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The Prestigeby Christopher Priest
It began on a train, heading north through England, although I was soon to discover that the story had really begun more than a hundred years earlier.
I had no sense of any of this at the time: I was on company time, following up a report of an incident at a religious sect. On my lap lay the bulky envelope I had received from my father that morning, still unopened, because when Dad phoned to tell me about it my mind had been elsewhere. A bedroom door slamming, my girlfriend in the middle of walking out on me. ‘Yes, Dad, I had said, as Zelda stormed past with a boxful of my compact discs. ‘drop it in the mail, and Ill have a look.
After I had read the mornings edition of the Chronicle, and bought a sandwich and a cup of instant coffee from the refreshment trolley, I opened Dads envelope. A large-format paperback book slipped out, with a note loose inside and a used envelope folded in half.
The note said, ‘Dear Andy, Here is the book I told you about. I think it was sent by the same woman who rang me. She asked me if I knew where you were. Im enclosing the envelope the book arrived in. The postmark is a bit blurred, but maybe you can make it out. Your mother would love to know when you are coming to stay with us again. How about next weekend? With love, Dad.
At last I remembered some of my fathers phonecall. He told me the book had arrived, and that the woman who had sent it appeared to be some kind of distant relative, because she had been talking about my family. I should have paid more attention to him.
Here, though, was the book. It was called Secret Methods of Magic, and the author was one Alfred Borden. To all appearances it was one of those instructional books of card tricks, sleight of hand, illusions involving silk scarves, and so on. The only aspect of it that interested me at first glance was that although it was a recently published paperback, the text itself appeared to be a facsimile of a much older edition: the typography, the illustrations, the chapter headings and the laboured writing style all suggested this.
I couldnt see why I should be interested in such a book. Only the authors name was familiar: Borden was the surname I had been born with, although when I was adopted as a small child my name was changed to that of my adoptive parents. My name now, my full and legal name, is Andrew Westley, and although I have always known that I was adopted I grew up thinking of Duncan and Jillian Westley as Dad and Mum, loved them as parents, and behaved as their son. All this is still true. I feel nothing for my natural parents. Im not curious about them or why they put me up for adoption, and have no wish ever to trace them now that I am an adult. All that is in my distant past, and they have always felt irrelevant to me.
There is, though, one matter concerning my background that borders on the obsessive.
I am certain or to be accurate almost certain, that I was born one of a pair of identical twins, and that my brother and I were separated at the time of adoption. I have no idea why this was done, nor where my brother might be, but I have always assumed that he was adopted at the same time as me. I only started to suspect his existence when I was entering my teens. By chance I came across a passage in a book, an adventure story, that described the way in which many pairs of twins are linked by an inexplicable, apparently psychic contact. Even when separated by hundreds of miles or living in different countries, such twins will share feelings of pain, surprise, happiness, depression, one twin sending to the other, and vice versa. Reading this was one of those moments in life when suddenly a lot of things become clear.
All my life, as long as I can remember, I have had the feeling that someone else is sharing my life. As a child, with nothing to go on apart from the actual experience, I thought little of it and assumed everyone else had the same feelings. As I grew older, and I realized none of my friends was going through the same thing, it became a mystery. Reading the book therefore came as a great relief as it seemed to explain everything. I had a twin somewhere.
The feeling of rapport is in some ways vague, a sense of being cared for, even watched over, but in others it is much more specific. The general feeling is of a constant background, while more direct ‘messages come only occasionally. These are acute and precise, even though the actual communication is invariably non-'verbal.
Once or twice when I have been drunk, for example, I have felt my brothers consternation growing in me, a fear that I might come to some harm. On one of these occasions, when I was leaving a party late at night and was about to drive myself home, the flash of concern that reached me was so powerful I felt myself sobering up! I tried describing this at the time to the friends I was with, but they joked it away. Even so I drove home inexplicably sober that night.
In turn, I have sometimes sensed my brother in pain, or frightened, or threatened in some way, and have been able to ‘send feelings of calm, or sympathy, or reassurance towards him. It is a psychic mechanism I can use without understanding it. No one to my knowledge has ever satisfactorily explained it, even though it is common and well documented.
There is in my case, however, an extra mystery.
Not only have I never been able to trace my brother, as far as records are concerned I never had a brother of any kind, let alone a twin. I do have intermittent memories of my life before adoption, although I was only three when that happened, and I cant remember my brother at all. Dad and Mum knew nothing about it; they have told me that when they adopted me there was no suggestion of my having a brother.
As an adoptee you have certain legal rights. The most important of these is protection from your natural parents: they cannot contact you by any legal means. Another right is that when you reach adulthood you are able to ask about some of the circumstances surrounding your adoption. You can find out the names of your natural parents, for instance, and the address of the court of law where the adoption was made, and therefore where relevant records can be examined.
I followed all this up soon after my eighteenth birthday, anxious to find out what I could about my brother. The adoption agency referred me to Ealing County Court where the papers were kept, and here I discovered that I had been put up for adoption by my father, whose name was Clive Alexander Borden. My mothers name was Diana Ruth Borden (née Ellington), but she had died soon after I was born. I assumed that the adoption happened because of her death, but in fact I was not adopted for more than two years after she died, during which period my father brought me up by himself. My own original name was Nicholas Julius Borden. There was nothing about any other child, adopted or otherwise.
I later checked birth records at St Catherines House in London, but these confirmed I was the Bordens only child.
Even so, my psychic contacts with my twin remained through all this, and have continued ever since.
* * *
The book had been published in the USA by Dover Publications, and was a handsome, well-made paperback. The cover painting depicted a dinner-jacketed stage magician pointing his hands expressively towards a wooden cabinet, from which a young lady was emerging. She was wearing a dazzling smile and a costume which for the period was probably considered saucy.
Under the authors name was printed: ‘Edited and annotated by Lord Colderdale.
At the bottom of the cover, in bold white lettering, was the blurb: ‘The Famous Oath-Protected Book of Secrets&
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