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A Secret Untold

It all started with my third-grade homework, something most little boys despise. Like every day, I was completing it diligently in my office. The Macintosh’s screen was black, the result of my pondering over the homework question: Where’s a place you want to visit, but you’ve never been to? This troubled me-- I had been all over the world, even before double digits. I had seen more than many see in a lifetime. Yet there was this one place I salivated over, a place I so desperately wanted to seek around: the attic. It was a place my mother forbade me to visit. I was not certain why: it obviously was not a safety concern, as she permitted me to stay home alone since I began my schooling. The thought of being a smidge bad, a dash defiant, invigorated me. As long as she didn’t know, I would be okay. And so I, the “good” child, ran up the steps, defying my mother’s rules.

The attic giggled at my trepidation. I clambered onto the nearest chair, pressed on the loose ceiling tile, and hoisted myself in. Dust glinted in the glow of a setting sun.

I stood there, waiting for a revelation; like always, I was disenchanted. My curious nature beckoned—the boxes that littered the wood floor and the random articles of clothing strewn everywhere possessed an element of mystery. A striped fabric caught my eye: it was worn ragged—a musty scent conveyed its age. The sleeves unraveled like noodles. Once-vibrant red and white pinstripes had faded, and the breeze gently jostled the fabric across the floor.

A section of crumpled paper was deliberately placed on the collar of the shirt. My mother’s name, Marguerite, was prominently displayed. With shivering fingers I opened the note.

Dear Marguerite,
I never knew quite how to say this, so I shall try my d*mndest to phrase it well. I know you are pregnant with a baby boy, one whom I hope to meet, but do not believe I will. I have this illness I just cannot rid myself of, an illness not of hospital beds or stethoscopes, but one of alcohol and cigarettes. I do not want my grandchild to go down the same path as I—one of isolation and alienation. Being as intelligent as I believe my grandson will become, I do not want him to make the same mistake as I did; it surely will make his life harder to control. I trust that if I only made friends, not pushed people away, I would still be here like the man you once knew. I apologize in advance, for I will leave behind a notorious family name.
Sincerely,
James Malcolm

With heaving breaths I clutched the note and hurried down to the living room—nearly sliding down the banister. My mother was sitting on the white leather couch, her legs casually propped on the frosted coffee table. A slender glass of champagne fit perfectly between her pinched fingertips, professionally painted by an unnamed woman who charges thirty dollars per manicure. Her relaxed eyes were focused on some cooking show.

“Mother! You will never guess what I found.”
“What, sweetie?” She murmured, clearly engrossed in her show.
“This note that Grandpa left us. It revealed a couple of surprises about him.”

Infused with a jolt of alcohol, her body sprang awake. “What?” she yelled.

I summarized the note for her. Her eyes did not show a hint of tears. Her brow was furrowed, and her blood red lips were pursed, highlighting the crevices. She was thinking hard.


“I knew it,” she said, her voice steady.
“Are you certain?”
“Yes, sweetie. I’m smarter than you make me out to be. He gave that note to me, but I stuck it in the attic. It serves no purpose. It’s quite ironic, actually, that you discovered that.”
“So why did you not care for him?”

She sighed, wrinkles on her Botox-injected face protruding.

“It’s complicated,” she finally answered. I could tell she did not want to speak about him any longer.

“I understand. I honestly do.”
“No. You don’t. You’ll learn when you’re older: everything’s an illusion. Everything’s paradoxical. Everything’s a lie. Just like he is.”

I could not believe her cold attitude towards a man she once called her father. Ashamed of him, her, and myself, I stomped up to my bedroom. Like a child, I had a good, pillow-in-my-mouth cry. I cried for his ignorance, her attitude, and my innocence. I cried for his pain, her pain, and my pain. I cried because I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t know how to fix his name he left behind. I could only fix myself. But the task was too daunting. And so, like I always wanted to do, I crumpled in the face of adversity, inaugurating myself into the vicious cycle of the Malcom family.



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