I will never forget the Lucienne twins. Even after ten years, they are still fresh in my memory. Too fresh.
It was my first year of teaching when they were in my class. My fresh college diploma was framed on my desk, and I had placed a signed picture of my favorite professor, now deceased, on the wall behind me. In cursive, it read- To Mary, my brightest, that you may teach the world.
I watched over my kindergarten class as if they were my own children. But the Lucienne twins were my favorite. There was Abigail, the blonde on with a minuscule nose, and Bridget, shorter with brunette hair.
“Miss Mary,” Abigail would start, tugging on my dress, before Bridget continued, “We were wondering-“ Abigail would take over, “if we could go to the sticker box-“ Bridget would now speak “And take a star?”
And of course there was no way I could say not to the couple. They were irresistible, from their broken sentences to the heart shaped lockets they wore that were embossed with their names. I could never imagine something happening to them. But fate follows no rules, and something did.
Word about the car crash spread around the school faster than the ambulance could reach the hospital. It had been at an intersection, where a pickup truck had slammed into the side of their compact car on their Friday morning commute. The driver had still been drunk from the night before.
The gas tank was immediately ruptured, spewing the right side of the car with fuel, and flames licked up through the backseat. Bridget was strapped into a car seat above them, and rumor was that Abigail watched her twin burn alive. When the firemen freed Abigail, she threw herself onto the still smoldering bones of Bridget, and her sister’s red-hot locket branded itself into her earlobe. The body of her single mother survived, but the toll of the lost daughter sickened her souls.
Abigail returned to class two weeks later. The hair on the right side of her head was singed and steadily grew back, though the color was darker. A doctor’s inspection revealed nothing else wrong with her, except a deafness in her right ear. Hushed voices in the school hallways whispered her eardrum imploded by the sheer loudness of her sisters dying screams. But most unnerving was her sister’s name, scarred into the lobe of her deaf ear, and surrounded by the outline of a heart shaped locket.
From then on, no student would sit on the right side of Abigail, and I had to rearrange the seating charts to place her next to the wall. Abigail seemed content there, in an island of isolation. Before her sister died, they rarely conversed with the other students, and now was no different. In social time, I would hear Abigail talking to the wall in incoherent sentences.
“Abigail, honey, what’re you saying?” I asked a week after she returned.
“Oh Miss Mary!” She said, “I’m-“ Then she would pause, waiting, “and then we thought-“ Another pause, silence, “and we can, can’t we?”
“Sure you can, honey.” I replied, though the exchange made my hair stand on end. She smiled again, and cocked her right ear, the deaf one to the wall, pausing again, then speaking.
“She said yes!” Then the gibberish continued and the closing bell rang.
It wasn’t until I drove halfway home that I realized the gaps in Abigail’s conversation were where Bridget should be speaking.
Months passed, and Abigail became even more of an outcast in the class. The kindergarteners came to forget the disaster, and some students even began bullying Abigail. I revised the seating chart again, and moved her close to my desk.
“Miss Mary!” Clamored Abigail one day, pulling my dress. She stumbled, and I reached to catch her, but she fell against my professor’s portrait on the wall, shattering the protective glass. She picked up the remains, the glass biting deep into her soft palms. She didn’t notice.
“I’m sorry Miss Mary,” She said, and her voice changed tenor, “we didn’t mean to break” Again a pitch change, “your picture. “
I stopped. It was her first complete sentence since the crash.
“It’s OK.” I said, holding her. Blood from her hands dripped onto me, but it felt cold, and I rushed to bandage it.
“I’m sure you will teach the world one day, Miss Mary.” She said, her voice continuing the inflections.
My heart froze as I read the note on the portrait for the thousandth time. Abigail couldn’t read cursive.
“How did you know that?” I asked.
“Bridget told me, she talks to him now.” She said, curling her streak of darker hair around her finger.
“That’s not all she tells me. She tells me terrible things sometimes. And I can’t stop hearing her.” Then she started crying, and noticed the glass embedded deep into her hands. "She never stops," Her voice elevated to a yell.
When I took the picture back, her sentences became broken again, and I moved her on the seating chart away from my desk.
Over time the other students realized Abigail’s reaction to old objects. They’d bring her in things that they found in the attic, artifacts their grandparents owned, and watched as she cocked her right ear and her sentences become whole or broken when she held them. It became a game to them, listening to the stories she made up. But the effect took an obvious toll on her, and she soon started wearing gloves, even in the dead heat of summer.
One boy, larger than the others, a brute known for his bullying, liked the look on Abigail’s face as they pushed artifacts into her squirming palms. He was the quickest to see the fear that she felt when they once gave her an old bullet shell, and ran home afterwards to find an old box in his basement his parents forbade him to open. Inside was his great grandfather’s Nazi uniform, a warden at a concentration camp, and he twisted off one of the buttons.
The next day he found Abigail on the playground and pinned her against the chain link fence. He ripped the gloves off and forced the button into her hand, tightly closing her fingers about it. When she began screaming, he only laughed, and closed the fist tighter.
I reached them too late. When I pulled the boy off her, she was sobbing uncontrollably, both her hands locked into fists. She dropped the button like it was searing hot, but refused to open the other fist until the paramedics arrived and knocked her out with anesthesia. Only then could they pull her severed right ear out, torn off by her bloody fingernails, with Bridget still written on the lobe.
But most terrifying of all was when she screamed. I could hear two voices screaming.