Karen was standing at the kitchen sink looking out the window when the red compact car pulled into the driveway. She thought maybe it was Jeanette, her friend next door, coming to show her the new car she’d been thinking about getting the last two weeks. Karen went out to see her friend’s surprise and got a different surprise. Out of the driver’s side came her husband Kurt! However, as the man unfolded himself from the small car, she knew in less than a heartbeat it was not Kurt, but her husband’s identical twin, Ken, whom they had not seen since the wedding a year ago last spring. A chill autumn breeze (early for Texas? But then who knew? since Texas weather is unpredictable!) suddenly whipped around the house and over Karen who was barefooted and had on only jeans and a pink tee shirt. She shivered a little.
After he had turned toward her while stretching the kinks out of his long body, Ken gave Karen a big, ferocious grin and said, “Hey, Kitten! Surprise! Got your address from mom and thought I’d check on you guys.”
Karen smiled as broadly as she could at that moment, in the cold, makeup-less, shoeless, and speechless. “Well, how nice to see you! What a surprise!” Karen crossed the driveway and went to give him a welcome hug. She hardly knew him, but he was her brother-in-law and a guest to their new home! It felt awkward when he intercepted her as she reached up for his shoulders and planted a kiss on her left cheek and held her what seemed too close for what seemed too long. Well, he is family and he’s just really glad to be here, thought Karen.
Ken popped the trunk and pulled out two smallish, well-worn bags. “It’s not a bad drive from Dallas. Kind of boring though.”
“Well, after Africa and Asia and all the places you’ve been I would imagine that’s so!” Karen tried not to be too enthusiastic and sound like a hick.
As a writer and sometime photographer on wildlife and ecological issues around the globe, Ken traveled constantly. Karen didn’t even know where he called home, if indeed he had a base anywhere. Kurt always called him a nomad without a tent. With a camera bag and laptop, Ken saw the world.
“Are you between jobs or doing a story on Texas javelinas or wildlife along the Brazos or what?” Karen really wanted to know how long he’d be here in the guest room which was cluttered at this moment since they were having it and the house’s only bathroom re-done. It’s a pity Ken showed up right now (and unannounced! she thought): the house was a mess from construction, she had just started working part-time at the mortuary, and Kurt was preoccupied with his position as regional assistant director for State Farm. She supposed, however, that nomads don’t live by the rules of normal folk but roam on the wind.
Once Karen had taken some boxes off the guest bed and opened the curtains, trying to make the room more inviting (fat chance! she thought), they dropped his bags and went to the kitchen where they sat talking and sipping iced tea.
“Kurt is always so busy, but you’re in luck. He’s visiting a branch office in Temple today and said he will be home early. He’ll be so happy to see you!” Karen hoped this was entirely true. She and Kurt never talked about Ken, just a few stories of their boyhood twin pranks, like trying to fool the dentist (who, of course, could not be fooled! “The silent mouth never lies!” he had told them, and they treasured that quote). Other than that, the brothers were generally estranged.
“Well, I have a couple of days unless I get a call. I’m off to Argentina.” Karen’s phone rang on the kitchen counter and she popped up to get it. “Okay, Sweetheart, see you soon. I have a surprise for you! No, it’s not edible. At least I don’t think so!” Karen winked at Ken and hung up.
A few minutes later Kurt walked in looking dapper in his slacks, sports coat, and tie. (So much more attractive than Brand X, the generic brother! thought Karen.) The two men talked over beers about Ken’s travels, sports, and their parents while Karen cooked up pasta and tossed a salad. She thawed out a homemade cake she’d had in the freezer and felt masterful in her kitchen, which made her more confident about the visit.
It was a pleasant evening, and Karen finished making the guest bed and tidying that room as much as she could before she went to bed, hearing the twins laughing in the living room, which she thought was a delightful sound. Maybe “a couple of days” would’t be too long.
The next day after work, Karen took Ken to the Dr. Pepper Museum downtown which Ken found mildly amusing. He’d always been a 7-Up kind of guy he said, but he feigned interest in the history of the inferior beverage. (She felt kind of stupid taking him there, but after all they had to do something, didn’t they? And she’d never take a globe-trotting nature photographer to the city’s lovely little zoo!)
Then they hit the grocery store together where several people came up to speak to Kurt and found it was not Kurt. There were a few laughs. (How provincial we must seem, Karen moaned to herself!) Mrs. McCleary, who lived down the street, was flummoxed and told Karen she was lucky to have a back-up husband! Karen blushed a bit and smiled when Ken put his arm around her there and then, and kissed the top of her head a little too cutely she thought. She wriggled away to pick a cantaloupe from a display.
They went out to dinner on Ken that night to a Tex-Mex place that he found delightfully bumpkinish and entirely non-ethnic. “We just like the taste, we don’t care if natives somewhere never ate or eat this way! It’s good!” Karen was growing weary of this third wheel who was so traveled, so sophisticated, so full of himself.
Ken was also a little creepy. When he helped her carry in groceries, or changed the bulb in the bedroom ceiling light, or came to get a drink while she was in the kitchen, he just felt too close. And he insisted on kissing her cheek or the top of her head before she went to bed. She wished he wouldn’t do that, but he was leaving so soon and she didn’t want any scenes. Kurt seemed so pleased with how the visit was going.
In their bedroom she asked him, “Your brother is very… sort of…physical, isn’t he? Does he have a girlfriend in any or every port?”
“Oh, Ken’s always been full of the devil. No one at the moment, I gather though. Had a zillion girlfriends in high school. The tricks we pulled on them…or tried! High school boys aren’t that swift.” Ken ripped off his tee shirt with one hand while holding a drippy toothbrush in the other. How did he do that? Karen wondered. Husbands are amazing animals.
“Well, he’s off to South America tomorrow afternoon and I hope he has a great time.” Karen tried to sound cheerful and not exuberant. She just wanted the house back to themselves.
They had a nice farewell breakfast (homemade waffles her husband always loved) and then Kurt said good-bye to Ken. They shook hands, hugged, and smiled. Maybe being all grown-up now (and one of them settled) had simmered down their unnamed childhood issues and the differences in their tastes and temperaments.
After her husband left, Karen went to take a shower and get ready for work. As she washed her hair, she was thinking about a romantic dinner at home that night for Kurt now that Twin Boy was leaving, when she thought she heard a metallic sound. Was wind rattling the window which didn’t fit too well? Was it something that fell over and was rocking on the counter? She peeked out from behind the shower curtain and saw the doorknob rotating, but then stopped by the lock. But, anyone would hear the shower running from out in the hallway. Anyone would know she was in the shower. Maybe Ken had music on really loud or was wearing his earbuds? Maybe he was suddenly ill? Maybe he…
Holy Moly! Karen barely rinsed out the shampoo, turned off the water and started singing “Oh! Susanna!” (the first thing that popped into her mind!) really loudly. She grabbed both her towel and her long robe which she whipped on, through still dripping like a dog come in from the rain. “I do not like this one tiny bit!” she muttered. She wrapped her hair crazily in the towel, stopped dripping a little, and then boldly unlocked the door (as loudly as possible, she thought) and walked down the hall to their bedroom where she dressed in a hurry and kept singing, all the while trying to listen for Ken’s whereabouts in the house. Her flesh was a little goose-bumped and she felt flushed but also cold. She would get this guy on the road sooner than now, she thought. Not quickly enough for her, he was packed and out the back door.
“Well, off you go back to your exotic life. Stay safe, Ken.” Karen said in the driveway as he tossed his bags heavily in the shotgun seat.
“Thanks for a great time!” He pulled her in for a hug she had tried to avoid with a handshake, but he won. And he kissed the top of her head. “Maybe you could call me ‘Sis’ or even better ‘Karen’ from now on,” Karen suggested with what she hoped was some authority and without an angry look. “Well, you know, I’ve already settled that issue myself….Bye, Kitten!” Then he kissed her cheek before she could get away.
Relief washed over her as the red car backed out the driveway, and she hummed at work all afternoon, that is, when there were no guests at the mortuary. That night over dinner Kurt asked if Ken got off on-time and with one of Karen’s delicious brown bag lunches. “Oh, no lunch, Darling. He was so full of breakfast. It was a successful visit, huh?”
“Yeah. Pretty darn good for Ken and me. Thanks for being such a great hostess. I think you made everything smoother just being you. And Ken really seems to like you!” Karen smiled and looked down at her plate of goulash.
After dinner over bowls of rocky road, Karen said brightly, “Hey, let’s turn the guest room into a TV-slash-hobby room!”