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Left Too Soon

Margaret Washington was cold by the time her twins arrived. Lying across a wicker rocker. Afghan sitting on her slender legs. Tempa scanned the little sitting room, it was cramped with old lady things like dollies and cat figurines and White Diamonds perfume bottles. Things too old for a woman of only fifty-two. She turned back to her mother to stare at her outline just a bit. Margaret’s light brown skin, narrow nose, and tangled curly black hair matched the pictures of the woman tucked carefully away into old photo albums kept by relatives who hadn’t seen her in decades either. They had the same long fingers, Tempa noted. Their dad’s hands were short and stubby; of course, those genes had come from this stranger.

Smalltown Montana proved easier to reach than the twins expected. Kalispell airport was bright and quaint. Snowcapped mountains seemed in walking distance, though they were miles away. The car ride only took thirty minutes from the airport, and the scenery was nothing but mountains and snowy plains.

The first teardrops feel from Tinelle’s eyes silently. Tempa let out a long sigh as she stayed the line with the 911 operators. They could already hear the emergency vehicle sirens. Stepping out to the rickety porch, Tempa shivered a bit in the late March breeze. Tinelle followed her sister outside.

“This was our only chance,” Tinelle whispered, incredulous at the circumstances. Tempa shook her head, staring off deftly into the distance.

“We deserved answers,” Tempa agreed, her voice deep and turbulent.

There was supposed to be more time,” Tinelle said as if in a reverie. The blustery wind stung the tracks of her silent tears.

Tempa turned to her sister who though only four minutes younger, always needed protecting. Though they shared every obvious physical feature—the same pear shape, a soft rounded jaw and bright brown eyes— they’d always responded to loss in vastly different ways. Their mother’s abandonment toughened Tempa whereas it left Tinelle fragile, vulnerable.

“I knew something bad was going to happen. I woke up last night to a sharp chest pain and a cold sweat, and it was like I just knew,” Tinelle said, now pacing the little porch, unwilling to go back into the dead woman’s house.

The first responders arrived, hopping out of their fire truck, the ambulance not far behind. Tempa explained what she knew, showing them to the flaccid, middle-aged woman inside before rejoining her sister on the porch.

Tempa guessed that finding their mother at last was the beginning of something gone all the way wrong. Even though Margaret had been overjoyed to hear their voices the first time they called. Even though she’d invited them out to visit. They couldn’t even name the capital of Montana, let alone figure out what had brought their troubled mother to the outskirts of Kalispell from Chicago where she’d birthed healthy, precocious twin girls some thirty-plus years ago before quitting on them and their father. They were nine months Margaret walked out the door with not so much as a goodbye letter. Tempa’s eyes started to well, but not with sadness like her sister. She suppressed her urge to scream, but couldn’t control the surging blood pounding through her temples. Shuffling came from inside the house, and the porch door swung open, one of the first responders with obvious news.

“But you know what Tinelle?” Tempa said before turning to the plain-faced EMT worker with a practiced somber expression. “She did what came naturally to her,” Tempa pronounced. Tears fell from both women’s faces. On this point the twins agreed. Their mother had once again left too soon.


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