The Library Suicides by Fflur Dafydd is our Book of the Month for February 2023. Read an extract from the opening of the book here...
The twins always saw themselves in the seagulls, even as children.
Their feathered doppelgängers would come and sit on the bathroom ledge every evening and stare in at them as they had their bath, watching them with their curious pink-rimmed eyes. There would be a flash of recognition between both parties. Something vermin-like, something poisonous, would pass between them. Rats with wings, their mother would shout, before shooing them away. But the birds always came back; unlike their mother, who – six months ago – wasn’t able to navigate her own drop from the ledge with quite the same ease.
There was a strange comfort in it now for Ana and Nan; to have the seagulls there during their bathing ritual, those webbed feet padding confidently across the cramped space where their mother had once stood. The twins watched these rolling resurrections with fascination, gazing at their feathered aggressors jostling each other, pushing each other off, with each ousted bird returning seconds later as though the fall meant nothing.
Ana and Nan could see the gulls trying to decipher – with every twist of their ugly, slanting heads – why two identical women would sit opposite each other in the bath every evening, conjuring stiff white peaks from their fingers until the suds obscured each one’s view of the other. The shape afloat on the water was a replica of that building on the hill where the twins worked. They saw themselves as architects of foam, carving out from the amorphous mass the contours of a library in miniature – weaving windows from the fine white webs, moulding free to roam as she liked, opening and shutting doors, ransack-ing through cupboards, running her fingers over everything. Nan could never read Ana’s mind; the doors were always shut, the windows dark.
‘Yes, I suppose I am,’ Nan lied, relieved that if nothing else, she owned her own mind.
‘I think she’d approve, you know. Of all this. It’s what she would have wanted. I don’t think we need to be scared.’
Nan was not scared. If anything she was excited. Whatever happened, however things eventually played out, it would be the end of something. The start of another.
‘If we just stick to the plan,’ Ana continued, ‘we’ll be fine.Nothing’s going to go wrong.’
Everything would go wrong, Nan thought. And this is how she knew her sister couldn’t really read her mind. Because her sister still believed that Nan would carry things out in exactly the way they’d planned, when Nan had no intention of doing so – she was going to do things her way, even if it meant a longer sentence; and forgoing her right to a bath forever more. She had long imagined herself with that gun in her hand, taking control of it all; desperate to know how it would feel when she finally got to pull the trigger.
‘Whatever we do, we do together,’ Ana continued. ‘After all we’re the same person, you and I, aren’t we?’
Ana’s foot swam towards her. Nan lifted her own foot and pressed against it. She knew Ana saw this as a moment of unity, but for Nan it was the opposite: a real, physical sign of the boundary between them. Where one thing broke away and became another.
‘Ana and Nan. One person. One soul. Palindromes.’
Nan hid her smile in the froth. Ana was obsessed with the fact that their names could be read forward, and backward, that they could formulate no other possible sounds. Ana was convinced that their mother had chosen them so that no one could interfere with their names; that their identities remained strong, unshakeable. Nan didn’t see it like that. She saw their names as dull and unin-spiring in their plainness; neutral as anything. As a young child she’d always dreamed of having a longer, greater title, something complex, multisyllabic. Something that spoke of revolt. Something like Arianne – a silvery wheel of a name; or Gwenivere – a girl glowing in the dark. Something that enticed yet terrified you.
‘Palindrome,’ Nan echoed quietly, as she opened her mouth toingest the rest of the soap ruins.
The Library Suicides by Fflur Dafydd is our Book of the Month for February 2023. Read an extract from the opening of the book here... Find out more and order your copy here.