The street is empty, just the pavement impatient for our footsteps. My feet don’t want to walk though and I don’t blame them. They are trussed up in black leather lace-ups polished to a perfect darkness. I’m wearing my sensible shoes, we both are, which is ridiculous when I think about it. But then again this whole thing is ridiculous. I rake a hand through my cropped hair and pull on the points of my suit jacket. My eyes are fixed on Gwen’s but she is a mirror that doesn’t want to reflect. She is staring at the flagstones, at the pool of rainwater spreading out in front of her like a wet shadow, a wet shadow that implies something inside her is bleeding. I turn away and pull up my collar. The sky is a pale, exhausted grey.
“Come on,” I say, putting my arm round her shoulders. “Let’s get this over with.” But Gwen doesn’t move. She is still staring at the puddle, fishing in it now with the toe of her court shoe. My arm feels suddenly adrift on her shoulders. Her thin brown bob is all over the place, like a metaphor for what’s going on inside her head. She hasn’t brushed it. I saw her in the bathroom earlier, comb in hand, standing in front of the mirror, clicking her fingers trying to remember what it was she’d gone in there to do.
“We’ve got to go Gwen, we have to do this,” I say again. A lazy breeze lifts her fringe. This time she looks up, walks towards me, grips me round the waist and rests her head against my chest. She feels like blown glass in my arms. She feels like the only person I will ever be given to love.
It starts to rain, the fretful, wet-air kind of rain you don’t realise is drenching you ‘til you get where you’re headed. I let go of Gwen and fumble inside my handbag for an umbrella. Droplets of rain start to sequin my skirt. I open the brolly then taking hold of Gwen’s hand, we head off towards the police station.
At the bus stop, a fuss of mothers with pushchairs waiting for the 65. As we draw closer, Gwen and I become the pause in their conversation. The sound of our sensible shoes hitting the pavement now seems strangely out of step with everything – gravity, the turn of the earth – and I’m acutely aware of the weight of Gwen’s hand in mine. A toddler attached to its mother’s leg, waves a stuffed pig with a bell inside and giggles. I turn to look at Gwen. She is staring straight ahead, eyes fixed on the traffic lights at the end of the road. As we walk past, their whispers cling to us like cobwebs.
“What is it about kids in sunglasses I find so disturbing?” Gwen says out the corner of her mouth. I smile and squeeze her hand.
“The mothers were far more disturbing,” I reply, looking over my shoulder.
“Mothers generally are in my experience.” She pulls a face.
“Yes, particularly when they walk in on you having sex,” I say, putting my arm round her waist. Gwen tries to smile then leans her head against me. I can smell her hair. It is the burnt smell of forgotten toast. It is one of the things I know I will remember about this walk for the rest of my life; this walk we are making because of mother. But what’s done is done. No turning back the clock. We had sex, she saw and now she’s reported us to the police. No one has died but something will get killed, I just know it. I can feel it like a wound waiting to open on my skin. She’s disowned us of course, mother. Won’t have anything to do with us, which is a shame given how long it took us to find each other again. But I don’t miss her. Missing mother would be like mourning the death of a chair.
We’re standing outside the police station now, facing one another, clutching each other’s arms; two people caught between heaven and hell. I look at her and I can’t tell myself apart, which gives me strength in a way. And I need to be strong, for both of us. Gwen was born as she will always be – vulnerable, innocent – so it is up to me to get us through this. I bite my lip. Someone like Gwen shouldn’t have to go through any of this, it’s not right. But then again neither should I. Ours is a victimless crime. Nobody died. On the contrary somebody will live. Me, I will live because after countless lovers too lazy to even want me, I’ve finally found someone who loves me. I just wish they’d leave us alone. Why can’t they leave us alone to love each other?
I link my arm through Gwen’s and lead her up the steps to the police station. At the top, we pause and stare at the front door. It is huge, heavy, like the entrance to a jail. Inside my chest, a heart that feels like it’s coughing. Gwen reaches forward and for some reason knocks on the door. It’s in that moment I realise I love her more than I have ever loved anyone. We walk in, Gwen’s heels tapping lightly on the grey linoleum. At the reception desk, the duty policeman looks up from the form he is filling in and grins a mouthful of peg teeth. He looks like a cobbler with a row of nails pressed between his lips.
“Yes, umm… hello,” I say, fiddling with the strap of my handbag. “We’ve been asked to… to report to the police station?”
It’s about six in the morning and I’m peeling potatoes, about fifteen so far. The eyes I’ve gouged out are lined up on the window sill, staring at me. I’m thinking about Gwen, where she might be right now, what she might be doing. Gwen is all I think about, all I’ve been thinking about, every minute of every hour of every day since they separated the two of us eight months ago. Under the terms of the court order, we’re not allowed any contact. If we do, they’ll put us in prison. But then, not being allowed to see each other, we might as well be in prison. I’m standing at the sink in what used to be our kitchen in our flat, hair sticking up in tufts, eyes dry and gritty. I’m standing here playing alive and somewhere out there, in Leeds last I heard, Gwen is doing the same.
On the table, the letter from the solicitor. It’s marked and torn from too much reading. The solicitor has advised us to plead guilty, guilty but with mitigating circumstances. He says it’s in our best interest to admit we had sexual relations but only because, at the time, we didn’t know we were sisters. The solicitor is confident that if we plead guilty to adult incest on the grounds of genetic sexual attraction, we’ll avoid a prison sentence. It should be a comfort to me knowing there’s a medical reason why this has happened. The fact that it’s common for children separated at birth to find themselves sexually attracted to each other in later life, should be a help. But it’s no help. It’s just a big mess. A mess my mother made at sixteen when she gave me up for adoption. I grip the edge of the sink and close my eyes. I’m so confused. How can something so wrong feel so right? Yes, weird obviously, realising you’ve had sex with your little sister but not wrong; it’s never felt wrong. I look out across the rooftops, relentless rows of them and wonder if it’s human nature to make life harder than it’s meant to be.
On the drainer, Gwen’s favourite mug. It’s been there since that morning eight months ago when we left to go to the police station. For the tenth time already today I pick up my mobile and scroll to her number. What right do they have to keep family apart?! My thumb hovers over the call button, trembling, nail bitten, cuticle ragged. I grip the phone in my fist, pressing it to my lips then I throw it as hard as I can at the kitchen wall.