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Disability in Fiction

By Andrea Routley
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Fiction titles that explore issues, philosophies and experiences of disability.
Mantis Dreams

Mantis Dreams

The Journal of Dr. Dexter Ripley
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"Mantis Dreams: The Journal of Dr. Dexter Ripley" is a crackling, searing satire that ridicules both political correctness and the restrictive world of academia. But Adam Pottle's first novel is also a poignant and difficult glance into the world of a man battling a rare and debilitating disease. A wheelchair user living voluntarily in a care home, Dexter Ripley lashes out at all those around him-his behaviour so outrageous yet insightful that Ripley is curiously both repelling and fascinating. …

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tagged : literary

Deaf since she was five years old, Grania has learned that watching is not always enough to survive in the world of the hearing. She has learned that words can often be impossible to see, their shape disappearing into a place where she cannot decipher their skittery ways. Sent to the Ontario School for the Deaf in Belleville, Grania must learn to live away from her loving family, lonely for the company of her sister and the secret language they shared. When Grania falls in love with Jim, a young …

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tagged : literary

Nolan Taylor must confront her life after basketball, and discover what it takes to endure the physical and emotional pain in rebuilding her self-awareness.

Nolan Taylor is a thirteen-year veteran of the Canadian women's wheelchair basketball team. Her position as "Big Girl" on the team belies her fragility when her decision to retire and undergo a long overdue hip replacement throws her into a post-retirement identity crisis. Spurred on by pain and a numbing domesticity with longtime love, Quin …

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"Finally," I told my doctor when he gave me the booklet, "an instruction manual to my body. Why didn't I get one of these thirty-two bloody years ago?"

The book has stern warnings not to engage in any high-risk tango or salsa dancing. Lawn bowling: yes. Intercourse that involves "unnecessary bending over": no. ("What exactly constitutes 'unnecessary?'"Quinn asked.)

It was natural to see my hip as a bawdy house: skin like heavy curtains over the secret creaking of joints. My hip with its red-light-district throb of inflammation when I walk, heartbeat misplaced there. My heart not in the right place, too close to the groin.

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Family Matters

Family Matters

tagged : literary

Set in Bombay in the mid-1990s, Family Matters tells a story of familial love and obligation, of personal and political corruption, of the demands of tradition and the possibilities for compassion. Nariman Vakeel, the patriarch of a small discordant family, is beset by Parkinson’s and haunted by memories of his past. He lives with his two middle-aged stepchildren, Coomy, bitter and domineering, and her brother, Jal, mild-mannered and acquiescent. But the burden of the illness worsens the alrea …

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Though Roxana was their half-sister, Jal and Coomy’s love for her had been full and complete from the moment she was born. At fourteen and twelve, they were not prey to the complicated feelings of jealousy, neglect, rivalry, or even hatred, which newborns evoke in siblings closer in age.

Or perhaps Jal and Coomy were grateful for Roxana because she filled the void left by their own father’s death, four years earlier. Their father had been sickly through most of their childhood. And during brief stretches when his lungs did not confine him to bed, he was still weak, seldom able to get through the day unassisted. His chronic pleurisy was the symptom of a more serious pulmonary disease, its two dreaded initials never mentioned among friends and relatives. Just a little water in the lungs, was how Palonji’s illness was described.

And Palonji, to alleviate his family’s anxiety, made a running joke out of this coded description. If Jal, always full of mischief as a child, did something silly, it was due to a little water in his head. “You must plug your ears when you wash your hair,” his father teased. Clumsy hands meant the person was a real water-fingers. And if little Coomy cried, her father said, “My lovely daughter does not cry, it’s just a little water in the eyes,” which would promptly make her smile.

Palonji Contractor’s courage and his determination to keep up his family’s spirits were heroic, but the end, when it came, was devastating for Jal and Coomy. And three years after his death, when their mother remarried, they were stiff towards the stranger, awkward in their dealings with him. They insisted on addressing Nariman Vakeel as New Pappa.

The word stung like a pebble each time it was hurled to his face. He made light of it at first, laughing it off: “That’s all – just New Pappa? Why not a longer title? How about Brand New Improved Pappa?”

But his choice of adjectives was infelicitous; Jal told him coldly that no one could be an improvement on their real father. It took a few weeks for their mother to convince her children that it would make her very happy if they dropped the New. Jal and Coomy agreed; they were maturing rapidly, far too rapidly. They told their mother they would use whatever word she wanted. Merely calling him Pappa, they said, did not make him one.

Nariman wondered what he had let himself in for by marrying Yasmin Contractor. Neither had come together for love – it was an arranged marriage. She had taken the step for security, for her son and daughter.

And he, when he looked back on it all, across the wasteland of their lives, despaired at how he could have been so feeble-­minded, so spineless, to have allowed it to happen.…


Thirty-­six years had passed since. And still he remembered the Sunday evening, the hebdomadal get-­together of his parents’ circle of friends. In this very drawing–room, where the furniture was still the same, the walls carried the same paint, and all their voices still echoed from that Sunday evening….

Much rejoicing had erupted when his parents announced that their only son, after years of refusing to end his ill–considered liaison with that Goan woman, refusing to meet decent Parsi girls, refusing to marry someone respectable – that their beloved Nari had finally listened to reason and agreed to settle down.

He could hear every word on the balcony where he sat alone. As usual, Soli Bamboat, his parents’ oldest friend, semi-retired and still a very influential lawyer, was the first to respond. “Three cheers for Nari!” he shouted. “Heep-heep-heep!” and the rest answered, “Hooray!”

Soli Bamboat’s vocal machinery, despite a lifetime’s struggle with the treachery of English vowels, was frequently undone by them. His speech had been a source of great puzzlement and entertainment for Nariman in childhood.…

Meanwhile, the group responded thrice to Soli’s heep­heep-heep before commencing with an assortment of individual cheers and good wishes for his parents.

“Congratulations, Marzi!” said Mr. Kotwal to his father. “After eleven years of battle you win!”

“Better late than never,” said Mr. Burdy. “But fortune always favours the bold. Remember, the fruits of patience are sweet, and all’s well that ends well.”

“Stop, Mr. Proverb, enough,” said Soli. “Save a few for the rest of us.”

Curious about their comments, Nariman shifted his chair on the balcony so he could observe them without being seen. Now Mrs. Unvala began professing that she had always had faith in the boy to make the right choice in the end, and her husband, Dara, nodded vigorously. Their opinions were offered as a team; the group called him the Silent Partner.

Then Soli entered the balcony, and Nariman pretended to be engrossed in a book. “Hey, Nari! Why are you alone? Come and join the circle, you seely boy.”

“Later, Soli Uncle, I want to finish this chapter.”

“No, no, Nari, we nid you now,” he said, taking the book away. “What’s the rush, the words ­won’t vaneesh from the page.” Seizing his arm, he pulled him into the drawing-room, into the centre of the gathering.

They thumped his back, shook his hand, hugged him while he cringed and wished he ­hadn’t stayed home that evening. But he knew he would have to face them at some point. He heard Soli Uncle’s wife, Nargesh Aunty, ask his mother, “Tell me, Jeroo, is it sincere? Has he really given up that Lucy Braganza?”

“Oh yes,” said his mother. “Yes, he has given us his word.”

Now Mrs. Kotwal scuttled across the room, pinched his cheek, and said, “When the naughty boy at last becomes a good boy, it’s a double delight.”

He felt like reminding her he was forty­two years old. Then Nargesh Aunty beckoned from her seat on the sofa. She was the most softspoken of the group and usually drowned by its din. She patted the place beside her and bade him sit. Taking his hand in hers, which was shrivelled from burns in a kitchen accident during her youth, she whispered, “No happiness is more lasting than the happiness that you get from fulfilling your parents’ wishes. Remember that, Nari.”

Her voice came to him from a great distance, and he had neither will nor energy for argument. He was remembering the week before, when he and Lucy had watched the tide go out at Breach Candy. Some children were dragging a little net in pools of water among the rocks, searching for sea life forgotten by the amnesiac waves. As he watched them splash and yell, he thought about the eleven years he and Lucy had struggled to create a world for themselves. A cocoon, she used to call it. A cocoon was what they needed, she said, into which they could retreat, and after their families had forgotten their existence, they would emerge like two glistening butterflies and fly away together…

The memory made him weaken for an instant – was he making the right decision?…Yes. He was. They had been ground down by their families. Exhausted by the strain of it. He reminded himself how hopeless it was now – Lucy and he had even reached the point where scarcely an evening went by that they did not quarrel about something or the other. What was the purpose in continuing, letting it all crumble in useless bickering?

Then, while the children nearby squealed with excitement at a creature caught in their net, Lucy tried one last time to convince him: they could turn their backs on everyone, walk away from the suffo­cating world of family tyrannies, from the guilt and blackmail that parents specialized in. They could start their own life together, just the two of them.

Struggling to maintain his resolve, he told her they had discussed it all before, their families would hound them, no matter what. The only way to do this was to end it quickly.

Fine, she said, no use talking any more, and walked away from him. He found himself alone beside the sea.

And now, as his parents and their friends discussed his future while sipping Scotch and soda, he felt he was eavesdropping on strangers. They were delightedly conducting their “round­table conference,” as they called it, planning his married life, having as much fun as though it was their whist drive or housie evening.

“There is one problem,” said Mr. Burdy. “We have indeed shut the stable door before the horse bolted, but we must provide a substitute mare.”

“What did he say?” asked Nargesh Aunty.

“Mr. Proverb believes the bridegroom is ready, but we nid to find heem a bride.”

­“Don’t you think,” she said timidly, “that love­marriage would be better than arranged?”

“Of course,” said his father. “You think we ­haven’t encouraged it? But our Nari seems incapable of falling in love with a Parsi girl. Now it’s up to us to find a match.”

“And that will be a challenge, mark my words,” said Mr. Kotwal. “You can look as far from Bombay as you like. You can try from Calcutta to Karachi. But when they make inquiries, they will find out about Nari’s lufroo with that ferangi woman.”

“Impossible to hide it,” agreed Mrs. Unvala. “We’ll have to ­com­promise.”

“Oh I’m sure Nari will find a lovely wife,” said his mother loyally. “The cream of the crop.”

“I think we’ll have to forget about the cream of the crop,” said Mr. Burdy. “As you sow, so shall you reap. You cannot plough the stubble of the crop one day, and expect cream the next.”

They laughed, and their jokes became cruder. Soli said something insulting about ferangis who wiped their arses with paper instead of washing hygienically.

The detachment with which Nariman had been listening evaporated. “How sorry I feel for you all,” he said, unable to choke back his disgust. “You’ve grown old without growing wise.”

His chair scrooped as he pushed it away and returned to the balcony. He picked up his book, staring blankly at the pages. There was a light breeze coming in from the sea. Inside, he could hear his parents apologizing, that the poor boy was distraught because the breakup was still fresh. It infuriated him that they would presume to know how he felt.

“Prince Charming –didn’t appreciate our humour,” said Mr. Burdy. “But there was no need to insult us.”

“I think he was just quoting from a book,” said Mr. Kotwal.

“My big mistake,” said his father, “was books. Too many books. Modern ideas have filled Nari’s head. He never learned to preserve that fine balance between tradition and modernness.”

“Time weal pass and he’ll become normal again,” said Soli. –“Don’t worry, prosid one step at a time.”

“Exactly,” said Mr. Burdy. “Act in haste, repent at leisure. Remember, slow and steady always wins the race.”

Disregarding their own advice, in a matter of days his parents’ friends arranged an introduction for him. “You will meet Yasmin Contractor, a widow with two children,” they told him. “And that’s the best you can expect, mister, with your history.”

Either this widow, they explained, or a defective woman – the choice was his. What sort of defect? he asked, curious. Oh, could be cock-eyed, or deaf, or one leg shorter than the other, they said breezily; or might be someone sickly, with a weak lung, or problems in the child-bearing department – it depended on who was available. If that was his preference, they would make inquiries and prepare a list for him.

“No one is denying you are handsome and well educated. Your past is your handicap – those wasted years, which have thrown you beyond the threshold of forty. But ­don’t worry, everything has been considered: personality, family background, cooking and housekeeping skills. Yes, the widow is our number-one choice. She will make you a good wife.”

Like an invalid steered by doctors and nurses, he drifted through the process, suppressing his doubts and misgivings, ready to believe that the traditional ways were the best. He became the husband of Yasmin Contractor, and formally adopted her children, Jal and Coomy. But they kept their father’s name. To change it to Vakeel would be like rewriting history, suggested his new wife. The simile appealed to his academic soul; he acquiesced.

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Strange Heaven

Strange Heaven

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Strange Heaven is tearfully hilarious, as funny and appalling as real life. Bridget Murphy, almost eighteen, has gone to Halifax from industrial Cape Breton, had her baby, and given it up for adoption. She’s apathetic, the doctors decide, so they transfer her to the psych ward of the children’s hospital. There, she’s cooped up with five seriously disturbed teenagers and a flock of wan children.

Sent home for Christmas, Bridget faces domestic uproar. Her grandmother, Margaret P., raves and p …

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Chapter One

It seemed as if things were happening without much reason or point. There were no warning bells going off anywhere to announce: This is going to happen. And once things did happen, there was no discernible aftermath. Her mother often phoned with lists of people who had died, or else had contracted an infestation of some kind and for whom death was imminent. Most of them were old, some related. Bridget’s mother went with the ladies to say rosaries for every soul.

“It’s a shame, you know,” she would say to Bridget, “the way everybody is dying.”

At the end of a not particularly hot or bright summer, Archie Shearer killed Jennifer MacDonnell. Bridget’s mother called her up and told her that. Bridget herself was now at the end of a sick, uncomfortable time and had no trouble imagining it. Everyone was saying it was terrible. School was just starting, the school from which both of them might have graduated, and so vans and cars from the CBC and other local stations were parked out front for the first couple of days, distracting everybody. Bridget supposed that if you managed to position yourself just so in the main hall or out front, you might have seen yourself on the news that evening. Or heard yourself on the radio saying that it was just terrible.

They talked about it for a minute, Bridget getting her mother to recount details already given, for she was too used to her mother’s obituaries and hadn’t been paying attention at first. But after she had expelled her feelings of surprise and her mother had remarked on how terrible it was, they moved on to other things such as Bridget’s bowel movements and what had she heard from the social workers. And by the time Bridget hung up, she recognized that she had forgotten all about Archie Shearer and Jennifer MacDonnell during the last part of the conversation even though they were her neighbours and close to her in age. It was still like a thing on a screen. Now that it happened and she knew of it, it didn’t concern her any more. That was what other people’s dying meant.

She stopped at the nurses’ station on the way back to her room and said to Gabby -- a nurse, supposedly, although she didn’t look like one, she was all beads and bangles with a ring through her great nose -- “I think this medication is doing something to me.”

Gabby’s eyebrows were, or maybe just looked, painted on. She raised them. “Still constipated, my ducky?”

“Yes, but I mean I think it’s doing something to my mind.”

For such a whimsically dressed woman who sometimes danced down the corridor on her way to ask everybody whether or not they’d had a bowel movement that day, Gabby could project quite an air of sternness when she wanted to. “No, Bridget,” she said. “The medication doesn’t do anything like that.”

Then what are you giving it to me for, Bridget thought, heading down the corridor and listening to the bones in her bare feet crack across the tile.

* * * * *

She asked to watch the news on the plastic-encased television in the common room and saw that Heidi had managed to get herself before the cameras. Heidi had sent Bridget a big get well card and got everyone in their graduating class to sign it. Bridget had felt sick, reading all the names, thinking of herself in every head, of people passing their time in discussion of her.

“Did you know the two people involved?”

“Oh, yah, everyone knew ’em. I just think it’s terrible, though. People shouldn’t get shot.”

That was all of Heidi. Then photographs of the two of them, a prom picture of them together, which was pretty good, emphasizing the irony of the fact that he had killed her. Then a picture of the donut shop and the empty field behind it -- gone yellow from a sudden early frost -- that he had chased her across.

Bridget was thinking she might have been there that day -- if not for being here -- it would have been easy for her to have been there with Heidi or with Chantal or with Mark and his friends, or just by herself. Probably everybody was thinking that. One person who was there, she later learned, was Jason MacPherson, who hung out there all the time and had irritated everybody by saying he hadn’t been paying attention, although with him it was no surprise.

Everybody was talking about it, her mother had said. And there was a piece on the local news about violence in our schools, even though it happened outside of a donut shop. And a national news magazine included the incident and the prom picture in a story called “Killer Kids” and tried to understand it. Which Bridget’s father would find foolish because, he said, kids were killing each other back and forth up there in Toronto all the time, and there was no need to come down here and set us up to look like a bunch of backwoods freaks just like the Golers down there in Newfieland. Nobody within hearing distance ever corrected him about where the Golers were from.

What was happening to the young people? This, according to the news, was what people of the area were asking themselves. It was because of television, and music, and videos. It was getting as bad as the city. This is what people said. Parents fretted. Albert, Bridget’s uncle, who was now living in the city himself, came to visit Bridget a few days after she had heard about it, and said, “Horseshit. I remember when I was living up in Tatamagouche working at one of the sawmills up in the friggin hills there, all of sixteen years old, and Baxter Forsythe comes back from the war, what does he do? He knocks the goddamn bandstand down, that’s what he does. No place for Kisslepaugh’s brass friggin band to play, which is fine, because they was no damn good anyway. Oh, they say, so big deal, he knocked the bandstand down. You mark my words, I said, mark my words. That fella’s gone queer over there. Back then queer didn’t mean homosexual. Well, it did, but it also meant other things. Queer in the head. That’s what he was, and there I am, sixteen years old, the only one with any sense in that town. I’m the only one who knows it. Oh, get out, they say. You mark my words, I tell them, that fella’s a bomb waiting to go off. Oh, no, they say. Well to Hell with yas, I’m going back to the Island, that’s what I told them. And Frank Jollimore was sad, you know, because he needed me at the mill. Well Frank, I says, I’m sorry, but I can’t live in a town full of damn twits who don’t know when the Armageddon is on its way. So there I am back down at the Forks where I belong all snug as a pig in the old s-h-i-t working for John Campbell. I think it was John. He lost one of his arms. Anyway, there I am and doesn’t a letter arrive from old Frank Jollimore. By God, Albert, you were right. Last night old Forsythe burned the town to the ground. The whole goddamn town, gone, poof.”

“The whole town?”

“Well, the main friggin street anyway. Gone, poof. Burnt down by a crazy man. And then he shot himself. So there you go, it doesn’t just happen in the city, that there kind of thing. Happens all the time, everywhere you go. I’ve seen a lot, you know. I’m just like that song, ‘I’ve Been Everywhere, Man.’”

It was true. Albert would come to visit her regularly and talk all about his travels. He had worked in mills all across the Maritimes and then moved on through Ontario, completely eschewing Quebec. “Held my nose the whole goddamn way, going through on the train,” he said. He had even spent some time out West. For all his travels, he seemed to have enjoyed practically none of it. Ontario constituted “a pack of a-holes,” and westerners were a “pack of g.d. shit-kicking yahoos.” Only in Newfoundland was there to be found “any fucking civility,” although he had never gone out there to work, only to visit Newfoundland friends who he’d made working in the mills, and who, he said, could never stick it out for very long and always ended up fleeing the mainland in fear and consternation.

Only recently had she begun to notice that when Albert spoke to the likes of Bridget or her mother, his language was a pastiche of curses modified into their less offensive versions alongside other curses that he either forgot to modify or considered too commonplace to bother with. Every now and then he’d forget himself in his excitement and come to their house after a hunting trip in the Margarees exclaiming that he had shot a bird or a deer to fuck and back, and then he would look around quickly and blush and hurry to the bathroom.

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The Englishman's Boy

The Englishman's Boy

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tagged : literary

Guy Vanderhaeghe's award-winning novel tells the interwoven stories of a struggling Hollywood screenwriter and a drifter known as "the Englishman's boy." Spanning two centuries, two countries, and two very different views of history, The Englishman's Boy links the movie culture of the Hollywood of the roaring twenties with the brutal raid against an Indian tribe in "Whoop-Up country" (the border between Montana and Alberta). The Englishman's Boy won the Governor General's Award for fiction in 19 …

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Sitting Practice

Sitting Practice

A Novel
also available: eBook

Longlisted for CBC Radio's Canada Reads 2016, 

Three and a half weeks after his wedding, Ross Alexander is driving home from a tennis game with his new bride when a wayward tennis ball rolls under his feet. As his wife Iliana removes her seatbelt to retrieve the ball, a truck slams into the car, and she ends up paralyzed and in a coma.

So begins this extraordinary portrait of a fated marriage. Ross struggles with the guilt over the consequences of his wife’s paralysis and for the imagined life t …

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The Girls

The Girls

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In Lori Lansens’ astonishing second novel, readers come to know and love two of the most remarkable characters in Canadian fiction. Rose and Ruby are twenty-nine-year-old conjoined twins. Born during a tornado to a shocked teenaged mother in the hospital at Leaford, Ontario, they are raised by the nurse who helped usher them into the world. Aunt Lovey and her husband, Uncle Stash, are middle-aged and with no children of their own. They relocate from the town to the drafty old farmhouse in the …

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ruby & me


I have never looked into my sister’s eyes. I have never bathed alone. I have never stood in the grass at night and raised my arms to a beguiling moon. I’ve never used an airplane bathroom. Or worn a hat. Or been kissed like that. I’ve never driven a car. Or slept through the night. Never a private talk. Or solo walk. I’ve never climbed a tree. Or faded into a crowd. So many things I’ve never done, but oh, how I’ve been loved. And, if such things were to be, I’d live a thousand lives as me, to be loved so ­exponentially.

My sister, Ruby, and I, by mishap or miracle, having intended to divide from a single fertilized egg, remained joined instead, by a spot the size of a bread plate on the sides of our twin heads. We’re known to the world medical community as the oldest surviving craniopagus twins (we are twenty-­nine years old) and to millions around the globe, those whose interest in people like us is more than just passing, as conjoined craniopagus twins Rose and Ruby Darlen of Baldoon County. We’ve been called many things: freaks, horrors, monsters, devils, witches, retards, wonders, marvels. To most, we’re a curiosity. In small-­town Leaford, where we live and work, we’re just “The Girls.”

Raise your right hand. Press the base of your palm to the lobe of your right ear. Cover your ear and fan out your fingers – that’s where my sister and I are affixed, our faces not quite side by side, our skulls fused together in a circular pattern running up the temple and curving around the frontal lobe. If you glance at us, you might think we’re two women embracing, leaning against the other ­tête-­à-­tête, the way sisters do.

Ruby and I are identical twins and would be identical looking, having high foreheads like our mother and wide, full mouths, except that Ruby’s face is arranged quite nicely (in fact, Ruby is very beautiful), whereas my features are misshapen and frankly grotesque. My right eye slants steeply towards the place my right ear would have been if my sister’s head had not grown there instead. My nose is longer than Ruby’s, one nostril wider than the other, pulled to the right of my brown slanted eye. My lower jaw shifts to the left, slurring my speech and giving a husky quality to my voice. Patches of eczema rouge my cheeks, while Ruby’s complexion is fair and flawless. Our scalps marry in the middle of our conjoined heads, but my frizzy hair has a glint of auburn, while my sister is a swingy brunette. Ruby has a deep cleft in her chin, which people find ­endearing.

I’m five feet five inches tall. When we were born, my limbs were symmetrical, in proportion to my body. Presently, my right leg is a full three inches shorter than my left, my spine compressed, my right hip cocked, and all because I have carried my sister like an infant, since I was a baby myself, Ruby’s tiny thighs astride my hip, my arm supporting her posterior, her arm forever around my neck. Ruby is my sister. And strangely, undeniably, my ­child.

There is some discomfort in our conjoinment. Ruby and I experience mild to severe neck, jaw, and shoulder pain, for which we take physiotherapy three times a week. The strain on my body is constant, as I bear Ruby’s weight, as I tote Ruby on my hip, as I struggle to turn Ruby over in our bed or perch on my stool beside the toilet for what seems like hours. (Ruby has a multitude of bowel and urinary tract problems.) We are challenged, certainly, and uncomfortable, sometimes, but neither Ruby nor I would describe our conjoinment as painful.

It’s difficult to explain our locomotion as conjoined twins or how it developed from birth using grunts and gestures and what I suppose must be telepathy. There are days when, like a normal person, we’re clumsy and uncoordinated. We have less natural symbiosis when one of us (usually Ruby) is sick, but mostly our dance is a smooth one. We hate doing things in unison, such as answering yes or no at the same time. We never finish each other’s sentences. We can’t shake our heads at once or nod (and wouldn’t if we could – see above). We have an unspoken, even unconscious, system of checks and balances to determine who’ll lead the way at any given moment. There is conflict. There is ­compromise.

Ruby and I share a common blood supply. My blood flows normally in the left side of my brain, but the blood in my right (the connected side) flows to my sister’s left, and vice versa for her. It’s estimated that we share a web of one hundred veins as well as our skull bones. Our cerebral tissue is fully enmeshed, our vascular systems snarled like briar bushes, but our brains themselves are separate and functioning. Our thoughts are distinctly our own. Our selves have struggled fiercely to be unique and, in fact, we’re more different than most identical twins. I like sports, but I’m also bookish, while Ruby is girlie and prefers television. When Ruby is tired, I’m hardly ever ready for bed. We’re rarely hungry together and our tastes are poles apart: I prefer spicy fare, while my sister has a disturbing fondness for ­eggs.

Ruby believes in God and ghosts and reincarnation. (Ruby won’t speculate on her next incarnation though, as if imagining something different from what she is now would betray us both.) I believe the best the dead can hope for is to be conjured from time to time, through a note of haunting music or a passage in a book.

I’ve never set eyes on my sister, except in mirror images and photographs, but I know Ruby’s gestures as my own, through the movement of her muscles and bone. I love my sister as I love myself. I hate her that way too.
This is the story of my life. I’m calling it “Autobiography of a Conjoined Twin.” But since my sister claims that it can’t technically (“technically” is Ruby’s current favourite word) be considered an autobiography and is opposed to my telling what she considers our story, I have agreed that she should write some chapters from her point of view. I will strive to tell my story honestly, allowing that my truth will be coloured a shade different from my sister’s and acknowledging that it’s sometimes necessary for the writer to connect the dots.

From the Hardcover edition.

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