Hide and Pique

May 12th, 2009

Manny the boy slinked inside after a particularly rough day at school, checked the house twice to make sure his mother wasn’t yet home from work, then got to work himself. It had been nearly two weeks since he’d come to the realization, with crazy sweaty-palmed chiromantics, that the secret he’d kept closely guarded from the maid had somehow gotten misplaced. It was time he found it already. He slinked himself onto the sofa and asked of his brain – come on, tell me, what did you do with it – he would whinny while worrying that he’d never again find it. Why’d he hide it from the maid, anyhow? If it was only the mother he’d been hiding from, he could’ve just tucked it under his bed, in his top drawer, anywhere. But no, it had to be the maid, the maid who made a living off the dust of his secret space.

He went into the kitchen for a bag of chips. He didn’t like chips, but thought that maybe he’d hidden the secret in the bag. That’s one place the maid wouldn’t claw her way to, he thought to himself, and one of the few places he hadn’t yet checked. He ate all 9 servings recommended by the label on the back of the bag before admitting that the secret probably wasn’t there.

Just then, his mother walked through the back door, catching him with the empty chip bag: Manny (she wound up for a serious question, which he knew by the way she prefaced it with his own name), why are you gorging on an entire bag of chips just before dinnertime? Is this about your father? Do you think I ought to call that counselor? Manny (there it was again) are you okay?

It was too much for his salted palette to bear, much less his far from barren belly. If the maid found the secret before he did… the thought barely escaped as it seemed suddenly in a race with the chips who were changing direction in mid-stream. He excused himself and flew toward the bathroom. The thought won, incidentally; it did make it out before the chips, only by a thread.

As he lay praying with his head to tiled sky, he thought hard about the things he thought might lead him to the self-concealed non-disclosure. What was it that he so desired from that secret? Had he ever actually known the secret itself, or just known of its existence? Was he perhaps only unable to find it because the maid had gotten to it already? Would he ever know? He could hear his mother on the phone in the other room, to the counselor no doubt. The words “eating disorder” gave form and focus to his ears as he carried on his recall. School hadn’t been so bad, really; he was simply unable to focus, not knowing what he’d done with that secret. Had the maid acted strangely when he’d seen her last? Actually, he hadn’t seen her enough: maybe she always acted strangely when she was doing her job. He probably wouldn’t be able to go through someone else’s every thing without acting a little strangely.

His head tilted lazily to the side and he saw the bottle of shampoo, the hand lotion, the shaving foam. Immediately, he remembered. Ingenious; how could he have forgotten? The chips—they had had a purpose after all, nothing disorderly about it. He wouldn’t need to shave for at least another year, and the one time he used the foam, it was really more for the verisimilitude of smell. He hadn’t been able to smell it of course, but he was certain others could. Making sure the door was locked, he stood squaring off with the bottle taking preparatory deep breaths before the showdown. He won easily, grabbing the bottle before it grabbed him, and satisfying himself with an expectorantly audible Aha upon removing the cap and discovering the slip of paper tucked up inside it. He slowed down now, carefully with still-shaking hands withdrawing and unfolding that he had been so seeking, not without a sliver of incredulity at having forgotten for so long.

He unfolded it, noticing nothing on it, then it came to him: it had been a decoy. The secret was the deficiency of a secret. All he had hidden was nothing, and it had been nothing that had driven him mad.

Or had he written it in invisible ink? It was hard to say.

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