Suspense by Charles Burton Barber
Beads of sweat dotted her forehead as she crouched, trembling under a makeshift shelter of cardboard panels. Her swollen belly tightened as surging bolts of excruciating pain crushed her frail frame.
After hours of agony she birthed not one, but two baby girls. “Two too many mouths to feed,” she thought. She swaddled them in rags and placed them in a tattered basket, scratching a note to the good sisters. “Please care for them”, she wrote, “I cannot.”
Before dawn she stumbled into town leaving them at the abbey door. As she watched from a distant doorway, the sisters of St Gertrude’s Orphanage took the twins in just as she had hoped they would.
The sisters named the babies Hope and Grace. Hope was the quieter of the two. She rarely made a sound and seemed to prefer observing life as it passed before her. Grace, true to her name, was a delightful, good natured bundle of joy. She quickly caught the attention of a barren couple who visited the orphanage hoping to find a child to call their own.
The adoption fee was quite high, but it ensured the means of prospective parents and their ability to provide for the children placed in their care. The sisters never mentioned that Grace was a twin for fear that the couple might change their mind. Finally the papers were signed and fees paid. Grace became a daughter that day, while Hope remained behind.
Seven years passed. Grace thrived in every way. Her wealthy parents showered her with love and comfort, seeing to her every need and want.
While at the park one spring day Grace noticed a girl, strikingly familiar, amongst the orphans that came to play every week. She approached the girl.
“Hello,” she smiled, “my name is Grace, what’s your name.”
Hope looked up, her eyes widening. It was like looking into a mirror. “I’m Hope,” she replied, “you look just like me. How can that be?”
The girls became fast friends. Grace begged her nanny to take her to the park on the days when the orphans would be there. She told Hope about her lovely home and family, her dog, Button and her kitten, Scratch. Hope, in turn, told Grace about her life at the orphanage. The sisters were kind and loving in their own way, but they were not a mommy and a daddy; something Hope longed for.
Overcome with compassion for the orphan, Grace had an idea. “you know Hope, you could be me and I could be you. I’m sure no one would be the wiser. Then you could see what it’s like to have a mommy and daddy.”
Hope thought for a moment. “That’s a fine idea Grace! I could do as you say. No one would be able to tell. If you are willing I would love to do it.”
The girls agreed to trade lives for one week. They swapped clothes behind a huge oak tree. Grace joined the other children as they lined up to return to the orphanage. And Hope skipped over to the nanny who was sitting on a park bench nearby.
Their plan worked like a charm. No one ever suspected. After a week’s time, while enjoying breakfast in bed, Hope decided she rather liked being a daughter with parents and a dog and kitten. There is an old wives tale about twins that says there is always a good twin and a bad twin. Hope definitely fit the latter description. What she was about to do to Grace was very bad indeed!
From that day forward she resisted the nanny most vehemently when she offered to take her to the park. There Grace returned week after week, waiting and watching for her doppelgänger to no avail. Eventually she realized she had been deceived, feeling helpless to fix the mess she’d gotten herself into. Surely no one would believe the truth were she to tell it. So she didn’t.
Poor hopeless Grace spent the rest of her youth with the good sisters of St. Gertrude while an imposter lived the life she forfeited for having too kind a heart.
-kat – 13 April 2017
For Jane Dougherty’s Sunday Strange Microfiction Challenge based on this painting called