'One Face Times Five' by Addie Tsai
Mother thought we* would be identical twins. But, like zombies or vampires, we were first thought of as one, and then one plus one, and then multiplied, until we were five. We were the first quints to be written down, the first to survive our five-way birth. Like Sweetpea, we became known to the world surrounded by the sharp ends of wicker that cradled us against one another, swaddled by whatever cloth Mother could find in the country house where we were born, where our birth began our we. Later, we would be given many excuses for what happened to us, the whys circling like darts around the victims of psychosis. There was a Depression on, some adult in a lab coat will tell me, or mine. We needed something, a salve with which to soothe the penniless bereft. You were so darling with your one face times five, your interchangeable arms and legs. Even your fingernails had the same mountainous incline, your hair curled the same direction. It was just what Canada needed to survive 1934. We were certain you’d never see them. That we wasn’t my we. It was a they. It was the they of millions of faces staring through the one-way mirror at how our five mouths fed on bottles, our eyes fluttering in unison in our slumber. But, we knew they were there. We knew about the money monster feeding on us like flies on dead flesh, except we weren’t dead. Except we were no longer our mother’s. We belonged to the state. They said we should feel flattered. We were bought so we could save the world of its sadness. Through Quintland. Through dolls. Through advertisements. Through post cards, fancy china, fertility stones reaped from the land our bodies were borne and bartered from. I should say that this Mother I speak of I know nothing of. She and Father lived across the street, but their bodies became foreigners after we were no longer theirs to love. And our bodies, too, like the human flesh turned inhuman, well, we didn’t know them either.
*The Dionne Quintuplets, the first set of quintuplets known to survive infancy.
Addie Tsai (she/her/they) is a queer, nonbinary writer and artist who teaches courses in literature, creative writing, dance, and humanities at Houston Community College. She collaborated with Dominic Walsh Dance Theater on Victor Frankenstein and Camille Claudel, among others. Addie holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College and a PhD in Dance from Texas Woman's University. The author of the queer Asian young adult novel Dear Twin, her writing has been published in Banango Street, Foglfiter, The Offing, The Collagist, The Feminist Wire, Nat. Brut., and elsewhere. She is the nonfiction editor at The Grief Diaries, associate editor at Raising Mothers, and assistant fiction editor at Anomaly. More info on Addie can be found at http://www.addietsai.com, @addiebrook (Twitter), or @bluejuniper (Instagram).