We were five, and even then, your holiness was insufferable. I splashed you, and holy water clung to your eyelashes and dripped off your nose. I laughed and pointed. With delicate contempt, you traced the sign of the cross. Father John discovered us right after that. To this day, I’m not sure if he was watching, or if it was just divine intervention. Either way, I’m glad we only had to do five Hail Mary’s as penance. I know you would’ve done the whole rosary if it meant being on God’s good side.
* * *
When the aliens first blessed us with their presence, I had no idea. It was a beautiful September day in Cincy. The humidity had abated for the weekend, and the cicadas had finally stopped screaming. I was sipping an americano in a new-to-me cafe. It was good, but all americanos were. The barista brought me my croissant himself, to the chagrin of a long line of customers.
“Lucy?” I dimpled at him. His hazel eyes gleamed against his brown skin.
“Do I get to know your name?”
“Leon,” I said, trying the name out. It felt circular in my mouth.
He winked at me and looked back at the line of customers, now glaring at us. “I hope our paths croissant again.”
I laughed and opened my mouth to give him my number. At that moment, a gold cross shook free of his black apron. It glared at me, and I choked. “I hope so, too,” I said, instead. A light in his eyes shut off.
I think you were just as disappointed in me as I was.
* * *
We were eight, feeding the ducks frozen peas in the retention pond by our house. Our first communion had come and gone, and we had our first reconciliation looming over our heads.
I threw the peas into the water. I enjoyed watching the ducks dive for them, their tail feathers shaking with the effort. You dropped the peas in front of you, willing them closer and closer. You reminded me of a statue in a garden, unmoving and otherworldly.
“I don’t know what to say this weekend,” you said.
“Of course you don’t,” I replied, “You’re absolutely perfect.” I tried to hide the scorn from my voice. I loved you, of course. You were my best friend, my twin, but you were always the better of us.
“Do you believe in God, Lucy?” Your eyes were on the ducks.
“No.” The answer popped out of my mouth before giving it thought.
I threw the rest of the peas in the water and sat down on the grass, crossing my arms. “I don’t know. I don’t think I ever have.” I paused. “It makes me angry to think about.”
“Are you angry at God or angry at yourself for not believing?”
Our eyes met. You smiled one of your thousand smiles. It invited me to relax my frown into something like a smile of my own. “I don’t think I’ll ever know the answer to that. I’m just mad.”
“I think you will. One day.”
We stayed at the pond for hours, letting the ducks talk for us. That burst of divine clairvoyance was only the beginning.
* * *
The news called them A-4-d’s for short: aliens from the fourth dimension. On the way back from the cafe, my phone buzzed from every news app I subscribed to. I didn’t look until I was cozied up with my Persian cat, Layla, on the couch. Not much surprised me anymore, but I have to admit, this did. I didn’t expect aliens in my lifetime.
They looked humanoid but giant, according to the reports. To our eyes, these thirty-foot-tall megaliths came to earth for mere seconds and then disappeared without a trace. There had been twenty-three sightings across the globe in the span of a few hours.
A national emergency was declared: stay home, don’t leave unless it’s an absolute emergency. We didn’t yet know what they wanted.
* * *
We were twelve. Our homework for art class was to create a self-portrait in any medium. I chose to do a Picasso-inspired collage. It took me forty minutes on Monday night, and I was done for the week.
You labored over it, asking our mom for the good acrylics and for a spare canvas. You didn’t let me look at it before we shared them in class on Friday.
My collage received scattered applause. When it was your turn, you headed to the front of the class with a secret smile: not a smirk, but close to it. You turned the canvas, and the class was silent.
Your painting was beautiful. It was as good as any painting in a museum, impressionistic with your bold brush strokes. You chose to frame your face in a glowing orb. You said it was the sun, but it looked like a halo.
After class, you explained your smile. “I have a secret,” you said.
“That’s not a self-portrait. It’s you.”
I shook my head. “No. The eyes are wrong. It’s definitely you.” We had heterochromia. It was the only way to tell us apart: my left eye was blue, and the right was brown. Hers were the opposite.
You only shook your head, giving me a smile even I couldn’t interpret. “I know it seems that way. You’ll see.”
I still had that painting hanging right over my couch.
* * *
It was like we were the second dimension, and they were the third. It sounded confusing at first, but it made sense after the third article I read. Imagine having a piece of paper in front of you, one article said. You could jump on it, press your finger on it, or put a pencil on it. And just as easily, you could jump off, yank your finger back, and grab your pencil. To you, these moments could last for seconds, hours, or days. But for the two-dimensional world, these moments lasted only seconds. Likewise, these objects in the three-dimensional world were normal-sized, but to the world of the two-dimensional piece of paper, they were gigantic.
Now change the language to 3-d and 4-d, and you were in business, the article said.
The first object that appeared was a metallic ball that flattened the entire metropolitan area of Toronto in three milliseconds. Everything: destroyed. Everyone: dead.
The next was a UFO that appeared suspiciously close to Area 51. News outlets in Cincinnati said that the aliens seemed to be targeting areas with flat land. As a hilly city in the Midwest, we should remain unscathed unless they changed their own rules.
But those sightings were nothing compared to when people started disappearing.
* * *
We were nineteen when you decided to become a nun. I didn’t understand, couldn’t understand. We had just finished our freshman year at the University of Cincinnati.
“I’ve decided to spend the summer at a Catholic orphanage in Moldova,” you said. “I know it sounds crazy, but I know it’s the right thing to do. If it goes well, I’ll start at a monastery in the fall.”
I had learned a long time ago not to argue with you. It wouldn’t matter, and I would just seem like a jerk. “I’m going to be honest. I don’t understand,” I said. “But I’m not surprised, either. Just stay safe and don’t do anything stupid, okay?”
You nodded, your smile was both relieved at my words and perky at my joke. Usually, you were the one worried about me doing something dumb.
We spent the rest of the week going shopping for your trip. When we dropped you off at the airport, I cried for the first time in a year. “I’m going to miss you,” I said.
“I’ll miss you, too. I’ll send a letter every week.”
The reception was going to be spotty where you were going, and this made me feel better.
That summer was a blur. It felt like I was missing a body part I always took for granted, like my pinky toe or the skin between my thumb and index finger. It threw me off balance. Nights out didn’t seem fun, and going on dates didn’t seem like the same thrill it had been that year, either.
The last card you sent said, “I’ve been sure about a lot of things in my life, but this is the surest I’ve ever been. I’m meant to be here, Luce. God has a plan. I have a feeling you’ll help me with this work one day.”
A week later, the orphanage was bombed.
If I felt anger before, I felt rage now.
* * *
The people who disappeared were gone for seconds in our time but were gone for days or years at a time in their consciousness. They came perfectly healthy, slightly more aged, and unmarked in all ways but one: they were complete mirror images of themselves.
The news said to think of them like a two-dimensional, double-sided paper doll. I had American Girl ones growing up, so I felt like I could connect to that on a deeper level than other people. The A-4-d’s simply took them and set them down, flipped. As of right now, the only effects were organs on the other side of their bodies and selfies might look a little jarring to them for the rest of their lives. Otherwise, they were expected to make a full recovery.
At this point in the stay-at-home order, I was going out of my mind. FaceTime and Layla were my only sources of company, and my downtown apartment didn’t seem so cute and charming anymore. Aside from that, Cincinnati was supposed to be safe. The hills deterred the A-4-d’s, for whatever reason.
I ran all the way to the Over-the-Rhine district when they took me. Up until that point, my endorphins were pumping and my serotonin levels were off the chart. I didn’t want to be anywhere but here. I had wondered if that’s how you felt at the orphanage.
At one moment, I was glancing at my fitness watch, considering a beer-to-go, and the next minute I stopped feeling the burning in my lungs and the sweat on the back of my neck. I had the perception that I was strapped down, but the world moved in circular, concentric patterns that didn’t make any sense. The closest thing I could compare it to, even now, was a roller coaster ride with your torso buckled in, legs dangling. Time stretched and expanded, a slinky pulled to its full capabilities. I’m still not sure how long I was there, but it felt like years.
When I came back to our dimension, I woke up on my couch, Layla yowling and hissing in my ear like I was a stranger. I felt oddly at peace, the anger that had been the one constant in my life finally diffused. I staggered to my feet and clutched my chest. My heartbeat still resonated from the left side of my chest, contradicting all the news reports. I raced to the mirror.
The first thing I noticed were the crow’s feet at the corner of my eyes, a pronouncement of my time spent in the fourth-dimension. The crow’s feet pointed to my eyes, as clear as arrows.
My left eye was brown, my right eye was blue. These were not my eyes.
I turned my back, my eyes seeking the painting hanging over my couch. It was now in my likeness and not my mirror image.
I knelt, pressing my palms together.
I finally understood, my dear Faith. I finally understood.