This story was first serialised in 29 daily parts during February 2020 via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 5pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.
In murky darkness, illuminated only by pale headlights from a teen’s car, a long-dead body is tied to railway tracks. It began as desperate action covering a terrible accident. Three decades later, the next twenty-four hours will finally provide her story’s most suitable ending.
I know Elizabeth loved us both in some small part of that battered heart, affection-starved long before we were considered a possibility. There had never been any ill-will towards either of us, no hand raised or dreams dismissed. She was, for many years, only ally we possessed. We rarely saw Ian: never referred to as ‘Dad’ even during childhood. His biological contribution all that had ever been willingly given: they’d loved each other until arrival of twins broke a brittle heart. No sons, just daughters. Both, twice unconscionable: man never recovered.
The night he tried to kill Mum began as a singularly uninspiring visit, feigning interest at our upcoming eighteenth birthdays. For the first time ever, money was demanded: something clearly very wrong in his life at that moment. It took over a year to uncover true motivation. Nobody expected bread knife as first choice of weapon: that gash took three months to heal. Both of us were enough, just, holding him back as Mum kicked first to balls, then neck as body hit kitchen floor. Two of us trailed his escape as far as the northbound bypass; both cried.
That should have been the end, except a different story was written. Guilt pushed us both go find him, insist he stayed away: dark monster never again welcome under our roof. If we’d ignored our disquiet, it would never have emerged that Mum accidentality managed to end his life. We saw the car, parked inside old garage on dirty land he called home, just far enough away from civilization to remain anonymous. He died where he fell, into a bush: we should have left, right there and then, turned around and never looked back. Hindsight’s a bitch; so were we.
We wanted a statement. It took all weekend, covered under beautifully crafted alibis: no-one even thought collusion a possibility. Such a good job that even three decades on, the whole truth only emerged by accident. Mum would go her grave, blissfully ignorant of any culpability. Leaving body on the tracks without tying hands and feet would prove him already dead. He wouldn’t just sacrifice himself, after all. This was a man who lived life very large; we made this a mob hit, local gang’s well-known ringleader finally punished by rivals for gambling debts.
On day his demise made national news Mum just sat with the paper, stroking remains of scar on her left arm. She cried, yes, but never came forward as his wife, because it transpired they were never married in the first place. On our Birth certificates, that space remained blank. Local Police cited numerous inconsistencies at their crime scene, yet nobody objected over sentences for three men of murder who’d already been arrested for other crimes. Ian became the convenient truth, wrapped in somebody else’s dreadful mistake. Only Harri and I knew better.
For the next twenty-five years, that verity slowly destroyed our familial bond.
This isn’t revenge. Penance is difficult, painful work. Everybody suffers as a result. You get to hurt most of all. The path Harri chose to walk, away from me and towards pointless redemption…
Harriet’s ambition was obvious, early on. It was how Mum would tell us apart: she crawled first, walked first, spoke before I’d even thought about communication. It was if two people’s motivation and drive had been shoved into one stocky body, without thought of the consequences. Except, she couldn’t do anything with Dad’s circumstance but stare. I was one who suggested a plan, wrapped a by now very dead weight in tarpaulin. At exact moment when courage demanded action, Harri sublimated, suddenly submissive to a sister who previously always went second.
We’d both deferred University entry that year, already planning extensive trip across Europe; six months later she’d moved out to live with friends. Mum didn’t seem that surprised, even less so when I decided not to bother with education either, accepting solid offer at the Echo. Photography had become my saving grace; sure, I could have followed Harri to London and more money, but these aspirations weren’t wrapped in pretence and perceived glory. It didn’t matter anyway: ability would eventually lead to recognition. We were undoubtedly precocious talents.
The year I won a national photography contest was the same she was hired by the BBC as a trainee reporter. Mum had double reason to be proud: attention made people begin to ask questions that should have been raised years previously. Where was their father, after all this time? Truth, in the beginning, was enough: he’d ‘passed away’ was line all three of us would recite, emotionally free of details or context. Every year, easier to place events into someone else’s context, creating fiction from fact. Eventually, fear and anguish would finally diminish.
Except, they never did. Excuses would be made, time and again, never to go home, Mum becoming increasingly distant. Her heart had been broken; first by Dad, and then us. My move to Manchester was the last straw: both daughters now financially independent, ties to home redundant. There was a period in my 30’s when lies did not exist: my partner helped enormously. They knew something was being withheld; intimacy far more important than any misdemeanour in the collective past. A week before my 40th birthday however, everything known was summarily trashed.
Harri collapsed literally mid-shift, famously caught on camera during a BBC News broadcast; twenty four hours later she was dead. The brain haemorrhage that killed her, coroner concluded, probably began as a low bleed. She’d fallen off a bike the weekend before, without a helmet. Mum never showed for her funeral, nor indeed did anyone else. It was just me, a couple of onlookers and the funeral staff. Harri was neither popular nor cared about such things as important. Even the Corporation played down her demise; I knew better. Something vital was missing.
I’d moved to London the year before, not told my sister what I’d learnt. Mum hadn’t killed Dad by accident; it had been contrived all along, fight convenient means of scaring us into silence. Cancer would have killed him in months, nullifying a hastily arranged insurance policy. They colluded together: enough cash on his death remained to pay off all debts, providing more than enough to cover mortgage on our family home. After that, Mum sold up and moved, before repeating same morbid dance twice more. Both ‘natural’ deaths, very much to plan… until this.
Wedded twice, both low key. Two men dead before a year of marriage was done, both owning substantive insurance policies. My sister might have been paid for smart, investigative journalism: yet she overlooked significant information. Key evidence, finally, damning and inescapable. Last missing piece, crucially, was motive. Why was this happening, time and again, plus pivotally where did the money vanish to? Hundreds of thousands of pounds, previously untraceable… that last puzzle piece fell into place this week. No longer the victim; I, Isabel am evidence.
DNA is my inescapable, constant companion. When it comes to identical twins, however, using it as identifying evidence in court becomes a little more complex. Genetics have a different part to play; simple fingerprints remain empirical, damning confirmation of absolute identity. Twins are far more likely to occur on my father’s side. Once part of a pair, I’m alone. My father’s twin was responsible for that death, believing my sister was who’d discovered their unexpected collusion with my mother. He shoved Harri off her bike, attempted an assault, failed.
Two people appear in court today, charged with multiple counts of murder. My mum, her lover, dead father’s identical, more deadly half. This isn’t revenge any more. Penance is difficult, painful work: I am ready to send both to Hell.
It’s the least I can do for Harriet and me…