by Laura Lovic-Lindsay
I know what she is doing.
I see her muscles growing. She is strengthening
herself. She will need stronger muscles in our
right arm if she is to do it properly, do it quickly.
But my side has always been stronger. If Onya
leaned properly, I could make us run. She could
not do this. She resented this, and so she said it
hurt to lean.
As children, I wanted to climb like the others.
She was afraid. Her arm could not hold us, she
said. She told First Mother that I wanted to
climb. First Mother told me, "You are a fool. You
will both be killed."
"I should think you would be pleased to have us
killed," I mumbled.
It was my face she slapped. It was my arm she
pinched until it blued and I cried.
First Mother took Onya's side, in all ways. First
Mother took her hand when we walked, never
mine, never walked my side. I was kept street-
side. She wanted me to be trampled. She wished
for it. She wanted the laughs and the pointing
and the looks to fall upon me first. Keep Onya
between us, protect her.
Small Onya, who had no strength. Small Onya,
who would not have lived on her own.
Me, I would have lived. I am bigger, stronger. I
feel more of us. She could have been removed,
taken off of me. First Mother knew this, knew it
when she sold us. Onya could have been
removed and I would still have lived.
I could have climbed. I could have run.
We would not have been sold to the tall bloated
man with the belly, mustache and chain-watch,
the man who made First Mother take our clothes
from us. Made us stand while he regarded us.
Onya would not look at him, but I locked onto
his ugly purple nose, his angry wrinkles, his
mustache with fat and wax smeared through. I
did glare at him until he broke gaze, looked
away. He did not ask to see us that way again.
He made First Mother bring us to him at the
edge of the town. She cried and hugged us both,
but kissed only Onya.
The angry man said, "When I speak to you, you
will call me 'Sir' or 'Mr. Brighton.'" We were not
to speak to him unless he told us to do so. He
told us this, and no more.
He put a blanket over us and made us ride in a
carriage with no windows. In an hour, I heard
voices, some shouting impatience, some excited.
We heard swears and spitting. We heard the
ringing hammers of the circus being taken apart
and packed onto the train for the first time in
Mr. Brighton gave us to the Lady Who Wore
Flowers in Her Hair. She pulled our blanket from
us and smiled the kindest smile. She said we
must call her Mother now. And so we did. We
were to live in her caravan. When she was not
on her tightrope, she fed us, bathed us, told us
stories, tickled us, loved us.
She held us both when we cried after the first
time Mr. Brighton made us stand before the
crowds. We were no strangers to whispers, to
pointing. But some men gasped, some women
moaned and streamed tears.
One man put his hand over his lady's eyes,
praying loudly for God to destroy us. "Monster,"
he said. "Demon."
A man argued with Mr. Brighton that our clothes
should be taken from us. He would not believe
we were one unless he could see.
They argued for some time and then Mother was
there in the corner. She called to us, and took
my hand, pulled us behind red velveted curtains
where she took flowers from her hair, put them
in ours. Then she kissed us both on the nose.
She said we did well and that we would not need
to do that again until evening.
For years, Mr. Brighton stood us before crowds
three times a day. Six, on weekends. Onya
suffered this. But I grew angry, looking every
man in the eyes. Most women would not look at
my face. Many times Mr. Brighton told Mother
she must make me stop doing that. They argued.
My favorite times were between shows. We
could lie on the hills surrounding us, if we were
lucky enough to have hills that week, and name
the cloud shapes to one another. We could play
dolls under the tents, trickle soft sawdust
through our hands. We could walk freely
through tall grasses, among the tents and visit
the others who, like us, stood on a stage while
the people of the towns squinted their eyes,
stared down their noses.
We were not allowed to go see towns. Mr.
Brighton chewed his cigar and spat, "Why, then,
would they come and pay for what they can see
Onya did not want to go to towns. When we
were fourteen, I tried to make her go to towns
with me. By now, we had our own caravan.
Mother had married and had two young children
of her own. She still smiled wide when she saw
us. She had told us we must come see her
whenever we liked. Her children held up their
arms to us when we came near and called us
I held the youngest on my side, whispered in his
ear that I would go to towns and bring back
candy for them all.
Onya balked and made herself slow and heavy
on my side. Still, I pulled her, made her walk.
She did not like when I disobeyed Mr. Brighton.
But I gave Onya no choice. I had a dollar in my
pocket, left from our birthday. Onya had long
spent hers. She craved the sweet hot-dipped
apples. I would spend mine in town. My heart
fluttered, light and happy that morning.
I dragged her past the rise beyond which the
train-smoke could no longer be seen. Angry
Onya dropped her weight and would not carry,
would not move another step. I fought for what
control I could of our right leg, but this time
Onya was the stronger and would not give.
I would not spend my dollar that day.
I was angry but I picked the wildflowers with her
on the hill and took them home to Mother.
When we were fifteen, First Mother came to see
Mr. Brighton. I pulled Onya back behind a
First Mother wore a wedding ring now, and her
clothes were clean and lovely, ruffled and new.
She said she would have us back but Mr.
Brighton grew red and waved papers at her and
said we would stay. Onya tried to go to her, but
I stopped us.
I put my hand over Onya's mouth to keep her
from calling out. She bit me deep, but I held
silent. I pulled my hand free and slapped her
hard. I made us walk the back tents where we
wouldn't be heard while she cried.
First Mother and Mr. Brighton yelled at one
another for many hours. She left before sunset,
both of them hoarse with the shouting. Sullen
Onya would not eat for three days.
When we were sixteen, kind Jacob who watered
and fed the horses began to talk to us after
shows. One day he laughed too loudly and
puffed himself up, waddling like Mr. Brighton.
Onya made a sound that must have been a
laugh. Jacob touched Onya's cheek as he talked
to us. He touched Onya's hair. The man who
performed the horses came around the corner as
he did this. Mr. Brighton sent for Jacob and we
did not see him again after that. Onya cried.
When we were seventeen, Mother took our
hands to tell news. Mr. Brighton had sold our
contract to another show.
"You will travel the world," she promised. "You
will see Europe. You may see Kings and
I would rather see nothing and stay with
Mother, but I was not asked. Onya stood silent. I
think she had already begun to plan.
Onya, who would tell me to carry our heavy
bags—Onya, who never would help with the
tents—Onya began holding things for hours.
Picking up heavier and heavier things.
She made excuses when I asked why she lifted
repeatedly with our right arm. She said she was
bored. She said it was nothing. She was playing,
she told me.
It has been seven months now, and determined
Onya can carry as much as I.
Three mornings in a row I have awakened to
find her staring at me. This morning, she had
already picked up the pillow. I know she will try
soon and I am unsure whether I have the will to
fight her in this. I am a little envious, in fact.
She will know what it is to be alone for the few
hours she survives me.
Laura Lovic-Lindsay left Penn State University with a literature
degree in hand in 1993, having written no more than a few poems at
that point. Since then she has won poetry and fiction contests
(PennWriters Poetry Contest, writerstype.com, writersweekly.com,
Poetry Nook), and had pieces published both online and in print
(Fireside Fiction, Fine Linen Magazine, Serealities.com). Laura lives
in a farmhouse beside a river that tells lies.
A bit about the beginnings of “Small Onya”:
I was thinking about relationships where people are bound together by
marriage, children, or maybe some other commitment. I wondered
what it would be like to be in a union from which you absolutely could
not back away. I took that thought to the extreme: "What if some
conjoined twins couldn't get along? How far might that go?" Many turns
and steps later, that became “Small Onya.”