Thomas bounced into his older sister’s room singing, “I’ve got a secret, I’ve got a secret.”
“Retard. How can you have a secret? You don’t even know what a secret is.”
“Yes I do. A secret is what you know, and you don’t tell anybody else,” said Thomas, pulling himself up to his full three feet six inches.
“But somebody has to care about what you know,” Lisa said, “Otherwise there’s no point. What do you know that anybody cares about?”
Thomas patiently explained, “I know something.”
“So what is it then?”
“If I told you it wouldn’t be a secret.”
“I know,” Lisa brightened, putting her arm around Thomas. “Let’s trade secrets. You tell me your secret and I’ll tell you mine.”
Thomas’s brow furrowed. “Can you trade secrets? Is that a rule of secrets?”
“Of course it is; you learn those things when you get older.”
Thomas looked unsure and started to wander out of the room when Lisa said, “I have an idea. You tell me who your secret is about, and I’ll tell you who my secret is about. But we won’t tell the secrets about them. Okay?”
“You go first,” Thomas challenged.
“The youngest is supposed to go first.”
“No they’re not,” said Thomas. “You always say girls go first.”
“Okay; my secret’s about Daddy,” Lisa admitted.
“Mine’s about Mommy.”
“Since your secret is about Mommy, you have to go first now.”
“Why?” Thomas asked.
“Because Mommy is a girl, and girls go first. That’s what you said.”
“Close the door; I’ll tell you,” Thomas said.
Thomas whispered in her ear, “I saw Mommy and Missus Patterson in Mommy’s room this morning, and Missus Patterson didn’t have any clothes on, and Mommy didn’t have any clothes on, and they were kissing.”
The door to Lisa’s room opened; their mother stood looking down at her children, whispering to one another. “What are you two up to?”
“Nothing Mommy,” said Lisa looking up innocently.
Thomas blurted out, “We’re trading secrets.”
“And who were you trading secrets about, young man?” asked the mother.
“About Daddy and you and Missus Patterson,” said Thomas.
Their mother knelt down, gathered Thomas and Lisa around her, and looked into their eyes.
“Children, there’s something you need to know about secrets. Sometimes you can tell somebody you have a secret and it’s okay. But there are super secrets. With super secrets you can’t tell anybody you even have a secret. The secrets about mommies are super secrets. Do you understand?”
“What about the secrets about daddies?” Lisa asked.
“It’s different with daddies,” the mother said. “Those aren’t super secrets.”
Turning to her son, “Thomas, tell me what you told Lisa.”
Thomas cupped his hands around his mother’s ear. “You and Missus Patterson kissing this morning.”
“That’s a super secret. Do you understand Thomas?”
“I think so.”
Then turning to her daughter, “And Lisa, you understand what Thomas told you is a super secret?
“Thomas, go to your room for a minute; I want to talk to Lisa. When I’m finished we’ll all go downstairs and have some cookies and milk. Okay?”
“Okay, Mommy.” Thomas skipped off down the hall.
“Lisa darling, what’s your secret about Daddy?”
“Last week, you know, while the party was going on, I saw Daddy and Missus Patterson in the TV room. They were kissing a lot, an awful lot. I didn’t think daddies were supposed to kiss other ladies, only their wives.”
There was a slight pause. “That’s right; they’re not, but Mommy and Daddy like Missus Patterson a lot. That’s why we kiss her. Now get your brother and go downstairs. I’ll be down for cookies and milk in a minute.”
Lisa ran off down the hall to get Thomas.
Susan slumped to the floor. Her lover’s betrayal dizzied and humiliated her. Plus, there was her husband. He had pledged to keep his affairs with other women outside their circle of friends. She felt nauseous, and tears edged slowly down her cheeks. Susan was brought back by noises from downstairs, and she remembered the cookies and milk for the kids.
She went to the bathroom, washed her face, and said to the woman in the mirror, “Somebody’s going to pay.”
A year earlier, Susan heard the slow rumble of a truck searching for an address on their tree-shaded street in Roland Park. The neighborhood had been designed in the late 1800s and early 1900s by the Olmsted Brothers, landscape architects, who used the rolling terrain as a canvas. They painted a variety of tints and textures of foliage to create a changing play of light and shadow. Architects daubed substantial homes in every style popular at the time: Tudor, Federalist, Georgian, and Regency.
Susan’s home was a gray stone Georgian colonial with white-trimmed Palladian windows that looked out onto a broad expanse of lawn and azaleas.
No sooner had the moving van pulled up, than there was a knock on the front door. The woman on the porch announced herself in hello-yellow shorts and blouse. She had black shiny hair cut sharply in a pageboy, a hard-edged frame around her face. In one hand she held a pie; in the other, the hand of a small boy.
“Hi there, I’m Mimi Patterson. This is my boy Tyler. Tyler’s five; aren’t you honey? I hope you like pecan pie. I reckon there’s no better way to get acquainted than to bring over some home cookin’. Made it last night at the apartment we’ve been in. Flour and sugar are local, but I brought the pecans straight from Georgia.”
“Happy to meet you. I’m Susan Symington. My two are out at day camp. Come on in, have a seat out on the sun porch; there, through the living room. I’ll just go get some refreshments. Coffee? And Tyler, juice, and maybe some cookies?”
“Thanks, we’d love a rest before we tackle the move-in. Ted, of course, is stuck at the office downtown working on a big tax case. Says it’s worth two billion dollars. He’ll just have to be happy with where we put things, won’t he Tyler?”
Susan watched Mimi from the back as she and Tyler went toward the sun porch. The new neighbor was model-tall and thin, with a runway walk. Susan returned from the kitchen with a tray of cups and cookies.
“You won’t believe how glad we are to have someone our age in the neighborhood. Everyone else around here is in their fifties and sixties, kids grown and married. We’d probably be someplace else, but my aunt gave this to us as a wedding present.”
“Funny, this is exactly what we were looking for. When we moved, for the third time in seven years, Ted promised I’d have an old traditional house in an old traditional neighborhood, and when I saw our place I knew I’d found my dream. When we found out there was a young couple next door, it was double dream. Ted complained about the price, but I held that man to his promise.”
Susan and Mimi filled one another in on their backgrounds. Mimi was originally from Atlanta, had been picked up in high school by a modeling agency, went to New York, and had some success, (covers of Cosmo, Elle, Glamour). She met Ted, an associate at the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore; they got married, moved to Chicago, Atlanta, and now Baltimore.
Susan and Oliver grew up on the same street in Baltimore. She went to Williams, and worked for Doubleday in New York for two years. Oliver worked in investment banking, Goldman Sachs, in the city, after Yale. In New York, childhood friends became grown up lovers. He was offered a job at Alex Brown in Baltimore, so they came back.
An hour passed; Mimi got up from her chair.
“I’d better scoot now. Come on Tyler honey. Let’s see what those movers are up to.”
At the door Mimi took Susan’s hands.
“I just know we’re gonna be real good friends, you and me.”
Susan blushed a little. She wasn’t used to such sudden declarations.
That summer, Mimi and Susan spent nearly every afternoon together. If the weather was good, by the Patterson’s pool. If it was muggy or raining, on Susan’s sun porch. Their differences only served to increase their mutual fascination and friendship. Mimi was tall; Susan, short; Mimi, thin; Susan, bounteous; Mimi had a pale, nearly wan complexion, Susan was covered with freckles; Mimi’s wardrobe was neon and Versace, Susan’s was muted and Talbot’s; Mimi had a GED; Susan, an MFA.
They hadn’t spent three afternoons together and Mimi was telling Susan about how Ted was in bed, and about the men she’d met in the course of her modeling career.
“It was all part of the business, casual, no ties, and if the guys knew what they were doing, it was fun.”
Susan wasn’t used to talking about herself. The only time she’d had a real girl friend was her first year in college. Back in Baltimore, where everyone knew everyone else, confidences were not a good idea unless you wanted to hear from your mother or mother-in-law the next morning.
It took Susan all summer to open up about Oliver. She said the last time he touched her was before Thomas was born; her pregnancy had turned him off. The only reason he even made love to her, after Lisa was born, was his need for a son. Susan put up with it for the sake of the kids. Oliver was a good father, and spent a lot of time with the children.
Mimi walked in the back door and found Susan slumped over the kitchen table.
“What’s wrong honey?” Mimi asked.
“It’s Oliver. He came home last night from a closing dinner, drunk and lace panties hanging out of his pocket. It’s not that he does it; I know he does it, but to flaunt it here, right here, in our home.”
“That bastard. You need a little TLC, the Mimi kind. Here, let me put my arms around you.”
Susan stood up and let herself be wrapped up by Mimi. Susan’s sobs quieted slowly, and she felt Mimi kissing her face, slowly moving her lips towards hers. Susan started to pull back.
“Relax honey; it’s all right,” Mimi said.
Their lips met; their kisses became insistent; their bodies squeezed tightly. The side door banged.
“Mommy, Mommy.” It was Thomas
“To be continued,” Mimi said.
The next day the Patterson and Symington children were at day camp. The phone rang about ten-thirty.
“Susan, it’s Mimi, come on over for lunch, about 12:30?”
“I’ll be there; and Mimi, about yesterday, I don’t know, I’m not sure.”
“Honey, don’t think about it, we’ll talk.”
An hour before lunch, Susan found herself thinking about what she would wear. The morning was one of those hot sticky affairs that only Baltimore can produce. The sky was ash white, and the sun was a fuzzy yellow disc hovering close to the ground. The temperature and humidity were both 87. Clothes clung to the body the moment you walked out the door. Susan put on a new strapless sun dress, and at the last minute dabbed some perfume behind her ears.
Mimi was in the yard as Susan crossed onto the Patterson’s patio.
“Why I do say, you’re pretty as a sugar plum. Just look at you. But come on in, sugar’s gonna melt out here.”
Lunch was a homemade quiche Lorraine, salad, and a bottle of Sancerre. The conversation was disconnected, each saying something to furnish to silence, not expecting an answer. They finished the wine and sat looking at one another.
“Honey, let’s go into the library; it’s cool and comfortable in there. You just sit down there on the sofa and I’ll put myself here right beside you.”
Susan didn’t know how to start, and the wine didn’t help getting her thoughts straight.
“Mimi, I don’t know about yesterday.”
“What don’t you know, sugar?”
“Well, if it was right or not.”
“Of course it was right; it felt good didn’t it?”
“Yeah, it did.”
“And it’s not like you’re saving yourself for someone, is it?”
“I guess not.”
“Well . . .”
Mimi slid over on the sofa; put Susan’s face in her hands and kissed her hard. Susan echoed the kiss. Then Mimi brought her hands to Susan’s shoulders and slowly inched Susan’s dress lower.
Mimi whispered, “They’re beautiful. Can I taste?”
Susan murmured something that sounded like yes. When Mimi’s lips brushed her nipples, Susan sighed, kept sighing, and not too long afterward, shuddered.
Through the fall and winter Susan and Mimi were inseparable. Susan felt she had burst from a cocoon. With Mimi, love was tender, long, and intense, and Mimi had an imagination. She made up games for them to play on one another’s bodies.
When she was alone, Susan sometimes fantasized about a life with Mimi. Where they might live, what they might do, how they might take care of their children; just the two of them.
Susan came down the stairs to get the milk and cookies for her children. She glanced at her face once more in the hall mirror, brushed down her blouse and skirt, and then strode into the kitchen. Lisa and Thomas were coloring and arguing about whose turn it was to use the red crayon.
“That’s enough, you two; put the crayons down; it’s cookie time. What do you want Thomas?”
“Brown milk and white cookies, please.”
“Chocolate milk and chocolate cookies. Mommy, what we were talking about upstairs, it doesn’t seem . . .”
Susan quickly put herself between Thomas and Lisa, and said quietly, “Honey, I know; we’ll talk about this later, the two of us, okay?”
By breakfast the next morning Susan had decided what to do about Mimi and Oliver. After Oliver went off to work and the kids to school; she headed over to the Patterson’s, and bumped into Mimi coming to see her. Something was wrong; Mimi’s shoulders were hunched, her face was blotched, and tears puddled her eyes.
“Can I come in?”
“Mimi, what happened?”
“Ted heard last night; the Baltimore Country Club turned down our application. I so desperately wanted to be a member there.”
Susan put her arm around Mimi’s shoulder. “Oh, I’m so sorry Mimi, but don’t worry; there are tons of good clubs in the area. I’m sure you’ll find something. We’ll make this our project.”
“Susan, can we go into your room for a minute? I need some close company just now.”
Susan took Mimi’s hand and led her to her bed. They lay down, and Susan put her arms around Mimi, nestling her head on her shoulder. Mimi felt even thinner than usual. They lay quiet for a time.
“You feel better?”
In reply Mimi nodded and dug herself further into Susan’s breasts.
“Mims, we’ve always confided in one another? Well, there’s one thing I’ve been kinda holding back.”
“It’s about Oliver.”
“Wha about Ol?” replied the mouth still sunk into Susan’s body.
“There’s another reason Oliver and I haven’t slept together since I got pregnant with Thomas. Oliver is . . . . Oliver is HIV positive. Lord knows who he was shacking up with when I was pregnant.”
Mimi’s head jerked off of Susan’s shoulder, “Huh? You’re sure?”
“Positive. Oliver complained about swelling under his arms and in his groin. He went to our doctor, who told him what it was. Oliver didn’t believe him, of course, but five more doctors said the same thing. What a waste of money.”
“Oh my god,” Mimi cried, then put her head back into Susan and sobbed.
“What’s the matter?” Susan asked.
Mimi continued to sob. When the sobs faded to whimpers, she got up slowly, kissed Susan on the forehead, and walked out. Susan didn’t move.
Susan didn’t see Mimi much after that. She did enjoy watching Oliver taste his chagrin as he absorbed the deceit his wife had confected; and for which he had no answer.
About four months later Thomas came running into the kitchen.
“Mommy, Mommy, look, look, there’s a big truck next door and they’re putting all of the chairs and tables from Missus Patterson’s house in it.”
“That means they’re moving away, Thomas. Go say good-by to Tyler, and tell Missus Patterson I'll be over soon.
Townsend Walker’s stories have appeared in L’Italo-Americano, Crimson Highway, Static Movement, 971 Menu, The Aggregated Press; Raving Dove, AntipodeanSF, Neonbeam, Amazon Shorts, and The Write Side Up. On the nonfiction side, he published three books and several journal articles on derivatives, foreign exchange, portfolio management, and leasing. After a career in finance, he went to Rome in 2005 and started writing short stories.