By eleven, the Leonard twins were a regular spectacle at Twinkles Skateland. Aunt Ina had struggled to raise them, since the age of six, after their parents murder/suicide. Ina was an Olympic figure skating enthusiast exposing her blonde nieces to endless televised performances of the great pairs. Ina’s favorites were Gordiva and Grinkov while the twins were obsessed, for obvious reasons, with the Carruthers siblings. It wasn’t a stretch for Kiera and Kaci, who not only looked identical, tween twin Barbies, but also did everything together, to imagine skating together, too — though Aunt Ina explained early same sex siblings were not permitted to compete in these events.
None of this performance fantasy, of the girls, was connected to any reality or literality. They could have never learned ice skating in their small southern town where it never snowed and no ice rinks existed. Aunt Ina could not have afforded such fancy lessons even it had. She could barely feed her charges and save gas money to chauffeur them around in her peeling Dodge Caliber. But she managed somehow, scoping out all the free activities that Florosa had to offer its youth, squirreling away dollars from her shifts at Target.
The most popular of these activities she found to distract her tragic twins from their poor run of luck in life was the free skate at Twinkles Skateland. On Tuesdays and Fridays and Sundays, for specific three hour slots, under-12 kids skated free. The rental of skates was $5 per child which was still cost prohibitive for Ina, but when she told the girls they would have to first save up the $30 to buy their own skates they both managed to find odd jobs in the trailer park to accomplish this task within a week
Their first skates were a classic white boot with pink toe stops and wheel bearings. These instantly became Kiera and Kaci’s mutual favorite possessions. The twins coordinated their thrifted wardrobe to match the skates and to create a cohesion they mirrored in their synchronized routines at Twinkles. The girls practiced endlessly gaining speed and acumen, stealing the simpler choreography from videotapes of ice skating legends. The effect of all this combined with the twins’ doubly blessed genetics created a show that stopped even the speed skaters in their tracks. By the time the twins were 14, the DJ began featuring the girls each night with a motley mix of “Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star, to highlight their grace, merged a little jarringly with “It Takes Two” as the girls exited
to the delight of a mesmerized rink.
A little slow on the uptake that the twins had become entertainers at the roller rink (Ina enjoyed dropping the girls off and getting household chores done while they were so thoroughly occupied), their aunt caught on when 15 year old Kiera finally broke the news — they’d been asked to shoot a commercial.
“They want to pay us $100 — each.”
Aunt Ina was no businesswoman, but she had impeccable common sense. Twinkles was a chain of roller skating rinks. Her nieces had endured an abysmal childhood — Ina knew only ended with the murder/suicide not started there. Her brother was always a brute — even to her as a child. She could only imagine what these young girls had suffered at his demented hands. The girls never spoke of it — though they held in most things except, Ina imagined, with each other. Whether it was a twin or a trauma bond, Ina couldn’t totally say. Though Kiera served as the spokesperson of the two, always filling the air with a chatter of inconsequential information, it was clear there was always much about the girls’ lives Ina would never know.
Her nieces were stunning squared. Ina knew the most certain way out of their violent past and bleak present was to capitalize on that. Stopping the car so she could study their inscrutable faces, she demanded to know everything they had been doing at the skating center each night.
It was Kiera, of course, who confessed to the skate shows; Ina sighed.
“It’s how we’ve been going without paying since we aged out, Ina. Please, you have to let us do it. We’ll be skating on TV.”
“Oh, you’re gonna do it all right but not for $200. Ina’s gonna sort it out.”
Sort it out Ina did. She negotiated $1000 each for the girl’s commercial appearance as well as free pink princess skates with rainbow ribbons that the rink sold and matching pink outfits for the girls performances (two rhinestoned figure skating style outfits each and three pairs of matching shorts and tees and long socks with pink stripes). They were Twinkle royalty now thanks to Ina. All she asked was that they never leave her out of the loop of their shared lives again when she could be so beneficial to them. Kiera nodded and bounced her submission, but Ina wasn’t naïve enough to trust it.
While Kiera certainly appreciated her aunt’s managerial skills. Some Twinkles secrets, she understood, Ina could never know — like Kenny. Kenny Stroyer became the new DJ at Twinkles two months after the twins turned 17 (celebrated at the rink with a 1700 pink balloons and a special pink light show.) Kenny was 23, had a girlfriend who was active duty in the Navy, transferred from San Diego to Pensacola where he was forced to start over accumulating DJ gigs in a smaller town. He’d only taken the skating rink job to get to know people when he’d arrived and was desperate to level up the moment he walked in the Twinkles neon rainbow doors. Kiera had learned all of this in her many chats with Kenny while slipping ICEEs, sat on his work table inbetween the shows with her sister.
Kaci learned everything she knew about Kenny Stroyer through her sister. Kaci learned most things in life this way. Kaci felt, as long as she could remember, inherently inept at interactions while Kiera seemed gifted at the same skill.
Kaci’s memories were rather limited to the time they’d come to Ina’s at six. Before that time, memories were Polaroids of fragments of a crime scene that mutated and changed from tortures upon small bodies, still aching in the strangest places, to visions of actual blood and murder that made her sick to her stomach. The Polaroid revelations were blessedly infrequently revealed — all shards of a mirror whose only purpose now was destruction of its intended beholder. Kaci always feared if she began talking though – even casually, that these truths would all spill out from her, like the vomit that came with the worst of the Polaroids. The disgusting truth of her insides would spill out, the ones took so much trouble to hide.
Nothing good came of talking or looking to the past, so Kaci closed her cherry glitter glossed lips and focused on the practiced perfection of the ice-skating routines, mimicking the choreography of innocence and beauty. Work made a magic of limbs that transcended the liminality of a lost adolescence.
Kiera was only eight minutes older than her sibling but the difference between the two socially felt like decades. Kiera never knew a stranger or an obstacle she could not manipulate. Where Kaci clung to Ina and to Kiera, Kiera clung to anyone who she saw as a step away from the past. At Twinkles, this person became Kenny.
Kaci could see it happening and guessed at its conclusion months before the girls were 18 and the inevitable coup de grace occurred. Every time Kaci saw Kenny and Kiera in the booth, as the date of their adulthood approached, Kiera was scooted closer, and their two heads tangled in whispers, Kiera’s long blonde locks covered Kenny’s. In their double bed in the trailer, Kaci listened to Kiera’s side of the late night talks with Kenny that became part of their nightly routine.
“You made that much on the dayshift?”
Kenny had been picking up open dayshifts at Sirens, a strip club, and had confided in Kiera, who’d filled in Kaci, that the dayshift DJ was completely unreliable (cocaine) and on his way out. The management had already asked Kenny if he could take over full-time within the next few weeks.
As Kaci had guessed before Kiera broke the news, Kenny had broken up with his military girlfriend weeks ago. He’d had enough cash squirreled away from his strip clubs shifts to get into a new place. Now she heard Kiera doing the mathematics of topless dancing in her head, Kaci knew what was coming. They were both 18 in just weeks. She didn’t exactly want to be a topless dancer; it was not a thing she’d ever imagined herself doing Yet she knew she would follow where Kiera led.
It’s what she had always done. No one else could understand what they had been through. When Kiera held Kaci in the double bed, she did so knowing all the heinous secrets Kaci held tight in her throat.
“How long do you think we can keep rollerskating for a living? And what has it gotten us – rhinestoned outfits we hang on a curtain rod in a trailer? It’s just choreography and a lot more money. Kenny says it’s a classy place. There’s nobody like us. We’d kill.”
Kaci nodded. There was no argument she could make. Life was just a countdown until this new chapter with her sister began. It certainly couldn’t be the worst chapter — not even in the same book.
They turned 18 on a Monday but waited until Wednesday to make their move out of Ina’s. Their aunt was doing a double shift at Target, and it gave the girls a chance to move all their meager possessions into Kenny’s new apartment in Pensacola across from the mall.
Kiera moved into the bedroom with Kenny leaving Kaci, for the first time in her life, with her very own bedroom. It was the first event in their emancipation from Ina that Kaci had not expected. It should have felt like a luxury, decorating one’s own room and stretching out under the covers as far as one’s limbs desired. Instead it felt lonely in a way that Kaci could not have anticipated. Sharing a room had never been a choice. Poverty had forced the girls together their entire lives, but it was all Kaci knew and being without it introduced a new pain to a girl who thought she had experienced all of them. It was a shameful childish feeling Kaci could never confess just quietly cried herself to sleep the first week on the new premises.
There were other new experiences, and they were not all unpleasant. Working at the strip club was surprisingly similar to working at the rink. She followed choreography with her sister, a lot of the arms were the same. Stilettos felt like roller skates in moments in the muscle memory of her legs. A mistake would land one on the ground to the same kind of casual ridicule that could happen at the rink. It happened to other dances there, but Kaci and Kiera never fell.
Men had always worshipped the girls, even in their adolescence, at the rink. Of course, most of them had contained their inappropriate feelings but the twins still read them in their long gazes. It was the same gazes at the club; the girls just offered more to it now. One of the many secrets, Kaci’s cherry gloss lips kept now was that she enjoyed taking her top off for the men. It made them quiet like her. Speechless. Their gaze became sad and desperate and worshipful. Men were much more attractive like this. Every other moment they reminded her of her father, and so she kept her distance. If they could always behave like this, she might not. She finally understood her sister’s need to be naked with them. When they were like this, it felt safe.
The girls worked nightshift and Kenny worked dayshift, which meant that he wasn’t around the apartment a lot while the twins were awake. Kaci enjoyed this – the two sisters having the place to themselves. It meant that their sleep schedule was different, too, and after a few weeks, something miraculous happened. Kiera started sleeping with Kaci again.
“He wakes me up when he gets up so early, and it’s fucking killing me, dude. Like Jesus Christ, I can’t have bags under my eyes – I’m the breadwinner here.”
We, Kaci thought, but characteristically kept it inside. They’d be leaving this place soon. Kenny, still a humble dayshift DJ, had outgrown his usefulness. Kaci wondered if he’d learned his sister enough to know it, too, or would he be stunned like Ina when he came home one day to an empty apartment.
The girls were both asleep after sunrise when Kaci learned the answer. It couldn’t have been more than three hours — nightshift ending at 3 am, post their regular Waffle House hash brown stop and alternating showers, it was always 4:30 by the time their heads got pillows.
Kenny’s door, as usual, had been shut when the twins arrived, and the apartment was quiet. Kaci assumed he was sleeping like usual — though each day, much like her sister apparently, she considered him less and less. Only when Kaci felt the vibration of the bed did she remember Kenny. For a second, remembering that she had, as she always did, lock the door to her bedroom, she hoped it was some PTSD of her childhood .
Then she heard his wince and the whispered, “Motherfucker, and she knew that Kenny was really here, had pried open the door and was climbing into the bed.
Kaci smelled the liquor on his breath now as he carelessly flung himself between the two girls. Kiera turning away from him even in his sleep. Then he touched Kaci’s bare thigh — like it was just another limb of her sister, a limb he clearly thought he possessed though he never had — and certainly did not now.
Kaci knew there was no one to speak for her now. She would have to do it herself.
“Kenny, stop it. It’s me, Kaci.”
He’d laughed but the laughter was pointed and aggressive like his movements in the bed.
“She speaks at last. To what do I owe this pleasure?”
His face was almost touching Kaci’s in the dark. She could almost taste the alcohol on his his breath. The old, awful Polaroids of her childhood flashed inside her head — of nights like this with a man in her bed who didn’t care she wasn’t her mother. She would just do. The last was stillness and sadness and blood and then a darkness like a hole that her body floated into as she heard a scream that came from outside her body.
Was it Kiera’s scream or her own? Kaci didn’t know. By the time she woke, she was in her sister’s arms. Kenny was off the bed as Kiera screamed at him.
“Get out. You never touch her, you freak. Get out of here.”
“This is my apartment, remember? Mine before you ruined my life, you little bitch. You owe me — both of you owe me.”
Kenny’s face was red with rage and his body lunged at the bed as he spoke. Kaci trembled in her sister’s arms terrified at what would happen next — until she heard her sister’s response.
“You expect two incest survivors to have incest with you? Is that it? What we owe you?”
Kenny was quiet. Kaci was shocked to hear the words spoken so matter of fact and plain. The girls had never spoken of it themselves though Kaci expected that was the privilege of a shared life, there was much that didn’t need to be spoken because it was a mutual experience. She supposed this night would be another of such things.
“We’ll be out of here by the time you are back from work — that is if you want to continue working at the strip club. I wonder what’s harder to replace there a dayshift DJ or two stripping twins.. Shall we find out or you wanna go to your room and leave us to our peace while we pack?”
Kenny’s stood staring at the girls an instant, his face sunken at the realization that in addition to losing Kiera, he was in danger of losing his job. Certainly, she was right. The girls were the most popular act at the club. There was no doubt who management would choose.
He walked out of the room. Kaci took a deep breath as she heard his door shut.
“Goddamnit, so much for sleep. Let’s get packed and I’ll call Roger at noon when he’s closer to awake and get him to pick us up.”
Roger was the night shift DJ and already Kiera’s new good friend.
Kaci looked at Kiera. Her squinting eyes and wrinkling forehead pronouncing all the doubt her lips dared not.
“Stop it. We can’t afford Botox yet. We aren’t staying with him. We just need a car to go so see some places and somewhere to lock up our stuff. How much cash you got?”
“5,000? Maybe a little more.”
“Fuck Roger. Let’s call a taxi and get a hotel, a newspaper and find us a place.”
Kaci bounced and nodded and hugged her sister. She didn’t say another word but as she hurriedly packed for what she considered her first real second chance at life, her blue eyes were full of twinkles.
Kristin Garth is a Pushcart, Rhysling nominated sonneteer and a Best of the Net 2020 finalist, the author of a short story collection You Don’t Want This ( Pink Plastic Press), The Stakes (Really Serious Literature) and many more books.