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Camille's Dreadful Secret
Three terrifically terrible days past after spilling my awful, smelly guts onto the conscious of my next door neighbor and most valuable friend in this lonely, large city of unrealized dreams that forlorn people like ourselves realize that they are just that -- dreams.
So up on the rooftop, sadly no spotting of Old Saint Nick as that would have been a wonderful occurrence in these winter months; my lovely Mark and I chatted about our day’s adventures. (I almost got run over by a cab when I stepped out into the busy street and I spilled my coffee all over my skirt because of it. Mark designed a room for a young, swanky couple, and they were so enthused by his marvelous talent, they gave him tickets to the new show on Broadway.) Of course, once the normal happenstances are retold as hilarious or touching anecdotes, we always run across a bitter vein of cold, small apartments, and takeout boxes, and drinking wine on Sunday evenings, listening to the warbling vibrato of the corner musician outside our windows.
Typically, when we get to the part of the conversation where we admit to ourselves that we are not altogether happy with our life, I settle down, feeling my pulse slow as if I had drunk all my wine earlier that afternoon. Mark always tries to turn the dialogue into a confessional like he’s my priest, but I am no longer Catholic, and I absolutely hate to tell people truly personal things. Even my dearest Mark whom I met the second day I arrived to this amazing star on the map when he was kind enough to share a taxi with me whilst it was pouring slippery, polluted, freezing rain.
I was tempting tardiness on my first day of work at the magazine offices, and I just knew what horrible impression it would leave on me if I came running out of the elevator onto the fourth level, disheveled, wet, and sadistically late to greet my boss. It couldn’t happen! It had to be just my darn luck that all the taxi’s in front of the apartments were occupied, and I tell just about everyone who will listen at cocktail parties, with their society trained listening ears and sympathetic nodding heads, that I sat down on the steps beneath the archway hanging over the piney-green door, and cried.
Just as my nose began to get a bit slimy, a strong, warm hand fell onto my shoulder, and a golden voice asked, “Excuse me, ma’m. I know you’ve been waiting for a cab longer than I have, and I just apprehended one. I was wondering if you’d like to ride with me.”
Looking up, I saw Mark Mayer for the first time, a tall, handsome man of twenty-eight, five years my senior, dressed impeccably in a well tailored suit and his dark locks of hair managed away from his elegant, but masculine face. As a writer, I could describe every pore of that face, from his strong features balanced by the sloping curvature of his lips, to the numerous facets of gem-stone color found in his drinkable blue eyes, but I’d embarrass myself with all the detail I could pull out of my memory. Anyways, as the story goes, Mark and I started our first conversation that would lead to many, many wonderful more as it was a fantastic surprise when I discovered that he only lived across the narrow hall.
Seems like a happy ending, no?
Well, I’ll admit I had a bit of a crush after he saved the day with his good Samaritan deed, but then I met a girl walking out of his apartment one night. A week went by and I met another, and another, and another. Every week, if she was surely special maybe two, a new, faceless woman would be drunk on Mark’s charm as if she’d never met a man before.
I kept my mouth shut, explaining to myself it really wasn’t my place, but then the true â€˜I’m envious’ confession would come up, and I’d make sly little comments about his night endeavors. It was never enough to make him mad. He’d think I was jesting and wink a blue eye at me, grinning away, telling me I’m his best girl. Then I’d pull my lips into a smile, and pretend I wasn’t the least bit upset that I wasn’t his only girl. Or actually his girl at all. We’re only friends.
I suppose I’ve always been that way, a people pleasing, passive aggressive, avoidance extraordinaire who can be embarrassed pink at the drop of a hat. That’s what made me confessing my secret to perfect Mark even worse. I could only imagine what he must’ve thought of me!
Back to the beginning of my story, the rooftop view was one to love, holiday spirit springing forth from the valley of streets below. The wind was only slightly, like my niece’s hand, pulling at hair, and I could feel by the numbness in my cheeks that my nose was bright button red. This was when our conversation dwindled into a placid hum of breathing and sighing.
“I’ve never heard you talk about your mother,” Mark asked slyly.
I sniffed. “Nope.”
“Well,” he pressed, “how is your mother?”
“How is? As in how is she doing? My guess would be good as yours. Or how is, meaning what’s she like? Well, she’s absolutely wonderful,” I told him with sarcasm edging in.
Obviously that was the end of that, but sometimes Mark can never get a clue. Most likely, though, he understands perfectly, but is too much of a nosy body to leave it alone.
“Are you going home for Christmas?”
I glared at the cars below and said, “No.”
Mark wasn’t swayed. He’s a tough one. “Why not?”
When I didn’t answer him, I believe he got a teensy bit frustrated. “Oh just come out with it, Camille. Why don’t you get along with your mother?”
“Don’t you just love this time of year?”
“She can’t be that terrible of a person if she ended up with you.”
“The smell of roasted chestnuts, and the all the colored lights.”
“Does it have to do with your father’s death?”
At this I had to stop my oblivious masquerade. I turned to him and nearly smacked the concern out of his true blue eyes. Coldly, I told him, “Please. Never mention my father’s death again.”
Marks furrowed brow melted. “Camille, I’m so sorry.”
Once again, I thought that was the end of that. I wasn’t really all that touchy about Daddy’s passing, but I thought it would scare him away from family subjects. Glittering stars were beginning to peak out from behind the indigo veil above our heads, and before us, the last sliver of yellow-orange sun was slipping away beneath the earth. I heard shifting and I knew something else was coming.
“You friend from the magazine was knocking on your door today.”
I asked him who.
“The little man with the very obtrusive mustache. He could do with a trim…Rodger…Reagan…Roderick…R…”
“Randrup, “I finished for him. “Ooh, I just hate that jerk. Friend? Ha! More like mortal enemy. Any man, who doesn’t believe that in this day and age a woman can present well written material for publication, is completely out of his teeny-itsy-bisty-miniscule-tiny mind.”
I huffed out a large breath of fog into the face of a very concerned looking Mark. “It seems he picked one strong woman in particular. You see, when I told you were out, he growled at me to give you a certain message. Our Mr. Randrup said, â€˜Tell the beloved Camille Blumstein that I smell something wrong about her, and that I have a sufficient lead as to what it is.’ Then, his short body took off.”
We stayed silent for quiet some time before I realized that the hush was a sign of my guilt. And I was guilty. I could feel the rush in my heart before anyone could even hear it. My sense of sight was reduced to a few feet in front of me, and all the words I could pull out of my substantial vocabulary were the 5 W’s they so adamantly taught me back in Journalism 1 my freshman year at the university.
Mark spoke slowly, “There is nothing bad going on…with you…Is there?”
Tears sprang up in my eyes, and I knew this was one event that was not going to become a sweet or sadly funny anecdote to tell at those cocktail parties I love. Where people never ask you truly personally questions. About your fantastic mother, or your deceased father, or your sister whom you haven’t seen since you last saw your mother, or why you left your little seaside town up in Maine, or, or -- anything! I despise nosy people.
I broke down. “There is.”
Mark, sweet, sweet, Mark born and raised in the city with a beautiful, kind society mother with un-calloused hands and a handsome, wealthy father. Nosy Mark whom I don’t despise, because I know he cares and will never betray with secretive information or hold it over my head for some kind of leverage. He asked gently, “Tell me Camille.”
My usually tightly closed section of voice box where delicate things are held loosened. “I wanted to work here. In the city,” I removed some bits of ice from my face that were tears as I spoke, “and I wanted to work for a good publication, but, you see, I had a great deal of trouble. All my friends at the university found lovely jobs that they were satisfied with, but I just couldn’t land a job that I felt I was pleased with. My mother always told me to strive for perfection. So I did. When I applied to the amazing magazine I am currently at I…I lied!”
“You lied?” Mark said this with such an honestly bemused expression that I got angry.
“It wasn’t some little white lie you tell to get out trouble with a teacher, Mark. This was a big fish of a lie! Almost everything on the application except my name and my education. My age, my references I re-wrote a little, my previous jobs; which I will get off my chest right now is that the only experience I ever had was helping my father for three summers on his fishing boat! And I lied and said I had a few internships here and there. This magazine and that paper. The foundation of my professional career will now and forever be a stupid lie!”
With that last repetition of the foul word I got up as quickly as could; Mark grabbing at my escaping arm and calling my name, but I wouldn’t have any of it. That man never does anything wrong except be meddlesome, which I don’t even mind!
So this morning with the day off, and an absolutely terrible ache within my belly, I scoured the classifieds for a new apartment. I had been shamed out of my lovely flat. I’ll admit like a Catholic schoolgirl scorned that I sat in a most disgusting stench of self-loathing, adorned in a tattered fleece bathrobe, tangled hair, and no make up. I ate bread and butter, drank my coffee black, and watched â€˜I Love Lucy’ on mute. Not even Old Blue Eyes could perk me up on the radio.
This is why you tell no one, nothing, I chided myself. When you do, it’s always the wrong thing, and you end up feeling guilty. I then backtracked feeling the other side of the argument, No wonder Mother always said you’d end up alone… you can’t even tell your closest friend something private.
Midday the telephone rang. I answered it out habit, and cursed silently when I realized what I held up to my face.
“Hello? Camille? It’s Martha.”
I did my absolute best to sound normal, “Darling Martha! Hello.”
“Oh Camille,” she said in a bubbly rush that matched her blonde appearance of a shop girl, “Have you heard the news?”
I rolled my eyes. Of course I hadn’t heard the news! I had been living in bubble of strangled, pathetic guilt. I didn’t say that of course, instead opting to inquire, “No I haven’t. What’s the news?”
“It’s Randrup!” Martha whispered.
Martha giggled, “You didn’t even let me finish, darling. Randrup was â€˜let go’ yesterday after everyone was out of the office. According to Gordon, our friend Randy was doing some libelous reporting that the magazine didn’t approve of! Our bosses told him if he wanted to be a crooked reporter, that he should go work for Hearst and his publications!”
I could scarcely breath. Did this mean my secret was safe between Mark and I? “So the rat is gone?” I asked casually.
“Like the long gloved hands fad of last fall. Completely thrown away.”
After saying goodbye to my friend, I perked up like a firecracker. I wouldn’t be fired! I wouldn’t be ousted as fraud! All was well. I showered slowly, relishing the delicious tingle of the rare hot water, and lathered my body in a thick coconut scent.
Out of the shower, I sat in my nicer, silk bathrobe, drank hot cocoa, ate strawberries and read Withering Heights in focus.
That was when there was a knocking on my apartment door. I knew who it was. It was the man I had avoided for the past three days, and I opened the green door with nerves on end.
Mark looked as I had just an hour before -- awful. His hair was hanging on his forehead, plump purple bags formed under his eyes, and he kept cracking fingers. I smiled genuinely.
“Camille,” he said.
“Mark,” I mimicked good-naturedly.
He took a breath. “I’m sorry I didn’t take you seriously the other night. I didn’t understand why you felt so strongly about such a silly thing. Then I realized it was because it is you.”
“Yes, you! You never tell me anything that you can’t go off and tell a stranger or an acquaintance or those flaky artists and musicians we drink with, and finally you tell me something that actually has some value behind it, and I’m not a good enough soul to listen to it.” He shook his head. “You’re a wonderful girl, Camille, better than all the girls I’ve been with, and I know that the magazine knows that too, and if that Raspberry man comes out with some terrible scoop on you, it won’t matter because you’ll have proved your worth, and poise, and damn greatness as you have continuously shown me.”
I could feel the blood rushing to my cheeks. “Well you should be glad to hear--”
Cutting me off he looked me straight in the eye and said, “I love you. That’s my terrible secret for you, Camille. I love you.”
I then promptly shut the door in his face.