There were once identical twins. All their lives they had gone to the same barber for the same haircut, at first because it amused their parents and now from habit. The old barber enjoyed this, and sat them in adjacent chairs and compared them in the mirror as he worked. But after their haircuts one of the twins always tousled his hair. His name was John.
One day their wives were with them, and the barber said, “Do you boys ever swap women? You know, without saying?”
Everyone laughed, but at home John’s wife said, “Horrible old man.” When John came home from work in the following days she would ask him about things that his brother couldn’t know. At first he laughed but then it seemed strange she would remember a silly joke. So he pretended he couldn’t remember these things, or he pretended to be someone pretending to remember.
The wife, being virtuous, was angry. But when they made love she thought that he was more insistent, more urgent. Afterwards she calmed herself by thinking that to sleep with her husband’s twin was perhaps a small sin, especially if her husband knew. And it was no sin at all if she herself didn’t know. And her brother-in-law was so . . .
A few days later John said, “You’ve stopped testing me.” Next morning he stared for a long time into the bathroom mirror. Then he combed his hair carefully and shaved carefully and dressed carefully.
His wife was angry. She had been worried about her brother-in-law, but now she was worried about her husband. She tousled his hair and said, “Why have you shaved? Usually you don’t shave so much.”
The man couldn’t explain. But as he walked to the school he thought that he perhaps liked seeing his wife a little disturbed and that he liked resembling his brother, who was decisive.
As he was thinking these things his brother drove past and was shocked: “Why is he so neat? And his clothes!” At the office the brother phoned his wife saying, “I just thought I’d call.”
Ten minutes later his wife heard the door bell. “I forgot my key,” said the man. She was so surprised that she didn’t speak, even when he took her hand.
Afterwards she looked at him strangely. He stammered and left. She said nothing when her husband came home, even when he told her about his brother looking so smart. She only thought, “I can’t be sure.”
But when her husband went through into the lounge she called, “It was a nice surprise this morning. When you came home.”
She waited, but her husband didn’t answer. He didn’t answer because he was shocked, but she preferred to think that he already knew. Her heart began to thump. It meant that she was free.
She was glad therefore when her husband’s brother came again the next day. But afterwards she thought, “If my husband agreed to this then he wants to sleep with John’s wife.” That afternoon she drove past John’s house. She turned round and drove past again, and this time she saw her husband.
Soon after this, the men swapped homes. They preferred to be with the women who had accepted them, not the ones who had betrayed them.
John was hurt by his wife’s deceit, but after all he had been first, and his new life was surprising and an adventure and gave him a new boldness. But it was hard for his brother, who had always felt dominant.
They didn’t speak for several weeks, but then John phoned. They began to meet for drinks, with their old boyhood feeling that no one else understood them.
One day they brought the two women without warning them. The women were annoyed by this trick, but the men ignored them because their new lives had become routine. The twins got a little drunk. Outside the bar, John said, “Let’s tell the barber.”
They hauled the two women into the barber’s, but before they could explain about their new lives, the barber laughed in his loud way and said, “So you still haven’t swapped women! You should try it! I’m telling you. Try it!”