stitching.
All the boys at school wanted me to tell them about
the monster I’d seen, but I wouldn’t entertain them. It wasn’t respectful.
The eulogies at the double funeral were odd. What does one say about a man who only ever muttered one word? I kept the watch. It wasn’t easy to retrieve from death’s tight grip. Maybe, if he had lived a bit longer, Great Uncle Grinstone would have given it to me. Uncle Carl said I should let him keep it – to bury it with him – but Mother said not to waste a family heirloom. They thought about putting a name on the tombstone but Mother said it wasn’t our place. So the inscription was carved:
Here lies our beloved Father and Grandfather
Reinhart Theodore Grinstone
And his Hidden Twin