Hiding on the Dark Side
by Ellen Denton
When I was very young, I learned the value of secrets. Not children-type secrets, grownup ones. The first was when my best friend Lori was at my house to play. Mama was away at her waitressing job at Flo's Diner, so it was just the two of us and daddy, who worked the night shift at a factory.
We were playing hide and seek, and it was my turn to find the two of them. I went outside, counted to ten real slow, and went back into the house. It was quiet like it should be when you don’t want someone to know where you are.
I sat down on the hook rug in the living room, closed my eyes, and thought real hard on where they were, until the magic pictures came into my mind. That’s what I called them back then – magic pictures. I first saw white within white, then a wavy pink, with two shapes, one big, one small, moving back and forth a little. I knew then both of them were hiding in the bathroom, because the walls were white in there, the floors were white, the tub was white, and the plastic shower curtain was pink.
I laughed and ran to the bathroom door, but it was locked, and no one answered when I knocked. I was smart though. I left the house and ran around to the side so I could look through the slits in the bathroom window curtain. That’s when I saw my first grownup secret.
I saw that secret a whole bunch of times between the ages of five and seven. One day, two policemen came to the door and daddy was led away in handcuffs. Mama huggi'ed me tight after they drove away with him in the back, and then she alternately cried and got angry. She cried and was angry for most of the next week. I was sorry he was gone, because after I saw his secret, he was really nice to me and let me eat candy whenever I wanted to if I promised not to tell. I missed that candy almost as much as I missed him.
Then there was the grownup secret about Mrs. Bozman and her hidden money. She was very old and couldn’t get around real well. I would go over to her house two times a week after school, and she gave me a dollar each time for helping her with chores. I watered her plants, dusted the little knick-knacks she had all over the house, and sometimes made trips to the convenience store on the corner for her. I was eight then and only got 50 cents a week from mama as an allowance, so the two dollars from Mrs. Bozman was like a king’s ransom.
I learned about her money because one day she was taking a nap in a living room chair while I dusted, and I peeked into the bureau drawers in her locked bedroom. I always wanted to see what was in that room, so I concentrated real hard until the magic pictures showed me where she kept the key. Once I had it, I snuck inside to look around. One entire, large-size drawer was filled with hundred dollar bills to near bursting. I’d never seen real ones before.
A few weeks later, Mrs. Bozman was sitting slumped over sideways in her easy chair in front of the TV, with her eyes open staring at nothing. The tea cup she’d been holding was on the floor, and there was also a wet spot on the chair that smelled like pee. I kept looking at her for awhile, went and did some other things, then came back and looked at her some more.
I went to get mama, who came and looked at her too. She made a call and an ambulance arrived and took Mrs. Bozman away in a black rubber bag. Mama hugged me tight after the ambulance drove off and explained to me about old Mrs. Bozman’s heart condition, but I already knew about that. When she was alive, she would sometimes have me bring her the bottles of heart-medicine pills from the kitchen, along with a refreshing glass of lemonade to take them with.
There were lots of other secrets, some big, some not so big.
When I was ten, I once heard funny sounds like grunting and squealing when I walked past the alleyway between the Rise-N-Shine Mini-Mart and the Chinese restaurant. I wanted to see what it was, but was afraid it might be something dangerous like a big, hungry dog, so I thought on it hard until I knew it was just some people moving around together. People don’t smell or hear things good like dogs do, so I figured I could take a look without anyone knowing I was there.
I crept behind a big, smelly garbage dumpster and peaked around the side of it. I saw Ilene, the teenage daughter of our next door neighbors, standing against the wall with a boy. They were moving around like I’d seen my daddy do with Lori, and their naked parts were showing.
When I was twelve, I was at school after hours for drama-club rehearsal. I had left my sweater in one of the classrooms, so before going home, I went back there to get it. The classroom doors were normally left open after school hours because the principal said it helped to air out the rooms overnight. When I approached this one, the door was closed, so I thought hard until I knew no one was in there but my English teacher Mrs. Cherry. I peeked in through the glass window in the middle of the door. She was at her desk, and there was a bottle of Jack Denial’s whiskey in her hand. She was drinking it right out of the bottle. After a little while and some more biggish gulps, she put the bottle in her desk drawer and piled in a whole bunch of stuff on top of it - ledger books and papers and the like.
I had all kinds of grownup secrets. When I was fourteen, a really big one happened.
I did volunteer work at our church Sunday afternoons. After the services were over, the ladies would set up a pot-luck buffet as a regular thing. When that was done and everyone left the building, I would go around and do cleanup. I swept the floor, dumped out what was left in the big coffee urn, wrapped up any remaining food and put it in the rectory refrigerator, and rolled out the big trash bins for Monday morning pickup. As a last thing, I’d go to Father McKinley’s office and do filing and straightening up of things there.
One Sunday, I had finished all my work for that day and started walking back toward the church’s front entrance to leave. Sometimes, the magic pictures would swim up on me when I wasn’t even asking for them to come, and that happened this time. There was a meeting room all the way at the other end of the church, and I could see the dark shapes of people waving their arms and waving something that looked like paper, and throwing out red angry beams at each other.
By habit, I always walk quietly wherever I go. I guess that’s because I was so used to seeing and keeping secrets, which are sort of quiet things. You never say them. If you do, you whisper them, or promise someone not to ever speak them at all. That’s why I was able to walk up to the meeting room at the end of the hall and stop by the closed door to listen. The two people in there didn’t hear my footsteps approach.
It was Father McKinley’s voice in there and that of some other man I didn’t recognize. They were arguing; the other man yelled that he was going to the police about the stealing of church money, and then they were both shouting at the same time. Then it was just the other man shouting, but his voice stopped mid-sentence. The way it stopped reminded me of when I saw a bird suddenly fall out of the sky after my cousin Billy hit it with a stone from a sling-shot.
It got really quiet then. It was quiet for a long time, but then I heard footsteps rushing back and forth across the room, followed by crying and praying. That stopped and then something was being dragged across the floor toward the door. There was a mop closet just down the hall, so I quickly went in there and shut the door except for a crack. I knew there was another secret coming, and I wanted to see it.
Father McKinley stuck his head out, looked up and down the hallway, then dragged a man’s body out of the room. I couldn’t see the person’s face because his entire head was wrapped round and round in a piece of carpet with some bloodstains on it. He pulled it to the other end of the hallway, then out the back door. Once I heard his key turn in the lock, I tip-toed to the door just in time to hear a car pulling away.
I went back to the meeting room, closed my eyes as I stood outside the locked door, and thought hard on it until I knew the bright, hot, shimmering shape on the floor was a pool of blood. I got out of there fast.
I’ve been collecting secrets for a long time, and I still am, but now, since I’m on my own, pretty, and twenty years old, I myself arrange for those secrets to happen. I don’t even need the magic pictures anymore, which is good, because they always gave me the most God-awful headaches straining so hard to see them. Now I just keep a camera running where it can’t be seen.
I didn’t need one when I was growing up, because people were scared enough when then found out what I knew about them to give me what I wanted.
I was failing my English class when I was 12, and it was so dang easy to get Mrs. Cherry to give me a passing grade anyway, once I told her what I saw, but solemnly promised not to tell. Hell, I didn’t even ask her for the passing grade; I just somehow knew she would give me one.
I guess it was kind of mean of me to threaten Ilene with telling her mother about the boy I saw her with in the alley if she didn’t give me five dollars every week. She got really mad and called me a little - well, you know - the “B” word. She gave me the money though. What was the big deal? She had a part-time job after school at a pizzeria. She could afford the five dollars.
I really cleaned up though on Father McKinley’s secret. Not only was there the murder, but there was his stealing of church money. I’m not even going to brag and tell you what my weekly cut was after that incident. It didn’t really hurt anyone. A lot of well-off people went to that church and made regular, big donations. I did the filing in his office each week, so I knew how much came into that place. This was all in addition to the tens and twenties that went into the collection plate.
The way I’ve got things set up now, I won’t ever have to work a day in my life. I can practically smell money on a man, and I’ve almost got this down to an assembly-line type thing. I pick up the married ones in this ritzy, five-star hotel bar, get them up into my room, and the hidden camera does the rest. People never suspect I'm up to anything. Maybe it's because I look innocent, or maybe it has something to do with the way I talk.
Yep, life is good.
Would you believe I still have one of those hundred dollar bills left from Mrs. Bozman’s drawer? I spent all the ones I took except for that one, which I kept for sentimental value. She was a really nice lady, and honestly, it wasn’t that I wanted her to die when I wouldn’t get her those heart pills that day when she asked for them. I had heard about heart attacks, and was curious about what someone looked like when they had one, so I just sat there and watched.
She was really old though, so what was the real harm there? She was probably going to die soon anyway.