Even in his sleep he could taste it, the tang of the lantern fluid, that sharp liquid glowing that never left his mouth. He cleaned out all his bottles, soaked and scrubbed them, let them air dry, scrubbed them again, and still the water had that taste, that viscous, petrol feel that stuck to his teeth, that caused him to lick and pucker and gum and tongue and tongue at it, tasting and almost tasting away at the flesh of his own mouth.
He tried drinking directly from the bunker’s well tank, but the taste was there as well. Was it in his mouth, he wondered, or had the lantern fumes somehow worked through the plastic of the tank itself. Or maybe it was a problem with the air filter. Or that his nasal passages, his throat and his lungs were all coated in the condensed fluid and he was smelling it and breathing it as much as he was tasting and gumming it, as much as he was coated in it. With each breath he imagined he was inhaling the vapor deeper into his lungs. This, or something like this, was what he was going to die from, he always knew it—a slow, quotidian poisoning. If it wasn’t age that would kill him, then malnutrition: no surprises. The lantern fluid osmosizing into his cells, his core, the mere flick of a match liable to set him aflame.
He stood up from his cot and took the three cases of fluid off the shelf and put them under the bowl in the lavatory, as far away from the water tanks as possible. He would have to explain to Mona when she woke. He explained everything to her, every change, every decision, every hung decision, every decision not to make a change, every private understanding, every passing mood, every dream, nearly every thought. She made him tell, forced him to tell her everything, and yet she didn’t tell him everything, he knew she didn’t, he knew she had her own world he wasn’t a part of, and he knew she also told him to keep a secret, that he should tell her everything except some things, because, she said, secrets are also important, they are healthy, like vitamins. He lay back down on his cot, checked the time. She wouldn’t be up for another four hours. She had scheduled their sleep patterns to give each other waking time alone, while the other was sleeping—it was as far away from each other as they could get.
They were twins. They needed the space. That’s what she said.
Realigning sleeping hours was Mona’s idea, and he had agreed, consented to her, but he knew that he wouldn’t have thought of it, that he himself didn’t need the space, that he would be lonely while she slept, and he was, and he told her this because he told her everything. She said once that they would feel even lonelier if they were always together. But would it be true, he wondered. He doubted it.
He wasn’t supposed to be sleeping now, he was supposed to be awake, getting his own time, giving her, his sister, his twin, her space, but he couldn’t help it, it was dark, the taste of lantern fluid was on his teeth, his eyes were closed, he was lonely, and then he slipped into sleep, he followed her there.
When he woke Mona was sitting on the stool, looking at him. She asked how long he had been sleeping. Just a bit, he said, though it wasn’t true. He sat up onto his elbows. Just a bit, Mona repeated. Maybe longer than I thought, he said, looking at his watch. Mona sat forward on the stool, her face coming into the soft glow of the lantern, her eyes shadowed by their eave-bones but the rest of her face lit, flickering, almost golden. When the lantern fluid runs out, he thought, they will switch to batteries, and when the batteries run out they will switch to darkness. He imagined them popping their teeth to try to make a spark. And the darkness, he knew—pop, pop—it would never run out.
They looked more alike now, he and Mona, as they had when they were infants, toddlers. She had lost the softness to her cheeks, he had lost his belly. She had cut her hair, he let his grow out. Their bodies moving toward each other, growing back to where they were: close once, close still. And the lambent lantern light softened other, all, any, distinguishing features. In the coming darkness, he wondered, what would be left to tell them apart. A mound here, the line of a scar, a blunted voice, a sack of flesh, the snarling memory of a personal light. Or nothing at all.
We have to stick to the rules, she said.
If you sleep when I sleep you won’t be able to sleep when you’re supposed to sleep. And I need my time. We both need our time. It’ll keep us healthy. And the only way to stay healthy is to help each other stay healthy.
He didn’t answer. There were these pauses between them, they were constantly bearing down, wedging open their dialogue, leaving blocks, breaks, faults, hours. If they tried to fight them, they would always be fighting them.
He swung his legs off the cot, put his face into his hands, pressed. He looked at his sister. I know, he said.
Mona stood off the stool and went to her side. He would have to tell her about moving the lantern fluid as soon as they spoke again. If he didn’t tell her, she would be angry. He would suffer if he didn’t tell, he would suffer himself.
In the bathroom he wetted the towel and cleaned his face and neck. Sometimes he did things loudly on purpose, thinking he was communicating to her in some way. Sometimes he just wanted to be heard, it didn’t matter how. He left the bathroom, scuffling his feet, and then did ten pushups in the hallway. He thought he would have gotten stronger by now, all this time to exercise, like prison, but still he was straining to push himself up only ten times, and often he skipped his sit-ups entirely, later telling Mona what he had done, telling her that he had only done nine, or eight, or even five pushups. He knew this was too much, she even told him it was, going back on her rule, telling him that he should keep some things for himself, that he should have a secret, something personal, at least one. But he couldn’t do it—her first message had sunk, his only secret was that he didn’t have one, and even this he told her.
He turned over to do his sit-ups. He stopped at thirteen, still holding his breath. He could have done more, but instead he just lay there on the floor. Ten hours and it would be his turn to sleep. He had a book he had been reading, blank pages for a journal, a language manual, a chessboard, and then the tasks, the cleaning, the shaving, the mixing of the compost, giving his sister her massage, getting his own. He rolled to his side, pushed himself off the floor. His heart started to race, blood was heating into his neck. He whistled, started a simple tune, then went into the bathroom and picked up the case of lantern fluid from under the sink—had Mona seen it there, he didn’t think she had—and he put it back on the shelf where it had been. She could never know. It was up to him if he told or didn’t tell, if she knew or didn’t know. The aspiration, the desperation, the viscosity, that taste working down his throat, settling into his eyeballs, further dusking his vision.
When he walked to her side, she was doing her stomach exercises. She was sitting on the floor, leaning back, lifting her legs into the air. She had heard him come in, but she didn’t open her eyes. Her face was pursed, slightly colored by the strain.
As they had no mirrors, nothing to see himself with, her face, his sister’s face, especially when she was exercising, began to seem to him like a more feminine, slightly crueler version of what he remembered his own face to be. He even started measuring himself in her face, his mood reflected in her eyes, his sleepiness in the sag of her jaw, his hunger in the curtness of her consonants. In another hour they would turn the lantern off for a whole hour and they would talk to each other, remembering, keeping each other awake until they could light the lantern and sit in separate rooms, listening to each other, again, and again, that itching silence.
Instead of telling her about the lantern cases, he told her he hadn’t finished his sit-ups.
And that was it, that was all he told her.
He had a lie now, a secret, even if only for this one moment, because he could still tell her, he could still give it away. Right now he could.
Mona opened her eyes, didn’t look at him. She let her legs down to the floor. She told him he should probably start limiting his calories, if he wasn’t going to use them. He would have to eat less; that was the way it worked if he didn’t exercise. She folded her legs underneath her and then stood up on them, tucking her shirt back over her rear, taking three steps to the stool, back out of the lamplight. How much more did he look at her than she at him. She put a bare foot on the stool and bent, her back to his gaze. He left her side, their conversation adrift, bobbing, floating towards a far horizon.
He took his book down and read. He was capable of reading loudly enough to block out the silence, the words ringing in his head, he would force the words to make that noise. As the floor waits for the ceiling, as it waits to be crushed, that awareness, that inevitability, he only had to get himself going and the silence would stop, the words streaming, taking its place, even taking his place.
He lay the open book on his chest, let his hand fall down to trace the metal frame of the cot. Like the floor waiting for the ceiling to fall, sometimes he imagined the light, from up above, coming down, digging blindly down, darkly, like infinite worms through the roof and then, finally, penetrating him, repenetrating, everything, the ultimate ceiling, the ultimate bunker: skin itself. Now that his book was on his chest and his mind was running, when he heard his sister fill her jug at the tank his mind wasn’t the only noise, it didn’t take over like the reading did, didn’t take him over. To give his body a break from his bed he shimmied and then rolled off of it, onto the floor, the book held out at arm’s length so as not to crease its pages. He lay again in the exact position, the book back on his chest, and then he forced himself to smile. Then he stopped smiling. Smiled again. Stopped. The taste of the lantern. The taste of the glow. The place where the light failed, somewhere inside his own body. Soon, or slightly more than soon, it would be lights out and they would have to start talking to each other, remembering, looking to remember, pushing each other into memory. Everyday they had this hour of darkness together, this hour of memory. If he was sick she would sit by his cot, if he was falling asleep she would push him, make him remember. Remember, she said. Do it. Often in their hour he tried to talk about now, about the bunker, but she—remember, she said—always led it back to before, everything reminding her of something that wasn’t this. She was both the chisel and the block. What was he.
He set the book down without marking the page.
The floor of the bunker was made of hashed ribs of metal that had the uneven, welded look of human scar tissue, making sweeping nearly impossible. Every third day they got on their hands and knees and rag-mopped the entire floor so the dust wouldn’t build and clog the ventilation system. He started at his side, she at hers, and, in an hour of crawling, wiping, wetting and wringing their rags, they met in the middle aisle, where the floor was flat and they finished together in a few broad strokes. He did a better job than she did. Sometimes he found small caked motes of dust in the corners of the floor-ribs on her side and he wiped them out with his finger or kerchief and told her what he had done. She would thank him, remind him, or just say aloud that it’s good to clean up after each other, that it’s healthy, that they couldn’t do it all alone, that they needed each other.
He ran his fingers along the bulbous, arterial rib of the floor. He felt like if he squeezed the metal hard enough he could melt it. But he wasn’t reading anymore, and thinking like this didn’t cure the silence, it made it worse. He fingered a corner, where one rib met its cross. There was no dust. He had done a good job cleaning.
They remembered the same things every day. If they weren’t the same they had a sameness to them. One memory led to another, which sparked another, which wound the spring to jack out another, and it was all one, it was all on one side of the same, it had all been before, it was always out there they remembered, staring and pretending to see beyond and over this flat, blank, encompassing wall, this underground, this bunker, this tightening now.
Sometimes Mona would get bored and would start to probe him, try to stand in that hovel of their memory and do the impossible, turn her head, look at something that wasn’t part of the memory itself, but was next to the memory, and it worked, this impossibility, they not only remembered through the wall, but they walked on the other side, they bent down and tightened their shoelaces, they kicked at memory’s dirt, looked up at its sky, and she asked him, what dress was mom wearing, and how were we sitting at the table, and where on the wall was the light switch, and what would you see if you opened the drawer of the stand where James always set the mail. And in his memory he opened that drawer and he saw the palm-worn cigarette lighter, the velvet-colored unidirectional lint brush, a roll of string, a few advertising slips that someone had mistakenly put in the drawer, this drawer that seemed to eternalize all its contents. He even thought he recognized an individual loose bolt, slightly rusty and with a set-in washer ring, and she remembered it too. This was their hour, one of their hours of darkness, saving lantern fluid, remembering that the world was bigger than this bunker and its impaleable present.
Though it didn’t take much convincing, she had been the one to convince him. She was the first one down; the one to secure the hatch behind them. Could it be opened. The answer is not in the conditional. The answer is that it is not opened, not being opened. It didn’t take much convincing, but she was the one. She was sure. Could he have let her come down here, alone. The answer is not in the then, it is where everything is, it is in the now: he didn’t let her.
He worked methodically. He had to. He tried to put his mind in the same place it was in when he read, but he could never get there. He started at her back, her upper shoulders, her neck, her nape—like massages he had given in other times, to other people—and then he worked down the arms, first the left, knowing by now how not to press on the bicep, knowing what was too much, what would make her ask for more, he pushed his thumbs into the muscles of her forearm, outside first, then inside, feeling the striated bundles bunch and slip under his pressure, as far as their tendons would let them. He even did her fingers, pressing, pushing, touching each space of hers with the tips of his own. Then the right arm, the forearm, the surprising pockets of muscle in her hands, each finger. He skipped the buttocks but pressed his weight into the back of her upper thighs, feeling the fat slide to the side. Sometimes she tensed at this point. He skipped the reverse of her knees, then moved to each of her calves, always the left first, then the right, he worked here longer because he was almost done and didn’t want her to think he was rushing. And it was her calf, too, her right calf, where she would get the knots. To work them out sometimes he would use lantern oil, just a few drops, the oil that there would be no more of in a few months, and though it was dark he could see, or he knew what he would have been able to see, that luster that is nowhere in the world but in oiled skin, that glow which seems to shine not only out, but in, into itself, the unerring self-combustion of the body, the constant pounding of the heart, the wet warmth it draws and drives, draws and drives. His thumbs were always aching by the time he got to the toughness of the bottom of her feet. He did each toe individually, like he was kissing them with his fingertips, the smallest toe just big enough to pinch and roll between his thumb and forefinger.
The taste was everywhere. It filled his sinus when he exhaled, he could feel its heaviness as his stomach worked at his food, its syrup on his eyeball as he blinked, blinked more slowly now, more slowly than ever. And in his mouth, of course, in the horseshoe slit between his teeth and his gums, the slick palate, and completely, but slowly, subtly, over the meat of the tongue itself. And he began to like it, that’s what happened. It was a taste immaterial, and yet he could almost chew it. It was his secret, it was everywhere.
When she was sleeping he went to the storage shelves, squatted next to them, took down a bottle of the fluid and cracked its hard plastic top. He’d never done this before. He dropped his finger into the warm neck of the bottle, pulled it out, rubbed the oil against his thumb, then sniffed, even touching his fingers to his tongue, this was a first. It tasted animal somehow, not just chemical, like its long history was what made it slip and burn, not just a fuel but an engine itself: one split second of a flame away from gone, forever. He screwed the cap back on, put the bottle with the others and then turned the case around so that the opened bottle was facing in. And then, because he had hours left until she woke, because the boredom pushed his body into every position, into every corner, he crawled under the metal shelf, coiling himself against the earth-warm wall, pressing his body in and painfully against a sharp bracket, imagining a fear, playing with it like a child, and then, suddenly, the wall: it gave way. He had to think the words to himself to understand what had happened: the wall gave way. His heart sounded in his ears. He thought he had broken something, but no, he reached his hand in, it was a door. He pushed it farther open—there was room enough for him to slide all the way in.
What are you doing.
What are you doing.
It was Mona’s voice.
Willy. Willy wake up.
He had been sleeping again. She started telling him something—that it was wrong—but he just rose—that in order for the darkness—rose and looked at her, her face flickering in the glow. She stopped when she saw he wasn’t listening. He still looked at her. She always was washed, her hair kempt, and yet the shade sometimes revealed a haggardness in her—almost manly—that she couldn’t hide. She had a line of sweat above her upper lip.
He told her that he was sorry, that he must have been tired. You must be tired too, he told her. She said that she wasn’t. She said that they had to be careful, take care for each other, give each other this space. In order to survive, she said, and then she said it again. To survive, and then she stood off the stool. In an hour we’ll clean, she said, and we need to talk about inventory, and then she left him and went back to her side.
He turned himself upside down on his cot, feet to head. An hour. He could stretch, read, stir the compost, or he could wait for the next hour to do these tasks, or the hour after they cleaned, or the hour after that. When he felt himself back on the cusp of sleep, he twisted off the bed and stood. What he couldn’t do was tell her. In the bathroom he sat on the toilet for a long time, thinking.
This time when it was his turn to stay awake, he stayed awake. He didn’t try to open the door again, didn’t even go to taste the lantern fluid, but he did something else he had never done, he went to look at his sister. Sometimes she had trouble sleeping, she talked about it, and so there was a chance that she would be awake, lying open-eyed in her bed, or a chance that his presence, no matter how quiet, would wake her. And yet he was ready for this, he knew what he would say, he’d say he was worried about her, and then he would confess that he was actually scared, and it would be true, because it was, and the confession would be what it was, but it would also be a cloak, a bigger truth hiding a smaller, more real truth.
One of the lanterns had a mirror guarding its flame so you could reflect light into a room, into one direction. He swiveled the mirror so that the light shone back on him, so that it wouldn’t be too bright to wake her, and he took off his socks and walked down the short hallway, passed the storage shelves where the lantern fluid gave off its scent, and then he opened her door. If he was too quiet, he knew, it would be his carefulness that would wake her. The lantern lit his own face more than the room, and yet reflected enough so that he could see the sleeping head, her jaw, the bare shoulder of his sister, his twin. When they were younger he always thought her beautiful, and he would often tell her so. Now, however, he didn’t know how she looked, didn’t know what to say about it. She looked like he looked, or how he remembered it, anyway. And when you can no longer see yourself, a reminder of your face, a reminder of what it is to be seen, might be some substitute for beauty. He took a step forward, his bare foot against the soldered crosshatches of the veiny metal. There was no noise. He could see her slanting jaw, paisley shaped, the shape of a wineskin, the shape of his own. He could see the slight hint of a bone underneath the flesh of her cheek, lining toward the socket. Yes, she was still beautiful, at least in this sort of perpetual gloom. He took a step closer. She didn’t stir. And now he knew, when it was her turn to sleep, that is what she did, she slept.
There were other reasons, too, that they massaged each other. Because human touch, it’s like a vitamin, she said. Yes, they were brother and sister, twins, and so there was an intimacy somewhere, a deep one, but the sameness, the near sameness, made it too much, made everything, every word, every glance, every touch, made them all confessions, an acknowledgment that this is who you are to me, who I am to you: we were in the womb together. The massages he received were shorter than those he gave. She didn’t follow a pattern, sometimes she skipped his arms or his feet, but sometimes she massaged his scalp, which he never did to her, running her fingers under his hair, scratching in with her nails, not always lightly, and sometimes he couldn’t help the small noises that escaped him. She, unlike him, never made a sound when he massaged her, though sometimes he could feel her breathing change.
It’s important, this touching. Like a vitamin.
The next time it was her turn to sleep, just to be sure, he took the open lantern bottle off the shelf and put his finger in and smelled, tasting that thick, everywhere, inflammable syrup. And then he crawled under the shelf, jammed himself all the way underneath, and pressed against the door. It didn’t give.
Had he closed it too hard the last time. Had his sister gone in since, had she locked it.
He pushed harder, used a leg of the shelf for leverage, and then the door gasped out of its jamb. Before entering, like the last time, he reached in his arm, feeling his way along the smooth, earth-cool metal. He had a small flashlight in his pocket, but he didn’t use it. Nor did he close the door behind him. He pulled his body forward, reached and touched another rib in the floor. He pulled himself forward still, all the way, his hand reaching out so that he wouldn’t hit his head, knock something over, fall into something—how could he know which way the darkness turned. He even closed his eyes, stopped to listen. The space sounded like the other space. He listened for Mona behind him. There was the slow in-pressure of the walls—as the floor waits for the ceiling—and, of course, even here, the taste of the fluid. The room was larger than he expected. He could hear how big it was. He could hear its shape, that it was long, low, narrow. He could hear that there was something in it. More than something. Finally, he turned around. The slight haze of light made its way under the shelf, through the door, and then stopped. He expected to see Mona’s face, or at least its backlit form that could have passed for his own form, but he didn’t. Before taking his flashlight out of his pocket and shining it into the room, he crawled back and shut the door. There was a handle on the inside. There was even a lock.
The first thing he saw in the sweep of his flashlight was the case of lantern fluid. On top of the case was another case, behind it another. Next to the bottles of fluid there were packets of protein, bottles of sherry wine and vinegar, jars of preserves, crackers. He shone the light. There was a small table. Pillows. A stack of books. A small machine he didn’t recognize the function of. There were unmarked boxes, a stack of papers that looked recently read. And on the far wall, another door.
Through the floor hatch into the compost hole was the only slight view either of them had had, for seventeen months now, of the world outside the bunker: the view was hard clay slushed by their own waste and chemicals. Every other day one of them took the sealed pail from under the toilet and opened and emptied it into the hatch. They threw the blue chemical on top, then the sawdust, stirred with a narrow-bladed shovel, threw another scoop of chemical and then resealed the hatch and put the pail back under the toilet. Both of them knew, within a few seconds, whenever the other opened the compost hatch. The smell was immediate, chemical, human and even somehow wrong smelling. It smelled like there was something wrong coming out of them, and the smell lasted for hours. After a few months, when the stirring started to get more difficult, he thought Mona would soon have to ask him to be the one to do it. His arms were longer than hers, and he was a man, but she kept on, never complaining, and though he sweated through it, and grunted at it and nearly pulled out his back turning over the mealy slurry of their shit and sawdust and chemical powder, he didn’t know if he was going to be able to continue, and then he told her, he told her everything, everything except, now, his growing secret. And she told him that he was right, that he shouldn’t risk his back, and then they had had a feud over it, for a few days, and he won, or she let him win, he could keep stirring their slurry, but if his back started to hurt at all, then he would have to stop, and they would find him a new chore, something to take over from her, and he would have to cut his calories. Less food for him, that was the agreement. And his back didn’t hurt, not exactly, but it didn’t feel good. For now he kept at it.
Besides the compost stirring, they had the weekly inventory, the floor cleaning every third day, the massages and the water pumping every other day, and then the daily chores, the cooking, the filling of the lanterns, the dusting, the exercise, the eating, the hour of remembering, the sleeping—the whole schedule like a chore in itself. And there was reading or writing, and there was playing hearts, which Mona liked to do, and there was the eating of every smear of food in their bowls, and there was the diluted yellow water that had a trace of sweetness, and there was the shovel and the texture of the hardening sawdust against their own twin shit, and there was the sleeping and the hours to sleep and the waking and the hours to wake. And there were the crackers that sucked his mouth dry and the fermenting preserves and the occasional few chips of chocolate and the long waits in the bathroom and the lying on the floor and it all smelled, and tasted, and was beginning to sound like the lantern fluid, and so did the breathing, it had that taste, the invisible luster of her calves and wafting from the compost hole he would smell it, swallow it, that fluid eating at his teeth. And then there was the door under the shelf and more fucking fluid and more months of pushing away the darkness and then the desk and the pillows and the unmarked boxes and the water and books and drawings and Mona’s handwriting and the smell of the fluid and then there was the other door.
He was sleeping. They were his hours to sleep. It was a feeling dream. He was outside but he wasn’t. He was in the bunker but under the sky. It was both, it switched, it was like someone was opening and slamming a door, and the wind from the door was like dirt on top of a coffin and it was sucking the air out of his lungs and then pushing it back in, filling him, emptying him, like being stirred in and out of the day, like his blood was mixed with sawdust and light, the shimmer of worms, the blindness of oil, it is Wednesday, the sun won’t deny anything, up and down like thumbs into the flesh of your flesh, and then he flinched, tensed, he was awake. It was a voice. Or was it two voices. One voice answering itself. The things you remind yourself of. These were his hours to sleep.
I know what you’re thinking. He was working down her lower back. He didn’t respond. You’re thinking that if there were only one of us, the light would last longer. He pushed his knuckles in, both hands kneading in a symmetric, out-petaling motion. His pace didn’t falter. You need to tell me these things, she said. You need to tell me what you’re thinking. He worked his way up, then back down, back up, the heel of his palm, the heat of his hands, the fluid friction working against her back.
Or, she asked him, have you got a little secret now.
He didn’t answer. Their conversations were like this, heavy with pause, bobbing, the noose of the horizon never closing all the way around his neck. He skipped the buttocks and started on the backs of her thighs, feeling the fat give to the side. Before he went to get the drop of lantern fluid to work her calves she told him again that he should talk to her, tell her what he was thinking, because she could tell, she told him, that he had a secret. Don’t you, she asked. You’re thinking we would last longer if there were only one of us. The dark shimmer of oil on skin, the in-glow. The hard tendon of her instep, and then each individual toe, squeezing, rolling, that weird cluster of bone and blood that was her smallest toe. Aren’t you, she asked.
He stood up, back. It was completely dark. No, he said, what I’ve been thinking is that we should leave. He took another step back. That we should go up.
Pause. There was a pause. Did she want to outlast him. It was a question he needed to ask. Does she. Is she outlasting me. Is she. Is she starving me. Is she suffocating me. Is she.
Twin hands around one neck. Starving herself to starve me. Did she put me here. Did she. Because he didn’t want to outlast her. As we came out we will go in, together, but then why did she put me here. Why. The future with the lock. I should tell her that. That there is a key. That there is a conditional in here, that there always is.
Just a small pour. Much less than a shot. He was in the room, squatted on the floor, next to the case of lantern fluid. The fluid the color of melted honey. Clinging to the sides of the glass, warming slowly back down, back into itself, dripping like minutes drip. He swirled again, sniffed. He could see small clouds of impurity, eddying like smoke, then settling. He put the glass to his lips and quaffed, the lantern fluid falling slowly down his throat, his eyes closed, it was like a burn but without heat. He swallowed again, and again, the glass turned up. He didn’t feel sick. It was like a blanket. He felt covered, like pushing a blanket down his throat, into his insides. He had no inclination to chew. He opened his eyes and looked around the room. Still he hadn’t opened the unmarked boxes.
The next day when he drank again he couldn’t help but think that he was drinking towards the darkness. That the more he drank the sooner it would come.
He didn’t take his flashlight with him into the next room this time. He crawled in, feeling along the walls. He recognized the feel of the floor, just like the other floor, but less worn. He pulled himself farther in, reached the corner, felt against the far wall. It seemed there was another door. He turned, found the next corner, then pulled himself to the next. He tried to stand but the ceiling was too low. He felt along the ceiling, then back to the door he had come through. He did another circuit, feeling everywhere, rolling, pulling himself, touching the walls, the floor, the ceiling, running his hands, pressing his body into them, even his face. He listened. Except for another door, there was nothing.
He left no sign for her to know and she showed no sign of knowing. But somehow she knew. She knew what he had found. She knew what he was drinking. And in the bunker knowing was enough. It didn’t matter what you knew. Saying was enough. It didn’t matter what you said. You have a secret. Admitting it would be the same as revealing it. He could parry back: but it’s your secret, I just found my way into it. But he didn’t say anything. The seed had sprouted, blossomed, dropped its own seeds. Now there were other things he wasn’t telling her, like his back, that when he sat down to shit there was a hot pain that burst into his spine, that he didn’t stir the compost, he just dipped the shovel, sprinkled the powder. You’re going to kill us like this, she told him. Now it was she that was here, talking about the now, this side of the wall. Aren’t we supposed to be remembering, he said, isn’t this the hour to remember. There can be aberrations, she said. The schedule is not a thing, it is ours. He said: I remember when we were still sleeping in the same room together, when we were kids, you would tell me that as twins we could dream together, that we could find each other in our dreams and play together there, in that world. Do you remember that. I used to go to sleep thinking I would see you. But it never happened. I never dreamt of you. And now it is the opposite, even in our sleep we are locked together. Sister, dreams are different than memories. You can look around in a memory, open a door, see something you didn’t see at first, put something in there. But in a dream doors are just shapes on the wall.
No, she said. There are all kinds of dreams.
Yes, he said. All kinds. In dreams you can open doors where there are no doors.
He remembered when they were little, maybe just seven or eight, their games were over-layered scenarios inspired by the television they watched, a series of books they had both read in which mice were the heroes. She was tied up in a tower. If he didn’t break the spell, she would turn into a rat. She tied her own left wrist with their mother’s scarf, tightening the knot with her teeth. She always wanted to make it real, more real. You have to, she told him, really tie me up. He tied her hands behind her back. Now my legs. He tied her legs together, at the ankles. Tighter, she said, and he tightened. Make it real. He used their mother’s green silk scarf. Now tie my legs to my hands, she said, but he couldn’t find another scarf. He went into all the closets, the toolbox, the miscellany drawer next to the front door with the bolt that would stay in his memory, the velvet-colored lint brush with the brown plastic handle, a length of string. Tighter, she said, or it won’t seem real. He used the string. He tied her legs to her hands, having to bend her legs backwards so the string could reach. He tried to make it so he could untie it easily, but she started panicking, so quickly, and in her panic she pulled the knot tight. Tighter. Too tight. And then she was gasping for breath, hyperventilating, his fingers trying to pull out the tiny knot and she shaking to get loose, pulling it even tighter. For a moment she stopped breathing. Her face was the color of juice. And then she screamed a gurgling scream. Help, she screamed, and she was screaming past him, not to him. It wasn’t a game anymore. He didn’t even think of a knife, he went straight to the neighbor instead.
When Mona was cut loose, and their mother came home, and the neighbor explained what she had found, and showed the cuts on Mona’s wrists and ankles, and when he was slapped and then sentenced to his punishment, neither of them told their mother that he was just doing what Mona had wanted. Neither of them told her the truth.
He didn’t have to hide anymore because it wasn’t hidden from him. He spent all of his alone hours, when Mona was sleeping, in the next room. And then he started to spend other hours in there. He skipped an hour of remembering. There was everything in the room that he needed. He didn’t come out for his massage. There was food in there, there was water, there was lantern fluid. He only had to come out to sit on the toilet and feel that hot pain as his insides released. He started sleeping in there, crumbing the crackers with his teeth, drinking the fluid. He locked and then found a way to bar the door so she couldn’t come in after him. And then he started using the empty room, the dark room, as his toilet. Sometimes he thought he could hear his sister moving beyond the wall, even talking, talking to herself. How long until the noises stopped. How much longer would his own sounds last. He couldn’t say. There is a limit to the sounds, but not to the silence. He never opened the unmarked boxes. Just like his sister said: it’s good to have a secret.