“And then… he kissed me.”
“Yep. He did.”
We both sighed, our dreamy breaths dancing up to the ceiling. We lazed on our backs, side by side, our shoulders touching. The night ticked away as we lay cocooned in sleeping bags, leaning our heads on collections of beanie babies and teddy bears. Through the crack in my window, we heard the occasional car, teenagers laughing, a slam of a door, the song of the crickets. It was the white noise behind the secrets.
Louise always had the best secrets. She told me secrets about boys. What they tasted like, smelt like, talked like. I’d never had a boyfriend. She told me secrets about puberty and what it was like to wear a bra. She told me secrets about her parents and why they sent her to my house so often. She told me secrets about the girls in school and who was going out with who. She told me secrets about her next door neighbour and his ongoing affair with the maid while his wife went to work. She told me secrets about alcohol. She told me about the prickly taste of vodka that her brother bought for her. She told me what it felt like to be drunk and the dangle of the hangover the next day. I’d never had even a sip of beer.
She told me secrets. Great secrets. And I didn’t want to forget a single one of them.
After a while, Louise would fall asleep. Mid secret. I would wait until her breathing became deeper and her arms fell to her side. When her pink lips parted and she sang sweet snores, I would sit up. I would shuffle my sleeping bag closer to the wall, keeping my eyes on Louise, careful she didn’t wake up. I would sink my skinny arm underneath the pillow, rummage for the pencil and hold it in my hand for a minute while I remembered all the secrets she told me from that night.
When I was younger, I picked away at the edges of the wallpaper underneath my window. As months went on, I had peeled off so much that it needed taped to the wall to stay up. Now, I could peel away about a foot of wallpaper, hide anything I liked behind it and tape it back up without anyone knowing.
Onto the patchy white wall, I wrote. I wrote all of her secrets. Straight from the void of her mouth onto my wall, her secrets were copied from whispered words to light grey cursive letters. Over the years, I wrote so much that I had to peel back more and more wallpaper to fit the secrets in. Sometimes the dusty colour from the pencil faded into the walls and I had to rewrite them.
But they were all there. Every one of her secrets. They all got scrawled onto the wall, using the moon as my light, while she was fast asleep right next to me.
As time went on and we became older, the secrets became worse. More dangerous. More sad. Through our high school years, she traded the boys she kissed for men. She traded the booze at parties for joints. She traded her staggered life at home for a life of couch surfing between friends’ houses. Mostly mine.
And even though the secrets were torturous and copied onto the wall like a blazing fire, burning through the paint, telling me I should stop writing, I still wrote. I wrote as she slept through her hangover, bundled up in the same sleeping bag she used at twelve years old. I wrote as she rubbed her fake lashes off her sleepy eyes after coming over at 5am without warning. Before she crashed into a sleep, she would mumble some secrets from her night and I would force myself to wake up and paste them onto the wall.
Sometimes her secrets were so dark that I couldn’t even get back to sleep. I would curl into the corner of the bed, against the wallpaper and just think. She would sleep restlessly, tossing back and forth. I would look from her long bleached hair which curled behind her head onto the pillow, to the pink dotted bruises on her neck that stretched to her collar bone. I wondered what it felt like to be kissed like that. I was still stuck in my college text books, peering at cute boys from behind the pages, too scared to even approach them.
My parents were getting fed up of Louise and her habits. They were getting tired of being woken up hours before their alarm clock by the slam of the front door, the thunder of arguments between her and some boy, the angry words, the trail of muddy footprints.
They told me they would help her find somewhere to stay.
“What about a woman’s shelter? There are safe ones on the other side of town,” my mother said over dinner one day.
How could this be a dinner time conversation? How unimportant was the fate of Louise that it could be discussed over macaroni and cheese.
“No,” I said, stabbing my pasta with my fork. “This is her life. I need to be there for her.”
And it wasn’t so much a lie as an excuse. I needed Louise. I couldn’t imagine growing up without her. She gave my sheltered adolescence little peep holes into a more exciting life. I lived in a cardboard box in which she had so very kindly cut out windows so that I could sit comfortably, watch, listen and learn. She was my outlet into a life I’d been too scared to live. She let me in her world. I needed her.
I wrote some of my own secrets on the wall, too. I wrote about the argument I had with my mother and father and how I told them I hated them. I wrote about the death of my great grandma. I wrote about the ghost I swear I saw in the basement. But my secrets looked out of place next to hers. They looked like they were trying too hard. The letters were bigger because it was the only way they could stand out. They looked pale and pathetic and eventually, I rubbed them out leaving a blank canvas for some more of Louise’s secrets.
One day, I woke up to find Louise wide eyed lying next to me. There was a single tear balancing on the bridge of her nose.
“What’s wrong?” I said through the stickiness of my morning mouth.
“What the hell is that, Jo?” She blinked, releasing another tear. Her eyes moved to the space behind my head.
I rolled over, looking behind me to see that the wallpaper had curled down from the window, exposing all of her secrets. The tape had let it go. The grey pencil led read out all of Louise’s history. All of her lovers, all of the things she tried, the things she stole, the people she met, the people she kissed, the threats from her parents, the escapes from police… they all screamed ‘good morning’ to her.
No. I smacked the wallpaper back up to the window but it wouldn’t stay. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it’s nothing,” I repeated as I kept trying to get the secrets hidden again.
She slipped out of her sleeping bag and started to pack her things.
“It’s nothing?” She yelled, becoming undone. “It’s nothing?” She reached behind me and tore the wallpaper off. The more she tore, the more words she found. She tore and tore and tore until the whole wall was stripped naked. She glared at me, holding clumps off the pink paper in her hand. “Is there more, Jo?”
I stuttered for words trying to explain myself.
But my words could be nothing compared to hers which were dripping off the wall. They couldn’t explain to her what she had explained to me over the past decade. My secret, the words behind the paper, was far worse than all of her secrets combined. I had betrayed her in more ways than she had ever betrayed herself.
I got out of bed and stood in front of the doorway, begging her to listen to me. I stood, shouting, as she stood, silent, while the wallpaper fell around us, crumpled at our feet. All the secrets, all the words and promises, giggled on the wall mocking all the things she wanted to forget. All the things I needed to remember. I lowered my head, ashamed, and stepped out the way to let her leave. I watched her back, her messy hair, her bruised arms as she walked away from me.
And since that day, there have been no more secrets written on the wall.
(all art work done by jesse draxler – check him out here)