May 13, 2009

Angela Carlton

My Secret

Billy doesn't know my secret. Voices surround us at this gathering as Lou Reed sings how the colored girls go doo, doo doo... It's an '80s moment, quite appropriate, since it's our fifteen-year high school reunion. Billy is standing near my table. His upper lip curls a bit like Elvis when he smiles. It's his hunk-of-burning-love smile. And it still makes me quiver, a smile I get lost in. No one can find me.

I am on my third glass of Shiraz when he takes a seat beside me. We make small talk as he rubs a thumb on his Miller Lite bottle. His wife Lori is across the way holding a champagne flute. Our banquet room inside this trendy high-rise hotel is far too small. There's not enough air for the three of us.

At the beginning of the night, I kept running into her. Lori is elegant in a way, I suppose. In the bathroom I told her she is pretty, and that it's nice to finally meet her, even though I didn’t mean a damn word of it. Her hair is dark, severely short. She has masculine features: a square face with a strong nose and perfect make-up. The more I drink, the more she reminds me of a drag queen.

A few of the other single women I came with have disappeared and mingled with others. My hands are starting to shake, but not from the Shiraz. It's this damned day. I’ve thought about it over and over, all the memories, all the weight.

My eyes study Billy closely now, the way he raises his brow when he intends to make a point, his carefree, ain’t got no worries kind of laugh. It's the delicate details and comforts, these tiny gestures that defined my youth. He's talking about his favorite history teacher, Mr. Carr, how his lectures motivated him to be better and stay clean. It's a touching story, only his voice is beginning to sound muffled like we are trapped under water.

There is a faint hum inside my ear, and I can’t seem to gather any details. Something is pounding, pounding inside of me. It's hard to breathe. I need out of this box. I need a window.

These are the thoughts that rush through my head before I utter the words and finally tell him my secret, I had your baby and I gave her away. Then I add, Oh God, the reason I was home-schooled those years, but it comes out in a nervous choke, a way to fight off tears.

Billy glares at me with genuine concern then horror, the same way my mother did when I told her I was pregnant at fifteen. Tears spill from my eyes when I whisper, What have I done? My mouth is dry, so dry. I feel like I am going to vomit.

The disco ball reflects light around us; tiny sparkles dance about the room. I am having a hard time moving, rising to get OUT. From a distance, I can see the wrecked image of a long-lost girl in the wall mirror. Then his hand reaches for my shoulder.

My Billy touches me.


Angela Carlton's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Fiction at Work, Every Day Fiction, Longstoryshort, Pindeldyboz, The Dead Mule, among others.

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