“Occipital Neuralgia,” I said. An opening gambit. A shortcut to getting on the same page. A phrase I had got from the internet while looking up symptoms, shooting pains in the back of the skull. My doctor—young, smart—looked at me sharpish. I could see he was thinking, Why not? His fingers moved on a keyboard, the screen invisible to me.

We moved on to other things, things I had on a list in my hand, one of which was that bouts of swelling, attacks of gout, other things, were always a little worse on my left side than on my right side. My doctor said that this is common, normal even, which I knew he would say. I made a joke, about my left side being my evil twin, which he laughed at.

I felt much better, and so I have for several days now, as always happens after a doctor’s visit. All mindfulness and ownership and responsibility. Me and my body. Ritualised movements and drinking lots of water. I throw out the pills he prescribed.

I think about my little joke, however. The one about the evil twin. And I regret it, as a vulgarity, as of something delicate betrayed, as a vital secret cast away.

I speak of Edith—my mother once told me that I would have been named Edith had I been a girl.

Edith only ever surfaced once, in her proper person. I was no more than eleven or twelve, in the dying days of pre-pubescent plasticity. A summer at the farm of Uncle David. An evening baking snickerdoodles with my two cousins, Betty and Hazel. They fussed me deliciously, the older sisters I never had. One of them got into her head to dress me up as a girl—both of them at that time wore the garb of old-order Brethren, down to starched caps over severely parted hair. Giggling and conspiratorial, they did me up in this kit and let me look in a mirror.

Georges Rouault, portrait of Karsavina (1929)

A familiar in disguise? A twin? Zygote-mate unseparated at conception? I prefer to think Edith is anima, the feminine aspect of the soul, or perhaps better yet guardian angel—a figure that recurs in all my writing. My niece Heidi, who is a poet, shrewdly observed on reading Sister Patsy, that its eponymous heroine was really me, a slipping of the mask, a confession.

In any event, Edith is not the weak and failing side, the sinister side, the evil twin, but rather the right side, the good soldier, the clean and bright one.