Secrets – Allen Stevenson
Dust motes danced in pale shafts of late-afternoon sun slanting through the open drapes of the parlor windows. Less affected by gravity than stale air currents imperceptible to Missy, the particles swirled about the big chair reserved for Unc. They appeared as tiny planets revolving around the imperious figure whom she envisioned lounging there. The rays illuminated the bulgy arms of the chair and briefly glinted off a letter opener resting on the side table where he always opened the mail and read his daily.
The light reminded Missy of the time of day when Unc most always invited her to share the luxurious, soft leather while he read the funny papers to her. All day she anticipated the latest installments of Blondie, Beetle Bailey, and Nancy—her favorite. As he read the comic strips, she felt the vibrations from the deep resonance of his voice emanate from the wool of his grand three-piece suit. An elegant, gold fob crawled across his mountainous belly before disappearing into the mysterious, miniature pocket where his watch lived. And usually, Missy could find a peppermint or Tootsie Roll hiding there—just for her, if only she would look.
Unc whispered to her each time, “This will be our secret. Mommy needn’t know about the treat since she’ll only complain about your supper being spoiled.”
Sometimes, her nose scrunched at the acrid smell of spent cigars and stale whiskey and she squirmed some in his lap; but Unc never seemed to mind. In fact, his good-natured tickling and chuckling caused her to wiggle even more and they both giggled. Missy felt small and protected—safer than any time since Daddy had left to live with Jesus and Mommy had cried so much.
And Unc always told her how pretty and grownup she’d become. He loved to twirl the golden ringlets waterfalling over her head. He even bought her real bracelets and necklaces to wear to church.
Now, Missy stood again before the massive chair and addressed him. “Unc, do you remember the secrets we shared? The candy? And our plan to convince Mom to let me keep the kitten that we told her I’d found? In the whole world, only you and I knew that you’d brought it home under your overcoat. It felt so good to have someone to talk to after Dad died when Mom was always so sad. Someone who knew everything.
“You know, I was glad that I could make you happy by giving you back rubs and playing our special games. Of course, some of the games made me feel ashamed; but you said that doing secret things for each other was what best friends did. Then you warned me that, if I told, I might get sent away like Dad.
“So, I never told anyone. Never!”
Missy paused as she studied the shadowed chair, now only dimly illuminated by light cast from a distant streetlamp. Moving boxes and furniture shrouded by sheets surrounded her like ghost attendees at a long-silent play.
Bending to the small table, her bent fingers encased in wrinkled skin grasped the bone hilt of the letter opener. She studied it in the faint light before gently using its tip to trace the whitish scars at odds with the pale blue veins in her left wrist.
Suddenly, Missy plunged the blade into the dry, cracked leather of the old chair. Her arm windmilled, each rotation slashing at the antique seat. Her tears fell in a torrent—like rain from the clouds of stuffing rising above the violent attack. Her wails and sobs thundered across the years.
Missy’s physical strength finally spent, the old woman dropped the blade amidst the ruins of the chair and took one last look around the room in which her childhood had been stolen.
Still gasping from her exertions, a hint of a wry smile played across her lips as she murmured toward the dissolving image of Unc, “When Junior comes to help finish packing tomorrow, he will surely wonder what happened here. But, if he asks, I’ll tell him the whole story.
“There will be no more secrets!”
Allen Stevenson is a retired camp director and storyteller, and writes from his home in upstate South Carolina. His work has been featured in several anthologies, including moonShine Review and Catfish Stew.
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