A Secret

The Arcadia bookshop hummed with voices as Luke arrived. It was early evening on a weeknight. He inched through the throng of people and stood at the back near the bookshelves—there were no chairs left.

The first reader, a woman in an ill-fitting kaftan, edged up to the front and stumbled through a poem. The microphone crackled. A large man next to him wore a musk-laden aftershave and Luke suppressed a sneeze. On the other side of the room he spotted his writer friend Nadia. She grinned at him and he gave a wave that was more a salute.

Luke tapped his foot. The poet sniffed and wiped her eyes as she said her final lines. As each reader came and went, the standard improved. People murmured their appreciation, and some clapped.

Nadia sidled up to him during the last reading.

‘Hey Luke, good to see you. Want to go for a drink?’ Nadia was petite and dark-haired, with an inquisitive blue stare.

‘Hi Nadia, yeah okay. Bauhaus?’

‘Perfect. Let’s go.’

Nadia was a new friend. Luke didn’t let new people in often. He spent his days working in the library and his nights writing in his notebook. His cat and his indie music collection kept him company. He would sit on the sagging grey couch and write, his hand barely able to keep up with the tornado of words. All the feelings he kept buried flowed onto the page.

They ambled along the street, looking for the black and red signage of the bar. It was only a few doors up from the bookshop and they walked in. Nadia was speaking fast and gesticulating with her hands, telling him a story about a music festival she had been to. Something about Nadia put him at ease, made him want to tell her things. She found them a booth in the corner and ordered drinks from the curved marble bar. Bauhaus was still quiet. Several creative types shared a table near the window, and Luke surmised they were from the graphic design studio on the corner.

The décor was spare and industrial, with glossy black lampshades on red cords, and Bauhaus-inspired booths upholstered in electric blue velvet.

The waiter placed their drinks on the table and Nadia slid his beer over to him. ‘What’ve you been up to, Luke? Haven’t seen you in ages.’

‘Oh, you know. I’ve been writing in my diary, working, the usual.’

‘One day I’m going to get you drunk and you’re going to show me that diary.’ She nudged him and laughed, flicking back her hair.

‘Can you give me a hint at least?’

Luke shifted in his seat. ‘It’s about my childhood.’

Nadia stirred her gin and tonic with the plastic stirrer and fixed him with her intense gaze.

‘You can trust me, Luke. What happened to you?’

Luke’s eyes filled with tears. The desire to tell was strong and he took a swig of his beer.

‘I was at a Catholic school, in grade five. I was assigned to help the priest on Friday afternoons. I swept the church, arranged flowers, changed the holy water. Stuff like that. Monsignor Kelly was a very tall man. Imposing, with silver hair. His deep voice echoed through the church when he was angry. I was intimidated by him.’

Luke looked away and hesitated. Although his secret weighed him down and kept him apart from people, it was his. Who is this girl?, he thought. And why is she asking me this?

Nadia reached over and took his hand. ‘It’s all right, Luke. You don’t have to keep going if you’re upset.’

He touched the side of the beer bottle, the condensation cool on his fingertips. He opened his mouth and shut it again.

She took a sip of her drink, her voice low. ‘Did he hurt you?’

Luke took gulps of air and pressed his lips together. His mouth was dry. ‘Yes. In the vestiary. He made me touch him and he did the same to me.’

‘Oh Luke, I’m so sorry.’ Nadia leaned over and hugged him. Her cashmere jumper was soft on his cheek. Luke did not cry, but something released in him. He had been stretched tight with his grief, holding it for so long.

In the weeks that followed, Luke added details to the story. He walked with Nadia in the park, caught the train with her to the city and talked. Each time, he tried to paint the picture for her, so she would understand. As he revealed a new piece of information she reacted with anger, sympathy, or wisdom. She never disappointed him. She understood. She was the ideal confidante.

It was months later when he saw the issue of ‘Insight Magazine’ in the newsagent. He remembered it was the one Nadia wrote for. He bought a copy and took it home to read.

The article was called ‘Vestiary Violation.’ The names were changed, but it was his story. Every detail was the same. Luke fought back waves of nausea and scrunched up the page with his fist.

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