The Sudden Appearance of an Identical Twin

In his slightly madcap, secretly serious, mystery novel, I Shot the Buddha, Colin Cotterill, on the very first page, describes three types of “cinematic plot devices” that his protagonists find annoying: coincidences, which he labels as “coming in third,” behind first (or second?) convenient amnesia, and second (or first) the sudden appearance of an identical twin.

Black and white stencil of twin girls
Diane Arbus, Identical Twins-Stencil by ThatMakesThree (flickr.com. CC license.

Somehow my attention got snagged on that last (but possibly first) objection, sufficiently not to notice that he slyly went on to say, “but after all this was real life.” I was ready, as it were, to debate the point—if only with myself—that suddenly appearing identicals are not annoying.

After all, I mused to myself, coincidence, annoying as it is, we have always with us and yes, television soap operas have surely worn out the trope of amnesia, convenient or otherwise, but identical twins? There’s something about identical twins.

I think identical twins are like dreams in that they are more interesting the closer your relationship to them. Other people’s identical twins are noticeable, especially when dressed exactly alike, but identical twins in one’s own family, that must seem remarkable beyond argument. I confess I used to have a tiny, secret envy of mothers who had identical twins. I have never figured out quite why—after all, it must entail twice the work (not to mention the cost) of birthing and raising a single child—but maybe it’s that sense of the remarkable. Who isn’t attracted by the remarkable? And what must it be like to be oneself an identical twin? It could get old with practice, but still there’s that sense of difference. Not to mention the double wardrobes.

Of course the operative word in Cotterill’s phrase is sudden. Naturally born identical twins, one’s own or the twins of others, do not usually appear suddenly. At least not in this era in this country. It’s a characteristic of suddenly appearing identical twins, therefore, that they are usually fully-grown, mature replicants, having no previous association. They are as new to one another as they are to us. That’s why writers have loved them so much down through the ages. They may be annoying, but they do the work.

Now imagine coming face to face with one’s own suddenly appearing identical twin. There she (or he) is, smiling your smile, with hair and eyes the same color as yours, standing nose to nose, and furthermore (this has been attested to) wearing a shirt or skirt of that same Black Watch plaid your spouse or partner has been urging you to get rid of for years, but which your are perversely wearing today. Furthermore, as if that weren’t enough, just like you, holding a cup of Starbuck’s half-caff, skim milk, double shot, cappuccino. Oh, that could be fun, but it might be the stuff of horror. Have you ever noticed how they appear, these sudden doubles, in dreams that involve death and betrayal? Well, no wonder I got sidetracked.

Still, there’s only so much time you can spend on a single page of a book, especially if it’s the first. One reads on and I did, to its eminently satisfactory conclusion. Since this is not a book report, nor even a review, I won’t tell the plot except to notice that it is replete with coincidences and has at least three appearances of the scary kind of double. And, oh yes, if amnesia is your fixation, there’s some of that too. Naturally it’s very convenient.

In case I haven’t made that clear, I do recommend I Shot the Buddha. I’m pretty sure my identical twin—if only one could ask!—would do so too.

Buddha statue
Smiling Buddha by Bob Mical. CC license.

Photo of Susan Shafarzek
Susan Shafarzek lives in Charlottesville, Va. Besides editing essays for Streetlight, she is a poet and photographer, blogging occasionally at Whaddyameanrosebuds.com.

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