Some days, like today, the memories move in me like dark clouds dimming a full moon.
I’m in the kitchen making coffee. We don’t use a fancy machine just a plunger. Dark roasted bean dust. Boiling water. Push it down. Pour. Luke has his black. I water mine down with rice milk.
At the table by the kitchen window, we have our ten-minute breakfast of phone flicking, chopped banana, cereal, and perhaps a conversation about what dinner looks like later. Luke volunteers to cook tonight.
Outside, we wait for the elevator.
Once when I was descending, I told the lift my secret. Illogically I worried someone heard it, even though I was alone. That’s the horror of keeping secrets. The fear is, are they fully intact?
Floor 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Bing. Ground floor.
We kiss goodbye. I walk my usual route to work. Today is the anniversary of my secret. It’s a two-year-old. Prickly as an echidna and just as painful to touch.
I didn’t know back then that Luke and I would move in. That we’d become a couple who went to Ikea and disagreed about the need for placemats.
He was a lovely guy I met on Bumble. Seven dates. Seven dates and three weeks late in my cycle. I booked myself in. It was as quick as having wisdom teeth removed.
As our relationship rolled on, I meant to tell him.
But what was kinder? And to who?
The words went rusty in my throat. What if I lost him? What If he stopped loving me?
I told my closest friend. She hugged me but was lost for advice.
A car honks as I cross the road without looking. I remind myself thinking about this again takes me nowhere new.
I arrive at work. Smile. Read. Type. Repeat. During the day Luke texts.
I’m going to make something special tonight. Don’t be late.
That makes me smile. Luke cooking something special might mean he doesn’t burn it. Or experiments with a new variety of stir-in pesto. But hey, I’ll buy a bottle of wine anyway. It’s Friday.
‘Look, we bought exactly the same wine.’ I say to Luke as I unveil it from its brown bag and see its twin on the bench.
‘We’re SO serendipity.’ He says with a flouncy voice swinging his tea towel.
And I laugh. It felt like that when we met. When we discovered both of us had buried our fathers just months before. Were born in the same hospital. Hated liquorice. And kept bumping into each other in the local Thai take away.
I put placemats on the table. Pour wine. Watch Luke dishing out mushy rice risotto.
No, my darling, Luke. I’ll never break your heart or mine with confessional honesty that might do more damage than good. I’ll keep my two-year-old secret and let it grow old inside me. Some secrets aren’t born to change their identity.
Australian Writers’ Centre
Furious Fiction: Shortlisted January 2020
The judges said…
What we liked:
Where some may have over-dramatised this premise, we appreciated the poetic descriptions peppered with domestic details of a secret too late to share. The placemats act as an effective symbol of the shield she places between her and her partner’s heart, and we find many more metaphors and double meanings (including the title) at play throughout this well-crafted story of lingering loss and love. When handled with care, adding layers to a short story is a great way to add so much more without necessarily troubling the word-count… something to consider.
- Each story had to include a COUNTDOWN of some kind.
- Each story had to include a character who SHARES A SECRET.
- Each story had to include the word SERENDIPITY.