It’s a shame: we were so close. You could almost say we were inseparable. I know you were just a fraction older than me, by minutes, Mum said, so I always looked up to you, big brother. When I look back, I am not too sure why. I suppose I just liked basking in the kudos of having a twin. I was probably misguided. You always seemed to think quite highly of yourself but I assumed you had the right, being my senior. Mum and Dad always favoured you, I noticed. You got all the new toys and as we got older all the latest gadgets. There was nothing you couldn’t have. Spoilt, one might say. I did note that you didn’t feel quite the same way about me as I did about you. I suppose I was a nuisance, an irritation that detracted from Mum and Dad’s devotion to you. Don’t think for one moment I was jealous. I am sure you needed that reassurance whereas I didn’t so much.
I thought at school we would find more of a balance, but you found yourself an entourage who lauded you and you so enjoyed playing to their gallery. I felt quite alone sometimes. That was ridiculous, I know, because as twins, we had a ready-built stronghold of a friendship that could have taken on the world. At any rate, we could always stand up for each other. It was sad that I found you less and less there for me when I needed you.
I have to say you were particularly lucky with your grades. You always did precious little work to get those top marks. I am guessing that was why Mum and Dad made so much fuss of you. You were so lazy though. If Mum and Dad had known the half of it...,. I remember catching you several times copying James Merton’s science work. And am I right in saying you used to pay Philip Bremner to write your essays? I think you did.
There was one instance when I actually thought you were going to get in to trouble with Mum. Do you remember? You went to the shop on the way home from school and you stank of smoke. She went nuclear.
“What do you think you’re doing? Where did you get those cigarettes from?” she shouted.
“Tim Phillips gave them to me to look after. I haven’t had any. I’m giving them back in the morning,” was your snivelling response. “He wanted to hide them from his dad.” You always were a little whiner. I sometimes felt a bit ashamed but your daring somehow eclipsed that. I don’t think you realised you were digging a deeper and deeper hole for yourself, particularly when Mum found the burn in your trousers pocket. At least you never took your angry teenage angst out on me. I think Tim got as good as he gave on that score.
You were forever coming home with problems for poor Mum. There was the time you and Tim hung out in town until you persuaded, or bullied, Ben Carver to get that booze for you. I don’t know who was worse, you or Tim, but I’m glad you didn’t include me in your exploits. You both went off to that disused bus shelter at the other end of the green and drank yourselves silly. I think you only just about redeemed yourself with Mum because you had slept off most of it by the time you managed to get home. I distinctly remember that Dad was working away, which saved you, or I think you might have ended up in a different sort of school the following week. Tim actually did end up at some sort of reform school. It was only then you calmed down and started to grow up a bit.
Then the girlfriends started to line up. My goodness, didn’t you have a comprehensive selection? I’d always had the notion that twins could have a bit of game with friends, and even more so with girlfriends and dates. I have to say, your taste in girls was definitely a bit weird. There was that tall thin one with purple hair, to match her lips, who never smiled. After her, there was a cute blonde. I quite liked her. I wouldn’t have done anything about it, of course. I knew her time with you was limited: you were too superficial for her. She wanted a true and lasting relationship and we both know you weren’t very good with those. Then there was the one with all the ink. She got on well with Mum but I think she lost patience with you before long. I don’t blame her.
I used to have long conversations with her. There, I’ve not told you that before, have I? I felt a bit awkward then but now, it’s such a long time ago, I don’t mind saying. She used to confide in me about her hopes and dreams with you. You see, she really liked you. Don’t worry, I didn’t mess it up for you, you did that all by yourself. No, on the contrary, I used to try and tell her you were worth the trouble, that in there somewhere, was a sensitive soul looking for love. Star. That was her name, wasn’t it? And she was a bright star. I know she gave it her best shot with you but you tossed her aside like so many of the others. She was distraught, I would even say inconsolable at one point. We kept in touch for ages after that. I have to say I felt a bit uncomfortable but she seemed to need it. Sorry I didn’t say. It was difficult. I have never really been able to get through to you. I have tried so many times but you just seemed to block me out. You have no idea how much I wanted that brotherly bond over time.
You used to get those moods, do you remember? They were very dark and lasted for days - weeks, sometimes. I don’t know how any of your friends put up with you. Fortunately, I only had to deal with that for short bursts of time. That was a blessing, what with the way it all worked out. I know that got worse when Mum passed away. Dad was drinking a lot. I know he never got over her death. To me it was just another phase and that made it easier to bear. I even think I might have given him some comfort during that dark time. I hope I did. I know you didn’t think the same way otherwise you could have been there for him during those desolate days. All I remember at that time is when Dad got the vodka bottle out, you went down The Rose and Thistle and left me to deal with the fallout.
After that, you just bumbled along as best you could, experiencing an almost infinite number of temporary agency jobs. Unsurprisingly, no one would put up with you for that long. Of course, I understood why. You never showed any commitment. Your time-keeping was rubbish. Your excuses for your repeated under-performance would have had great entertainment value in any other circumstances. It was little surprise you ended up the wrong side of 40 with no references and a mountain of debt. Dad had his own problems, we both know, but you very likely contributed to his early grave. You know that, don’t you?
I felt mortified when you were picked up by the police and you spent the night in that cell, do you remember? The shame. I think you had been drinking at The Rose and Thistle with Tom Berrow. He was another bad influence on you. What on earth possessed you to try that smack he had though? I assume it was your first time. I like to give you the benefit of the doubt. I am unsure whether you deserve my faith in you. In any case, the police believed you so that was all that mattered. Thank goodness Mum and Dad didn’t live to see all that. Yes, I was there but thought it best to keep my counsel. I realise you didn’t know. Never very bright, were you?
The Rose and Thistle interspersed with a succession of one-night stands gave you some variety, but hardly the life we would have both imagined. I suppose that is how we have got to this point: our birthday.
Doubtless you didn’t think you would be 60 years old, alone and unloved, bringing flowers to us all at Mayview Cemetery. To our John, twin brother to Mark, who sadly passed at birth 23rd March, 1960, from your loving parents. That was a nice touch. I was hardly even here and yet I have a little space in this world. But nice of you to remember me.
(c) Vivienne Moles