Secrets Keep
by Linda Sillitoe

Chapter 29

[p.282]I walk through my days cautiously, as if, inadvertently, I might rearrange my molecules and walk through a wall. I compliment myself on how simple it is to stay in a concrete world. I see how little routines such as watering plants, raking the yard, cooking dinner link us to what’s real. I spent a whole week sorting, framing, and hanging family photographs. Editing and proofreading for a couple of local presses bring in money and take only as much energy as being a wife and mother. I can coast all day in the empty house.

Jake and the girls count on me, yet the odd thing is that often the cookies I bake go uneaten. I plan the kind of cozy evening that used to delight everyone, only to find that Julie has plans with her friends, Heidi is lost in a book, and Jake has to check in with a collector.

Marly is getting to know her baby, Paula, via ultrasound. Of course, her news upset the family, but the fact that she’d already talked with her bishop helped Mom and Dad reconcile their feelings; and Marly’s right—everyone will love the baby. As far as I know, no one has asked about the father. The family, in fact, has rallied around Marly, as if single motherhood received a sacred holy dispensation.

Everything is so quiet, so easy. I bask in the stillness like a lizard [p.283]growing a new tail in the sun. Yet some days restlessness seizes me, and I walk block after block, past yard after manicured yard, wondering how other people do it—how they stay interested in mowing the lawn, hanging Christmas lights, keeping track of dental appointments decade after decade. I tell myself that once I’ve told this story, I’ll need something new to do, yet I’m not ready.

Do I even believe this strange business happened?—yes and no. It reminds me of when I learned as a kid that adults have sex. I’d sit in someone’s living room or at church and try to imagine the people making love, until my cheeks singed so red I was afraid everyone knew my thoughts. Lovemaking is an altered state—when you’re in its realm, it encompasses you. When you’re not, it seems awkward if not bizarre. And that’s how all the spooky stuff was, too. I know it happened yet still can’t quite believe I participated. If I think about it too much, I can feel that rash rising under my skin. People still want to discuss James Hubbard with me, but less now that he’s dead. His fascination went with him.

The attribute I may have had but neglected is now the one I can’t shake, one that Isabel says I’ll get used to. I can’t stop seeing. I go to a party and realize from particles if speech or looks that a married friend is having an affair with another friend and that destruction looms. Even at my parents’ anniversary I realized during refreshments that a favorite cousin was beating his wife. Nights I lie awake unable to forget these impressions, knowing I don’t know; I have no proof.

If I don’t see the moon shining in the desert, how do I know moonlight roams there at all? If I don’t say James died with each if us splashed with the other’s blood, how do I fall asleep? What gives me the need to express? Last night the moon hung over a mall being built a few blocks from our house and filled our bedroom with silver. What [p.284]now, I asked, what next? I heard nothing but the depth of Jake’s sleep.

Henry told me once, “Our friends are our teachers whether they know it or not.” I think often of that—how he and others appeared in the right place and time. I remember the figures on the red rock wall holding hands as they walked through the dark.

Grateful, I move closer to Jake so his sleep will soak through me. But I drift only into the sense of my hands flickering over computer keys, creating stories, pictures, a newly visible world.

I lead a normal life now. But my hands ache.