The Truth About Keeping Secrets(11)

‘Who are we talking about?’ Miles offered. It was perhaps the first time he’d willingly involved himself in one of our conversations instead of just sitting there, ripening.

‘Bea Fuller?’ Olivia said. Miles still looked bewildered, so she elaborated in a shout dressed up to look like a whisper: ‘The girl who outed Sydney.’

That’s what Olivia liked to say, because it made me look better, but it wasn’t entirely true.

It was the summer before freshman year, and Dad had convinced me to try out for the soccer team. Practice was held in this enormous field, surrounded on all sides by thick woods. Bea and I liked to stay after practice sometimes to hunt for interesting-looking leaves, do handstands, climb trees.

I thought she wanted to kiss me back. It seemed implied. Because of the idyllic setting, or her hand on my knee, or the way her lips looked like they were searching for something every time I shifted my weight against the dewy late-July grass. She had told me she liked boys and girls and that she liked my freckles and the way my voice trailed off sometimes, so I leaned all the way in, in, in, until there was no more room to lean. Her lips parted, and so did mine, but she knew what the whoops and hollers coming from the tree line meant before I did, so she pushed me off. Shouted. Made a real good show of it. That was the first time I was ever called a dyke, because it was the first time anyone had enough information about me to conclude that I was one.

It was too late for me. They had already seen. Bea had managed to deflect part of the blow away from herself with her initial hostility, so they weren’t quite as relentless with her as they were with me. I had this fantasy after the fact, that she and I could have faced it together – but that’s not what happened, of course. She hated me. Freshman year, I was the only girl out in Pleasant Hills. People smacked books from my hands. Just looked at me and laughed. Thankfully, they seemed to get bored of me by winter break, with help from the demeanour I’d adopted to make myself as invisible as possible.

That continued for a while, but now I worried that all the work I’d put in had been for nothing.

When you live in a fishbowl, everything seems bigger, magnified, and no one was safe. People said that, in Pleasant Hills, everyone got their scandal. Fifteen minutes of infamy.

I was to get more.

Do not go gentle into that good night. It was Dylan Thomas’s most famous poem, a villanelle, which has something to do with the number of lines – nineteen of them, I think – and the rhyme scheme. Normally, I wouldn’t have remembered that, but everything that happened in class that day was branded on to my brain.

English was the last class of the day. It was also the one class I shared with Olivia, so I thought I was safe. How na?ve of me. She had warned me at lunch that we were starting our poetry unit – she couldn’t stand poetry, but I didn’t mind, really; the idea of losing any sense of self between the lines of something abstract seemed comforting.

Mrs Farr introduced the poem as easy and relevant, which should have been my first clue. She had Jamie Uren, an unfortunate name for the girl who we all remembered had pissed herself during the fourth-grade spelling bee, read it aloud.

‘Do not go gentle into that good night,’ Jamie began, hesitant. Mrs Farr was known to eject people from the classroom if they didn’t put the pauses in the right places. ‘Old age should burn and rave at close of day.’

And as she continued, I was imagining. Daydreaming. Day-nightmaring.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right …

The silhouette of a man. Slumped against a giant redwood so tall that its peak disappears in the milky clouds, branches melting into indigo. Only crickets.

… because their words had forked no lightning they …

I can’t see his face, but I will soon; moonlight is flowing in from behind me, as agile and quick as a fire, and when it dances up and on to his face, I recognize him.

… do not go gentle into that good night.

Dad’s eyes are closed, limp, and I go to reach for him, but something’s pulling him down, into the tree roots. Hands yanking and tearing and I can’t get to him in time, and he’s dragged deeper, deeper, deeper …

‘And you, my father, there on the sad height,’ Jamie read.

I swallowed.

‘Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.’

The spit caught in my throat.

‘Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’

Mrs Farr let the words settle, and then turned to me. ‘Sydney,’ she said. She was going to ask what my interpretation was. Seemed slightly cruel to call on me, but whatever. I could feel Olivia’s eyes on me; I think she knew something was wrong before I did.

I chewed my lip. It was obvious, I thought. Not just obvious, but something I could actually get behind: not succumbing to death. Telling the Grim Reaper to fuck off. Don’t go without a fight. Rave and burn. Rage. But Mrs Farr didn’t ask for my interpretation. ‘I don’t think there’s a better poem for you right now,’ she said. ‘I thought you might want to use this time to talk about your dad.’

And then I left. I just left.

I couldn’t believe I was doing it while I did it. My feet started moving before my brain told them to. Or maybe my brain told my feet to move before telling me what exactly was going on. Either way, I was leaving, apparently.

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