There are six of us at the table, and I know the secrets of three.
It's Max who starts it. There are splashes of spiced rum on the
tabletop, and a saucer of olive pips, sucked clean and spat out. I wish
they wouldn't ash their cigarettes in the candle, but I say nothing.
And Max says, How well do you think we
know each other?
A glass is knocked over as the dare is issued, and hands dip in bags
for pens. He tears a napkin into six squares; white flags to surrender
square, one secret, he smiles.
I'm over by the records in quick steps, frowning. I don't think I like
this game. I slide one onto the turntable, eyes closed as I wait for
the bass line. When it kicks in I look over my shoulder and watch
Jack's hands move, the pen between ringed fingers. I wonder if he's
writing of the summer we lived in Madrid, dealing speed to pay our
rent. Emily and her husband are trying for a baby, but I've seen the
birth control pills hidden in her makeup case. And Pilar steals from
supermarkets, shiny things in deep pockets without a backward glance.
I stand up, my arms tight across my chest.
Jack's girlfriend is biting her bottom lip as she writes. They've only
been together three months so all our stories are secrets to her, but
she's a good sport and is filling her napkin square with quick, dark
little strokes. I can see red smudges in the corners of her mouth. I
wonder whether they're bleeding lipstick or shiraz stains, but I don't
I'm not sure anyone could call me a good sport.
Nick Cave's singing about fifteen feet of pure white snow as I sit down
and reach for my rum. I take a huge mouthful and swill it around. And I
hold my pen as I wait for my secret to come out.
never learned to drive, because I have to count every lamp post I pass
or something terrible will happen.
say I'm vegetarian, but eat roast chicken standing up, flicking the
skin into my kitchen sink.
read the diary of my last lover while he was in the bath and caught
myself cringing at the spelling mistakes.
But my pen scratches and the ink falls from the tip and I sit back,
surprised, at the pattern it makes on the napkin.
have no heart.
I frown, and turn the napkin around. I take another sip of rum. I place
my hand against my chest and breathe, feel the pull of air deep into my
lungs. And I wait for the thump against my palm.
Pilar and Max have finished writing and are slicing chunks of crumbly
cheese, but Emily still rolls the pen between her fingers as she
thinks. I place my hand over my napkin square so no-one can read it.
When Jack catches me, he raises an eyebrow.
I close my eyes and listen to the song. The lyrics are of icicles and
hands raised to the wintry sky and I try to think of the last time my
boots found snow.
When I remember, I have to force myself not to look up at Jack.
Madrid was his idea; I'd wanted Scandinavia, but he'd said the
languages would be too hard to learn. I knew he was just scared he
wouldn't be able to score, but I agreed. Silent protests have always
been more my style anyway. I lasted one autumn before the bright
colours and purred consonants sent me north. I left for Finland while
he was at Cafe de la Luz with a note on the kitchen table, held down by
I found out later it was the cigar that upset him the most, as though
I'd expected him to celebrate my absence. I didn't know how to tell him
that I hadn't really put that much thought into it.
I look down and peek through my fingers, as though the words might have
have no heart.
Max starts collecting the scraps of paper and Emily sucks olive juice
from her fingers and I wait, one hand guarding my words, the other
still on my chest. I think of my rib cage, the bones stark against the
red, and I want to feel the beat within so fiercely my throat starts to
burn. When Max pulls the napkin out from under my hand it almost rips.
Someone does a drum roll on the table top as he shuffles
the squares. He holds our secrets up to the candlelight, grinning. I
can't meet anyone's eyes around the table.
Max pauses, and then lowers them into the flame. I hear myself whimper
as they catch alight.
are some things we're better off not sharing,
he winks. I
just wanted to see if you'd all do it.
We watch as the flames creep along the napkin fragments and burst from
his fingertips. When he drops the remains into the saucer, Emily laughs
and Pilar shakes her head as she holds out the rum bottle.
I sit with my hand on my chest, still waiting for the thump of my
heartbeat, but I don't think it's going to come.
Rijn Collins lives in Melbourne. She has stories in or coming from Vending Machine Press, SmokeLong Quarterly, Paper Darts, Corium,
Stereo Stories and many others.
Detail of plate on main page by Piero Fornasetti (1933-1988).
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