Empathy – Part Two

Part One

‘Even when we were children,’ Pierre said. ‘We were a strange pairing, as different in nature as we were alike in appearance. I was the shy, studious one, always reading or thinking, while Alain was forever swimming and exploring and climbing trees. One day, when we were ten or so, I was up in my room reading – I forget what – and Alain was scrambling around up in the high branches of the great oak at the edge of our field.

‘Something else must have captured his attention – something else usually did – and he missed his footing. My brother was an exceptional climber, but falling was never his strong point. He landed badly, twisting his left arm beneath him. Snapped his wrist clean through, I heard the doctor say later.

‘I didn’t know of his accident until he came through the door cradling his arm, with his clothes all torn. He wasn’t crying, but his face was pure white and covered in sweat. Our mother panicked, naturally, with one son looking as though he’d seen Marley’s Ghost and the other one screaming his heart out.’

I frowned, not fully understanding, though it should have been obvious.

‘I’d been sitting on my bed reading,’ Pierre told me. ‘When suddenly I was on the floor, clutching my wrist and screaming in agony. I remember the way it felt, even now – like my wrist joint had grown a bracelet of knives. Mother rushed in and ran to my side. She was almost screaming herself, asking me what was wrong, but I couldn’t seem to catch enough of my breath to tell her. I just lay there wailing and pressing my arm against the front of my shirt, until she picked me up and carried me downstairs.

‘She had just lifted the phone – to call an ambulance or my father at his office, I don’t know which – when Alain walked in. She took one look at him, then back at me, and I have never, never seen such a look of fear and confusion on a person’s face.’

He smiled at me weakly, his eyes wet. ‘And in that moment, I’d never loved her more. I think I’d like that drink now, Jacques, if you wouldn’t mind.’

‘Of course.’ Quickly I poured him a glass of mineral water, trying to keep the tremors in my aching hands at bay. I didn’t mind pouring him a drink. I had to gently angle his head forward so that he could take a sip, and I didn’t mind that either.

When he’d finished, Pierre said, ‘To be honest, I would’ve preferred it with a chaser of morphine, but thank you anyway.’

I started to rise. ‘Shall I fetch a nurse?’

‘No, no.’ He watched me sit down again. ‘The pain isn’t as bad tonight, actually – I think it’s because you’re here, giving me something to talk about, take my mind off it.’

He smiled his fragile smile, but there were beads of sweat breaking out in the wrinkles of his forehead and I knew he was lying. The pain was as bad, if not worse, than all his other nights, but this was Pierre Leveque, and he was going to last the course. By God, he was.

‘The thing that happened to Alain and I,’ he said. ‘The scientific types call it empathic trauma. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, it’s surprisingly common between identical twins.

‘As the years passed we grew further apart – I stayed here and built on the family riches, while Alain travelled the world, and as you know we lost touch. At least, we did in the sense that there were no letters or telephone calls between us, but every now and then … every now and then I’d feel something. I’d be alone and hear some woman whisper his name in some exotic accent or I’d feel my knuckles sting and know that he’d used that famous right of hook of his on someone, somewhere in the world.

‘I mostly forgot about the tree incident, but he never did, it seemed. After … after he died, when I inherited his diaries I saw that he’d spent more than twenty five years cataloguing such phenomena. I found files, photographs, witness statements, all manner of documentation. There were incidents similar to our own – sisters in the United States who would flip migraines back and forth like a tennis ball – and other stories, all of them confirmed by independent witnesses. One report was of a German sailor lost at sea when his ship went down in a storm and he was washed ashore on some remote island that hardly anyone knew existed, yet his brother directed the rescue plane right to it.

‘Over the years, Alain had collected a number of possible explanations for such incidents, but in his last diary entry – the night of his suicide – he seemed to have settled on which one he believed. The entry is … disjointed. I can’t imagine what state his mind must have been in at the end, but his rendering of the theory is quite explicit. Telepathic empathy is latent in all twins, but it needs some kind of extreme emotional stimuli to trigger it. Pain, anxiety, grief, whatever. Even with the evidence in front of me, it all sounded so far fetched, until … until I …’

Pierre’s voice bled away then, as if the horror of his brother’s suicide and the dreadful events that followed it had struck him anew. I understood, because this is where my memories and Pierre’s memories and the nightmare all become one.

This is where the secrets are.

To Be Continued

Part Three

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