SmokeLong Quarterly

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Story by Emily Thomas Mani (Read author interview) September 13, 2021

Photograph by Sandra Seitamaa

I’m going to see my sisters, but that’s not what I tell the nice family who pick me up hitchhiking. They’re going to Quintland too. The girl is wearing white because Emilie is her favourite quintuplet. Her dress is spotless, like it’s brand new. She reminds me of a bride.

I ask her, “Did you know that Emilie and Marie are twins?”

“Yes,” she says, shifting the present on her lap. It contains five matching stuffed bunnies, she told me.

“They split from the same egg,” I say. “So did Annette and Yvonne. And Cecile and —”

I close my mouth dramatically, mid-sentence. I want her to know that I have a secret on the tip of my tongue, because I want her to die of jealousy. But her face remains open and patient. It expects every kindness.

“Oh,” I say. “Nevermind.”

The mother turns around to look at me for the hundredth time.

“You said your mama’s waiting for you there?”


“What was going to happen if we didn’t come along?”

“I was going to walk.”

A little line of concern appears, the only line on her entire pretty face.

Not wanting the concern I say, “If I wasn’t there by two-thirty then my mama’d come looking.”

“She have a car?”

“Yep,” I say.

“Then why didn’t you go along with her?”

“Cause Delphina needed me,” I say.

My mama’s not waiting for me anywhere but lies come out of my mouth like soda pop, fizzy and sweet. I’m a tremendously good liar. All you have to do is believe it yourself, easy to do if you put a piece of truth in. It’s true that Delphina needed me. Not for anything good, though.

The mother is confused by my explanation, unclear but spoken with conviction. People don’t like to be confused. They give up and turn around to enjoy the scenery instead.

The dad and the brother haven’t looked at me even once since I got in the car. Their hair is shaved so close to their heads I see specks of blood. Might have been done this morning. I imagine the whole family getting cleaned up for their trip. I imagine they scrubbed so hard their skin hurts. They’re the kind of family you take a picture of, frame it for your wall.

“Why are you wearing yellow?” says the little girl. “Yellow isn’t any of their favourite colours.”

“Not yet,” I say.

“What does that mean?”

“I’m wearing yellow because I love all the quints the same,” I say, even though Cecile’s my twin so I love her the best, biologically.

It’s not even quintuplets anymore if there’s six. It’s sextuplets, which doesn’t sound good at all and Delphina slapped me for saying it. I’m tremendously smart and Delphina is a fool.

“We’re here,” says the mother and she points at the billboard. It has a picture of them, all five wearing their colours so you know who’s who. It says the next showing is at two-thirty.

I feel my mouth turn up in a dreamy grin and my hand goes to my tummy like the pregnant ladies do because they’re already in love with their babies.

The parking lot is a mile long, but I can see Quintland in the distance. I can see the booths selling souvenirs and the tunnel that the people walk through to look into the perfect little playground where the sisters play, where my sisters play.

The mother asks, “And you know where to meet your mama?”

“Yep. By the concession stand.”

I don’t even know for a fact that there’s a concession stand, which makes the words taste fizzy and sweet again.

“Maybe we’ll get you settled with her first, make sure you’re safe.”

“Sure,” I say, because it’s crowded out there and easy enough for me to run off. “You’re the nicest family I ever met.”

The mother and the brother and the dad get out of the car but I put my hand on the little girl’s wrist. I don’t squeeze too hard. I just want her to stay put for a minute.

The rest of the family go to the trunk and the mother pulls out sandwiches, bottles of Coke. I’m sure if I wandered back there with the little girl, they’d offer me some lunch.

“I can deliver that present for you, if you want,” I say.

I’m still not squeezing her very hard and I can see that she doesn’t even consider this a possibility.

“No thanks.”

I tighten up my hand a bit, twist it so her skin burns.

She pulls her wrist away from me, so strong and fast that I lose my grip.

“Stop it,” she says. “You stop that now or I’ll give you something to cry about.”

The dreamy grin is still on my face. There’s a grin on the inside too. Everything about me is fixed and happy now.

I place my hand on the box instead. Even the wrapping paper is brand new, covered in bunnies to match the present, pictures so nice you could frame ‘em, hang them on the wall.

“What’s it even called,” I say, “when there’s seven?”

Her eyes drift up as she considers the questions; drift up in a graceful, fluid motion like ballet. She thinks about seven. About how it would feel to be one of many. Seven different versions of the same exact person. If you push a pin into one, the others bleed. Twist the skin of one girl’s arm, and all the other girls come running. Always surrounded. Always safe. My eyes are being graceful too, drifting up like ballet. The little girl and I are imagining that seven exists. It’s real. All you have to do is believe it yourself.

About the Author

Emily Thomas Mani lives in Toronto, Canada. Her novella, The Church of Wrestling, is coming from Split/Lip Press in June ’21. Other stories can be found in The Forge, Barren, and Big Fiction.

About the Artist

Sandra Seitamaa is a photographer from Salt Lake City, Utah.

This story appeared in Issue Seventy-Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Two

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