So I Am Glad
hate secrets. No, that's a lie, and here I was hoping to tell you the truth. Start again.
I hate to be on the blind side of a secret. That's more like it. Sometimes I'll be shown, let in on, something that seems a real secret to me, I'll be allowed to stand right up against it and look all I like, but I still won't understand. I might as well be staring at a length of algebra, an unknown language--it will have no meaning for me. Worse than that, I will know that it must have a meaning for somebody else. So I'm stupid. No one needs to hide this from me, it is, quite simply, beyond me. I am on the blind side.
I don't know if I grew up with this ferocious need to uncover the ins and outs of everything, or if growing up made me this way. I was an only child and it seems to me now I had nothing to do all day but be too interested. Because I had this odd frustration. My parents were not of the kind to avoid questions, or to slip me the type of tidy fable I would hear more distant adults and schoolteachers palming off on children, or even each other. At home, we had nothing hidden. I could ask my mother and father anything and be answered with something solid and realistic. My problem was, I very rarely knew what they meant. As my years with them passed, I became more and more certain that I had an excellent grasp of the world around me, but that it would never make any sense.
Climbing the stairs to my room after Martin decided to tell me what he didn't know about himself, I walked up into a mood I had only associated with my parents' house. I could smell their furniture, the particular dry, tickling air in their room. I was allowed in their room. Their bedroom. Even when they were there, inside there together behind a closed door, I was allowed to go in. They had a white door, which seemed to be like all the others in the house--flat in the modern way, with a white china handle and one or two long fat drips in the paint if you looked at it very carefully in the right light. I looked at it very carefully, because really it was different from all the other doors, it only appeared to be the same. I knew. It was a big, blind secret--I could stare at it for hours, until my face went numb, or I had to cry, and still I wouldn't understand it. Children are odd like that, they have an inappropriate determination, no way of identifying a hopeless case.
"Welcome to our starlight ballroom, ladies and gentlemen. The quartet is playing, your seats are being warmed by Filipino dwarves of your individual choice, and doing your thinking for you tonight will be Martin Wilson."
You need to understand here--my parents were a hopeless case. You only had to listen to them, going on again behind their door, and you would know.
"Specialist in paranoia, pain and perversity, graduate of the Sigmund Freud School of Charm and Social Scarring, your neurons are his playmates--ladies and gentlemen, I give you--guess who?"
"I wouldn't even mind if you could bitch without rehearsal. You know the trouble with that little effort? Your enunciation was too good."
"Oh dear. My mistake. We're in detective mode tonight."
"Don't strain yourself, will you. You're coming dangerously close to improvisation."
"Oops, there we go--straight into reality."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Just take whatever you came for and fuck off."
"But I can't remember what I came for. Now, was it in the wardrobe, or was it under the bed?"
"You're pathetic. Pathetic."
"You should think before you say things like that. I might take that to heart and be offended. Darling."
I didn't understand the way they talked. Looking at the words now, I work out some of the feeling, but it never was as dear as I would have liked. At the time, I almost thought they were playing, and then when I was older I thought they were fighting, and now I think I may have been right the first time. The way my parents were together was always very like a game, or a dress rehearsal for something that would be quite important when finally it was done.
Now Martin, like my parents, was a secret, but, unlike my parents, he was a friendly one. He genuinely seemed to find he was as much a mystery to himself as to anyone else and I couldn't feel threatened by that. There was something that made me believe the way he was. I don't know why, I'm not particularly gullible. Liars hope to make their lies convincing by adding emotional distractions which, of course, don't distract me. I once stood behind a sleight-of-hand artist and the effect was much the same--nothing to observe but naked technique, interesting but nowhere near convincing. Martin hadn't tried anything like that.
Even better, he was, in a way, my own private secret. No one else knew what we knew--Martin and I. Liz and Arthur didn't know. That particular night they weren't even at home. Friday night, we're all free people, what with work and its many alternatives, it wasn't especially likely that anyone would be at home. But I was and so was Martin and he had spoken to me. Rather a childish satisfaction, but I don't mind being easily satisfied--it can mean you're satisfied quite often and that surely can't be bad.
That night I got ready for bed in the usual way, but just a touch quieter than usual. The rain had stopped outside and the house had settled in the dark. There was no sound from Martin's room. I didn't know if he was sleeping, or holding sleep away, or just silently glowing in the dark.
You will already have considered the options I spun through once I was in bed. I have a very comfortable bed, perfect for undisturbed thinking, and designed to keep my back in good condition. It is a double bed because I am an expansive sleeper. I bought it with no one in mind but myself--I was the only person I could think of who deserved the benefit of such an excellent mattress.
I distributed my weight across the faultlessly engineered springs and imagined Martin with amnesia caused by accidents, chemicals, radiation, experimental gas. I imagined Martin as an experimenter, as an experiment, as an accident that happened on his way here, a random misfortune with delayed effects. I imagined Martin afraid of the dark and of sleeping. I thought of Martin struck by lightning, transported by lightning, as an illusionist, a circus performer, a natural phenomenon. As I eased down towards sleep, I imagined a great many further things I cannot remember now.
I couldn't work him out. I don't know why that didn't concern me. I can recall wondering if I should be afraid, all on my own and at night, preparing to sleep while no one knew what was only across the landing. As softly as I could, I got up and locked my door. Not because I was fearful, but in case I should act that way.
"Martin?" I still held the key when I shouted through my door, just checking. "Martin. Martin?"
There was no reply which may have meant he couldn't hear me, or that he was sleeping. If he'd had any reason to be guilty, he would have answered to reassure me until his moment was ripe, and I imagined that if he'd been feeling at all apprehensive, he would have been listening, alert. I was glad he didn't answer. I didn't want him to be either guilty or apprehensive.
Excerpted from So I Am Glad by A.L. Kennedy. Copyright © 2000 by A.L. Kennedy. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Photo credit © Brian Tarr