She was older than me by eight minutes, and she never let me forget it.
''Carmel's stupid. Carmel's a baby. I'm the oldest, and I'm the cleverest.''
I'd mutter, ''Elder, not oldest. There are only two of us.'' under my breath. Even at the age of seven I had a better grasp of grammar and syntax than she. Chiara. My fraternal twin.
I didn't hate her, as such. Not then, anyway. At times, I even felt some affection for her, and she kept me warm in bed on cold nights, back when we still shared a bed. Sometimes she made me laugh. That was not an easy thing to do.
I remember our first day at school. The teacher took the register. When she came to our names, she called out, ''Car-mell Chance. I said Yes Miss, as I'd heard the other children say.
Chiara put up her hand, and told the teacher that she'd said my name wrong. ''It's Car-mel, not Car-mell. And when you get to my name, Miss. it's not Chee-ara, Miss, or Shee-ara. It's Kee-ara, because it's Italian. It means clear.'' The teacher's face changed. Until that moment, it had been sunny, smiling, but at Chiara's words, I saw a hardness behind the eyes, though her mouth stayed in the smiling position.
''Oh thank you. I'll try to remember, dear.'' She looked down at the big red register again. ''Chee-ara Chance.''
''NO! '' shouted Chiara. ''No, Miss. She's not here. Kee-ara's here. Kee-ara, Kee-ara, Kee-ara!'' She was standing up and pounding one little fist on the scratched wooden desk-top, tears in her blue eyes.
I sat watching her, suppressing my mirth at her silly display, but I snaked my hand up, to grab her other hand and pull her down. I was afraid that the teacher would do something bad to her, because the smile had disappeared from her face altogether by now. No. That isn't true. I was worried that the teacher would do something bad to me, for daring to have a funny name, too.
It was fine, though. Nothing happened. At least not that first day. But the teacher didn't forget it, and she was watching the Chance twins. Both of us. And I'd been right to worry. Chiara was punished more than a few times over the next few years. The trouble is, I was usually found guilty too, by association.
Occasionally, I would even be punished instead of her. We would be in the headmaster's office for some crime, and she would only need to look up at him from under her long curly lashes, and fiddle with her blonde curls, and she would be sent back to the classroom with a stern warning, and it would be me, Carmel, who still had to hold a palm out for three whacks with the ruler.
Very often, I have wondered if it would be different if she'd had the straight, lank mousy hair and muddy-grey eyes, and I had been the bubbly, blue-eyed blonde. Or if we'd both been the same. Would I be sitting here counting bricks if we'd been identical?
It's so unfair, isn't it? That someone with superior intelligence and talent should lose their future because of the selfish whims of a dim but beautiful sibling.
I should have known that she would be my downfall.