Secrets Keep
by Linda Sillitoe

Chapter 9
Barbara Fetzer

[p.85]Barbara really couldn’t see any reason for Caitlin’s resistance. “Why not?” she importuned over the telephone. Barbara’s hands flashed the peeler across wet potatoes. “We all have to go down there. It’s a command performance for great-aunt Thelma, not just a wedding shower for Janae.”

“Well, I know,” Caitlin said. “I’m not trying to get out of it—I missed two baby showers during the Hubbard months. I just thought I might have to work late and should drive down alone.”

“But then you’d have to drive back alone,” Barbara pointed out. “You’ll be tired.”

“True. Well, that’s fine. So you’re offering to drive?”

“Yes, I’ll pick up Mom and the rest of you can meet me there.”

“Sounds good,” Caitlin said. “Marly’s been after me to go to lunch anyway. It’s been a while since we got together.”

“This way we can give Robyn some support, too,” Barbara said, adding, “This whole business with Roger going AWOL could be uncomfortable among the cousins.”

“Oh, no one will say anything,” Caitlin responded. “Just the usual silent-but-tense atmosphere.”

Now why would she put it that way, Barbara wondered, but [p.86]she didn’t want to get into it. “Anyway, I’ll see you tomorrow at five-thirty.”

“Right,” Caitlin said, “thanks,” and was gone.

Barbara called Marly, then Robyn. Both agreed with the plan. Eventually Barbara hung up the telephone pleased, for Robyn had seemed willing to chat. Barbara had told her about Fred’s promotion to an efficiency accountant for church headquarters. From now on he would monitor employees’ hours and effectiveness, and—when necessary—their telephone conversations. Only the most trusted and loyal employees could be recruited for such a position.

Barbara’s offer to drive everyone was more than altruistic. The two-hour ride should give them ample time to plan their parents’ fortieth anniversary. They could also organize Thanksgiving dinner and the Christmas party. For an instant, Barbara felt a guilty pang, thinking of Robyn having to discuss all this with Roger missing. But maybe Roger would have returned by the holidays; life, after all, did go on.

Despite her agenda, Barbara wouldn’t have to be obvious about bringing up all these events. They’d have plenty of time to talk, and there was only so much they could say about Roger, the subject foremost on everyone’s mind. Maybe making plans would come as a relief

Caitlin was late that evening. Genevieve, looking determinedly cheerful, volunteered to sit in back, flanked by Marly and Robyn by the time Caitlin pulled up. “Hi, everyone,” she said climbing in front, flipping back her hair. “What’s new?”

Her question, innocent enough, seemed to leave a hush in the air. Barbara mentioned Fred’s promotion as she pulled into traffic.

“He monitors employees?” Caitlin asked, then translated, “You mean he watches people?”

“There’s nothing sinister about it,” Barbara returned indig-[p.87]nantly. “Lots of corporations do it, and the church has a responsibility to its members.” She realized she sounded like an echo of Fred, but that was just the way the explanation came out.

“Outgoing calls,” Caitlin said, her voice neutral. “One person involved in the call has to know it might be bugged, and, of course, the employees know.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Barbara sighed.

“Nothing new at the library,” Marly said, shifting the focus before Barbara could take further offense. “What’s new at the magazine?”

“Don’t ask,” Caitlin said.

Barbara took a deep breath, realizing her journalist sister hadn’t meant to sound so critical. She was just—Caitlin. “I’ve had to make a freelancer rewrite his story on rural housing problems twice,” Caitlin began.

A murmur of interest and consent came from the back seat, a reward for safer conversational ground. “I keep working him through the issues that are important—the fact that most older people on farms don’t know the repair funds are available, the fact that the government just rolls the dollars over into another fund if they aren’t used, while people’s roofs are literally falling on their heads.”

“My word,” Genevieve said, “what a waste.”

“So,” Caitlin continued, “today I’m going through draft three, right? And here’s this quote that very neatly sums up the issues—boom, boom, boom. It’s useful, but it sounds vaguely familiar.”

“Quote from whom?” Barbara asked, drawn into Cait’s tale.

“My question exactly. It’s attributed to ‘a close observer of the housing program.’ So I call up Dee Daniels, the writer, for the umpteenth time, schmooze a little, then ask who is this ‘close [p.88]observer’ and why isn’t he or she identified? ‘Oh, that’s you,’ he says.”

“Oh, great,” Barbara said, as laughter rose from the back seat.

“Yeah. He quoted me—his editor—as an unnamed source!”

“Can you do that?” Robyn asked.

“Not in my book—or my magazine—you can’t. So while I’m reading him his rights on that one, I keep thumbing through his story because I remember another unnamed source. Guess who this one turns out to be?—Dee himself—identified as ‘a member of a suburban council’ that works with a housing program.”

“But hasn’t Dee Daniels published quite a bit?” Marly asked.

“Yes. Just hope that whatever you’re reading had an alert editor. “

“Speaking of which,” Barbara put in, “my boys have started an in-house newspaper. The first edition came out last Saturday.”

“That’s great,” Robyn said.

“What do they cover?” Caitlin asked.

“The front page story was how they caught Stacy kissing the bishop’s son out by the garage.”

“Isn’t Stacy a little young for that?” Genevieve asked above the laughter.

“We think so,” Barbara said. “At least I made it to sixteen before getting kissed.”

“What did Stacy say about it?” Caitlin asked.

“She gave a categorical denial, then offered to catch the typos and spelling errors in future editions.”

They laughed again. “Censorship is alive and well,” Caitlin commented.

Conversation switched easily: Robyn remembered something Kerry had said about Danny’s thumb-sucking; that reminded Barbara of Brad’s bright observation about his twin cousins not really being fraternal. The car was inching along now, caught in [p.89]rush hour traffic on the interstate. Barbara turned up the air conditioning, then Marly said, “The periodicals department has a waiting list for your articles on James Hubbard, Cait.”

“No kidding? Why don’t these library addicts buy magazines? Maybe we could stay in the black.”

“Hubbard is so hard to understand, that’s why all the interest,” Genevieve told her.

“How did he get to be the way he is?” Marly asked. “Your last article showed how disturbed he was years ago. Maybe it’s lucky it took him so long to really blow up.”

“So to speak,” Barbara amended. They laughed.

Hubbard provided conversation until they passed the Point of the Mountain where Barbara noticed that Caitlin did not look toward the penitentiary. “Hello, James,” she heard Robyn say in the humorous voice she hadn’t used for a while. “Hello, James,” the others mimicked. But Caitlin looked straight ahead and Barbara thought she looked weary.

“You must get tired of this,” Barbara said. “Why don’t we talk about Mom’s and Dad’s anniversary? For one thing, we need to decide if this involves a cast of thousands or what.”

“Oh, this is really too much work for all of you,” Genevieve protested. “Why don’t we have a family dinner at a restaurant?”

“What about the extended family?” Barbara asked. “What about your study group? What about all your ward and stake friends?”

“Well, there’s your cast of thousands,” Marly commented.

After considerable discussion, they decided to go the whole distance and throw a big party in the ward cultural hall, invite everyone Tom and Genevieve would like to have come, request that the guests bring no gifts, and plan a program. About that time, Barbara noticed that Caitlin, who contributed little to the discussion, seemed to have stopped listening. She was staring [p.90]intently past Barbara at the mountains on the left side of the road, her eyes fixed and glazed.

“Cait?” Barbara asked, but she didn’t seem to hear. In the back seat, Marly said something funny and the others laughed. Cait didn’t hear, neither did Barbara because she was watching Caitlin. Her hands were clenched in her lap, Barbara noticed, and her face shone with a film of sweat. Now her eyes closed and her breath sounded ragged.

“Caitlin!” Barbara said. “Caitlin, are you sick? Do you want me to pull over?”

Even as she spoke, her foot moved toward the brake and she looked over her shoulder, catching a glimpse of her mother’s startled face.

Caitlin looked up slightly. “No, I’m fine,” she said hoarsely. “I’m okay. Don’t stop.”

“What is it?” Genevieve said, leaning forward. Her voice trembled. “Caitlin?”

“Nothing, Mom. I’m fine. I just felt a little funny.”

“Have you eaten?” Robyn asked. She and Caitlin routinely accused the other of being anorexic, but the truth was they were persistent, if weak, dieters.

“Oh, I guess I had an apple for lunch.” Caitlin was pulling a tissue out of her bag and patting her face.

“You need more than that, Caitlin,” Genevieve said in her motherly way. “You bum up a lot of energy in a day.”

Barbara saw Marly hand something to Caitlin, who looked blankly at the object in her open hand. “It’s a crystal,” Marly said. “Just hold it for a while.”

A pause, as if everyone waited—as Barbara did—for Caitlin to say something wittily caustic, reminding Marly that her mystical inclinations were harmless but silly. However, Barbara saw [p.91]Caitlin’s left hand close over the crystal. Her right hand still held the tissue, which she lifted to her face again.

Barbara checked the road, then glanced again at her sister. Her face still ashen, Caitlin was catching a tear dropping from her jaw. Now what? Barbara wondered, alarmed. First Roger, now what in the world was wrong with Caitlin?

Barbara opened her mouth but immediately decided maybe it was best to say nothing at all. Lately they all seemed to be playing overly dramatic parts in a soap opera that moved moment by slow moment through one trauma after another.

“That’s it!” Barbara said suddenly. “We’ll make a video and show it that night at the anniversary party. A family video.”

“Right,” Marly said ironically, as if she had snatched Barbara’s thought about the soap opera. “We can call it All My Children.”

“Now don’t be negative,” Barbara warned. “This will be great. Don’t you think so, Mom? We can include old photographs. It’ll be a wonderful keepsake for all the grandkids, and, if we make it lively, it should be fun for everybody.”

“It sounds lovely,” Genevieve said, “except that it’s a lot of work.” Her voice sounded tremulous, and Barbara knew she was thinking about Roger.

“We have time,” Barbara said confidently. “Don’t worry. It will all work out—I can feel it.”

“This month will seem like nothing but a bad dream,” Robyn added hopefully.

Caitlin laughed, a short, odd bark, and moved the crystal to the other hand then looked at it. “Feel,” she said, laying the clear stone against Barbara’s bare forearm.

“Ouch!” Barbara jumped and the car swerved. “It’s hot. What have you been doing to it?”

“Just holding it,” Caitlin said, leaning back.

“You sound better,” Marly said. “Why don’t you keep that?”

[p.92]Barbara increased the pressure on the accelerator, then pulled into the fast lane. Regardless of anyone’s hesitations, making a video was a great idea, one that fueled her thoughts for the rest of the evening.