You better not never tell nobody…
The text below is the fruit of a creative writing workshop, facilitated by Kevin Higgins, which I followed in April 2013 in Galway. The participants were given several first lines from famous books to choose one as the theme of a short story. I chose the first line from “The Colour Purple” by Alice Walker, writing the first three paragraphs during the workshop, finishing the story much later. I just stumbled over it again when cleaning up files in my computer.
“You better not never tell nobody but God”
Of course she promised she wouldn’t tell. People always promise not to tell. But eventually they do it anyway. Mostly without thinking and without meaning any harm. It just happens. It slips from your tongue before your brain tells you to shut up. Then the secret is out and the damage done. The question is only who’s going to be damaged most.
In this case it was Milly. She had told on Susan who was her best friend. Milly desperately wanted to help Susan because she knew how heavy her friend’s burden was. Susan’s husband Jerry cheated on her. Not so much with his body but with his mind. He carried the photo of another woman around in his breast pocket, right over his heart. That’s why he always wanted shirts with breast pockets. Usually he he took the photo out before he put the shirt in the laundry bin. But once he forgot. Susan found the photo. The woman on it looked nothing like her, she wasn’t even pretty. Susan was pretty. But you’d think her husband didn’t notice. He treated her like shit, yelled at her, even beat her up from time to time, used her body like she was a rubber doll.
For years, Susan had been living on hope that things would change. One day Jerry must realise that she was perfect, inside and outside. He would acknowledge that she did everything right. He would begin to love her like she craved to be loved.
Of course Susan hadn’t told Jerry that she had found the photo. She had looked at it for a long time and cried, feeling all cramped up inside. Then she put it back in the breast pocket of the dirty shirt because she knew what was going to happen if he found out she had seen the photo. Or even worse, if she confronted him with it. But what she did was tell her best friend.
Milly swore she would keep the secret. Also that she would never mention any of the other things Susan spilled out to her. The yelling, the abuse, the lack of love. Though these were not really a secret. Everybody who knew the happy couple had guessed long ago. The bruises Susan showed sometimes couldn’t all be covered up. They told their own tale.
But nobody knew about the photo, except now Milly. That was the worst secret of all. All those years of Susan’s hopes for better times went up in smoke. Jerry was pining for another woman. It crushed her completely.
Milly felt with her friend. The secret weighed as heavily on her as on Susan. How could she help her? For quite a few weeks Milly reflected on a way to punish Jerry and to make Susan happy. Then one Sunday she went to Mass and afterwards to Father Dominick. In the confessional box she had a slip of her tongue. She confessed to her sinful thoughts of revenge on Jerry. That wasn’t really betraying the secret because a priest was supposed to keep confessions to himself. Milly left the church with a much lighter heart.
A week later when she came home at night from a visit to her mother’s, someone jumped on her from behind. It was Jerry. He pushed her inside the house after she had unlocked the front door and punched her on the nose.
“That’ll shut you up!” he yelled. “Tryin’ to turn my wife against me because of the harmless picture of a childhood friend. Next time I’ll break your teeth!” Then he was gone.
Her nose was badly swollen for quite some time but thankfully not broken. Broken was Susan’s trust in Milly and the last of her hope and will. Jerry forbade Susan ever to speak to Milly again. Milly lost not only her best friend but also her belief in the Church. The secret could only have got out from the priest.
Milly decided that if she must carry the burden of a heavy secret, it had to be worth it. She started thinking about revenge again, this time in earnest. One day she would sneak up behind Jerry on the busy thoroughfare and push him discreetly in front of a bus. And that tale she would not never tell nobody, not even God.