This past weekend the film Apollo 18 was released. It's one of those "found footage" horror films, like "The Blair Witch Project," "Paranormal Activity," "REC," "Cloverfield," and "The Troll Hunter." Those things are all the rage right now. According to this list on wikipedia, since "Blair Witch," there have been at least 50 "found footage" films (mostly horror, but also other genres like science fiction, fantasy, and war), but wikipedia's list reminds us of other, pre-"Blair Witch" found footage classics like the hilarious "Cannibal Holocaust," and "Man Bites Dog," one of the very few films I've ever seen that actually made me feel despondent (the film is actually quite good, but its affect on me was profound-- such is often the case with great art).
The found footage subgenre's antecedents go back even further than 1980's "Cannibal Holocaust." In fact, they go back hundreds of years, before the invention of film. Authors have been using the conceit of the "found manuscript" as a way to lend an air of verisimilitude to their works. Wikipedia has a not very exhaustive list here (also related is this list of epistolary novels). Poe used it in his story "Manuscript Found in a Bottle." Bierce's "The Damned Thing" also employs it. Sturgeon's Some of Your Blood is another great example. More recently, Danielewski's House of Leaves used the device to great effect.
This brings me to my own "found manuscript" short humorous horror/parody novel, Whimsical Doctor Shoe. It is the story of the last seven days before the separation of the conjoined Spitnode twins, Reuss and Kellner, heirs to the Spitnode's Department Store fortune. The bulk of the story is taken up by Reuss Spitnode's manuscript, written almost a year after the operation that left him without his Brother, immediately before he was apparently kidnapped by a person or persons unknown.
The manuscript was edited and introduced by someone called "Charles Hoerner," who seems to have his own agenda -- an agenda that appears to run counter to that of Reuss Spitnode. Especially where the mysterious "Doctor Shoe," the surgeon who performed the procedure that separated the twins, is concerned.
Doctor Shoe himself is an eccentric, whimsical man, who forces the twins to perform a series of humiliating tasks in the last seven days leading up to the separation. These tasks, which include rollerblading on the Santa Monica pier, performing as clowns at a child's birthday party, and performing karaoke in the nude, have little to do with "medicine," and more to do with, perhaps, revenge.
Below I have pasted the first couple of chapters of the novel. If you are intrigued, you can purchase the entire book for a measly $0.99 here at amazon.com. You can buy it for the same price at Barnes & Noble, if you have a Nook. That's less than 1/7th what it would cost you to buy a ticket for "Apollo 18," which is getting less than stellar reviews.
“You are to avoid the hare; that is, if it escape, for undoubtedly its fitting place is the table, not the road.”
-John of Salisbury,
“So he stood in his shoes
And he wonder’d,
He stood in his
Shoes and he wonder’d.”
“A Song About Myself”
The remarkable manuscript that follows my notes of introduction, the primary legacy of Reuss Spitnode, was found among its author’s possessions just after Reuss disappeared in September of last year. The items were being boxed for a future sale at auction at the behest of Judith Mankey, Reuss’ only surviving relative, in advance of the Spitnodes’ Beverly Hills home being sold. As of this writing, the home is up for sale in the 90210 zip code, a bargain at seven million dollars.
It was discovered by a moving man between the mattresses on the bed on which Reuss wrote it, and which the Spitnode twins shared for several years. It must have been secreted there on the night of Reuss’ disappearance shortly after it was “completed.” After Reuss’ disappearance, police searched the home three times, and apparently did not find it. No one can blame them for not examining the bed too closely, as it was covered with the author’s feces and urine – a secondary legacy.
The packer boxed the document, along with several other papers which I assure the reader are of no consequence at all, and passed it along to the Spitnodes’ attorneys, the Law Offices of Charles, Dexter, and Ward. The task of cataloging the papers was inadvertently given to “Wilson,” who, upon realizing what the document was, spirited it away from the office and managed, through extremely tortured means, to get it to me, believing I might be interested in editing it for publication.
I seemed the perfect choice as far as “Wilson” was concerned, as I was the only published author he knew. My collection of poems, The Hare and Bird, had just been published (November of last year, Alkahest Press, $13.95) when he came into possession of the manuscript. I was as familiar with the story of the Spitnodes as any man or woman, but I had no direct connection with their sorry tale, and I was in a unique position from which to view it.
At first I was reluctant, but explained I would give the messy scribblings a read.
Though my reluctance subsided, my overall feeling toward the manuscript is one of disappointment. Writing over 25,000 words in 14 hours is quite an accomplishment. I suppose my expectations were too high. I hoped to read something that had been written through Reuss, rather than by Reuss, perhaps with words formed by some alchemical process beyond understanding. Alas. The twins’ story is an appalling but fascinating one. In fairness, language is incapable of fully transmitting any experience, and as such any narrative intended to convey their story must by definition be “inadequate.” As a matter of fact, this natural tendency to failure makes doubly poignant (or comic) the fact that whatever truth to which Reuss might have been privy would likely be protected within the clumsy attempts of even the most brilliant author to convey them. In the hands of a frantic amateur, we’re left with only the gaudiest illuminations of failure. Reuss was perhaps not the ideal author; but then, who would be?
Still, as I ready this volume for publication, I’ll confess to a high level of anticipation at the prospect of seeing these words in print. As an author, I know first hand the astonishment of seeing one’s words published. There is always an unexpected new level of verisimilitude, and I look forward to whatever new truths might become plainer in imperturbable print.
My work in actually editing the manuscript was as minimal as I could make it. I’ve made a few corrections of grammar and syntax, but I was especially interested in ensuring the strange, mostly unpleasant voice of Reuss Spitnode would be preserved. In those few places where there seems to be a page missing, I’ve indicated. Also, in the places where something was crossed out to the point that it was completely obliterated, I have resisted the temptation to “fill in the blanks,” so to speak, and indicated those places as well. Occasionally, Reuss would become enthralled by some new wording, or remember some new detail, and would cross something out, then draw lines and karats to a new phrasing or word. I’ve gone ahead and integrated these into the body of the text, keeping the spirit of Reuss’ intentions.
I’ve also taken the liberty of dividing the manuscript into “chapters,” which I believe makes for easier reading. The title is of my choosing, but it is based on an observation Ruess makes about the virile man who performed the separation.
I should also point out that the physical state of the manuscript was less than ideal. I’ve already alluded to its author’s penchant for filling in the margins with hastily-scrawled words, or placing tiny letters between lines of text. I cannot stress enough that Reuss’ handwriting is abysmal. The hand was uneven (in fairness, Reuss was under a great deal of stress when writing this), and at times the writing was small and exact, pressed deep into the pages so that the letters were clearly visible on the other side. At other times the writing was huge and looping, I suppose mirroring those moments when the author’s concentration was wavering. Then, there was the prevalent smudging. I admit, I could not help feeling frustrated with Reuss at certain times – why couldn’t the writing have been more legible? Also, the manuscript would have benefited from that most remarkable invention, ruled paper. As it was, Reuss chose to write out the story of the twins’ experiences with “Dr Shoe” on unruled, 20-lb typing paper, and without numbering the blistered pages. In reading them over, I was relieved to find that the pages were in order when they arrived in my hands, with only a couple seeming to be missing.
The final page of the manuscript, with its abrupt ending, in which Reuss’ mask of composure is finally, completely, lifted, is left exactly as I found it. Since the final words appear less than halfway down the page, it seems Reuss was interrupted while working on it, and hid it away without finishing what was certain to have been a scintillating thought. The intent was to express the fear on this last night, but I do not believe it’s quite pulled off. In fact, the overall effect is one of frantic, broad comedy. This may have to do, however, with the fact that the author is so unsympathetic. Still, the manuscript would have had to end some time, and I’m reminded of Valéry’s statement, “You don’t complete a work, you abandon it.” Perhaps better to say then that the manuscript’s final page has an “abandoned ending.”
Reuss was clearly confused, even in a panic when writing the pages which follow. This is admitted on more than one occasion. But the confusion about Frank Ehre, for instance, calls a substantial number of observations within the manuscript into question. It is for this reason that I concentrated most of my efforts editing the manuscript in attempting to verify some of the lurid events depicted in the narrative. The trip to the Santa Monica Pier obviously occurred (is there anyone who’s not seen that worthless video?), and I found several other people who claimed to be eyewitnesses. The birthday party also happened, but the conflicting stories I heard from those present did little to shine any light on the manuscript. Significantly, Luna Midwinter and her mother, Scarlett, seem to have done a manful job of disappearing around the second week of February of last year and must now be living under assumed names. If any readers have any information as to their whereabouts, you are encouraged to contact the publisher. I’m anxious to speak to them.
I have made no effort to locate any of the cultists, although this would be easy enough. But why bother? They are a bunch of spoiled dilettantes bored by their middle-class upbringings in which they had everything handed to them. It made their brains lazy. Nothing they say is to be trusted, and they can be dismissed out of hand.
The curious karaoke club, “The Thelma Agape Club,” does not, as far as I could tell, exist. However, it strikes me as the type of place its patrons would want to keep secret. It would take a greater detective than I to locate it. There was no trail of breadcrumbs to follow. In the same vein, the Lady Welkin is impossible to find. Rather, I suppose, “she” was too easy to find – I found several people claiming to be her. Dr Circe Glans, when questioned about the twins, cited a contract with her publisher and directed me to her book, I Was the Spitnodes’ Therapist (the title becomes quite an admission of guilt, if certain parenthetical notes in the manuscript are to be believed), a terrible, laughable piece of exploitation made doubly horrific when one realizes that it was this book that gave her the cache to become a radio advice personality, and now a television talk show host. Presumably, this lesbian’s opinions carry certain weight with the weakest-willed of our society. She’s even been spied as a “pundit” in legal matters on a certain cable news channel. Awful.
Others: Dr Viktor Fascinum finally died of congenital heart failure at the age of 91, a month after Reuss disappeared. Miss Nelson is missing. The terrible fate of Dickie Bird is well-known. The twins’ grandmother never left the Southern California Home for the Emotionally Different, never stopped doing her word puzzles. Reuss’ whereabouts are of little concern. Kellner is moldering. Wade, Mordeen, and Barbee Spitnode are, presumably, still dead.
Which brings us to Dr Shoe.
“Dr Aethyr Shoe,” from Germany. At last, the puzzling sphinx previously referred to in articles, books, and TV news stories on the subject of the twins’ separation as quote doctor unquote has a name and a playful, calculatedly gauche sensibility and personality. “Whimsical” indeed! This elusive, inscrutable man of many talents, with the seemingly random demands he asks of the twins, becomes almost endearing. (What can be said about a man who, alone, performed such an intense, delicate, and time-consuming operation, requiring so many different areas of medical expertise? Brilliant? Eccentric?) Certainly more endearing than Reuss. Unfortunately, readers seeking any real insights into his personality, or the methods of his work, will have to look hard to find them. (Reuss apparently did not.) Even the manner by which Dr Shoe is introduced to the twins is in doubt. And, in checking out the story of the manuscript, I was unable to find any evidence of his office in Burbank. The one other person who might have been able to verify the address, the Spitnode’s driver, a man named Shep Huntleigh (his name is not given in the manuscript – none of the Spitnode’s servants are, a clear indication of how little regard the twins had for the people who dedicated their lives to helping them), died in an accident at the Little Red Riding Hood Family Amusement Center in Pasadena, California not long after Reuss’ disappearance. Of course, there is no “University of Schlüssel,” and, unless he used a pseudonym, Shoe was not part of the medical team in Kentucky that Reuss references.
Leaving us, as I’ve already suggested, to wonder about the sanity of Reuss Spitnode. Was this manuscript nothing more than a ruse to cover involvement in something even more sinister? Was this manuscript written to generate sympathy? Was Shoe an invention (a most magnificent invention) of Reuss?
No one I spoke to who claimed to remember any of the events in this story (the Pier, the party), remember seeing anyone like Dr Shoe. This could mean nothing at all, and it could mean everything. The only real quote evidence unquote is that rather dubious video. Could the man seen therein truly be the controlled, powerful man that Reuss describes?
To Reuss’ note I’ve appended five other items I thought might be of interest to readers. The first is the famous article about the twins which was first published in “Life” magazine shortly after they were born. I was surprised to find it had never been reprinted before. The second is a fascinating review of the Birds’ buffoonish book about their son Dickie’s death, which first appeared in the “LA Times Book Review” in 1982. The third is the article which appeared in the Los Angeles Times the day after Reuss’ disappearance. It offers a glimpse into possible legal actions that might have been taken against Reuss, and what trouble might be waiting. The fourth item features an article from the Tampa Tribune, from Tampa, Florida, which may possibly represent another sighting of Dr Shoe. I admit, the evidence of this is flimsy, based solely on a pseudonym used in the present manuscript. (I wish I could have reprinted the entire page on which this item appears – directly below it is an ad for a chain store called “Shoe Carnival.”) Finally, the fifth item is a proposal for an article to be written by the twins’ doctor, Viktor Fascinum. It was only the most amazing bit of providence that brought this letter and its subsequent rejection into my possession, but, sometimes, an author’s best friend is providence. I think that, given what is written in the last few pages of Reuss’ manuscript, this proposal is particularly amusing.
If, in fact, anything about this tragic story can be said to be “amusing.” Please forgive whatever lack of compassion you might perceive.
Branson, MO, April, 2002
BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO THE TWINS; EHRE FINDS SHOE
for as long as I can, I’ll just write everything out. That damn Bashmacklin! I’ve got to do something else. It’s just past noon now. Where did he go??? He cut the phone line. I’m trapped. Can’t move. At least the tape is gone. I have all this paper. I think I’m starting to become paranoid. But why did Bashmacklin have that tape? I’ll write it down, I’ll stay as close to reality as possible. It will be a game. How much can I get written before Bashmacklin gets back?
Brother is dead, not me. There, that’s a start.
No wait. I’ll begin with the heads of the victims. There were two. On each were two eyes, two ears, one nose, one mouth. One neck each, two shoulders, two arms. Each arm complete in every way, if perhaps a little less muscular than most men of our age. The ribs; it is at this point that the anatomies diverged from the ordinary in a most sadistic way. Several ribs missing from the right side for my part, the left for Brother’s. Four lungs, but with so little space they were constantly being pressed upon so that it was impossible for either of us to take a full, “normal” breath. The two separate spines converged at the pelvis. At this conjunction, their plumbing had tangled and then bleshed, so that now there was but one stomach, liver, small and large intestine, etc. As of the fork, they had the lower parts of one person.
The bodies branched off at an angle just past 45 degrees. The brothers – in particular I should say I – turned their faces from one another, held their arms back, in an excruciating effort to keep as far away from one another as possible. But how far could we get? We were trapped with one another.
Hesse once wrote that each man represented an attempt on the part of nature to create the perfect human. Nature failed spectacularly in our case.
Separation had always been medically possible. Such separation, of course, would have killed one of us. When we were children, around the age of three or so, our bodies were finally strong enough that doctors believed one of us had a very good chance of surviving the operation to separate us. They advised our parents to go ahead with this surgery, at least giving one of us a chance at a normal life. Our parents, delighted by the fact that they’d actually had children (our father had a pathetically low sperm count, among other problems) decided not to risk losing both their children in an operation. This selfish non-decision became a source of fierce bitterness to us and when the two of them and Barbee died in an extremely efficient and convenient automobile accident when we were 14 we were both happy to see them go and I will not mention this again.
Free from the parents and left with the sizable trust and continued income from the stores, we believed we would finally be able to find someone to separate us. But when we turned 18 and were finally able to make such decisions on our own, we found no reputable doctors who were willing to do it. We had waited – our parents, damn them – had waited too long and, leaving aside for a moment the fact that one of us would definitely die in the procedure, it seemed as though each of our bodies were now so dependant on the other that it was most likely we’d both die in the separation. This is not to say that we were unable to find any doctors to undertake the procedure; it’s just that those we did find were of highly questionable credentials and motives.
As young children, before we knew better, we loved each other very much and took advantage of our proximity, walking with our arms wrapped round each other. Falling asleep, one with his head on the shoulder of the other, sucking each other’s thumbs. Often, Brother woke to find me caressing his face; it was not uncommon for me to wake in the same way. We even had our own language, made up of words that sounded like gibberish to everyone else. As we got older, and became curious about ourselves in a sexual way (as all people do), a mixture of helpless shame and anger began to overwhelm both of us. We each wanted ownership of the sex that we shared, and tried to claim it. Yet we both knew neither of us could legitimately claim ownership. This was abundantly clear to us each time one of us became aroused. The other felt it; our penis was affected. Even this most personal feeling was shared.
Out of necessity we learned to tolerate this. We had no choice! In later years we took turns masturbating. There was an incestuous quality to this, at least in our minds. Further, there was always at least a little resentment on the part of the brother who was jacking us off. I mention this scatology not out of any sense of perversity or need for talk show-like prurient revelation, but to show just how little privacy we had.
This inability to be alone at all extended even into our own minds. For instance, we’d often have similar or inter-connected dreams such that my brother would be Spaceman Spiff, hurtling through the cosmos, flying into a cave or something. His dream would end, and in mine I would be a flying Zokk which would chase a spaceship which had just disturbed me in my home, the very cave Brother had flown into in his dream. Or in another, he would find several teeth on a dirty bathroom floor. These he would gather and use in some sort of mystical rites. The next day, I would describe a dream in which I’d lost all my teeth.
For the most part we remained away from the public. It was those rare occasions in which we went out in public that we felt our closest kinship. Any shame or humiliation we may have felt being stared at by Norms was mitigated by the knowledge of the discomfort we knew we were causing them. Children and idiots would openly stare at us; others, more “tactful,” took their looks when they thought we couldn’t see them.
One incident in particular sticks in my mind. At the Santa Monica Pier, a woman was walking along, holding the hand of an unpleasant little girl who looked to be about seven or so. The girl was openly staring and pointing at us, the woman (Her mother? Probably.) doing nothing to stop her. Seeming to ignore her, but obviously aware. Brother and I were understandably angry. I snapped, “We’ll kill you if we get the chance, little girl! We’re a monster!” to which Brother added, “It’s been too long since we’ve tasted sweet girl blood!” causing the girl to shriek piercingly and bury her face in her mother’s thigh. For her part, the mother, filled with indignation, began yelling at us. “How dare you—” was all I remember of the woman’s witty reproaches. As they walked away, I added, “Sleep with one eye open, little girl! We’ll be in your closet!” The Norms loved to ostracize us, and when they felt they had a legitimate reason, so much the better. They got to act on their hostilities toward us without feeling the burden of guilt. As for Brother and I, we liked to accommodate them.
In our roles as president of the department store, Brother and I had delighted in attending board meetings in our special chair, knowing that these very dignified business people were going out of their minds trying to avoid staring in any obvious way. Often we would prattle on about nothing at all, or some business proposition we knew to be untenable, simply to ensure that every uncomfortable eye in the room was fixed on us.
Our search for a doctor to separate us began in earnest when we turned 18 and gained full access to our parents’ estate. The President and CEO of the Spitnode’s chain was our father’s partner, Frank Ehre, a man in whom we had total trust. (How could we not trust someone who had such a “frank air?”) When it became depressingly clear that we were not going to be able to find anyone to perform the operation ourselves, we entrusted the job to this man. At first he refused, claiming he didn’t want to have anything to do with something that would kill one of us. But the sincerity of our desire for release, coupled with the fact that we threatened to go through other channels to find someone, convinced him to help us.
He found the names, did all the research. For nine sickening years, it all seemed to add up to nothing. The feeling that our time was limited had us panicked – We hadn’t been expected to live as long as we had. But we had never lost hope. It was on February 10, 2000 that we were surprised to see Ehre provide us with the name and credentials of Dr. Shoe.
[“]A cosmetic surgeon from Schlüssel Germany named Aethyr Shoe who only in the last few weeks set up a practice here, actually in the valley. He’s already earned a reputation for being quick and very skilled. The fact that he’s European adds an extra, exotic dimension, giving him more cache among the status-conscious. He’s now got a months-long waiting list. But I’ve been in contact with him, and he seems very interested in taking up your – ahem – case. He wants to meet you.” Portentously, Ehre added, “He says he may be able to do the procedure very soon.”
Brother and I both felt thrills of excitement. He asked, “Do you really think he’ll do it?” And I, “More important, can he?”
Ehre motioned to the papers on the coffee table. “All the research: his credentials, schooling, history, patients, et cetera is right there. Go through it yourselves – I know you will – but from all I’ve seen,” he seemed reluctant to add, “I think he’s your best shot at separation.”
After Ehre had left Brother and I read through all the papers he’d brought. Our adrenaline began pumping, our stomach tightening. This was it. Among the things I remember about those papers, he’d graduated top of his class at the University of Schlüssel in 1986, and he’d been among the doctors who had reattached a man’s severed hand in, of all places, Kentucky. There were amazing before-and-after pictures of people who’d been in terrible accidents, or born with ugly disfigurements, who’d been surgically altered, to very good effect, by him. Dr. Shoe was the one. We became more excited than we had been ... in a long time.
We called the man’s office immediately. At that point we didn’t speak directly to the doctor, but to his receptionist who said he was very busy at that moment, but was anxious to meet us and we set a time for the next day. It was with great difficulty that we finally got to sleep that night.
THE SPITNODES MEET SHOE
The next day, early afternoon, we labored into the back of our car and were driven to Shoe’s office in Burbank. Considering the city, it was a fairly prestigious area.
We climbed out of the car. Climbing in and out of cars was extremely problematic for us. For this reason, our vehicle was a custom-made Bond Asserta, with wider doors that opened up, rather than out. Once the door was opened and locked in that position, the one of us climbing out first could grab the handle on the door and pull, while the other was pushing off the seat. Our method of ambulation, though we’d long since gotten used to it, seemed awkward and jerky to the Norms who stared at us. I controlled the left leg, Brother controlled the right. We waddled forward, our bodies leaning away from each other, shoulders back, arms at our respective sides, my right arm behind us, his left. (Score one for the Spitnodes! Most doctors thought we’d never be able to walk at all.) Our heads never turned toward each other. This out of desire, not design. Stairs were trickier, though not much. We angled ourselves, one of us always having ahold of the handrail.
The waiting room was empty. Shoe had completely cleared his schedule to meet with us. His receptionist, an attractive woman (we were both attracted to her) whose name I don’t believe we were ever told and whose features escape me at the moment stepped out to greet us. “You must be the Spitnodes!” she said. Obviously. She shook our hands. “Dr. Shoe has been waiting for you.” She led us back to an examination room.
There, she took blood samples from each of our right arms, unnecessary since we both have the same blood running through both sides of our body. She then produced a cup, a sponge, and a copy of “Hustler” magazine and asked us for “whatever sample” we could provide, and left the room. I don’t feel like going into any details regarding that right now, except to say that it, like the double-blood sample, seemed completely unnecessary.
When we’d finished, we gave her the cup, which she carried with her in a gloved hand while leading us to Shoe’s office.
This room was clearly the largest in the entire space, larger even than the waiting room, though there were relatively spartan furnishings. There were some prints on the wall. One featured a painting of two apples with the word “apples” printed in generic, “rustic” letters. Another was a detail from I believe a Raphael painting of Cherubs. Also, the famous Norman Rockwell “turkey dinner” painting, with an inane inscription written underneath it, “A FAMILY is a gift of love,” etc. There was an Anne Geddes photo featuring two babies wearing bath caps, lying in a bathroom sink. A calendar featuring photos of frogs in various comical poses. That month’s, I remember, showed two frogs in a half-full wineglass. He also, as I recall, had his diploma from a school in Germany.
There was a plain-looking, dirty-brown couch, an unremarkable, unfinished wood table that matched his desk. On the table were three books, the titles of two of which I forget, but which had labels on them which read “Oprah’s Book Club Selection.” The other was a collection of doggerel by Jewel entitled A Night Without Armor. I remember thinking at the time that everything in that office could have been, and probably was, purchased at a Spitnode’s Department store.
Shoe, of course, was not in the office at that point. The receptionist left us alone telling us that he’d be right in with us. We were reluctant to sit down, for we’d just have to get back up again, a real chore. But we’d exerted ourselves so much by that time that we couldn’t stand much longer. The pressure on our sides and backs was getting to be unbearable. We sat.
And immediately Shoe walked in the room. He was not a big man physically, but seemed so. He was older, maybe about 45 or 50. Certainly no more than 55 or 60. But he had a sort of vigorousness that defied age. He was wearing a green-gray suit, with a red tie and a red vest. His hair was sandy, with a few streaks of gray, not too long. He had a Vandyke. He projected ... something I might have described at the time as whimsy. Now, I don’t know.
We started to rise from the couch but as he approached, we stopped. He noticed this and stopped, too, seeming to be waiting for us to stand, which we did, with some effort. “Good afternoon, Spitnodes!” he said. Then, to me, “You must be Reuss.” He then addressed my brother in the same manner. He shook our hands. “Well, I’m sorry,” he said, distracted. “I didn’t mean for you to stand up...” he motioned for us to sit back down.
“Quite alright,” Brother said. We both meant it, too. If this man were to be the instrument of our salvation, the least we could do was stand for him.
“I’ve read a lot about you two,” he said. His expression seemed to dissolve into something like sympathy. “I can’t imagine what you two must be going through. That you’ve had to live this long ... chained for life, as it were.”
We both nodded. He seemed so understanding.
“The operation will kill one of you. For a doctor, a person who has dedicated his life to healing, to knowingly undertake an endeavor that he knows will end up killing a person, this is very difficult indeed.”
“That is what we’ve discovered,” I said.
He eyed us. Something about his demeanor, his attitude, changed. He got darker. “One of you will definitely die in this...” he said, trailing off, in a way that left me completely cold. He was angling.
I said, “I would prefer to not die, but I am willing it be me ... just so long as I am out of this hell...”
He seemed not to hear me. I chose to interpret this as coolness. This coolness I attributed to professionalism. He asked Brother: “You feel the same way?”
“Yes. I want out of this just as badly.”
He motioned with his hands. “I’d like to – go ahead and stand and disrobe. I’d like to examine you.” He stepped behind his desk, opened a drawer, took out a camera. It seemed very strange all of a sudden, almost like a dream. The conversation hadn’t really followed any logic. Now we were going to take our clothes off in his office. Brother and I were both apprehensive, more even than we’d have been given the circumstances. That night I would rationalize that Shoe was using some sort of psychological trick to take our minds off having to shed our clothes before him by causing us to fixate on his strange conversation. In any event, the blazing shame we usually felt in such circumstances was replaced by a sort of bemusement.
He took pictures of us from the front. “Turn,” he said. More pictures. “Now, face me again.” He had a voice like Rice Krispies.
We turned toward him. He ran an index finger along my ribcage, to the point of conjunction between the two of us, stopped at the scar. “What’s this?”
Our stomach tightened. My brother stumbled over the words “We – when we were ten years old, we tried to separate ourselves. With a hacksaw.” He’d oversimplified the story. I had convinced him. I talked him into doing it, somehow believing if he used the saw it wouldn’t hurt me at all. It did, of course, and as soon as he started I screamed and forced him to stop. He’d still cut quite a sizable, ugly gash into us. Could not fault his determination. We were rushed to our home-away-from-home at the UCLA Medical Center where surgeons repaired us. Repaired! Even at this point, after this glaring cry out, our parents would not have us separated. Instead, it was even more sessions (every day, in fact) with the awful Dr Circe Glans, and her “I-am-a-person” nonsense. Yes, we were both people! But that didn’t change anything, did it?? Brother and I each must have said “I-am-a-person” at least half a million times. Excellent work, Doctor.
“You will always have a companion. You’ll never be alone.” Fuck you, Dr Glans. (And we did, at that.)
Shoe whistled, took more pictures. From every familiar, humiliating angle; and a few new ones. He also used a measuring tape, then produced a little red notebook from his trousers pocket, flipped it open, and scribbled some notes. At length he was finished, and instructed us to sit back down on the couch. When we made a move to pick up our clothes off the floor he said, “That’s not necessary right now. Just go ahead and have a seat. And Reuss; give me your shoe.” We sat back down.
He placed my shoe in a drawer in his desk from which he pulled a bottle of Asti Spumanti, and two glasses. Looked at us, then got out a third. “Would you like a drink?” he asked, as he poured.
We refused. Asti Spumanti. We should have left right then.
“You are physically repulsive,” he said after a drink. “I suppose that this has left you wretched on the inside. Suicide is the obvious out, yet you’ve not availed yourselves of that option. Why?”
Brother and I sat in stunned silence for a few seconds. I recovered first and said, “One of us should get to live as normally as possible. It’s not fair that we should have endured this ... for all these years, and then only death for both of us at the end of it. Suicide would kill both of us.”
“One of you could, say, shoot yourself in the head. The other would then have a few hours to get to the Medical Center and force the doctors there to do it. If you were serious about it, why not do that?”
Again, silence. Of course we’d considered it. Neither of us wanted to make that “sacrifice.” We couldn’t agree upon any way to come to the decision about which of us would die first. We were at a stalemate.
“Hell, for that matter,” Shoe continued, “one could kill the other, claim it was a suicide, then call the Med Center.”
“No, we couldn’t,” Brother said. “We hate each other, but, we couldn’t – neither of us could – do that to the other.” He wasn’t lying. But he wasn’t being entirely honest, either. The reason was because, with our shared body, lying was impossible for us. When a person lies, their body goes through chemical reactions, reactions that the person is not usually aware of. If one of us lied, however, the other could tell, because these chemical reactions were noticeable to him. Now, imagine trying to “sneak up” on this person, who can feel every subtle reaction of your body in his own.
No, neither of us could kill the other.
“So, on top of all else, you want the doctor who separates you to decide which of you gets the chance at a ‘normal’ life?” He sounded disgusted.
It took a few seconds, but both Brother and I said, “Yes.”
“According to all I’ve read, you’re both equally strong physically. Either of you could survive on your own. The other couldn’t.” He seemed to be thinking out loud. “You have no idea as to who it will be?”
One of us, either of us, it doesn’t matter: “We don’t.”
“And I have to ask: You don’t feel you should celebrate your ‘uniqueness?’” He smiled. Only the most banal Norms ever said that to us. Norms are all about other people, freaks, celebrating their uniqueness. Let them try to live like us. Chain yourself, twenty-four hours a day, to another person, then see how long you want to celebrate your uniqueness.
He stood, leaning against the desk, sipping his Asti Spumanti. Deep in thought. “You’re very troubled. Both of you are very troubled. I want to help you, and I think I can. I know I have the medical skills necessary, it’s just ... well, can you understand how this might be problematic for me psychologically? Of course, not as problematic as it’s been for you two, living this way. But still, you’re asking me to decide which of you lives, and which of you dies. You’re putting in my hands a responsibility usually reserved only for God. Or Gods.” There was silence for a few more seconds, while he seemed to resolve himself. “I’ll perform the separation,” he said.
Brother and I nearly leapt off the couch.
“But. I’ll want you to do some things for me—”
“We’ll pay you whatever—”
“I’m not talking about money. Although it will certainly cost you quite a bit. No, I’m talking about – well, this is a rare opportunity—” there was a gleam in his eye (or am I confabulating that?) “—to study, well, to be honest, you. And I’d like to spend the next few days doing some research and study. But I’ll need you to do exactly as I ask.”
We agreed wholeheartedly.
“Very well then. We’ve entered into an agreement.” His demeanor changed again. He became quite brisk and professional, asking all the questions we expected; about our health, living habits, et cetera. He seemed particularly interested in Brother’s disturbing habit of sleeping with his eyes open, but otherwise he was bored with us. He explained that he’d already gotten our medical records from our regular doctor at UCLA through Ehre. We had several doctors at the center, but one in particular, and I realize I have not mentioned this person and I will not elaborate upon him now. At one point during our quest to find a surgeon to separate us, he threatened that if we ever did find such a doctor he would do “everything in his power” to stop it. Suffice it to say, once he’d made that unreasonable threat we stopped confiding to him anything of great importance.
After he’d dispensed with all that seemed to bore him, Shoe told us: “I will ask you to do certain things that may seem a bit – unusual. Do as I ask exactly. Let me stress this: Do as I ask exactly or I will not perform the operation. And I doubt you’ll ever find anyone else to do it. Certainly not anyone of my skill. Understood?”
We agreed again.
“I assure you. It may seem as though the things I ask you to do are nonsensical or strange. But I wouldn’t ask you to do anything I wouldn’t do myself, and there is a design to it. Everything to a purpose.” As if to illustrate this point, he handed us an envelope, said, “Tonight, I want you to get a duck foie gras – get two, actually – and marinade them in milk for the next few days.”
“It shouldn’t be too difficult for people of your means. Just do as I ask. Remember what I said.”
What, oh God what did we think he was going to ask us to do? We had no idea, didn’t ask, and he wouldn’t have told us anyway.
I never did get my shoe back.
To find out what happens next, check it out at amazon.com here, or Barnes & Noble here.