Sally wasn’t like the other girls. She wasn’t like the boys either, not exactly. Sally had a secret, and she felt like it was written all over her face. It wasn’t, for the record. She had a very pleasant face, although a few too many worry lines for a girl of her age. But she simply couldn’t be around the other children, and it was hard.
Sally’s secret was large and cumbersome. It gurgled, sometimes, like her stomach when she’d eaten too many plums. At other times, it whispered to her, begging her to tell someone, anyone. But Sally knew that a secret should be kept, so she did. She didn’t know what secrets ate, so she made sure she ate a little of everything. She watered it every day so it wouldn’t dry up.
Her mother sometimes said that the walls had ears, so she didn’t even speak the secret in her bedroom; although she couldn’t recall seeing a wall with ears, and wondered whose they were. She didn’t ask her mother, though, because her mother had secrets of her own.
Sally’s mother had carried secrets all her life. She was a postal worker, and the strain of delivering so many secrets every day had taken its toll. Her face was faded and expressionless, Sally thought, like a sheet that had been washed too many times, and started to wear through. She sometimes wondered what would happen if her mother’s secrets finally burst through that translucent skin and all over the house. Would they creep into Sally, and join her own secret? Would they grow legs and stride from the house like the strange shadow creatures her brother had told her about? Sally hoped it wouldn’t happen when she was around, because she thought one secret was enough for anyone.
Sally’s secret hadn’t come to her on spindly legs, or in a sealed envelope. Her secret had been whispered, as all good secrets must, by her granny. Her granny had been old, then, and worn down by her secrets. Sally’s family visited her in the hospice, that last night, and she gave them each a secret to carry away. Sally’s mother looked sad, afterwards, and Sally suspected she had been given more than one secret to keep. Sally took hers carefully, and had kept it ever since.
It wasn’t a big secret back then, not at first. It had grown to its current size quite suddenly, when her father had died. He hadn’t carried any secrets, not her plain-speaking poppa: he was hit by a bus.
After that, Sally’s secret was sometimes so heavy that she had to stay in bed. She would pull the covers up over her head and tell her mother she was sick. It wasn’t good to lie, but it was worse to talk about a secret. Her grandmother had told the secrets, then she had died. That was pretty clear evidence in Sally’s eyes, and she wasn’t ready to die yet.
Time passed, and Sally’s secret got easier to carry. It was still large and heavy, but Sally was stronger. She caught herself sometimes, forgetting to feed the secret, even forgetting about it altogether. But she continued to keep it.
Like all little girls, Sally eventually grew up. She grew strong and she made friends. The secret was still there, but she had buried it deep inside, a low-maintenance pet, or imaginary companion, just another minor aspect of herself.
Then, one otherwise normal evening, Sally met a girl with hair the colour of glowing coals, and a mind the colour of eternity. Sally fell in love. So did the girl.
Days passed, then weeks, and their love grew deeper and stronger. They were inseparable, joined at the heart, yet Sally felt free. She forgot about the ears in the walls, for there were no boundaries now. Wrapped together in a darkness so deep and peaceful that nothing else seemed to exist, Sally whispered her secret.
The ungrateful little bitch.
After all of our years together, she just passed me off in the night, like a common rumour. Yes, yes, she was happy, ecstatic even, blossoming in the verdant light of love and all that, but what about me? What’s a secret to do when it’s no longer perfect?
I should have gone to the grave with the old bat, but instead I’m torn apart, distorted and wrong.
I suppose I should be grateful, in a sense. I’ve done my time served in that wretched little head, and it’s not my fault she couldn’t handle me, in the end.
If you know how to really look after a secret, a real secret, then come closer. Let me whisper in your ear.