“Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow”
-T.S Eliot, “The Hollow Men”
I took some of the flowers from my sister’s funeral, because I thought her replacement might like them as a welcome-to-the-family present.
An hour’s drive later, and most of the velvety petals had little tears and creases in them, because I couldn’t seem to get my fingers to hold still. Mother had already fussed at me for dragging my nails through the leather seats (you’ll leave scratches!), and for drawing pictures on the foggy windows (those were just cleaned!), and when I absently sent yet another piece of petal fluttering to the floorboard, her hand snapped out and wrapped like a whip around my wrist.
“Honestly Catelyn, I wish you would stop fidgeting. There will be nothing left of those flowers by the time we reach Huxley.”
I sank farther down into the seat. The seatbelt cut into my neck, but I ignored the burning and focused instead on the wobbly, watery world outside my window. Any second, the towering gray buildings of the Huxley Laboratory Compound would be coming into view. Father was already there. He probably already had the paperwork filled out. New-Violet was probably already waiting by his side.
Not New-Violet, my mother’s voice scolded my thoughts. Our Violet. The same, the one and only Violet.
She was right, of course. The girl we were picking up couldn’t have been any more identical to the big sister I’d always known. She was her perfect genetic copy. And thanks to Huxley’s advancements in mind-linking and uploading technologies, this Violet had all of the old one’s memories, too. She would fit right in. It would be like my sister never left.
I was still nervous.
We reached the lab, and our driver pulled around to the front entrance, parked, and went to Mother’s door with an umbrella. Before he could come around to my side, I was already unbuckled and halfway outside. I landed bright-yellow-boots first in a huge puddle, splashed bits of dirty water up my legs and onto the ruffled hem of my dress. Mother glanced at me and plastered a smile. Her grip on her leather handbag tightened, but I knew she wouldn’t scold me just then.
Not in front of the paparazzi.
And they were everywhere that day, in spite of the rain. They couldn’t follow us inside the gates for security reasons, but they were still clinging to the metal bars, watching us, zooming in on our lives with their shiny black cameras.
“Animals,” my mother said under her breath, her perfect smile twitching just slightly. I hoped and prayed no one caught it on camera. Because I could imagine the headline that would go with her almost-grimace:
Wife of Mayor Benson Regrets Controversial Cloning of Daughter
And then yet another article underneath, detailing the evils of cloning and of the entire Huxley corporation. More scathing words to accuse my father of crooked morals, our family of setting a poor precedent and dragging the entire city of Haven down with us. I used to think— to hope— people would get tired of reading about us. Gawking at us. That there were enough problems in our world that surely everyone would eventually find something else to distract themselves with. Some other family to point their fingers at.
A naïve hope, maybe, but I held on to it all the same.
We had supporters too, obviously—my father wouldn’t have been elected to his third consecutive term without them—but they weren’t usually as vocal as the protestors were. Especially not on days like this. I guess because it was easier to shout hate than understanding, since you don’t have to think about hate as hard. If I had been on the outside looking in, then maybe I wouldn’t have known what to say to us either. Maybe something like, I’m sorry your daughter is dead, but congratulations on your new addition to the family? I didn’t think they made cards for this sort of thing.
So that day it was just us and a handful of bodyguards, alone with all of those people outside the gates shouting, calling us monsters and heathens and other things that would have gotten me grounded if I’d dared to repeat them.
My mother walked on as if they weren’t even there, because she treated everyone the same, whether they loved us or hated us. You don’t want to give anyone the illusion, she always told me, that anything they do can affect you. You can’t give them that control, because there’s no telling what they’d do with it. So she always walked with her head held high. Made sure her smile was brighter than all the camera flashes put together.
Because after all, people were easy enough to fool, if you knew how to do it.
I didn’t yet. Not as well as she did, at least; I tried, but I’d never been able to carry myself the way Mother did. She was a stone-faced, walking statue that words and rain and mud hit and just slid off of.
As for me? I wanted to shrink away from it all, to somehow make myself tiny and insignificant enough to slip out of sight without anyone noticing. But my mother just took my hand in her stiff grip and pulled me under the umbrella. And without so much as a backward glance, we started what felt like an incredibly long walk to the entrance, to the future on the other side of those tall glass doors.
I tried my best to smile.
Smiling was easier. Easier than trying to explain our lives to anyone. To explain why my parents made the decision to have me and my sister cloned at birth, to have our genetic twins raised in a safe, controlled environment. To have them there as replacements. Just in case.
And “just-in-casers” was what my parents were, anyway; they weren’t like some fanatics of the cloning movement, who’d made dozens of copies of their children, who’d given everything they owned to achieve some sort of immortality for their sons and daughters. No. My parents weren’t crazy. They only wanted a backup copy in place, because sometimes the unthinkable happened. Even now that the war that had desecrated their childhood had been confined to history books, to horror stories that no one liked to talk about, accidents still happened all the time. Sometimes it felt like the world was just one big accident. Just a week before, a boy from my class had slipped and hit his head, drowned in the creek outside of town. Now his parents were childless. A year ago, the house down the street from us burned to the ground. Mr. and Mrs. Adams made it out without a scratch. Their children didn’t.
No one expected things like that.
And no one expected Violet to get sick.
But she did.
Now she was back though, like she never left.
I squeezed Mother’s hand a little tighter, wishing she would squeeze it back. I wasn’t surprised when she didn’t. Her walk became more brisk, and I had to move in hops and leaps so my short legs could keep up. We reached the front steps just as the double doors opened and a tall man in a Huxley lab coat stepped out.
“Mrs. Benson,” he greeted my mother, swiping off his hat and tilting his head forward in a polite nod.
Inside, the bright fluorescent lights stung. It was like walking into Heaven. A very cold, very sterile sort of Heaven that smelled like rubbing alcohol and made my eyes burn and water. I pulled my hand from Mother’s, and used both of my palms to try and rub away the tears. By the time I finished and reached for her again, her arms were already folded across her chest. My hands dropped back to my sides and I fell in line behind her, followed her and the Huxley man along the hallways that seemed to twist and turn endlessly, up and down and left and right and folding back into themselves. It made me dizzy, but at least it was safer in here. Quieter. We’d left our bodyguards at the door, and the people we passed in here all smiled at us, or at least nodded in pleasant recognition.
I wasn’t a monster to them.
We reached a small room that smelled more like coffee than rubbing alcohol. The man instructed us to have a seat, and then he disappeared through yet another set of metal doors. Mother sat in one of the stripe-patterned chairs and crossed her feet at the ankles. She pulled her compact mirror from her purse, flipped it open and started slicking back the stray frizzies that had escaped from her bun. Her hair was the same rusty-brown shade as mine, and when she let it down—which was almost never— it fell in pretty waves all the way down to her elbows.
“How are your flowers?” she asked, shutting the mirror with a sudden snap! that made me jump.
“Dying,” I answered, holding them up so she could see how they drooped.
She frowned. “You shouldn’t hold them so tightly.” She got up, took the flowers and went over to the water fountain in the corner of the room, grabbed one of the little paper cups beside it. “Maybe we can get them to perk up before your sister gets here?” she suggested. This was the only way my mother ever showed affection— by taking all of my broken things and fixing them.
I watched as she filled the cup with water, arranged the flowers in a sad-looking bouquet of purple and white before moving silently back to her seat. Looking at the flowers made me think about Old-Violet, which made my eyes start to water again.
I forced myself to find something else to focus on.
There was a clock above my mother. A bright red disruption in the otherwise solid white wall, ticking the seconds loudly away. After a few minutes I started to imagine a symphony to go with it, where the steady tick-tock kept rhythm with the lights humming overhead, with the tapping of my mother’s foot and the occasional gurgle of air bubbles in the water fountain. In my head I wrote lyrics to go with the music, though I knew better than to sing them out loud; my voice may have been a gift—at least according to my teachers—but using it was just showing off. And my mother didn’t approve of showing off. It only attracted unnecessary attention.
So I started counting the grey-speckled ceiling tiles instead. I’d just made it to twenty-seven when I heard the heavy whoosh of a door opening, and I looked down and met my father’s gaze. He was wearing that new, cautious smile of his. The one that never quite made it to his eyes the way the old one—the one he’d had before Violet got sick— did. And without a word to me or Mother, he stepped to the side and pulled my sister’s replacement into the room.
It was like seeing a ghost. My heart skipped wildly, all the way up into my throat. I swallowed several times, trying to get it back down to where it belonged, trying to clear a path for words.
As if I really knew what to say.
What should you say to someone you’d known your whole life, but were just now meeting for the first time? Was I just supposed to pick up where we left off? That was what my parents wanted, I knew. That was how this worked. And it was what Mother was doing now, fluttering all over New-Violet and asking a million pointless questions, saying a million pointless things. I hadn’t seen her this animated in a long time.
But then, first impressions were important. So of course she was making the extra effort.
I thought about following her example—I should have followed her example, maybe— but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was still too numb. Confused. She seemed to have forgotten about me anyways, and after I purposely avoided my father’s gaze, he left me alone too. I clasped my hands behind me, leaned back against the smooth wall and just studied them.
Before she got sick, Violet had always been beautiful. Like a thunderstorm was beautiful in its chaos, in black clouds billowing and lightning dancing across the dry earth. It was the kind of beautiful our grandma said would get you into trouble if you weren’t careful.
It didn’t seem possible or fair, but somehow this Violet was even more beautiful; her skin was like porcelain, flawless and perfect. Her cheeks were rosy. Those dark, dark eyes sparkled underneath her long lashes. This definitely wasn’t the sick Violet I’d gotten used to over the past months; the circles and tired creases that sank her skin were gone. Her hair wasn’t dull and coarse anymore, but black and shiny as polished obsidian. And when she moved that tall, willowy figure, it was with grace and purpose—like she’d choreographed every step.
Mother said the old and the new were the same.
I reserved judgment.
“Catelyn,” Father said suddenly. “Are you just going to stand there? Come say hello to your sister.”
Sister, sister, sister. They called her that so easily. Cautiously, reluctantly, I pushed away from the safety of the wall. My father’s words were heavy with expectation, and I didn’t want to disappoint him.
New-Violet’s eyes followed me as I stepped toward her, a smile forced onto my face. Do I look like Mother now? I wondered. Am I a statue? Am I doing it right? I’m not going to disappoint them, am I?
“Hi,” I said. My gaze didn’t quite meet hers, staring instead at the faded painting of wildflowers on the wall behind her. “I’m—”
“Catelyn,” she interrupted with a small smile. “But you prefer Cate. And you’re twelve, and you’re in seventh grade—an honors student. You love singing, and horses, and strawberry ice cream, and your favorite color is green.” She laughed; a quiet, twinkling sound. “You don’t have to tell me anything.”
“I know all about you,” she said.
And in that moment, I loved her and I hated her all at once.
I wanted to make it go away, but the smile seemed determined to stay on my face. Apparently if you faked it long enough, things like that could get stuck. Mother’s smile was stuck, too. And Father’s. We were all stuck, but somehow still moving through the room, talking and laughing as we collected our things and headed for the door as one big, happy family. Complete again.
On the way out, I grabbed the flowers from their makeshift vase, spilling water over the counter in the process. Then I handed them to Violet, blushing and apologizing for the way they’d started to brown around the edges.