The Secret Place

by Abbie Anderson (1996)

The wind tousled the tops of the barren trees like a giant's fingers in a giant baby's hair, and Margaret caught herself imitating the motion with her hands as she looked out the window. The end of April, she thought, and still no leaves; Spring sure had a hard time coming this year. She knew how it felt, how hard it was to push new green growth up through the waiting crust of earth when you'd been beaten back so many times by unexpected snow. She always marvelled at the faith, the energy of Spring. You'd think it would know better, after all this time, that it doesn't do you any good to flower open upon the Earth: the traitor globe is only going to spin and tilt you out of the Sun's embrace to leave you withered again by November.

No more thoughts like that, Maggie told herself sharply, or you'll end up in the Secret Place again, and this time you might not make it back. Besides, you know better than that. Spring is worth it, Summer is necessary; just because it's a cycle doesn't mean it's a defeat. That's just fallacious Western technology-fixated capitalistic linear thinking, to assume that you have to "move forward" and "make progress" and "show a profit" in order to justify effort or even existence. No more thoughts like that, my dear: we can't afford them. We're on a budget now, remember? You can't pay the price of a round-trip ticket to the Secret Place, and one-way travel is not an option any more.

She had to admit she missed it, though. It had been so comfortable there, so easy, and no one else could join her in the secret, no one could cheapen or decry it. No one could ask her questions ("What did you think you were doing with those matches?"), no one could give her tests of ultimate worth that masqueraded as reasonable assignments ("This proposal has to be in by Friday. Can you handle it, or should I give it to someone else?"), no one could demand an accounting of her time ("What on earth have you been doing in here all day?"). It had been very beautiful, very peaceful, and they played the most exquisite music there. Music of the spheres. She could have stayed there forever.

Except for Doug. Doug was a good reason for coming back out--and for not going back in. His passion for things fascinated her. When for so long her fundamental assumption had been that nothing was worth the effort, that she herself wasn't worth the effort of an involuntarily beating heart, that life just took too much energy, his level of care for that mindlessly drudging heart of hers made her curious to understand the entire phenomenon. "My," she had thought to herself after crawling into the Secret Place and watching him from inside it, "I didn't know it was possible to care that much. What a silly man. He cares about me. Who would have suspected?" She had thought about it for a long time, watching him care about other things, too--the houseplants, the Bulls, his college buddies, his car, his nieces and nephews, his elderly neighbor, his rediscovery of John Donne: "Batter my heart, three-personed God...." He would read it to her. Doug was just one-personed, but the Secret Place became less interesting as she watched him. That's why it wouldn't pay to go back there. She hadn't figured Doug out yet. The thought made her smile. No chance of that happening for a long time.

Before she had gone in to the Secret Place she had been getting tired of him. Why marry me if you don't know what to do with me when I can't find a reason to get up in the morning? Why stay with me if I'm so impossible? So since he wouldn't leave, and he wouldn't leave her alone, and she didn't have the energy to die, Margaret made the Secret Place, and Went Away. But she didn't get rid of him. At first she just thought he was being stubborn, refusing to abandon his possession, his project, his wife. He had always been stubborn, impatient, unaccommodating. Even when he demanded answers, he wouldn't listen as she tried to explain the focusless despair she didn't understand herself and didn't care to penetrate. But now he listened. He looked at her. Maggie had come back for that. He seemed to truly see her, now. It made her heart stop, the way he looked at her. He had seen her in the Secret Place, when he had never seen her before, not really, and had come in after her. Of course he couldn't really get there (pretty lousy Secret Place if he could), but the effort had impressed her. She decided to let him take care of her, to make him happy. It wasn't quite as easy as the Secret Place--it required conversation, and dishes on the table, and getting ready for bed--but it was good. Reality had its rewards, too, if you played your cards right.

He came home. "Mags...?" he called, and she went to him.

"Hi, honey, I'm home," she teased, and gave him a grade-A radiant smile, waiting for the sweetness of his kiss.


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