A Secret in the Past
Alva told her story, omitting the part about how she became pregnant. Later she would think about that and wonder if someday she might tell her son how it came about. She wondered, too, if she kept the secret for her sake, or for her son’s sake, or because of her shame, or because of her anger, which in her heart she felt might explode if she were ever to release the safety catch she had closed on it so many years before. In the weeks and months to come, she would ponder this puzzle many times, never coming to a resolution or finding a way to resolve her conflicting feelings.
Cecilia listened as if she were a priest receiving a confession. She never once interrupted Alva nor moved in any perceptible way. Internally, in her mind, and in her body, waves of emotion, one after the other, spread through her so that she was sure she would jump up at any moment and run from this woman and this room. Yet she sat, like a tree stump in the middle of a field, with the farmer running his tractor up and down, making furrows, turning the earth upside down to allow for planting new life.
Cecilia was a controlled person by nature. She had been brought up in a family of four sisters, the youngest, the most put upon, and she had developed a way of hiding within herself as a protection against the barbs and bickering, the demands and manipulations of her older sisters, who viewed her as their personal assistant at best, and their target at worst. Once she had moved away from home, gotten her first teaching job in junior high, she found being immutable an asset. The class could never tell what she was thinking or might say, and in this way she maintained a certain control and kept them off balance. She was not one of those teachers who became buddies with the kids, yet by the end of the first few months of each year she had gained their respect and they actually came to class eager to learn, if only a small amount at times. She taught English. She loved books. She admired the ideas in them. And she taught with a cool passion that transmitted her love of learning without leaving her vulnerable.
“So, you see,” Alva was concluding, “I wasn’t really sure how to tell him. I’m doing the best what I think for the situation. But you bein’ his wife, if you think he wouldn’t want to know about me, then I accept that. Yes, I do, and would not bother you no more with it.”
Although her mind was racing with thoughts, Cecilia was quiet for a long while. Alva twisted her handbag strap incessantly. It was unlike her to be so uncomfortable. She realized that. Normally she was the one making others feel comfortable. She realized that, too. She tried to keep her composure, but with every passing moment it seemed there was even more riding on the outcome of this conversation. Now that she had unburdened herself to Cecilia, she could not go directly to Moses. Now it was in someone else’s hands. And Alva had long ago taken control of most of her life. This corner of it, however, loomed like a gigantic iceberg, always moving toward her, always half hidden beneath everything she did.