Thursday, December 13, 2012


This story first appeared at Flashes in the Dark.

I started my secrets collection when I was eight years old. It began when I caught my dad kissing our neighbor, Mrs. Short. They didn’t see me, and I never told Mom. I don’t know why. I guess it was because Mom and Dad were always kissing each other--and me. Still, somehow I knew it wasn’t right for Dad and Mrs. Short to be kissing.

Sometime after that--I don’t remember how long--Mom kicked Dad out of the house yelling something about him knocking up Marylou Short. I didn’t know what that meant, but I could tell by how Mom was yelling that it wasn’t a good thing. I remember swallowing a lot as I watched him walk to the car carrying two big suitcases that Mom packed for him.

Mom took me to school the next day and spoke to my teacher. She offered me a sad smile and put her arm around me. I liked my teacher, but I wondered if she had any secrets.

From then on, I paid attention to what people did and said. In junior high, I started keeping a journal of what I heard and saw. Things like who did drugs, and which girls lost their virginity, and who cheated on tests. By the time I left high school I had nine notebooks full of secrets.

It wasn’t until after Mom’s cancer diagnosis that I started contacting the people in my books. We needed the money to pay for Mom’s treatments. Sara Jacobs was the first. She cried when I told her I knew about her abortion and asked if her husband did. She was silent for awhile, and then begged me to not tell anyone. At least I think that’s what she said. Her sobs made it sound like she was speaking some foreign language.

Most of the people I contacted I found on Facebook. A fake email address and a prepaid cellphone helped keep me invisible, and every packet of money was sent to a different P.O. box. 

The only time I got scared was when Billy Freedman threatened to call the cops. I spent a week looking out the window expecting to see a police car pull into the driveway, drying my palms on my jeans, even while I continued to call people. The cops never came, so I guess what I had on Billy was something he didn’t want people to know, after all. Still, he never sent the money. Maybe when I have enough and move away like I plan to, I’ll call the local paper with an anonymous tip.

Mom died yesterday. The doctors gave her eight months to live. She only lasted five. I could stop calling people, but I need more money so I can find Dad. I’m sure he won’t recognize me after eighteen years, and that’s okay. I don’t want to be friends. I want him to pay me the back alimony he never gave Mom. Maybe then I can finally get the degree in psychology I’ve always wanted.

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