The Krasniewski Sisters Sit At Home

Leger_Three_WomenThe Krasniewski sisters sit at home, naked before the TV. They watch the shopping channels.

Diamonds, they adore diamonds. Leather coats banked in fur. They envision themselves in buttersoft calfskin stoked with chinchilla, eiderdown along their ample flanks. The coats are wrapped, not buttoned, not tied. They emerge into a gallery three stories high, the walls are marble. In unison, they unwrap; beneath the coats, they are nude. Three gleaming bellies, white as fish. Three pairs of rosy-apple breasts bobbing beneath ropes of diamonds. Diamonds flashing at their knuckles, four-carat solitaires on QVC, just twenty-three thousand. Only thirty-seven minutes remaining; operators are standing by.

Together, they step forward. Toenails glossy with dark enamel, tiny diamond chips set into the nails of their biggest toes, glued in place by Noelle. They adore Noelle. A perfect sheet of thick dark hair falls at the side of each pink face. Hair by Mr. Paul. Perfection.

Sheree Krasniewski keeps the remote. She flips to the other shopping channel with a practiced poke that will not mar her manicure. Cable-knit cashmere. Turtlenecks, v-necks. A long cardigan running to the thigh and belted with a cashmere sash. It could be slowly unwrapped like the calfskin coat. And to the same effect.

Sandra Krasniewski hugs herself and leans in toward the television screen, studying the model in the thigh-length sweater. She strokes her own arm lovingly and moans. “Ummmmmmn, I totally adore cashmere. I wish they had that in lavender. Lavender cashmere, oooooooh!”

Glorie Krasniewski stretches her arms over her head, turns her palms to the ceiling and locks her fingers. She yawns deeply. “Who’s for a Mallomar?”

“Ummmn,” Sandra moans again.

Sheree switches back to QVC, sets the remote down on the low table and gets up to pee. The moment she is out of sight, Sandra grabs the remote and settles herself back among the chenille cushions. Glorie unwraps the box of chocolate-covered marshmallows.

“Shhhhh!” Sandra says. She’s having trouble hearing the announcer over the sound of the paper wrapper tearing and crumpling.

Absolutely gorgeous diamond earrings! Not those dopey little studs they’re always unloading. These have six stones dangling one beneath the other, strung on a little gold chain that drops along the neckline. Devastating!

“Omigod!” Glorie exclaims. She is imagining the effect: Black chinchilla-lined calfskin, ropes of diamonds looped around her neck, and then those earrings, six stones swinging from earlobe to shoulder. Killer jewelry!

Sheree returns from the john and Sandra shifts on the sofa to yield back her sister’s place. Without being asked, she hands Sheree the remote. Sheree commands the remote because she is the oldest, eight minutes older than Sandra, thirteen minutes older than Glorie.

There was a fourth sister, Lindy, the youngest. Although she weighed only one pound three ounces at birth, Lindy’s delivery had been the most complicated. She was a full forty-five minutes younger than Glorie. Lindy’s difficult delivery had disturbed Mrs. Krasniewski’s insides and altered her chemistry in ways her husband, John Krasniewski, could never fully comprehend. “Messed up her pipes,” was the way John, a third generation plumber, explained the outcome.

Every two hours or so, Mrs. Everett, the housekeeper, comes in with a pretty tray laden with nibblers. Sometimes there is fruit and Rykrisp, sometimes there is mango sorbet, or chocolate halvah, sometimes tuna fish. The girls won’t touch meat or alcohol, can’t tolerate milk products or large amounts of wheat. They prefer to take their nourishment in light snacks throughout the day.

Sheree yawns and reaches for a huge green pear, an Anjou. It is at its peak of ripeness. Juice squirts over her tongue, and trickles onto her gleaming chest. With her free hand, she smears the pear juice over her body, down onto her belly, rubs it in like lotion.

“You’re a pig, you know?” Glorie says without turning an eye from the TV.

Lindy had a boyfriend when she was fifteen, a secret boyfriend named Nick. He was in the Coast Guard. He came back for a weekend and took Lindy out on the town. In a town like Utica, that meant shrimp cocktails at Vinnie’s Parma Café down on Genessee Street, followed by veal marsala and one of those exotic Italian desserts.

Nick had two Manhattans and a pack of unfiltered cigarettes, Camels, that he smoked while he was drinking his cocktails. Lindy watched him and picked the sesame seeds off every piece of Italian bread in the red plastic basket. She pressed the little seeds under her fingernails and then ate them as if she were cleaning her nails with her teeth. There was a stubby alcohol lamp on the table along with an ever-fresh bouquet of red plastic roses.

Nick had olive skin, black hair and yellow eyes. He was gorgeous. When the veal marsala arrived, he ordered a glass of red wine and began blanketing his food with grated parmesan cheese.

“Go on, get started,” he urged Lindy.

Lindy hated the smell of parmesan; all four sisters hated that smell. She held her fork and knife poised in the air. “No, I’ll wait for you,” she said.

“I’m just waiting for the wine,” Nick said. “Go ahead and eat. It’ll get cold. Ya want another Coke?”

Lindy had not had a Coke. “No thank you,” she said. “Water’s fine.”

When his red wine arrived, Nick ground out his Camel in the glass ashtray and slid along the Naugahyde banquette to be closer to Lindy. He raised his wineglass in his right hand and put his left arm around Lindy’s shoulders. “So, here’s lookin’ at you, kid,” he said. “Boy, I tell you, you sure look beautiful tonight.”

. . . . . . . .

When Lindy Krasniewski had finished half of her veal marsala, she leaned back against the burgundy-colored Naugahyde banquette and asked Nick what he saw in her anyway.

“You kiddin’?” Nick said. “You’re my beautiful baby, Nick’s beautiful baby girl!” He slid closer to her and put his arm once more around her shoulders to give her a quick, hard squeeze. Then he took back his arm and let it drop to the seat between them. As he sipped his second glass of wine, he inched that arm forward until he had his long olive fingers around Lindy’s slender thigh. She was only fifteen; the Krasniewski sisters all had slender thighs at fifteen.

Lindy pulled back just a little. “But why’d you pick me instead of one of my sisters?” she asked.

“Aw, that’s a no-brainer,” Nick said. “I picked you ‘cause you’re the prettiest.”

“We’re identical,” Lindy insisted with a small grimace.

“Not the way I see it,” Nick told her.

“How do you see it?” Lindy asked. She dabbed her napkin around her lips and then leaned her face nearer the alcohol lamp so it could cast its romantic glow.

“Oh, a guy sees a difference,” Nick said, lighting another Camel. “The other three look exactly alike. You look different.”

Lindy cocked her head so that the alcohol flame caught the very cute tilt of her chin. “Different how?”

“I dunno,” Nick said. “You’re just more…” He sucked in some cigarette smoke and let it curl out at the corners of his mouth. Then he drew his head back to lengthen his vocal cords and said, huskily, “You’re just a helluva lot sexier.”

Lindy giggled and bumped her elbow into his side.

Quadruplets are extremely rare; identical quadruplets, rarer still. Before people started fooling around with in vitro fertilization, the number of recorded identical sets of quadruplets in the world was only fifty-four, thirty-five of which were female. In recent years, however, all multiple births have increased due to increased use of new medical procedures. Banner Good Samaritan Hospital in Arizona holds the record for multiple deliveries with sixty-eight sets of quads since 1986. Two Russian families, however, boast four sets of quads each, born without medical intervention. In a way, that’s more impressive than Banner Good Samaritan.

When Nature is permitted to follow Her own course, She follows Hellin’s Law which holds that the number of twin births is 1/​89 the number of singleton births, the number of triplet births is 1/​89 the number of twin births, the number of quadruplet births is 1/​89 the number of triplet births, and so on. Among surviving sets of identicals, quintuplets seem to follow the rule for identical quadruplets: There are roughly twice as many female sets as male. The North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Il, is reported to have all sets of triplets seized as a security measure: Koreans consider triplets auspicious and the Leader takes every precaution against a successful coup.

. . . . . . . . .

Lindy continued to sip at her water as Nick was speaking to her of love. She drew tiny sips, taking care to keep her chin tilted up, letting the candlelight dance about her face.

Teachers had never been able to tell the quads apart, nor had neighbors, or even classmates. Unless their mother tied different colored ribbons on the infants’ wrists, no one, not even she, could tell them apart. As the girls grew, Mrs. Krasniewski took to tying colored ribbons in their hair, and when they arrived at adolescence, they wore color-coded barrettes. Lindy’s color had always been green. Green, Lindy felt, was not a particularly sexy color, not a siren shade like Sheree’s red, nor a sultry shade like Sandra’s blue. It wasn’t naively sunny, either, like Glorie’s yellow. And so Lindy was just dying to understand how Nick had picked her out from the others, and why he had gone to so much trouble to arrange their secret meetings and especially this splendid night on the town. She just couldn’t help wondering what it was about her that Nick found so, as he had put it, sexy.

Lindy felt perfectly certain that, had she felt under the weather on that particular evening, she could have asked one of her sisters to fill in for her without Nick ever knowing the difference. Yet he had hit on her, not Sheree or Sandra or Glorie. He’d started flirting with her across the aisle at church, had asked her to dance at the social, had hurried to catch up with her when he spotted her walking home from school with her friends. What was it?

Nature is never redundant; She makes no two things exactly the same. Even intricate snowflakes are plainly distinguishable when you view them up close. In all the millions of years that Nature has been turning out snowflakes, among all the snowflakes that fall in all the snowstorms over all the mountaintops and valleys and plains, there have never been two that are absolutely identical.

Knowing this about snowflakes, scientists became curious about so-called “identical” siblings. They wondered, for example, if identical twins have identical fingerprints. Fingerprints, surely, are every bit as minutely detailed and every bit as infinite in their variety, as uncountable in their possible configurations, as snowflakes. If Nature does not repeat a snowflake, would She repeat a fingerprint?

The answer, it turns out, is no. Identical twins and other identical multiples have identical genetic structures, but fingerprints are not genetically determined. Fingerprints and several other physical characteristics called “phenotypes” are developed by the interaction of genes with the uterine environment, and so they can vary, for example, with the position of a fetus in the womb. Fingerprints, like other phenotypical features, appear identical at birth but divergences become more evident as the siblings age. The presence of several phenotypes in a human’s physical appearance explains why identical siblings look less and less alike as they get older. It is why the famous Dionne quintuplets, as they aged, were less interesting as a museum phenomenon (which is how the Canadian government kept them, having made them wards of the state.)

Lindy looked charmingly into Nick’s rather bleary eyes and smiled. “You know,” she said, “our friends always tell my sisters and me how easy it would be to cheat if we wanted to. We could send another sister in to take a test if one sister was bad in a subject or something like that. We could get away with playing hookey if we wanted to take turns, you know? That’s probably why they keep us all in the same class now. When we were younger, they thought it was best to put us in different classes, but now they keep us together so we can’t shift ourselves around and cheat.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Nick said. He was studying her with a kind of swimmy-serious look that made her giggle.

“So, I mean, I could cheat on you, couldn’t I? I mean, how would you even know?”

Nick stiffened on the banquette and a dark furrow deepened in his brow. “No, little baby girl, you could never cheat on old Nick. Not on your life.” His lips drew up in a tight pucker. “Why would you even think a thing like that anyway? Jeez, that’s some crazy thing to say!”

“I’m not thinking of doing it,” Lindy replied. “I’m just saying I don’t think you would know if this was me, Lindy, or one of my sisters. I mean it’s not like we have any secret handshake or code words or anything like that, right?” She giggled again.

Nick was not amused. He signaled the waitress for the check by briskly writing the shape of a checkmark in the air with his right hand. They hadn’t yet had dessert, the tiramisu that Lindy had been dreaming of all through that day.

“Hey,” Lindy said, smiling sweetly, “aren’t we supposed to get dessert with this?”

“Aw,” Nick said, “you don’t wanna get fat now, do you? Then you couldn’t cheat on your boyfriend. You’d be the fat one, right? You’d stick out and not be able to fool around anymore, right?” He stood up and got their coats down from the hook on the wall. “C’mon,” he said. “Let’s get outta here.”

Lindy got up slowly, feeling a little disappointed, and also a little afraid. Nick had changed from slurry fun to something else she didn’t much like. But she felt she had somehow hurt his feelings and didn’t want to make things worse by arguing. While Lindy wrapped her wool scarf around her neck and buttoned into her long winter coat, Nick paid the bill and left a tip on the table, telling the waitress they were too full for dessert, but everything else was delicious, thanks.

The Adirondack night air made Lindy’s lips stick together and she felt around in her pocket for her Chapstick. Nick hustled her into the car, slammed the door, and hurried around to the driver’s side, all without speaking a word. When he had slid into his seat and slammed his own door, Lindy said, “I’m sorry if I made you angry. It’s just that I’m wondering, Why me? I’m flattered of course, but it’s something you wonder if you’re a quad.”

Nick laughed a sharp little laugh. When someone said “quad,” he usually thought “quadriplegic.” Quadriplegics were probably more common than quadruplets, he thought. That’s what made him laugh.