Rijn Collins

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 our sins.

One 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 tell her.

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.

I've never learned to drive, because I have to count every lamp post I pass or something terrible will happen.

I say I'm vegetarian, but eat roast chicken standing up, flicking the skin into my kitchen sink.

I 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.

I 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 a cigar.

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 disappeared.

I 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.

There 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).

W i g l e a f               09-26-14                                [home]