Secrets Keep
by Linda Sillitoe

Chapter 26
James Hubbard

[p.260]James walked back to his cell infuriated. He hated group therapy sessions. Oh, sometimes he could bait someone, or psych someone out, and that was entertaining enough. But mainly it was a bitching bore. Today Ms. Millicent, L.C.S.W., had gone on forever about being shame-based. He kept his cool until his cell door closed, then kicked at his mattress.

Shame. What an idiotic word. A stupid concept. All you had to do to was think about something else. Shame was a choice, an option, and not one he would ever take. In fact, he hated the filthy word.

For a long time as a child he had confused his own name with the word, “Shame.” Both were spoken, he realized now, with exactly the same intonation whether—“James!” or “Shame!” Only when he learned to read did he distinguish clearly between the two; also by then his younger sister was old enough to chant, “Shame on James,” but only from the safety of their mother’s shadow.

James had been even older before he’d realized why school clerks often called him and his sister Peggy into their offices, questioning their birth dates. The children answered clearly, but [p.261]there were always raised eyebrows and questions. “Were your parents married to other people, dear?”

One day in sixth grade Peggy had huffed out of the new principal’s office sniffing, “They think we’re polygamy brats.”

James had been born ten months and two weeks after Peggy; “But that’s impossible,” one Sunday school teacher had said in front of the whole class. Not that Peggy’s birthday was impossible, she explained; James’s was.

Strangest of all, his mother had just brushed off their puzzlement with, “You’re not quite a year apart. It’s as simple as that.”

But, as she said it, her cheeks would stain red. Something was wrong with when James was born. That he was born at all? Kids were so stupid.

His anger spent, Hubbard dug a wad of folded paper, the size of a stamp book, out of his waistband. Carefully he unfolded the creases, then began to read the article a friend who worked in the library had scammed for him. His brow cleared as he skimmed the lead—James Hubbard at the penitentiary—and he almost smiled at the account of the trouble he’d given the guards. Petty incidents, but, linked to him, they were newsworthy. Then his eyes began the next paragraph about an alleged victim years back—and a pseudonym, Mr. Greentree. He stared, unbelieving. He read it again. And again.