Ted Chiles: The Kims
(from Issue Six)
THEY WERE BORN on the same day at the same hospital because back then, the town was only large enough for one hospital. Both were named Kim; one from the Conger family, the other from the Conner family. Kim Conger should have been named Kimberly, but her mother was frugal and wanted to save on the monogramming. Kim Conner’s father didn’t like the name Kim; he thought it sounded too foreign. But he didn’t say anything since his father-in-law was also named Kim. The two babies looked so alike, those who saw them together thought they were twins. The night nurse swore they rolled toward each other and tried to reach across and touch, but the nurse was from the third district, well known for its taverns. So most people were skeptical.
After leaving the hospital, the Kims didn’t meet for 14 years. It was in ninth grade at the town’s only high school where they came together for the second time in the advanced placement math class. The Conger Kim sat in the third seat in the second row, and the Conner Kim sat in the fourth seat. Alphabetical seating was still the rule. They might not have fallen in love if Billy Conkling had not been held back in third grade and Martha Conley’s parents hadn’t divorced and moved out of town. At least it might have taken longer with a pair of heads between the Kims.
That day, they sat at the same table and shared lunches, which were the same: chicken-salad sandwiches with green grapes. They didn’t notice the stares of the rest of the school.
Kim looked into his eyes, and the light was just so that she could see herself and she knew that he could see himself in hers.
You are beautiful, he said.
Yes, we are, she said.
The two Kims were the same height and weight and still looked like twins. They even had the same haircut, a ’60s Beatles look. They wore identical outfits. In most schools this would have been an embarrassment, and people might have taken it as a sign. But this high school had a uniform policy. Girls were allowed to wear trousers or skirts. Kim chose trousers that day, and she never wore a skirt to school again.
From that moment in the ninth grade, the Kims took the same classes except gym. They made identical grades, but none of their teachers ever caught them cheating. Their classmates eventually got used to the sight of them together, and only Kim’s breasts allowed people to tell the difference. They graduated third and fourth in their class. The Conner Kim wasn’t as proficient at tetherball.
Their parents—especially the Congers, who didn’t trust people from outside their own district—were against their children going away to the same school. The Kims borrowed the money and attended the same college, where they took all the same classes, even gym. It was a progressive school. They tried to dress differently but when they met in the morning, they had usually made the same choices. The Conger Kim grew her hair long, and the Conner Kim cut his short and sometimes would only shave every other day. It helped.
The Kims were so in love that they had a hard time keeping their hands and lips off each other. People who met them found their displays of affection disturbing and a bit exciting.
On graduation, they tied for sixth in their college class, moved in together, and began to work at the same real-estate company. After closing on their first house, the Kims boarded a plane to Las Vegas.
The wedding was delayed by the verification of their documents. The Kims patiently sat holding hands, listening to a medley of the King’s romantic hits on the organ. After the ceremony, the Kims kissed. As the Justice of the Peace watched, he might have wondered what it would be like to be one of them. Standing nose-to-nose and opening your eyes to what might be your own eyes looking back at you. Your eyes filled with love and desire and need. In the wedding bed knowing just the right moment to touch, withhold, and finish. If it is easy being in love with oneself after all the practice.
The Justice of the Peace might have wondered what would happen if the Kims ever began to hate themselves.
The Kims returned to the real-estate firm where they worked as a team, sharing listings. They averaged three sales a month, or one and a half each. The company average was two. Some believed their disappointing performance was because of the economy and interest rates, but most thought it was due to their looks. For no matter how hard the Kims tried to vary their appearance, it seemed obvious that they were twins, even if they weren’t. It was also clear to anyone who saw them that they loved, and lusted, after each other. More than once they had been surprised at open houses in various states of arousal and undress, usually in bathrooms. Many customers found this unsettling, especially those with a sibling of the opposite gender.
In November, the owner of the real-estate company sold the firm and retired to Detroit. The new boss, Jimmy Meyers, took to calling the Kims Kimi and Kimbo. And the trouble began.
IN THE SECOND week of the first month of the New Year, Jimmy summoned the Kims to a meeting. Jimmy sat at the head of the glass conference table, sipping a cup of coffee. A thermos of coffee and the normal additives had been placed in the center of the table. On the wall to Jimmy’s right, a large city map was attached to a bulletin board. The Kims sat facing the map. Neither was interested in coffee.
In the map were pins of different colors. The Kims deduced that the pins represented their listings. The colors were loosely grouped in different areas of the map. Most of the yellow pins were in the third district, while the red pins were mainly in the second district.
Guys, we got a problem, Jimmy said.
What problem? asked Kimbo. Kimi nodded her head.
You’re both good agents. Kimi slid her left hand out of her lap. You know the area, the finances, and do your homework. She moved the nail of her index finger up and down Kimbo’s thigh. Always show up prepared. Kimbo moved his leg closer to Kimi and moved his hand to the small of her back. You’re freaking the customers out.
Why? asked Kimi, as her fingers tickled the back of Kimbo’s knee.
JIMMY TOLD KIMI to work the listings in the third district and told Kimbo to take the listings in the second district. No more meeting customers together; especially no open houses together.
We can control ourselves, they said.
You don’t even know when you’re doing it, Jimmy said.
Let us try.
We can share a single job.
You already behave like you do.
I’ll miss you.
The listings stay here, he said.
Kimbo lowered his head and said, Okay, Jimmy. We’ll try working apart. Kimi turned her head sharply toward Kimbo and said, We will?
WE SHOULD QUIT, Kimi said.
We would just run into the same problem, Kimbo said.
I don’t want to work without you, Kimi said.
Think about the student loans, Kimbo said.
Kimi didn’t answer. She didn’t cry, even though she wanted to, because Kim hadn’t, even though he should have.
OVER THE NEXT two weeks, neither sold a house. Each day, Kimi and Kimbo drove to work together and sat at their separate desks, but both found reasons to move about the office. Kimi would get up every 15 minutes. At a quarter after, she went to the bathroom. At half past, she got a drink of water. At a quarter till, she went to the supply cabinet, and at the top of the hour, she sharpened her pencils. Kimbo reversed the sequence and lagged the time by seven and a half minutes. The rest of the office started to think of them as trains, except they were always on schedule.
Jimmy gave them two weeks to adjust, then called Kimbo into the conference room.
I’m opening a new branch in the second district, and I want you to be in charge, Jimmy said.
But we only have one car, Kimbo said.
You’ll get a company car.
Kimi will quit.
You’ll get a bigger office and your own secretary.
It will be too hard on Kimi.
The manager gets half a point commission of all sales from the office.
I can’t tell her, Kimbo said.
I can, Jimmy said.
KIMBO WALKED INTO the house carrying a box. In the box was a bottle of champagne, the real thing, from France. The bottle was adorned with a painted flower. He splurged on the gift set, which included two painted glasses with smaller versions of the flowers for an extra 15 dollars. He took the bottle from the box, then the two glasses, and placed them on the coffee table in the living room.
Kimi started to cry.
We made a sale. Why are you crying? he asked.
He opened the champagne correctly, holding the cork and turning the bottle. It opened with a faint puff, not an explosion, followed by a gush of wine, as the bottle had when they celebrated their first sale. Kimbo knew more about wine now than he did then and had gained a taste for it.
We need the money. We haven’t had a commission this month, Kimbo said.
It’s your first sale, she said.
My sales are our sales, he said.
No. You are giving me half.
We will always share everything. Right down the middle. Equal. I promise, he said.
As Kimbo filled the glasses, he bent his knees so that he might be at eye level with them to ensure that neither contained more than the other. Equal shares had always been the way between them. The sparkling wine filled each glass to the top of the flower, the pink color accentuating the red in the petals.
Kimbo handed Kimi her glass, and they drank to the image of themselves in each other. When they finished, they threw their glasses into the fireplace to seal the promise. But only one broke. And neither was sure whose glass survived.
THE NEXT MORNING, when Kimi closed the door to the house, she was as surprised as she was each morning to see two cars in the driveway. Kimbo’s company car was the same make as theirs but a newer model, and the dark gray finish shone in a way that theirs didn’t.
Kimbo turned to kiss Kimi, as he did every morning, and his lips touched her nose and followed the contours down to her lips. Oh Kimi, he thought, your sadness is dragging you down.
Kimi started to tear up, for she knew that Kim was standing taller. More erect. Proud of his car. His job. Himself. She couldn’t focus without him.
Three days later, Kimbo brought home another bottle of champagne.
The next morning, Kimi stood in front of the mirror assessing her figure. She brushed her wet hair back, then dropped her arms and moved her shoulder blades toward each other, straightening her back and lifting her breasts. Kimbo watched from the doorway. He began to swell, taking the three steps needed to stand behind her, and lightly pressed against her. She felt him rising and smiled. It was a game they played, turning themselves into the Indian goddess with four arms. They had first seen a statue of Lakshmi in a college museum. She was one, but contained something more.
Kimi raised her arms high, and Kimbo extended his underneath hers. From a distance, no one would be able to tell whose arms were whose. Kimbo bent his neck to look into the mirror to see her excitement. A blush colored her chest. Her nipples were erect. He pulled his head behind hers, hiding himself except for his arms, and smelled her shampoo.
Kimi looked at the reflection and saw the top of Kimbo’s head.
Do you have slippers on? she asked.
No, he said.
Stand still, she said, and walked to the mirror, picked up her lipstick and drew a red line across the top of his head. She walked back, handed him the lipstick, and stood where he had. He drew a line over her reflection.
They stood next to each other, naked, studying the lines on the mirror. Then they considered each other. Her blush was gone. Kimbo was taller by almost two inches.
When did you grow? she asked.
I don’t know, he answered.
Both wondered why they hadn’t noticed.
Do you think it’s a medical problem? Should you see a doctor?
People can grow into their late 20s. Can’t they? he asked.
It could be something serious, she said.
He made a soothing sound, took her hand and led her to the bed, where they made love, warmed by the early morning sun.
When he lay atop her, in her, Kimi truly felt the change, because Kimbo had to tilt his head so that their noses touched. The angle changed his eyes, hooding them.
She was tighter than usual. He came quickly. She didn’t.
Kimbo kissed her, left the bed and walked into the bathroom to take a shower. He paused to consider the lines and wiped at them with a Kleenex.
Kimi put on her robe. The sleeve tickled her wrists, a pleasant unfamiliar feeling.
KIMI PICKED KIMBO up at the second-district office on the way to Jimmy Meyers’ house. He was having the quarterly party. Kimbo told her that the doctor said late growth spurts are rare but not associated with any serious conditions. He hadn’t grown as much as they had thought. Only an inch.
Did he do any tests, she asked.
He took some blood, he said.
They parked and rang the doorbell. Jimmy’s wife, Marsha, answered.
Hello, you two. Congratulations on those sales, Kimbo. Jimmy is out back by the bar. Let me steal Kimi for a minute. OK. Fine.
Marsha linked arms with Kimi and pulled her into the kitchen.
Have some wine, she said, handing Kimi a glass.
So tell me. How are you holding up? I told Jimmy it would be hard on you, but he wouldn’t listen to me. Doesn’t understand why a couple would want to work together.
Kimi sipped her wine, waiting for Marsha to breathe.
Well, you look great. Have you joined a gym? That suit seems a little bit loose on you.
KIMI WAITED UNTIL Kimbo was asleep before she climbed out of bed and walked into the bathroom. She found the faint remains of lipstick on the mirror. She took a small ruler from her purse. Two inches. She measured again. Two inches, not one. She put the ruler back into her purse and took out a pencil, leaned against the door frame, and marked her height.
Neither sold a house the next week, but over the weekend, Kimbo closed on a duplex. He didn’t bring home any champagne, afraid of a scene. She would ask him to quit. Move. He didn’t understand why she wasn’t happy for him. He was making it work. Producing. She hadn’t sold a house in a month. He was carrying her.
That night as he lay in bed, Kimbo surveyed Kimi, and it pleased him. The delicate curve of her spine with the gentle slope of her bottom reminded him of the first time they made love. Had it been nine years? They were just 15 and still mostly children. Everything new. Both frightened.
She didn’t want to make love. He knew that, but her sadness excited him. He began to stroke her back, moving his fingertips down, then retracing with the tops of the nails up, setting a motion like a gentle wave. He slowly aroused her, and she relented. As he entered her, he realized the sex was better now.
HE’D GROWN. She knew by the feel of him. His weight on her. How he filled her. He propped himself on his elbows to look into her eyes, and the distance between them grew.
When they finished, he said, Kimi, I love you.
But my name is Kim, she thought.
After he fell asleep, she went to the bathroom and marked a line against the door jam. The new line lay below the old one. She had lost another half an inch.
She went downstairs to their office, turned on the computer, and accessed the multiple listing website. Kimbo had made another sale, and with that sale he’d grown and she’d diminished.
Kimi had always thought of her and Kim as one. They were an acre of solid fertile soil. They worked it and made it better. The land fed them, and they could always find shelter within. Their strangeness was a fence that kept the world outside. Kim only needed Kim. She had been happy behind the fence. And when she walked the borders of their land, she knew that their acre was still there. No breach. But within, the land had been divided, and now Kimbo had more and Kimi wondered what she had lost.
Does he feel me in him?
Kimi’s hand descended on the mouse. She began to move the pointer in cursive motions. She spelled out Kim and underlined their names with a sweep.
Must I disappear into him?
Again, she spelled out Kim, then stopped the pointer, resting at the base of the m.
Perhaps he into me.
She added an i to the Kim and pulled up her listings.
THREE DAYS LATER, Kimi brought home a bottle of champagne. Kimbo was gracious. He toasted her success. Proclaimed his faith in her. Declared it a victory for the team.
The next morning, as he dressed, he noticed his new suit didn’t quite fit. The arms were too long. Not much, perhaps an inch. But what was puzzling was that it had fit when he tried it on the day before at the tailor’s.
KIMBO FOUND KIMI in the kitchen. An open bottle wrapped by a towel extended from the champagne bucket. A second bottle stood next to it. She held a flute in each hand.
Did you close on another house? he asked.
Two, she said. We’re even, or we will be.
Congratulations, he said.
He took the offered glass, but when he went to kiss her cheek he found her taller than expected. Kimbo took a step back and saw she wore heels. I bought them a week ago, she said, and raised her flute to her lips.
Kimbo raised his glass to sip. The wine’s pale golden color surprised him. He picked up the bottle from the bucket. Blanc de Blanc, he said. Were they out of the rosé?
She studied her glass—the bubbles streaming upward through the clear wine breaking the surface.
No. I just wanted something different.
But we have always bought Brut rosé.
That was then. I prefer this, she said, and took a sip. It’s untainted.
I thought you liked rosé.
He put the glass down on the counter and turned toward her, straightening his back, centering himself. She stepped out of her shoes, leaned into him, and tilted her head so that her lips reached his ear and said, I did. She kissed him lightly and traced the length of his lobe with the tip of her tongue.
I could like it again, she said. Kim, I would like it again.
Like what, Kimi?
She took his glass from the counter, offering it to him.
He shook his head.
Kimi emptied Kimbo’s glass into hers. Then she drank it down, the force of it raw on her throat.
They stood apart, reflecting each other. The noises of their home’s machines and shifting ice covered the sound of their breath.
What should we do for dinner? she asked.
KIMI TURNED ON the light as she ducked into the kitchen, carrying a bottle of Blanc de Blanc. She surveyed the wine rack but couldn’t find space. Instead, she opened the refrigerator and pulled out one of the three cold bottles that lay side by side on the third shelf. The new bottle filled the gap. Kimi stripped the foil, loosened the wire hood, and pressed on the cork with her thumb. It popped and flew across the room. Foam erupted, wetting her hands. She smiled, licked her fingers, and poured a glass. She placed the open bottle on the kitchen table and sat down in the chair facing the counter, leaned back, and put her right calf on the corner of the table. Her skirt was tight and rode up her thigh. She raised her glass and sipped.
The wine rack formed a perfect square of four columns and four rows of bottles. The gold foil tops were almost perfectly aligned because in three of the columns, all of the bottles were the same height and width and color, though a few were from older vintages. The last column was split. The first and second row held bottles that matched the other three columns. The foil tops of the bottles in the third and fourth rows were pink. These bottles were painted with flowers.
Kimi finished her glass. Stood, pulled another flute from the cabinet with her right hand. She grasped the bottle in her left hand. At the doorway into the hall, she used the bottom of the bottle to turn off the lights. She bowed to clear the door frame and walked on down the hall.
I’m home, she said.
No one answered as she climbed the stairs two at a time.
The light from the bathroom illuminated Kimbo, asleep on their bed. The sheets were bunched at his feet, and his head rested on the bed just below the pillow. He wasn’t wearing pajamas but a pair of briefs, which sagged at the crotch and spread on the sheet. He looked a little bit like Gandhi resting after spinning cotton, with his chest falling in from the fast.
Kimi put the glasses on the dresser, filled hers, and held the bottle over the other with the wine at the edge. She wanted to fill Kimbo’s glass, wake him, and tell him about the contract. How the negotiations went. Sitting in the kitchen on her cell phone with the owner’s agent, her client walking the house talking to her husband, bids back and forth, sections of the offer crossed out and rewritten, and finally the pen out. The contract signed. Earnest money folded and tucked into her pocket. Kimi wanted to prepare him, but she didn’t. He would know in the morning.
She stripped and walked into the bathroom past the door frame without a glance in the mirror. Used the toilet and brushed her teeth, returned and climbed into bed. When she stretched out, her feet dislodged the sheet and she kicked it. Kimbo had rolled to the right toward the edge of the bed. His posture was rigid, and she wondered if he was awake. Kimi followed him onto her side, stretching her arms above him and her legs below, framing him, matching him. But they no longer matched. Kimi’s growth had broadened her features with a roundness of the cheekbones, while Kimbo’s had shrunk in and her eyes had widened and his had sharpened. They looked related, a young aunt and an older nephew whose common gene dominated in both.
During the night, Kimbo rolled toward her and Kimi lowered her arm, raised her knees, and gathered him to her, and the arms and legs mixed and melded, shifting the weights, balancing the shares, equaling the sum.
Ted Chiles lives in Santa Barbara, California, with a poet and three cats, and he is the proud adoptive father of two avocado trees. His recent fiction can be found in the Moon City Review, the Northville Review, Revisitations, and the Vestal Review.