The Given-Away Twin – Norman Klein

Norman Klein

The day I graduated from college my legal father told me I was an orphan, but that wasn’t true. Orphans become orphans when their parents die. Orphans have a history. I don’t. I was given away, and two days later given a legal name, Len Sarras.
Jules and Maria Sarras were devoted and attentive parents. Jules took me trout fishing, and Maria finger-painted with me. She spent countless hours teaching me how to paint, and I tried to do right by her. I read to her when she fell ill, and I was with her the day she died. I thanked her over and over, and the last thing she said to me was that she was glad she picked me and not my brother. That’s how I learned I was a twin, and although I never tried to find him, I always had a feeling that he would find me.
Then a month ago on a Friday, just before midnight, I was driving back to the Cape, and was two miles past the Sagamore Bridge when I saw a car ahead of me in the passing lane swerve and brake, but too late – a young deer was hit and sent flying. The car came to a halt sideways, blocking the lane. The deer landed in the right lane. I was in the right lane and stopped twenty yards from the dead deer.
A dozen or so cars stopped, half in one lane, half in the other. People got out of the cars, and were asking one another if anyone had called the police.
A young man wearing a UPS uniform said he had called, and the dispatcher had said, “I’m sending two cars. They’ll be there in five minutes.”
Then I heard a voice behind me say, “I’m the one who hit the deer. I swerved to avoid it and it ran right into me.” There was something familiar about him – his voice, how he measured his words. I was sure I knew him, but when I turned to see who he was I couldn’t believe it. The man’s hair was longer than mine, his jacket a size larger, his clothing more expensive, but it was him: my twin brother.
My first thought was to go over to him and introduce myself. “Hi, I’m
Len, your twin brother. Is there anything I can do to help?” I wanted to say. That’s what I should have said, but I didn’t. I just stood there like a given-away kid trying to fit in.

“Is anyone hurt?” I asked, with my back to my twin.
“I’m feeling light headed, but it’s nothing serious,” the woman who was parked behind me said, and we slowly walked together back to our cars and were just in time to see a trooper move the deer off the highway and motion us to get into our cars and move on.
I went home, made myself a mug of hot chocolate, and paced the kitchen wondering if Everett — that’s what I decided to call him — had journeyed to Cape Cod to find me. Probably not, because when his legal mother adopted him she was most likely never told he had a twin brother. If he was looking for me, it would be just like him to surprise me and come knocking on my door the next morning. I liked believing he was looking for me, and wondered if he was planning a birthday party for us. It was only nine days away. What a treat that would be to celebrate it together. I would ask him if he was allergic to shellfish, and he would tell me he gets seasick the minute he steps onto a boat.
But the next morning the given-away side of me kicked in. If Everett
stopped by the house and we settled into my study to talk, there would be the six birch bark paintings hanging behind my desk. The sensible side of me thought it might be fun explain how the pictures work as a series, then the given-away me took them down and hid them, certain that Everett wouldn’t like them.

My next thought was that it would be wise to never mention my other two hobbies, bowling and fishing, because I always bowl and fish alone, and I wouldn’t take it well if he caught more fish than I did, or bowled over two hundred. Then everything came crashing down on me. What if it turned out that he was the better twin in every way? More friendly, more confident, the life of the party. Why spend time with a brother like that? Then I reminded myself that he was a given-away twin, and would only come searching for me if he needed me in some way. “If only I knew more about him,” I whispered to myself, and then laughed out loud because my best friend Albert is a licensed private detective. He also runs a gallery and is my biggest fan.
The following afternoon we met at the gallery, and the first thing he
asked was where I was born, and I told him I didn’t know. The adoption papers were signed by Jules and Maria, but there’s no mention of where I was born or who my birth mother was. Then he asked if I was ever married.

“No, but I almost was when I was fifty,” I said, and told him about Elsie Vasquez, the woman who bought three of my birch bark water colors and hired me to paint her portrait using pastels and ink. I tried rendering just her right hand first, and she was so impressed she went into the other room and came back in a robe, then tossed it aside and sprawled on her divan. A month later she asked me to marry her. I just stood there stammering, at her mercy, unable to speak.
“So was that the end of it? Did you say no?” Albert asked.
“No, we still paint together. She brings the yogurt and I bring the
Strawberries.”

“Do you love her?”
“No, I don’t dare to,” I confessed.
Then he changed the subject and asked to me recount the story of how I found my twin brother.
“Now, Len, this important: when the police arrived, did you see him
talking to them?” he asked.

“No, when the Trooper motioned me to drive on, I felt like a criminal
being released. I couldn’t wait to get home,” I said.

Then he talked me through what he hoped to do for me. His plan was to pay a visit to the State Police Barracks and see if an accident report had been filed.
A week later Albert handed me a nine-page report. It began: “Your
brother’s name is Henry Westoff. He lives on his estate in Dartmouth, MA with an older sister who was also adopted. She runs the house, and he manages the money.”

Her son, Clive Westoff, drops by now and then and often travels with his Uncle Henry, and according to the accident report he was driving. It was Clive who hit the deer while his Uncle Henry was asleep in the back seat feeling a bit under the weather. They were on their way to meet Henry’s doctor at the airport in Hyannis, take a quick flight to Boston, and the following morning board a flight to Zurich where a helicopter was waiting to fly them to the Hurtzmeyer Clinic.
Henry’s GP talked the Hurtsmeyer specialists through his medical records and approved the Hurtsmeyer plan to work on Henry’s alcohol abuse and diabetes at the same time. It was sure to be a lengthy stay, the GP told Clive, and Clive told Albert.
“So there it is, Len. What do you think?” Albert asked.
“I wished I’d known. I could have helped him get off the sauce when I
Did.”

“Well maybe it will all work out in the end. I’ll stay in touch with Clive, and let you know when the time is right to introduce yourself to Henry.”
“But Albert, the time may never be right. I’m an actuary, the guy who
identifies risk, calculates the extent of the risk, and the cost to repair or ameliorate loss or damage. But all that comes to nothing when a child comes into the world damaged beyond repair.

“Think about it, Len. Henry’s had a close call, and when he comes home he’s not going to look up his old drinking buddies,” Albert said.
“Maybe you and Clive can tell him a few things about me. Let him
know I don’t drink,” I said.

“We could send him a photograph of you,” Albert said.
That’s what I love about Albert. He wants to see me get out more, meet people, especially art lovers. And now that he knows about Elsie he always says, “And Len, don’t forget to bring Elsie with you.”
What a great idea. I promised him the next time she proposed I’d say
yes. I thought that would satisfy him, but it didn’t. “Call her, Len.” he said, “invite her to dine with you at the best restaurant you can think of, and when desert is served ask her marry you.”

Then he encouraged me to move on from my birch bark paintings and try the Black Locusts in his back yard. He’s even willing to commission me.

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