It’s a beautiful afternoon; let’s rest a while. We can perch on
the edge of this bell tower and watch the wash of the city
Down to our right is a vast statue of Ghandi, forever
striding forwards. The hot July sun bounces off the curve of
his head, gleaming bronze. A small girl with tight dark curls
springs at his ankles, trying to hold his scalding hand. Her
white linen dress blooms around her as she lifts and sinks.
Here swoops her mother, taking her hand and gently
guiding her down the street. Chairs spill out onto the
pavement, with people drinking and eating. Their faces are
flushed and excited, with browning cheeks and freckled
shoulders. A waiter, with one arm crooked holding a tray,
reaches out to ruffle the girl’s head as she passes – she
squeals and rushes round to the other side of her mother,
burying her face in her skirts.
Across the road, colourful shop faces trade people
between their open doors. The blind windows of high-rise
offices loom behind them, carving up the glowing pavement
with jagged shadows. Construction whirrs endlessly on,
coiling up on the warm air in a muffled moan. Below us, neat
quadrangles of green are cropped around the Cathedral. A
cat, crouched in the shade of a low-lying grave, licks the back
of her paw and rubs industriously at her ears.
Behind us, the sun pours into the captive square of the bell
tower. It bakes the stones, so the air warps above them like
mottled glass. A breathless flag tangles round the flagpole,
while a ladybird crawls tiltingly into the twisted knot of its
rope. There is a heavy wooden door at the far side of the
tower. It is studded with thick bolts, hot peppercorns of brass.
If you listen carefully, you can hear feet slapping up the
The door swings open and a young girl joins us in the
blinding light at the top of the tower. She is very pale, with
long blonde hair swinging to her waist. She wears a bright
orange sundress that clings to her damp legs and her hair is
pulled back from her face with a twist of turquoise fabric. Her
cheeks are red and flushed and she flings down her rucksack
and begins rummaging inside. She is twenty or so, flushed
with youth and heat.
Something flits in the dark mouth of the doorway. Another
girl: the ghost of the first. She has the same skin, the same
blanket of hair, the same pinched nose. It’s hard to see her
because the light out here is so bright, but their resemblance
‘We’re going to burn.’ The ghost speaks!
‘Don’t be boring,’ calls the girl in the sunlight. She
squashes a plastic water bottle in her hands as she takes deep
gulps. ‘It’ll turn into tan anyway.’
She perches the lid on top of the bottle and holds it out
towards the doorway.
A pink arm extends from the shadows. The fine hairs on
this arm are flattened darkly against her skin, glinting with
sweat. Just as she is in reach of the bottle, her sister (they must
be sisters) yanks it out of her grasp. She purses her lips and
makes that kissing noise people use to attract cats. Psssppssp-pssp.
As the second girl steps into the light, we see that she is
the duplicate of her sister. There must have been a time when
they curled together, side by side, in the womb. A moment,
early in their life, when a doctor leaned forward over the
sonogram to count the glowing domes of their heads. A
spasm of concern from their mother as she wonders how
they’re going to manage. A long time ago now.
She grabs the bottle from her sister and squats in the
flimsy shade by the balustrade while she drinks. This girl is
wearing a worn pair of denim shorts and a navy blue t-shirt
with a collar. The word Bethel is printed on the back in faded
white letters. We’ll call her Bethel.
‘Fine. I’m here. Are you happy now?’ she asks.
Her sister ignores her, instead plucking contemplatively
at the straps on her dress. In a decisive movement, she pulls
the fabric over her head and spreads it on the hot stone floor.
She slips off her shoes and springs lightly onto the cloth. She
is naked except some small lace underwear. Buttercup yellow.
Bethel starts. She looks in quick succession at her sister, at
the floor, at her sister.
‘What if someone sees?’ she says.
‘How?’ her sister snorts. She gestures towards the edge of
the tower. The only thing visible to them is the winking moon
of the Travel Inn. The girl dips back into her rucksack, tugging
at something. She looks up at Bethel, ‘You’re not embarrassed
Bethel’s cheeks are already red, so it’s hard to tell if they
redden at this comment.
Pulling out a towel, the girl spreads it on the stones next
to her dress. She wriggles out of her knickers, revealing a
neatly trimmed rectangle of dark hair, and begins shaking a
bottle of sun cream.
‘Aren’t you going to join me?’ she asks.
‘What, so I can burn all over?’ Bethel snaps.
The girl snorts again as she caresses her shoulders with
‘It isn’t funny Deb, if Dad finds out he’ll be really mad,’
‘Don’t tell him then.’
‘He could lose his job,’ Bethel adds.
‘Good riddance,’ the girl called Deb says as she lies down,
closing her eyes.
Bethel dips into her bag for a towel and spreads it out. Her
movements are exaggerated and slow, as though she feels her
sister is watching her. She perches on her towel, the whitehot light glaring on her, pink and discontented.
A smile curves around Deb’s lips and she begins to whistle
a lilting tune. Bethel looks up to glare at her sister.
‘Don’t,’ she says.
Deb laughs and closes her eyes, pointing her face towards
It’s quiet up here. Just the faint grumble of traffic and the
clangs from building sites. Perhaps we should move on. There
will be lots happening across the city today.
Then – whistling again. The lines around Deb’s mouth are
quirked in a smile.
‘I mean it, don’t.’
Deb whistles louder. The same nursery-rhyme tune.
In a flash of movement, Bethel pulls her t-shirt over her
head and throws it towards her sister. The flesh under her
arms pools over her nude bra.
Deb laughs and waves the t-shirt like a flag. A hot blush
creeps down Bethel’s neck.
‘Shut up. Pass me the lotion.’ She says.
Deb pats the stones next to her and skates the bottle
towards her sister. It gives up limply half way. Bethel, huffing,
crawls along her towel to fetch it. As her sister’s body jerks
into view, Deb frowns.
‘All of it,’ she says.
Bethel doesn’t respond. Instead she is spurting lotion into
her palm. She begins rubbing aggressively at her stomach.
‘What is your problem?’ she asks.
Staring at her sister, Bethel pops the button on her shorts
and tugs them over her hips. She is wearing a greying pair of
briefs with a twirling hole by the elastic. Deb eyes her up and
down, snorts, and turns back to the sun.
‘On second thoughts, maybe you should put them back
Water rushes across Bethel’s eyes, pooling in her lashes.
She swallows thickly and lies down.
To look at them, it’s hard to see their differences. They both
have the same long, pale legs, turning gently red at the
kneecaps. They have soft, rising stomachs and the same thick
collarbones. Four blue eyes, with four rows of pale lashes.
Four ears. Four hands. Four feet. One knee has a small
crescent shaped scar across it; this is Deb’s knee. One of the
twenty fingernails is chipped, revealing the dark pink skin
underneath; this is Bethel’s finger. They are like fully-grown
cherubs: blonde haired, with soft circular faces and full, fleshy
Deb is lying flat, unnaturally so, pressing both her arms
against her towel with her legs ever-so-slightly crooked to
allow the tops of her feet to catch the sun. Her face is passive,
expressionless, like she’s asleep.
But her sister’s is tense with emotion: lips pursed, eyes
scrunched, a deep line cutting down her forehead. The sun
lotion is forgotten at her side and her chest is spotted with
pink. One arm covers her stomach while the other teases
loose threads in the towel. Two bees dance above her face,
tickling her hairline. She bats them away and they rise out of
her reach, contemplating her. She waves her arm above her
head in awkward, jerking movements and they eddy off
towards the side of the tower and down to a neat village of
hives on the main roof below.
With a warm, resonant thrum, the clock in the tower
strikes two. The sound loops across the two sisters, spreading
on the air, before it slips over the balustrade and pours over
A horn blares up from the street below. It is met by another
in a garish harmony. The sounds are flat and urgent, each
trying to overpower the other. Deb squints an eye open. She
raises her head – is that shouting? It’s quite hard to hear but
it sounds like an argument. She gets up and leans over the
edge of the tower, her long hair swinging across the curve of
If we lean over the edge with Deb, we can see two white
limousines with high-shine metal trimming, face-to-face,
blaring at each other. Each has long white ribbons tucked into
their bonnets, stretching up to their front windows. Inside
each car, two men with grey caps are pressing on their horns.
One holds the note, flat and heavy, while the other favours
sharp, repeated bursts. Outside the cars, a woman dwarfed
by an enormous hat is gesturing furiously at a man in a grey
suit. He is calmly holding up a piece of paper, tapping at it
with his free hand. One chauffer winds down the window
and starts gesturing to the other to turn around. You take your
eyes off the world for one minute – but it never stops moving.
There are bewildered faces scattered across the pavement,
clumped into alliances. They are dressed in an assortment of
colourful, uncomfortable clothes. Pink-cheeked and
discontented, they hold up invitations or beaded purses to
keep the sun off their faces. Two women, wearing identical
lavender dresses and flowers in their hair, are trying to knock
on the Cathedral door. But the brass handle must be
blisteringly hot; one of the women ducks down and gathers
up her lavender skirts to hold the handle. She is trying to
knock it against the door, but her skirts are muffling the
sound. Here comes a suited man, striding up behind her. He
slams his fist against the door and immediately recoils,
cradling his fleshy hand. Looking the women up and down,
he reaches into his breast pocket and produces a
handkerchief. The lavender woman takes it from him,
without thanks, and proceeds to smash the handle against the
heavy wooden doors.
Bethel has kept perfectly still through all the smashing,
blaring and shouting. Her eyes are closed, her lips held in a
‘Beth, come look,’ Deb calls over her shoulder.
The woman by the limousine turns smartly away from the
man and throws open the back door of her car. She holds out
an authoritative hand and a slim, pale arm wavers out from
the darkness to take it. A glowing leg follows. On the end of
this leg is a perfect white stiletto; it skitters as it meets the
pavement. White tulle begins to foam at the open door,
spraying upwards towards the roof of the car. The arm tenses
and with almighty effort, a body begins to rise from the belly
of the car.
The woman starts frantically pulling the tulle over her
daughter’s bare legs. The protruding arm grasps the roof of
the car and slowly, slowly levers herself out. The man in the
grey suit is watching this performance, mesmerised,
seemingly forgetting his own daughter in his car.
A bride appears before us. Like a crumpled duster, she
shakes herself out. She has dishevelled brown hair looping
down her back and the bust of her dress has slipped to the
side. Her mother darts forwards, grabbing her delicately
beaded décolletage and jerking it firmly into place. The bride
bats her away, embarrassed, and attends to her own preening
The grey suit, not to be outdone, turns sharply towards his
limousine and, flinging open the door, ejects a slim, stringy
woman dressed in a flowing Grecian style. The white of her
dress sings against her caramel skin.
The two brides face each other in the street, ghostly pillars
of women. In the hot summer light, their dresses glow around
them like saintly aureolae. They exchange a few quiet words
as their families shout around them.
Up on the roof, we find Deb chewing at her hair, fixated
on the commotion below. Her eyes gleam with a certain
excitement, as she extends a leg backwards and begins poking
‘Dad’s double booked. They’re going to kill him this time.’