I is my name. Like in Isla, for those who like things a bit longer. I is another one. One among many others. I have two twin sisters. The three of us came to this world simultaneously, the first cry in stereo. It took our mother forty-six hours to expel us and a month to find us names that would make sense. At the beginning, we would only be referred to as Baby-One-Baby-Two-Baby-Three, said all in one breath, since nobody ever talked about us separately. After a while, it was decided that Isla, Ivy and Iris would do the trick; Mother would keep calling us only Babies-in-the-plural, because she mixed things up and needed to make her life easier. Who’s this arm? And this face? And this ear? They all look alike, the parts of our bodies. Identical, we were a monster with three heads, indivisible, inseparable. Not conjoined, but close enough; not extraterrestrial, but close enough; unidentified living objects that science wanted to study, that strangers wanted to touch for luck, that Mother would have wanted to throw out of the windows, sometimes. We all cried at the same time, were hungry, were thirsty, had pooped; Mother didn’t know where to start, she was all alone, she wasn’t an octopus, she didn’t have enough arms, hands, breasts, mouths, so we needed to be patient, to wait for our turn, one, two, three; I was always the last, there was no milk left in the udders, no love left in the caresses, I was left with the crumbles, even though milk and love don’t have crumbles, and so Mother would shout: you three have chosen to come all at the same time, too bad for you. She didn’t realise that it was always too bad for me.
You were born as one, you have no idea what it means to always have four feet stepping on yours. You must think: oh, how wonderful to always have your best friends next to you!, my answer is: no. I hate these sisters. Birds of a feather flock together, but I, she would pluck these feathers, these tentacle-sisters. She would cut them in little pieces and put them in boxes to return them to the sender. And finally be just her. Just I. You have no idea what it really means not to be able to be just you and no one else. When Ivy and Iris are not around, they are there anyway. All the time. They talk to me with voices that cannot be heard, voices from the inside that tell me what they are doing, thinking, suffering. Once, when I was little, I was drawing alone in my room and I felt something strong running through me, like an electric shock, as if a lightening had descended from the chandelier and had chosen my body as the shortest way to get to the floor, 75% of which is made of wet water. I run to kitchen to warn Mother: Ivy and Iris are playing in the river. They were not allowed, Mother had warned us: if you play in the water, spanks are assured. Mother told me: how do you know, little witch? At that moment, Ivy and Iris came in from the back door, soaking wet, their dresses in white lace turned brown, their sleeves ripped, declaring in perfect synchrony: it’s not our fault, we slipped. Mother looked at me as if it were my fault, as if I had planned it all. I was punished, for five days I wasn’t allowed to leave my room; Mother justified it by saying: this will teach you to prod your sisters to do forbidden things. I hadn’t prodded them to do anything, I just heard them plot in my head, prepare their nasty move thinking that no one would ever know. Really, you have no idea what it means to be unjustly accused only because you were born at the same time as two people who are not you but live in you.
The worst thing is that four of us were meant to be born. But the other I did not survive. Therefore, we have to call her She. After a couple of weeks in the uterus, She started fading quietly, turning back into a mass of stamina cells with no roots to catch on. Mother has never known, it’s a little secret between I, I and I. I should have let myself fade as well, let myself be swept out by the liquids and accept to be nothing but a trace, a code in the blood of I and I, a piece of DNA too many. When we learned to count at school, I raised my hand to answer the teacher who had asked: what does two plus two equal? I answered: four. And the teacher said: how did you get to this result? I explained: Ivy plus Iris equals two, Isla plus Elle equals two, so there’s four of us in total. She asked: who’s She? I continued: it’s the other one in Mother’s belly. The teacher laughed, adding: how do you know there was another one? I declared: I remember, that’s it. She concluded: it’ impossible. The teacher knew better than me, it was her who taught the things, so I shut up, because if I had protested, I would have been hit on the fingers with a ruler. The problem with humans is that, once they have decided what the truth is, there is no way to change their minds; if we try to persuade them of the contrary, they diminish us, they pull our ears, or worse, they make us explode. The teacher that shows us the decided-truth also taught us the personal pronouns, which we have to know in order to be able to conjugate verbs correctly: I, You, She, We, You, They. I’ve always loved to repeat them rapidly to myself, in a loop, I-you-she-we-you-they-I-you-she-we-you-they-I-you-she-we-you-they-I-you-she-we-you-they-I-you-she-we-you-they-I-you-she… I, you and she. I, you end she. My homicidal intention is clear. It’s not only her that I would like to kill: there’s also I, I and You.
Humans invented words, languages, phones, fax machines, satellites in space, they communicate, they don’t speak to each other. They don’t understand each other. Then they say it’s us who have a problem. We suffer from language delay; it was the doctors who know everything who said so. Mother did not believe them, she refused to take us to the specialists-of-the-words-in-the-right-order; they called the social services, they forced her to have us checked. We were checked, from all sides and in every place, we told stories, they corrected us, because that wasn’t the way we were meant to align our thoughts according to what those-who-decide-the-sense-of-things had decreed. Instead of saying: who’s your name? We should say: what’s your name? Instead of saying: which are you doing? We should say: what are you doing? Instead of saying: who’s for dinner? We should say: what’s for dinner? The specialists-of-the-things-said-how-it-should didn’t understand that it wasn’t a question of grammar, but rather of food to put in our stomachs; our family was poor, because three stomachs to fill is a lot of work, so we weren’t too choosy when it came to the origin of the meat. Who’s for dinner? We ate what died. If it were the horse to drop dead, we would eat the horse. If it were Mr P., our neighbour, we would eat Mr P. the neighbour. In any case, when we die we are needed only to fill up some stomachs. Not that we are much more needed when we are alive, it’s just that people, when they’re alive, are harder to cook in the pan.
Our father left a long time ago; the moment he knew we were to come, he run off as quick as a wink. He must have moved to a very cold country, because Mother said that he was always icy cold, so much so that one day he cracked like ice and no one ever heard from him again. Mother says: you have no father, I made you by myself. Mother wants us to be extremely deferential with her. We are obliged to always call her Madame otherwise we get spanked. We were born thirteen years ago, and we still get spanked, that will teach you to be polite, she repeats, Madame You. Our posteriors were always as shiny as the stones washed by the waves for two or three millenniums, which end up turning into flecks of sand, with which we’ll make mirrors, in which we’ll look at ourselves until we won’t see ourselves anymore. Humans are particles in the universe, they disappear, are useless, but each one of us thinks they are important, and they act as if there was nothing but them.
They, the children, the three twins; people always refer to us as one thing, in one piece. Single words can also indicate multiple persons. Words that count for three are needed, such as monozygotic, bichorial, triamniotic. Passers-by often mistake us for males. As if we could look like boys, with our long hair reaching our behind. Mother doesn’t want us to cut them. She combs them every night; we have to lie on the kitchen table like sardines, then we let our hair hang down, she pulls hard, removes the knots and covers our heads with castor oil to make it softer. She gives us a spoonful of castor oil also when we can’t defecate. I am often constipated, because it troubles me to defecate in front of others, and our bathroom has no door, just a light curtain that can be easily moved by a drought and an indiscreet gaze. One time I was constipated for one month. On the thirtieth day it hurt badly, but it didn’t want to come out. Mother told me: come, we’ll go have a walk in town to make you change your mind. She dressed us up, I, I and I, made us wear our shiny varnish shoes, we walked for a long time, arrived in the square where the grocery and the café are, where people sit to talk without listening. It was very hot and Mother said: take your panties down, now. I answered: but Madame, You must be crazy. Even though I had addressed her very respectfully, she slapped me and repeated: take your panties down. She added: we won’t leave until you empty your guts, you’re nothing but a pile of shit, you’re disgusting. Ivy and Iris laughed, the ladies who blabber incessantly without saying anything dropped silent. I apologised and they looked at me pushing hard, without understanding what was going on. It didn’t come out. I closed my eyes and I imagined shitting on my mother’s face. That did the trick. It was so much, it looked like a chocolate pudding. People were disgusted. They would have probably preferred to watch as my throat got slit right in that square. Blood is less shocking than shit. They threw stones at me and shouted: you shouldn’t relieve yourself in the street, you’re not a dog. Mother answered: you’re right, dogs are better behaved than humans. We went back home, where nothing had changed.
Translation by Irene Brighenti