Our Secret

I’m retiring another story. This was declined by a magazine and I’ve decided to share it online. Please be kind but I do appreciate feedback.

OUR SECRET by Tracy J. Johnston

            I am sitting in the kitchen with a cup of oolong tea in front of me.  I gently touch the edge of the rim, sliding my finger around it. I stare hard through the window at my backyard. Out there, the magnolia tree is dead.  Its barren branches lean toward me, beckoning me from the comfort of my home. My brown thumb kills another one. I don’t know why I continue. Plant after plant, tree after tree, none bloom and most simply rot in front of me. My neighbors all have stately trees decorating their tiny yards and mine is empty except for one dead project after another. This one will have to be pulled out again. I think about leaving it there. I can keep it as a statue to truth in this short life of mine. Of course it wouldn’t take long before the home owner’s association left an official letter in my mailbox requesting that I remove it. In the meantime, it will stay. My husband will return from his latest business trip and ask if he should deal with it and I’ll shake my head no. Its bare branches have a beauty that can’t be understood by everyone.

            “Ma,” my eleven-year-old daughter beckons, “When’s Dad coming home?”

            “Thursday.” I look at the calendar. “Thursday night. His plane lands around 8.”

            “Ma,” I glare at her. She knows I hate being called Ma. Why can’t she call me Mom like normal kids? “ I kinda found something of Dad’s.”

            I look at her, head cocked and turned to the side. I can scold her. She is not supposed to be snooping around in her father’s things. He’s told her a million times not to. I know she looks through my stuff, but I don’t really care. Sam, my husband, is secretive where Cora is quizzical. Both are similar but opposite. They are good at secrets. I think my daughter will one day be a detective. She will spend her life searching for answers while the rest of us spend ours hiding them.

            She looks at me seriously. I can tell she’s found something important. Her face does not change, no smile protrudes, no expression of humor. Whatever she has found, it must be bad. I had hoped it would be years before she discovered her father wasn’t one of the good guys. Children are meant to adore their parents. As a mother, I hold my child in the palm of my hand. It is my duty and privilege to protect her from the sharpness of life. Then my child grows up and she will discover the jagged edges of the world. I just have to hope to have the Band-Aids to make the cuts and bruises better.

            “I found some files.” Cora begins. “I don’t think I should’ve looked.”

            She stops. Her face is sad. I wish she had found something innocuous like the secret pack of cigarettes he keeps in the hollowed out book in his nightstand or the pictures of him drinking at some high school party. Why can’t she find the secrets that make him human, the ones all parents hide? Why did she look until she found something she can’t forgive?

            I think about asking her not to tell me. It might be a secret that I know, or it might not. Our marriage is on thin ice right now. If I was a stronger person, I probably would take Cora and leave. If he wasn’t such a gentleman as he described it, he would probably leave her. Cora could spend weekends and certain times in the summer with him. It would be hard, but not impossible. I could leave before I began hating Sam and I could move on with my life. I could show my daughter that people can be happy. Maybe I could even find a nice man; one of those people out there with a heart, unlike Sam’s whose must be two sizes too small.

            Cora sits down at the table and puts her hands over mine. I want to pull away but I don’t. I look at out that dead magnolia tree. I can’t look my daughter in the eyes right now. Whatever she is about to say, I know it is going to hurt.

            “What does Daddy do when he’s away on business?” Cora asks me.

            “I don’t know exactly. I know he’s in New York a lot. You know that your father doesn’t like to talk about what he does.” I tell her.

            “He has all these newspaper clippings and magazine articles. They are all locked up in a safe that I found up in the attic. It was pretty well hidden. Daddy really didn’t want anyone to find it.”

            “Then why’d you go looking?”

            She smiles. Stupid question. She had to. It’s like telling a cat not to chase the bird right in front of them. It’s natural.

            “Cora, I know you don’t want to hear this, but do you really want me to know?” I ask.

            “No, but I think you have to. I think we need to know.” She says.

            I’m stunned. I expected she found something about the affairs. I look into her face and realize it is not about the other women in his life. She’s discovered something worse. What could be worse that finding out your daddy is cheating on your mommy. Sure, lots of people find out about these since there are so many people sleeping around now a days, but a child shouldn’t know about such things. My Cora probably already knew this. She is a smart girl and a snoop to boot. She probably is hiding it from me. We’re both holding the same secret. So what is this new revelation?

            Cora begins, “Daddy has a whole bunch of articles about people who died. People who were murdered. Why would Daddy lock up something like that? Why would he collect it?”

            I know the answer but I don’t say it. How can we all look the other way when bad things happen just under our noses? Daddy’s a bad man. I married a bad man. I just didn’t know how bad. He’s the type of person to have violence just under the surface. Sam had never hit me, not in fifteen years of marriage did he ever so much as raise his voice to me. But there is something to be said about an individual who is always so controlled that he almost lacks emotion. He is neither angry nor sad nor overjoyed with the tumultuous daily life. He had thin smiles, the ones where the lips barely turn up.

            I look up at the magnolia tree. Maybe there is a leaf on that thing after all. I stand up and face my daughter. I get on my knees and tell her everything is going to be fine. I’m not sure what to say next. She is only a baby.  There are tears in her eyes. Our world is crumbling. Maybe it’s time to give up on the stupid yard. Maybe a place without plants and trees adorning it is not so bad. There must be a reason why nothing grows here. My daughter tumbles down, leaning into herself, now curled up on the floor. I pat her head over and over. Neither of us needs to know any more.

            “Did you put those files away?” I ask.

            “Yes,” she says in between small sobs.

            “Is everything exactly where you found it?”

            “Yes.” She nods.

            “Are you absolutely certain?”

            She nods again. I smile and it surprises me.

            “I’m not happy here. Are you? Here with Daddy?” I ask.

            “No.”

            “I think it’s time Daddy and I try living separately. But you can’t tell anyone about what you found. No one, not your friends at school, not your teachers, not even Daddy.”

            She nods.

            “It’s our secret.” I say.

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Short Stories – Stolen

I’ve been working on my writing for the last several months. I’ve been sending short stories out to different magazines, trying to get published. I’m also working on a novel and have completed a rough draft. In the meantime, I’ve decided to publish ones that have been rejected on this site. I am hoping to get some feedback for future work. I’m going to keep sending out what I feel is my best work, so please have mercy on these lesser stories.

Stolen by Tracy J. Johnston

            May in Central Florida is a time of madness.  The heat rises into the nineties and the humidity peaks at a hundred percent.  The sky begins opening up and comes down crashing in disapproval.  The roads begin to lighten up and the lines at restaurants are considerably shorter.  Snowbird season officially ends as the old, the wealthy and the vacationers begin to prefer their northern climates again.  Rodney opens the door out into the Florida afternoon and peers at the blobs of raindrops slashing their way down to the asphalt parking lot.  He pulls his apron off his waste and for a moment looks at his plastic bag.  The crash of thunder shakes the restaurant and he smirks.  A metal umbrella in a thunder storm in about as useful as a winter coat in the desert.  He could stay, wait for the storm to pass as they always do, but he is almost twitching in anticipation to get home.  He jumps out, skipping the half mile to his car.  By the time he is there, he is soaked to the skin but laughing at himself.

            The drive home goes by fast.  Twenty minutes is a breeze for him in the offseason.  Usually the I4 is packed with cars, buses and most of all minivans filled with excited and tired kids whose faces are usually pressed to the back window staring at him.  The storm ends quickly enough; the wiper blades are hardly even tired.  He grabs his plastic bag, the wet apron, and jumps out, running up the two flights of stairs to his apartment.  There is a piece of paper stuck to the door.

            Call me.  – Trish

            He blinks, looks at it again, and crumbles it.  The good mood drained.  Rodney became fully aware of his soaked clothing and the paper disintegrated against his pants.  He threw the bag and the apron on the floor and went to the bathroom to take a hot shower.  Most women left Rodney with the urge to take a cold shower, but not Trish.  He had the wish to burn the scent of her off his flesh.  She was the kind of girl who was sweet at first and but like a lollypop left out in the sun, quickly melted sticking to everything it touched.  Does she want money?  Does she want a place to stay?  Does she want me?  The last question sickened him and he stripped his clothing off.  The shower was refreshing in a scolding way.  His pores opened up and breathed in.

            Stepping out, he wraps a towel around his waist.  Rodney picks up the phone, dials the number and immediately regrets not changing.  He feels vulnerable with just the towel.  It’s too late as he hears the click of the other phone and her sweet voice.

            “Rodney, Oh my God.  Thank God it’s you.”  Trish exclaims.

            “What do you want and why are you still around?” He asks.

            “Oh, are you still mad at me?  Please don’t be mad.  You know I love you and would never intentionally hurt you.  I just get, confused sometimes.  I really try to be good, but I think sometimes I just forget who I am.  Please tell me you are not still mad at me.  I just don’t know what to do without my Rodney by my side.”

            “Paying your rent out of my checkbook is not a little mistake.  Neither was emptying my wallet on two occasions.”

            “I told you, I was just confused.  I’m seeing someone to help me with all that.  You know, a therapist.  He’s helping me out a lot.  I’m sorting things out.”

            “He.” Rodney says.

            “Now Rodney, sweetie, darling, won’t you do me just the littlest favor?”

            “What.”

            She pauses.  He tries to calculate it in his head.  It’s been four months since he had last seen Trish.  The bank had called him, a check had bounced and upon audit, the signature had looked different.  Rodney had gone down there and recognized the hand writing immediately.  He had known, somewhere deep within.  Money had gone missing several times; twice he was absolutely certain of.  His mother’s gold hoops had gone missing too.  She had left them while visiting the earlier fall and had asked Rodney to send them back.  Putting it off, he wrapped them in a few tissues and stuck the pair into his sock drawer.  At first, he assumed it was an honest mistake; they could have been thrown out in a quick cleanup.  But in the lobby of the Central Florida First National Bank, he knew.  The whole truth fell upon him in one quick swoop.

            “I’d rather not meet with you again.” He whispers.

            “What?” She asks.

            “Nothing,” He says.  “You can come by.”

            But I’ll be watching you, he wants to add.  The heartbreak has not gone away but neither has the love.  His heart beats faster.  She’s coming.  Did she actually say that?  Rodney isn’t sure as he puts down the phone.  He’s angry and sad, turning on the TV.  He turns it to Channel 5 and watches the six o’clock news.  It’s already fifteen minutes into the program and they announce the “what not to eat” segment.  Where, what and how not to eat.  Everyone, including the six o’clock news is trying to influence the life and times of Rodney Sneed.  He turns the news off.  There is almost no reason to watch the news during the month of May in Central Florida.  The weather is the only good report and its almost mid nineties, eighty percent chance of rain and thunderstorms.  Uh well.

            He closes his eyes and leans his head back against the arm of his couch.  Before long, the doorbell rings and he slowly lifts himself back up.  He peaks out the peephole and sees her, smiling with her long blonde hair pulled to one side.  She glows with excitement as he opens the door slowly.  Trish jumps into him, knocking him backwards and plants her lips hard against his cheek.  He yearns to kiss her back, but it’s impossible with her clutching him in this bear hug.

            “Ok, let go.” He regrets everything.  His heart has opened again, three times its size, leaping up his throat.  Her bosom is pressing against his chest, which does not hurt her cause.  He breaks her bond, and puts his hands on both her shoulders.  He moves her slowly into the apartment, not harshly but gently guiding her to the couch.

            “Sit down.”

            Trish smiles up at him.  She definitely is glowing now.  He counts the months again in his head.  Four.  Technically, three and a half months.  Fourteen weeks.  The numbers are alive within him.  He looks to her belly and sees nothing unusual.  There is no telltale bump or even a loose shirt to cover any such revelation.  Trish is wearing a skintight tank top with spaghetti straps cutting into her shoulders.  He sighs to himself.

            “I missed you.” She says.

            He is smiling despite himself. 

            “Give me a second chance?” She asks.

            “Maybe.” Rodney says.  He has already decided but she doesn’t have to know that. 

            She tilts her head to the side and looks up at him.  She gives him another peck and smiles coyly. 

            “I’m going to be singing Saturday night at the Ritz Club downtown.  Will you come watch?”

            Without hesitating he answers, “Yes.”

            She stands up and walks slowly toward the door.  Her hips rock from side to side.  She looks back and says, “I hope to see you then.”

            Rodney sits on the couch stunned as she walks out.  How can she walk in and out on him?  His chest hurts, his breathe short, and tingling traveling up and down him.  He looks to the door as it closes and glances down.  On the floor, where his apron and bag were thrown, is now empty.  His wallet, tucked into the plastic bag, is gone with it.  He looks back up, his eyes wide open.

Kindle

I am having trouble with the kindle set up and am currently waiting on a response from Amazon.

I am so excited. I discovered that anyone can publish their blog to Kindle very easily. I probably shouldn’t advertise this fact now that I will have competition- but I’m too excited to care. I’m going through a rough patch now and any good news is great news for me. Deep down, I am an author at heart. I may not have a best-selling novel as I had planned since I was little, but my words are my soul. I can write a thousand times better than I speak.
Here I am, a blogger. Is a blogger a writer? Is a blogger an author? I don’t think that is for me to answer. I have won minor awards and even have been paid from contests, but does that make me an author. In a digital age, I believe the definition will ultimately change. According to Merriam-Webster online an author is one that originates or creates OR the writer of a literary work (as a book). Ok, I’m an author. A broke author. Thanks to my chef/husband I’m not starving.
I already subscribe to two blogs on my original kindle and am not sure if they will let me subscribe to my own free. I love regular old-fashioned paper books and my walk in closet is filled with books instead of clothing. What I love about the Kindle is that I can get things that I don’t want to wait for. With my piteous salary I cannot afford to spend $25 on a book. I can’t really afford $10. I use the library and farmer’s markets to keep me supplied. My mother gave me a gift card to Amazon.com for Christmas and I read all four twilight novels in under two weeks. I can read blogs, magazines, newspapers, and samples. Did I mention I love samples? What a fantastic idea? It’s like sitting in a book store flipping through the first chapter except I’m in the car, or on my lunch break and I get to read a few pages or even chapters for FREE. I love FREE.
In the meantime, I’m working on the novel my mother originally downloaded, Family Tree by Barbara Delinsky. I love that it incorporates knitting into it. I’m a few chapters in and I like it. It’s beginning to captivate me finally. I recommend to go beyond the sample for this book. The first few pages did not grab me but now I’m getting into it.
It’s time for bed. Happy writing, reading, knitting and imagining!