By: Edward Wells
Names, on the other hand, are precise, unambiguous; one might even say rigid, fixed, unalterable, certainly inelastic. They are not the same thing, however. In the upper right hand corner is cerulean blending into cobalt, maybe bleeding into cobalt. On the right is cyan blending into blue , possibly bleeding into blue. There is much talk or chatter, prattling, in the so-called art world (which is more doubtful, art or world?) about my secret painting, that painting, this painting. It started in a silly way, like something out of junior high school, too tame to be a male fantasy, literally a brush of hands, a light rake of skin that persisted at first a beat too long and then was revisited. I knew the subject. It turned out she was gripping the bench as well, her left hand next to my right. The backs of our hands grazed. I looked at her and said, “Pardon,” and moved my hand away an inch. Then, either by her conscious or unconscious movement, by my conscious or unconscious movement, by an anomaly of gravitational force, or by the vibrations of the building caused by a distant metro train, a bus, or a low-flying jet, or the folding of space, our hands touched again. Perhaps we were both thinking, so what, our hands are touching, this won’t kill me, it’s just where our hands happen to be. We touched. My boredom must have shown on my face because the young woman with the hand stood next to me and said, “You don’t like them.” She shook my hand. “Katy.” I stood. I stared into the face of the woman in the gray shirt.
He handed me a Pan Am ticket jacket. He handed my companion a yellow slip of paper that had been torn from a pad. I handed him a pen and he wrote on the piece of paper, was still writing after he hung up. My companion pulled a folded photo from his jacket pocket and handed it to the man. “About you,” the man said, pointing his cigarette hand at me. I pulled my photo from the back pocket of my jacket and placed it in his hands. He shook his head. I thought about how much I hated my hand when I touched myself.
I put my glass down and less awkwardly than I thought possible I placed my left hand around Katy and pressed my fingers against the small of her back. I placed my hand behind her head, my fingers in her hair, and I pulled her back to look at her face. I looked at her youthful hands, her neck, and reached for my coat. I had been wrong.
The man closed his eyes and drifted into sleep, a beer can in his left hand, the right draped over the gun. I was stunned by his quietness, by the way his eyes kept darting to the side, to the left, to the right. “It’s a secret, right?” He had been silent, his eyes closed, for five or six minutes. “I have a secret.” The voice inside me echoed. A good thing in an artist, but here in a camp in a jungle at this I was a miserable failure, wanting at every turn to know how light affected color, how texture affected spatial orientation, and yet, in regard to my own inner life, I was oblivious as to how my secrets had influenced, shaped my vision, in the most literal sense. But unlike my hero Leonardo’s beautiful method of extracting nature’s secrets from painstaking observation, I had deluded myself into believing that nature would simply reveal itself to me, like the coral of a sunset, like the many whites of snow. I stared at the gun. I could see where the barrel was pointing .
“I didn’t say that, Jonn. It’s never okay to break a promise. A promise is a promise is a promise. Then there’s the whole secret thing.” “Secret thing?” “Katy, the woman you thought wouldn’t notice the end of your existence or at least wouldn’t care in the least, chose you of all people to keep the biggest secret of her life up to this point.” “We know a little about secrets, don’t we, Martha?” I wondered what secrets she had told others. Her hands were olive, smooth, but not young. Katy held up the key. I must have either drifted off to sleep standing there, dick in hand, or simply spaced out, because I snapped to and discovered that the man was standing next to me, urinating as well. Katy smiled, touched my hand. I didn’t care, but realized that I wanted her to have her secrets. She looked at me, her eyes filled with the same sort of compassion. Rain rolled through my hair and onto my face, which I had to keep wiping with my hand. I knew how it would go. The man held his M16 differently now, his right hand on the trigger housing but his finger away from the trigger. Katy was in the middle of the latrine. Her left hand was missing, an absence made more pronounced by the fact that her other hand had been washed clean by the rain and looked still alive. Sinking to his knees, the man covered his face with his muddy hands. My hands trembled the whole time, but the work, using the shovel, moving the dirt, steadied them. It was her. An it came to me, offered me something, confused me, then I realized that it was giving me Katy’s left hand. It was giving me a gift that could make my life even harder. The severed hand was fairly blue black. Martha did not see me take the hand. In my own hand the piece of a person felt like a feather, a wet nothing. It had to be that way. She could not see me. She would not have seen if she were in my place.
Katy held on to my hand and I fell laughing into the seat beside her. She was a professor of sociology at Brown, no more than an acquaintance, but familiar enough that I dropped Katy’s soft hand. I dried my hands on a towel and made eye contact with Martha as she entered the kitchen. Katy held my hand. Her hand was still, a smooth hand, still a young hand. Certainly I was aware that there was a secret, something, in the air. But I couldn’t tell her. The man put his pistol on the table and rested his hand on it, the barrel pointed not at me but at my companion. He leaned against the table as if to take a break from his work , but when he was a little closer, he spoke. I looked across the room at a canvas and didn’t recognize the hand that had made it, but what was interesting was that I didn’t care and, more, I found the painting boring, flat, uninspired, and then I found the whole world that way. By the time we were up the two flights and inside Katy’s apartment she had put her hand on my arm. I didn’t know where her hands were most of the time, but I did know they pleased me. “That is a very silly question. Before you go, I would like you to tell me a secret, John.” “What kind of secret?” “A real secret. We will tell each other secrets.” I was surprised by Katy’s secret and just a little amused at the fear that ran through me right then. She held my hand up to her face and looked at it. “Perhaps. Now, your secret.” I wondered if our secret, my knowing while Martha did not, my helping with the doctor and all, would actually remain a secret or whether it might become an item for blackmail down the road or perhaps a weapon of mass destruction to pull out against Martha one day. I have big hands, but the man’s mitt engulfed mine when we shook. I had a little problem with it , but in the end it did not matter in the slightest. My companion handed over the keys. The man’s hand kept moving, floating. Katy reached down and took my hand, held it briefly, then let it go. My immediate impression was that there was nothing between Martha and Katy, no secrets, no intrigue. I wondered if Katy and I sharing a secret had sanctioned some behavioral changes of which I was unaware. “Give me some credit here. I’m keeping your secret. This is hard, Katy.” I knelt to pick up the shards. The only thing holding my hand was the handle of a shovel, and I picked it up without too much struggle. My companion said nothing , and I tried again and again , trying not to think about anything. Katy was still kneeling by my side.
The man gestured with his hand for us to sit and we haltingly did. My companion handed over the photograph. My companion stood and shook the man’s hand. I watched the other two , who stood quietly looking away from each other. Katy’s hands caressed me with a certainty that was at once comforting and bewildering, and I felt that I touched her in much the same way. I stepped into the overheated lobby of my hotel and peeled off my scarf as the clerk handed me my key. He also handed me a folded pink paper. I stared at the paper in my hand. It had a small note inside that read: I have lost my virginity and can’t remember how I did it. On the other hand, there was no finding a cup of coffee to go, so I sat at an outdoor table of a café a couple of doors away and had a coffee while I ate a pain au chocolat from the bakery across the street. The fact that it was secret served its secrets, my secrets, and suddenly I understood at least one rather simple and perhaps obvious forehead-flattening truth, that a secret can exist only if its revelation, discovery, even betrayal is possible. This was also a moment of clarity in my understanding of how my own relationship with Martha changed after that. “Why is it okay that I told you? I’ve already broken Katy’s secret.” “Betrayed her secret,” my companion corrected me. Katy used the back of her hand to brush the flakes of the pastry off my jacket. I reached over and held her hand. “Thank you.” I said quietly, looking over at her. She smiled at me. An it had come to me, rather uncharacteristically, baseball in hand, and asked me to play catch. I gave up, and in doing so, became a very good, young man. My companion dumped the last of the salad into the can and handed me the bowl and tossers. “I didn’t care for the flavor of the dressing.” I put the bowl and tossers back on the table, and picked up the ball. I had only the barest idea of how this would turn out. The next morning I took the ball in hand and took a deep breath.
The man shook his head and threw up his hand in a gesture of helplessness. He didn’t offer his hand to shake, didn’t look at my companion, but nodded to me. Perhaps it was the man’s face, perhaps it was the fatigue, perhaps it was everything piling up without promise of relief, perhaps it was the memory of Katy and the secret shared by her and me, but I wanted to leap across that table and tear out the man’s throat. The man handed me a fork. I thought about telling my companion about the it and Katy’s hand, but I could not bring myself to do it. Katy shook my hand. She gave me a smile.
I put my hand to my pocket and realized that I had left my mobile phone on the kitchen table. The man slapped my hands away. My companion shook her hand. My companion shook her hand. I had the fleeting thought that Katy letting the secret out was orchestrated, but as quickly decided that couldn’t be. Martha was staring at me, her hand flat on top of Katy’s hair. Katy didn’t look up, but down at the bit of bloody toilet paper in her hand. She only told me because I said it would remain a secret. I had never even thought of that, but in hearing it I did recognize that I had gotten some good feeling from being secretive, complicit with her. It didn’t matter whether she hated me for betraying her secret. I pointed the .45 that the man had handed to me at him. Katy put her hands on my cheeks and directed my face at her again. “Do you have a better secret to tell me?” I knew I would tell Katy my secret. I had never told the secret to Martha and I didn’t know why, except that I believed that there had to be some secrets that remained secrets. I had come to love the power of secrets and saw every painting as a secret waiting to be revealed. I described the scene and told her about Martha and the it and about digging the grave and the secret that had been shared by only me and the it I called in my head It. “That’s not the secret.” Yes it was, but I couldn’t share it.
Sitting alone in the dead-quiet kitchen I heard clearly what I should have said to Katy when she first insisted that I keep her secret. I was supposed to have said, “I’m sorry, but that is not a secret I can keep.” That is, as far as it goes. “If you could keep something like this from me, what other secrets are you hiding?” “I have no secrets,” I lied. “Why would you do this to yourself?” My hands were not steady on the wheel. The pistol was in my hand. The man fired at me again, I can still see the flash, and the pistol in my hand went off. I rubbed my hands together as if I was cold and still I do not know why I did it; I was not cold at all. I remember the action all too well, rubbing my hands like a stupid fly. It went wide and went home and I did not even feel it as it went through the door . “I asked you for a secret.” “My secret is that I tried to killed myself, John.” Katy took my hand. What was more was that my crime, in Katy’s eyes, her complicity notwithstanding, was that I had somehow shown a lack of care and love for her by not breaking her confidence, by actually keeping her secret to myself. The secret that I held closest, the secret that I never told anyone, that I shared with no one, was that I had married Martha without loving her. This is an essential part of the secret. There is no such thing as a secret. If you believe in secrets , if you think they are necessary , then you have lost the way of love.
An it slapped the Caddy’s hood with both hands when I inched forward and got too close. I put my head down and tried to think. I had kept the secret to myself at first because I didn’t want Martha to think of me as a bad man, because I didn’t want to think of myself as a bad man. Then, slowly, it became a secret that I kept because it belonged to me and finally I didn’t know whether it was fear or selfishness that had me guarding it. You keep a secret long enough and it simply cannot be told or will not be told. I would tell her about Katy and the it and the hand. But I would not tell her the real secret. The man reached out to shake my hand. The man held up his hands and backed away. The hand was a big one, and it came down , as if it were waiting for something to do. Katy reached up, put her hand on my arm, and gently pulled me to sitting next to her. The man put his hand on my companion’s forearm, I assumed to stop my companion if they thought to speak again. Katy reached for my hand. I washed my hands and arms again, but I could not wash off the scratches and cuts. My hands were shaking. I was going to have to get myself under control before I walked up to that counter and handed over my passport. The man handed it to me. He looked at me, the yellow watering can hanging from his big hand. I shook his hand and imagined I saw in him the four-year-old it. I kept looking at his eyes, wondering if he might remember the moment we shared, the hand, but I never had the sense that he did. I stood and shook the man’s hand. He stopped me with a hand on my shoulder. He smiled at me. “You scared me,” Martha said, resting a hand on the sink. Sitting there with her right then I realized that telling her the secret I should have told her so long ago was not going to bring us any closer and probably wouldn’t make sense anyway. I took Martha’s hand and walked her out the back door toward the shed. I could feel the muscles in her hand tense. She was going to have to hold this for a while. The house was dark, I thought. The shed door was a jar of black, wet clay. We reached the shed.
It was getting dark , and the air was cold and thick with dampness and the breeze was a steady and deep whisper on the empty house.
This submission is sourced from selections of *So Much Blue* by Percival Everett, reshaped, and further developed using a version of the GPT-2 language model developed by OpenAI. It is obviously actively engaged with concepts of originality