The Secret of Secrets
These Are The Things I Know
a book of magical realism in the 32nd Century
T. Van Santana
There’s a lot in the world that may not be real but that doesn’t mean it’s not fuckin’ true.
“What’s this book about?” I turned my wrist so the cover faced Umberto.
He squinted for a moment, then said, “Oh that one. You know … love, friendship, betrayal, other worlds, chaos, sex, magic.”
I arched my eyebrows, nodded. “Cool.”
I caught sight of the cover in his hands, a wrinkled and textured affair with bluish purple hue and veiny relief. “What’s that?”
“A cookbook for monkeys.”
I was getting used to this sort of answer from Umberto, one that sounded like a quip or joke but probably isn’t and requires a lot more asking to get to the truth. It’s a truth he wants to give but not yield easily. Kind of a dick like that.
“Like cooking monkeys or serving them?”
His eyes searched around me.
I looked about my head but saw nothing.
“Serving,” he said.
Someone stuck their head between us.
“Excuse me! I’m so sorry, but would you mind signing this?” They held a book with both hands up under their nose.
I sighed a little, took the book. “Sure.”
I took the book, cracked it open. The details used to interest me. Which edition was it? How’d they hear about me? What did they like about it? But after a thousand iterations or so, I couldn’t muster feigned interest. I just signed the damned thing and gave it back to ‘em.
“Thanks!” they said. “I love it that you …”
And they went on and on about all the things they loved about the book and about me. I was not physically capable of hearing what they were saying. I knew in some visceral way that they were referring to something in the B cluster of responses, about character or drama or intensity or some such. I heard a few keywords about things I’d said places or seen written about my stuff.
“Thank you,” I said at the hypnotically appointed time. “Thank you so much.”
They went on a bit more. Jesus, fuck, I thought. C’mon, I gotta pee.
As they kept on, I began to wonder about the book in my hands—you know, the one I wanted to read—and started to see the colors in the walls shift. There's some pliability to these walls, I thought. I could probably just walk through them.
I got the uncomfortable realization that the fan was just staring at me.
Winning smile and, “Well, it was lovely meeting you. Best of luck. New book’s coming soon!”
I turned away, toward Umberto.
From behind me, I heard, “You’re taller than I thought you’d be.”
Since my back was turned, I rolled my eyes.
Umberto smiled at me, eyes darting between me and them.
“Thanks!” I started walking.
“Ah, to be adored,” Umberto said.
“Yeah. It’s certainly not how I thought it would be.”
We passed our books over the counter to the pretty clerk there. He moved the pages around.
He smiled. It’s kinda flirty. “I can offer you a discount today …”
I smiled back, a little trampy with my sunglasses stem in my mouth. “Oh really?” Maybe he recognizes me, I thought.
He licked his lips. “Yeah. I just need your Bubble eye-dee, and we’re all set.”
I dropped the sunglasses, along with any pretense of interest. “Pass.”
“Are you sure? It’s ten percent off the cover?”
Umberto leaned over my shoulder and said to him, “Just bag it up, sweetie.”
The pretty clerk did, then handed me the satiny polybag, a large CoDex Booksellers logo emblazoned on it.
Umberto walked to the door.
“Hey, wait …”
Umberto looked back at me, but I was talking to the clerk.
I smiled at that. “Thanks, yeah, why does CoDex …” I lifted my bag and pointed at the logo, “… need my Bubble eye-dee? They own Bubble, right?”
He shrugged and smiled. “I dunno. They just tell us to ask for it.”
I smiled back, like, don’t worry your pretty head over it. Which was mean, I know.
So I put on some nice and said, “Okay! Well, thanks anyway!”
“Have a great day!” he said.
“Yeah, you too!”
Then we left.
“You want to get something to eat?” Umberto asked.
“Love to, but I’ve gotta get home. Can we do it some other time?”
He nodded. “Some other time, then.”
I watched him walk away with the book tucked under his arm and felt some relief we wouldn’t be eating together today. It’s a hunch thing. You know, that I wouldn’t have a taste for monkeys.
I touched on my Bubbler and blew Lila a Bubble™, courtesy of CoDex Corporation and Cosmic Communication Concern.
“Hey!” That’s Lila.
“Hey.” That’s me. “I’m finished with Bert and heading back. Need anything?”
“The cats need some food, and Little Man would love a toy.”
“All right. I’m right by the store. I’ll pick that shit up and be there soon.”
“Ok great,” she said. “See you soon.”
The Bubble popped, and I went and got cat food and a toy car for our son.
On the way back to my car, Clara, I caught sight one of them—one of my former associates. Long and dark under the brim. With gloved hand, they waved at me.
I shook my head and sighed, kept walking. “Fucking Brims,” I mumbled. “Everyone’s a wise ass. A fucking comedian.” Probably they’re just being friendly. But fuck all that.
I signaled Clara to open up, and she did. I hopped in.
“Where to, miss?” Clara asked.
“Home please, Clare.”
“Yes. I’ll do that right away,” she said.
Clara closed the hatch and put us in the air. In a couple minutes, I was home.
I went in the house and heard the familiar sounds. Mason was running around, bouncing on hurried feet. He began to squeal when he saw me and ran over and hugged me. It was these moments I lived for. Whatever it meant to be alive, this was wonderful.
I looked up for Lila. Instead, I saw Juno.
Let me back up ‘cause this could get confusing, especially if you read my first book. I have been told my writing gets confusing because I do not explain enough. So allow me to explain.
There’s Lila, who is my wife. Then there’s Juno, who is Lila’s twin. Evil twin. Did you not get that from the first book? Well that’s cool. No reason you should have. But I have told you, so you know.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” Juno asked.
“I thought I told you, I don’t want to see you anymore.”
“Fine,” she said. “I’ll just fucking die, and then you can be alone with your son.”
I felt a familiar heaviness in my chest and arms. I moved closer to her and raised a hand. “Wait,” I said. “I’m sorry. Let me start over. I just wasn’t expecting to see you today.” I said it as softly as I could. “I just talked to Lila, and I thought she’d be here.”
“She is here,” Juno said.
“Okay,” I said. “That’s good. Do you think maybe I could talk to her?”
“Yes,” Juno said.
I waited for a moment, looking around for Lila but not moving. Then I said, “I’m not sure what that means, Juno.”
“It means yes,” she said. Not angrily, just plainly.
“Okay …” I drew slow and easy breaths, trying to keep my shit together. “Okay. Well, where is she?”
My son patted my legs and looked up at me.
I looked at him.
His face was framed in long, unruly hair, and his eyes shone up at me.
I smiled down at him and stroked his hair. I picked him up, and we walked to the kitchen.
“Have you had a good day, buddy?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s been okay,” he said back to me in his language that only I and his mother could understand. It’s a parent-child empathy thing. So he’s not really saying these words, okay? I’m translating what he means for you.
“I’ve spent most of the day playing but now I’m bored. I’m glad you’re home though.”
“I’m glad to be home, buddy.”
“Why do you and Momma fight all the time?”
I sighed. “I don’t know. It was something I had hoped to work out before you were born, but things got complicated.”
I pulled his head close to my lips and kissed him.
He struggled after a minute, saying, “I want to get down and in the refrigerator!”
I smiled. “Are you hungry?”
He and Juno and I ate for a bit and after a while, Juno wandered off. I didn’t notice her leave, but I did notice when Lila showed up.
“Hey,” she said, softly drawing out the last of it.
“Hey. I missed you.”
She leaned over where I sat in the chair and kissed me. Mason was eating at an end table near us, and I could feel him smiling.