The Perpetual Ending

the perpetual ending“Den Hartog’s imagination shines.”
Calgary Herald

The Perpetual Ending was published by Knopf Canada in 2003, and short-listed for the Toronto Book Award. Interwoven with fables, it follows a woman named Jane as she recalls the childhood death of her twin sister.  The main story focuses on the girls and their estranged parents, but the tales spin off in wild directions, featuring a girl with spiderweb hair, or the Siamese twins in the following story, which opens the book.

 

They were twins born seamless, joined up the sides of their bodies. And yet they were very distinctly two. Four arms and four legs, two heads of yellow hair. One loved the water and Tother did not, and that caused the skin between them to stretch and stretch. One always pulling, longing to swim. But Tother was afraid of water. Both its choppy waves and its calmness. Not knowing what lurked beneath.

“Come on!” One whined, because the sun was high and the air was thick with its heat.

But Tother shook her head. She dug her feet into the sand, searching for coolness there. And One kept pulling, walking away. The skin stretched, strangely painless. Tother put her hand on that bond of flesh. She felt it grow thin, the skin of an onion.

One was at the water now, a toe dipping in. She was looking back and laughing.

“Come on!” she cried again. “It’s warm! There are little minnows swimming!”

Tother stepped forward and back, wishing to want but not wanting.

“No,” she said. “Come back.”

The skin between them turned fine as a web. One had never before stretched so far from Tother. Tother dug her toes more firmly into the sand.

“Come back,” she said again.

One, defiant, ran splashing through the water. It stole her legs, her hips, her torso, which once had grown from Tother. She dove and reappeared, laughing still. Wet were her clothes and hair.

“Watch!” yelled One. “Watch how long I can hold my breath!”

And she disappeared into the blue, which was not the see-through blue of sky but the dark and muddy blue of all things lost and searched for.

Tother waited. She watched the vast surface of the water, but One did not appear. Beads of water sparkled on the thinning web just above the place where it disappeared into the river. The bloated sun began its long slow slide. It sat blazing calmly on the water, and then was gone.

Still Tother waited. It might be that One could hold her breath a long, long time. Or that One could breathe in water, like a fish or a mythical mermaid. Tother didn’t know. Tother had never been in the water.

She looked and looked for the moon, for the many stars and that brighter one you could wish on. All that came was a dome of black, which meant rain, so she crept beneath the shelter of a tree and listened. Soon the sky was crying on the leaves above her, on the sand, on the water. Adding water to the water One swam in. Tother wrapped the web around her finger, a string to always remind her. She let the blacker dome of sleep engulf her, and though she had never in all of her years slept alone, she slept more deeply than she ever had before.

When she woke it was clear blue morning and the web had become a rainbow that grew from her side in bands of every colour. The bands wrapped around her finger, then reached high into the sky, arching over the water and down again. Tother stood and began to walk in the wet sand that edged the water, winding and winding the rainbow that would lead her to One, though she knew not where.

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