Maritizia and Leticia lived a charmed life; even though their fortuitous beginning was brought on by the quick succession of the death of their uncle (from what is known as leather scrolls) and then by their mother’s passing while giving birth to them. They were left with a sizable fortune which allowed them to travel the world as the only full-grown, living conjoined twins not forced to perform in a circus. It was quite the adventure fueled by their need to escape from a learned, obsessive, vivisection enthusiast and a scoop-hungry newspaperman but their adventure really began at birth.
Before the arrival of the aforementioned strangers, they lived amongst the servants of their estate. The butler and the gardener had amassed their own fortunes through a long loyal history to royal families and as a result of their illegal side business of herbal cure-all tinctures. Richmond, the butler, was a smooth-talking, well-groomed, former army doctor who raised the twins with the help of a peccantly innocuous gardener named Jules.
It was Jules who first found himself misty-eyed at the birth of the two girls, unable to look away from their innate beauty and freakishness. He fell in love with the emerald sharpness of their eyes as they screamed their arrival into the world, perfectly in unison. On the other hand, Richmond, the decidedly less sentimental of the two, saw opportunity blossom before his eyes but had fallen in love with the girls, nonetheless. Although sometimes gruff in his affections, the butler had a terrific bedside manner when an emergency called for it and an unscrupulous ability for acquiring large sums of money leading to a very comfortable lifestyle for all.
Together, Jules and Richmond raised Maritizia and Leticia, whom they affectionately called “Mari” and “Leti”, and spent their days teaching them the ways of cunning business practices, medical procedures, and gardening. The other maids and scullion sometimes sucked their teeth regarding the survival of what they believed to be “true freak show material”, but their protests were never loud enough to cause a mutiny of the staff or a change to the new masters’ world order. The only real obstacles this small and unusual family experienced in their cloistered existence was the mighty and competing will of the twins.
Mari and Leti were curious children and liked to get their way. They became well-adept at overcoming their physical limitations by working together with a swiftness that was dazzling to those who witnessed it. This dangerous combination encouraged them to use their facilities to an advantage. They were joined at the hip and shared a lung, they often wished that they had been joined at the heart, creating a world of an infinite feedback loop with thoughts filtering from one brain to another, hearts simultaneously pumping through their shared limbs and reaching through their unshared fingertips and toes. Their ribcages would rise and fall together, hugging their internal organs. They could be totally alone, starring permanently into the other’s eyes, and the world beyond them would become a fuzzy, faraway place of no consequence to them. Instead, they spent every night and nap facing each other, harmoniously breathing into a deep sleep of simultaneous heartbeats and their unshared hands, clasped together.
These lessons were often punctuated by the arrival of the post and the near-constant influx of postcards from a family friend they came to know as “Auntie Lo”. Auntie Lo was a traveler of the world and described as fabulous by the often unforgiving opinions of Jules and Richmond. She was a great example of a fearless woman and a renowned riverboat gambler. She seemed relatively unscathed by the world outside the estate walls and lived the way she pleased.
It became clear that beyond their learned existence and instruction on that world, Mari and Leti wanted to live it, breathe it, and gallivant in it just like Auntie Lo. During pre-pubescence, instead of taking their usual afternoon naps, they began to spend time hatching plans for escape from the overbearing isolation of their stifling, yet loving upbringing and into the wonders of the unknown.
One day, while quietly working alone in the garden, they heard a rustle, a crash, a tree branch breaking, and the sounds of low groans. They went to inspect, tottering in their special way, with pruning shears and a bucket on differing hands.
Curious as ever, they peered into the thorny Bougainvillea plants and saw two strangers, uncomfortably clasped together in a reluctant embrace. The two strangers were struggling in order to get away from the other, but only succeeded in getting more and more stuck in the brambles, thorns poking their sides and hands and feet making them bleed as if from a stigmata. At the first sight of the girls, the newspaperman gasped, clutched his chest, and fumbled for his camera, his hat askew and nearly perched on a branch above his head.
The vivisectionist foamed slightly at the mouth with widened eyes and screamed, “I want to cut you in half, put you in a jar, and study you!”
The girls stepped back at this reaction and Mari raised her pruning shears high.
“An interesting proposal, sir.”
Leti turned to run into the house and to scream for either of her fathers but Mari stayed still eyeing the two men in the bush and calculating the situation with a fresh gleam in her eyes. For the first time, Leti felt a change ripple through their shared and unshared limbs as she was forced to stay put on the spot they stood. She didn’t know what to feel or how to run without Mari’s assumed approval and besides, she didn’t know how Jules and Richmond would react. Jules, of course, would probably scream at the sight of his half-ruined Bougainvilleas and then faint at the sight of the blood pricking through the men’s shirts. Richmond would probably know best how to manipulate the situation or try his hand at adding new corpses to his anatomy studio but she could tell that this was not Mari’s first reaction.
“How much is it worth to you?” Mari said slyly. Leti sucked in her breath and tried to search her twin’s eyes for reassurance. The men continued to struggle against the branches and each other, ripping holes in their clothes.
“It will hurt less if you stop moving and let me cut you out of there.”
They stopped their frantic movements for a few moments.
“But not until you tell us what you are doing here.”
They spoke at once, tripping over their words. The vivisectionist shouted, “I already told you my reasons.” The newspaperman admitted that he was desperate for a story that would take him out of the women’s cooking advice column and into the illustrious world of tabloid journalism. Plus, he really had to see it for himself to believe their existence. He still didn’t quite believe it, but his damp pants told him that he had already pissed himself from the pure adrenaline of their meeting or it might have been the fall from the garden walls.
“Now, hold on a minute,” boomed the familiar voice of Richmond. “What do we have here?” He deftly swiped the pruners from Mari’s hand and towered over the men stuck in the thorns. “You’re lucky your other father isn’t home, he would be so upset at this sight.
Girls, go up to your rooms. I’ll take care of these two little problems.”
Mari and Leti attempted to scurry away and tried to gallop up the stairs to peer over the balcony. Now that they began to think thoughts independent of each other, coordinating their collective movements seemed a more awkward task. They watched as the butler swiftly cut the men loose from their prison and bound them together with twine, neither man could compete with Richmond’s strength and will. Once he figured they couldn’t get away, he covered them with a burlap sack that once contained manure for the garden.
“That should suit you both for now.”
Just as he was about to bound the stairs toward the girls, Jules came home with bundles of shopping and a chipper smile.
“They’ve finally found us. We must help the girls escape before the rest of their kind crash in.”
Jules lifted an eyebrow and set the wares down.
“Girls!”, they shouted in unison.
The girls peeked over the banister, almost tempted to slide down at the sight of their beloved caretakers.
“We’ve come to realize, dears. That we can’t keep you locked up forever and now we have a situation on our hands that will grow into patch of nasty weeds if we don’t nip it in the bud right away, as they say.” They all wanted to groan and roll their eyes at Jules’ usual gardening puns, but didn’t.
Richmond sighed, “If you could go anywhere in the world, as far away from here as possible, where would you go?”
In unison both girls said, “South Africa with Auntie Lo!”
And thus, their real adventure began on that otherwise slow and relaxing Saturday afternoon in the spring. The girls would soon know what it was like to be women outside of the only world they had known and the two strangers were never to be seen again.