As part of this year’s One Read program and inspired by the themes of personal myth-making, superstition and family secrets in “The Tiger’s Wife, we challenged writers to craft a tale in which a secret is revealed or concealed. We received stories of deathbed confessions, affairs, love and loss–all told in no more than 250 words. Thank you to everyone who entered. Our two winners were Amy Ewing and Frank Montagnino.
We are pleased to share with you their stories.
It’s Not Your Fault by Amy Ewing
Maria received the phone call at 6 pm – the hour when family life is busy, noisy, and phone calls are common. Not the time of day when your heart stops at the sound of the ring, like it does at 3 am. Maria was chopping carrots for the salad. She almost let it ring without answering, not recognizing the number.
“This is JoAnne…Irene’s neighbor,” the voice said.
“The ambulance just picked her up. Her little cat, Willow, wouldn’t leave my back door…” JoAnne trailed off.
Maria drove two hours to the city where her sister Irene lived. She followed the too familiar route to the hospital, remembering her last visit. She could hear her sister’s voice, pleading, “Please don’t tell anyone. I’ll go see the counselor this time. I promise.”
When Maria left the hospital that night, she drove to Irene’s apartment. She stuffed the empty pill bottles into a trash bag, and put the bag in her car.
Maria forced herself to find words to say, to make the necessary calls that night to her parents and brothers. They repeated the story she told them. They repeated it at the funeral, to friends, family, neighbors, and to themselves, until they believed it.
“She had the flu. She didn’t want you to worry,” Maria had said. “It’s not your fault. She was very dehydrated, and fell in the kitchen. Her neighbor found her. It’s not your fault.”
Sta Sera by Frank Montagnino
When I was a kid I noticed my mom and dad had this little ritual they would enact every time he left the house. When he kissed her goodbye he would always murmur the same Italian phrase, “Sta sera?” (My folks only spoke Italian when they didn’t want us kids to know what they were talking about. We knew that, of course.)
Since I didn’t understand Italian I had no idea what their little secret meant, but I did notice that the way dad said it, with the emphasis going up at the end, it sounded like a question. I don’t remember if mom ever said anything in response. Mostly, as I vaguely recall, she just smiled and shooed him out of the house. I didn’t think much about it anyway because, let’s face it, what kind of secrets could parents have?
It wasn’t until many years later that I learned what mom and dad’s secret little ritual was all about. My wife and I were planning a trip to Italy and I had immersed myself in a do-it-yourself effort to learn as much Italian as possible. The first time I ran across the phrase “sta sera” in my Italian primer I wasn’t thinking about their little ritual, so I didn’t make the connection. But when the light finally dawned it put a big and knowing smile on my face. Instead of just “parents” I realized that my folks were real people when I learned that “sta sera?” meant “tonight?”