Nina finds her six-year-old twins in a tangle of skinny limbs on the same bed.
Today, they’ll go into separate classrooms.
“It’s healthy,” the school counselor said.
“It’s school policy,” Principal Brown insisted.
Tino, Nina’s husband, concurs with the counsellor’s opinion. “They’re too close,” he says, like it’s a failing.
The twins brush their teeth, pick identical clothes—yellow shorts, white shirts, sneakers with red laces.
Layla and Sheila are miracles. “My gifts at forty-three,” she tells Tino.
He hadn’t felt her agony: the building hope month after month, the devastation when things dissolved to nothingness. The endless cycles of calendar dates, body temperature, and a laboratory dish.
From five fertilized embryos, the doctor at the in vitro fertilization clinic implanted two. The obstetrician performing the C-section found the twins with their arms around each other.
Is the terror of separation embedded, a remembered fear?
The clinic froze the remaining embryos, tagged them with Nina’s name.
She walks the girls to their classrooms. “We’ll take it from here,” one of the teachers says. Ten minutes after the bell rings, Nina’s listening to her heartbeats in the school’s parking lot.
At eleven, the school calls.
“What happened?” she asks Principal Brown.
“Sheila’s crying and tearing up pages from her notebooks,” he says.
Nina stands, her knees threatening to buckle.
“And, Layla runs out of her classroom. It’s disruptive.”
Nina’s hands shake. “The problem is not my children.”
“It’s school policy to keep twins in separate classrooms.”
She brings them home.
Nina calls Tino.
“You’re reinforcing bad behaviour.” He’s disapproving.
Words scream in her head: I don’t agree with you, either. He thinks there’s no point in paying the hefty cost to keep the embryos frozen any longer. Last week, he contacted the clinic.
“It’s separation anxiety,” the twins’ paediatrician tells her. “They connect in ways we cannot understand. Being apart must feel intense.”
“But, the school policy . . .”
“I’ll send you a couple of studies. Read them, you’ll understand.”
Nina’s throat constricts when she sees the clinic’s number on her phone. She does not answer the call.
She’s seen the woman in the office: emotionless, narrow eyes behind thick, black-rimmed glasses.
“The embryos have been thawed and will be disposed of,” the woman will say, as if they’re nothing more than old frozen peas waiting to be tossed.
She had envisioned a visit, a ceremony to say goodbye to her embryos.
There won’t be one.
In the evening, Tino’s silence thunders.
She writes letters to the PTA president, the head of the school district, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
It’s late when she’s done. The light in the children’s room is on. She pauses, her hand on the switch. The girls are asleep on the twin bed in a tangle of limbs.
She lets them be.
Sudha Balagopal’s recent fiction appears in Fictive Dream, Spelk Fiction, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Jellyfish Review and Foliate Oak among other journals. She is the author of a novel, A New Dawn, and two short story collections, There are Seven Notes and Missing and Other Stories. More at www.sudhabalagopal.com.