The Secret of Secrets
We Can Never Go Back
a literary reality broadcast from the 32nd Century
T. Van Santana
The news report went like this:
“Meezed-Zedbee II was completely annihilated today in what cosmic scientists are calling an anomalous astronomical event. The death toll is estimated in the billions with no clear way to tell who’s alive and who’s consigned to the fate of the world. It’s also unclear what effect this will have on neighboring planets. More on this as we know more.”
I felt nothing. At first. Then I felt rage.
I blew a Bubble to Barbaras.
She looked tired as soon as she saw me. “What is it now, Van Santana? Which of your delicate little glass toes did I step on today?”
“Did you do this?”
She sighed. “You’re going to have to be more specific, I’m afraid.”
“The Jungle. Did you blow it up?”
“I’m flattered that you think I have the ability to destroy an entire planet just because I feel like it.” She’s smirking, so I can’t tell if that’s a yes.
“Is that a yes?”
Again, she sighed. She leaned back in her chair and threw her hands up. “Why in the hell would I blow up the DMZ?”
“Ratings, for one …”
She chuckled. “Your narcissism is staggering, V, even for our business …”
“Says the woman who rearranged my life for ratings …”
“First of all, it was a pilot. We don't choose pilots based on ratings. Second, it was a creative call on the part of the show’s creator, not mine.”
That’s Marvis Devereuxchen she’s referring to.
“I love how Marvis is the creator of the story of my life …”
“It’s not your life, V. Not anymore. It’s ours. And we’ve been over this …”
“Did you fucking do it or not?”
She put her hands on the desk in front of her and leaned in. “Would it make you happy if I did? Would that be enough for you? That your former stomping grounds were blown to fucking bits so you could be a bigger star? Would that about do it?”
Her words stung, but I shook it off. “You’re not answering my question.”
“No, it wouldn’t be,” she said. “You’d want more. What’s it gonna take? You going to take us all out too? All of CoDex, across space and time …”
“It’s tempting.” I smiled.
She shook her head and leaned back. “Think whatever you want.”
“Just give me a straight answer.”
“No,” she said, and she said it with authority.
“Is that no you didn’t blow up the Jung or no you won’t give me a straight answer?”
Her scowl deepened, and she popped the Bubble.
“This private encrypted conversation was courtesy of the CoDex Corporation and Cosmic Communication Concern. Have a coded day!” the corporate, disembodied voice said.
“Shut the fuck up,” I said.
I wanted to talk with Lila about it, but she wasn’t up yet. She wasn’t from the Jungle. Neither was I really, but I lived there a lot longer than she did. But we had a lot of shared memories there. That doesn’t fit the continuity – I know but just trust me on that one.
So I blew Shelley.
“Hey there,” she said. She’s feeling bad still. It’s obvious.
“Hey, Shells. How’s it going?”
She smiled a bit and shrugged. “I’m alive. Thanks for that, by the way.”
“Don’t thank me yet. They say you’ve got a ways to go.”
My chest filled with emotions, and I felt the guilt trying to cover them up. So I just said it: “I’m really sorry, Shelley. I did everything I could.”
“Don’t,” she said. “You’ve got nothing to be sorry for. I knew what I was doing.”
“Yeah, but I was the one who brought Klava into this …”
“I’m not angry with her either,” she said. “She was just doing her job. I was the one who messed up.”
I took a breath and held it. Then, “I’m not sure I agree with that, Shelley.”
She shrugged. “It’s okay. That’s all I’m saying. Maybe that’s what I should have said?”
“You say whatever you want. I’m just glad to hear your voice.”
I saw some sadness in her face.
“Should I not say things like that?” I asked.
She smiled again, but the sadness stayed. “Say whatever you want.”
“I’m sending over some flowers and a private team of therapists, okay? CoDex will cover all of it.”
“They’re already here,” she said. “And that was sweet of you.”
“It’s the least I could do.” My mind kept trying to rewrite the events of last month. I wanted to rewrite the book – the show too. But I couldn’t bring myself to hide behind illusions anymore. I couldn’t go back.
“T?” Her voice had some sweetness to it.
“Please,” she said. “Do something for me.”
“Forget about it. Write me out of your life.”
I felt the feelings in my chest turn to lead and plunge inward. “I can’t do it, Shelley. I’m sorry.”
Tears filled her eyes, and she nodded. “I just wish we could go back to how we were before all this, when I just loved you and Mickie from afar.”
I nodded. “Me too, Shelley. But we can never go back.”
“Yeah,” she said. “But I can dream right?”
“You do whatever you want,” I said. “And I’ll write it for you.”
“Except for that, yeah?”
“If I can find a way for you, Shelley, trust me. I’ll do it.”
“Maybe I should make my own way from here on out. Just a thought.” She pointed to the web of scars on her chest.
“Yeah. I get it.”
“Thanks for everything. You know I’m always here if I can return the favor.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I know.”
“Kiss Lila and son,” she said. “Be glad for every day.”
“I will, and I am.”
“Take care,” Shelley said.
“You too, Shelley.”
The Bubble popped.
“This heartfelt exchange brought to you by CoDex. Encode your memories with CoDex!” the Bubble voice said.
“Fuck off.” That’s what I said.
I felt a touch under my arm and relaxed into it.
Jill found their way around my body from behind, their lips on my neck. “You smell so good.”
“Thanks,” I said. “You do too.”
Things weren’t great with me and Jill and Lila, but we were just kind of keeping on keeping on.
Their fingers worked down my chest to my stomach to between my legs.
“Shit, Jill …”
They pressed themselves into the back of me with their hips and in the front of me with their fingers. They bit my ear and licked underneath it, lighting my blood on fire.
I wanted to kiss them, but my head wouldn’t turn far enough, and I didn’t want to give up feeling everything I was feeling, so I sort of panted with my mouth open.
Jill gave me a finger to work on with my mouth, a finger that I licked and sucked and bit some.
I felt their excitement growing and wanted to meet them there.
A Bubble blew in from the window.
Jill either saw me looking at it or simply sensed I was. “Let it stick to the paper.”
I tried, wanting to stay with Jill and the pleasure they’re bringing me. But my mind was focused on the Bubble.
“Shit, Vanny, really?” Jill said.
“I’m sorry. It’ll just be a second …”
“You’re as bad as Lila with this shit …”
“Hey,” I said, unsure if I were defending myself, Lila, or both. I think it’s both. “Don’t be an asshole.”
They threw their hands up and walked away. “I’m gonna go take care of myself.”
Ordinarily that would have excited me or maybe I would have tried to calm Jill down. Instead, I was all like, “Fine. Whatever.”
I caught the Bubble. It’s Avan.
My heart picked up again.
“Hey,” I said. “Long time no see.”
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s been a while. I’ve been busy as hell out here.”
He’d been out on the Far Shores – that’s how I poetically refer to those planets way the fuck out there – for a few years, and we didn’t get to see each other much.
“How are you?” I felt the connection, still strong despite the years and the distance.
“Not so great. All that shit with Amel went down …” Meaning they split up. “And I just had a brush with death.”
“Shit, are you all right?”
“I am now.”
“I’ll tell you all about it on Saturday.”
“Wait, you’re coming in?”
“I’m in orbit now. I’ll be planetside in a few minutes, but I’m not gonna be fit for socialization for a few days. You understand.”
“Yeah, I do.”
“I wanted to let you know.”
We’re both quiet for a moment. I’m suddenly self-conscious about what I’m wearing, which wasn’t much. I went for a robe.
“Did I catch you in the middle of something?” He smiled.
“Kind of.” I threw the robe on.
“Lila or Jill or both?”
“We’re not so good with Jill right now, but, yeah …”
“Jill?” he asked.
“Yeah.” I felt some embarrassment, then some shame over having felt embarrassed of Jill. But it’s Avan.
“The heart wants what it wants,” he said.
“Yeah. The pants too.” I was kidding but kind of not.
He laughed. “The pants too, right.”
I couldn’t wait to see him and felt the anticipation building.
“I can’t wait to see you.”
“I’m looking forward to it to. I’m gonna hop off now, though, okay? I’ve gotta land and shit.”
I nodded. “Of course. I’m glad you’re here.”
“Me too. I’ll see you Saturday, okay?”
“Yeah. You bet.”
“Kiss Lila and Mason for me.”
I wanted to say something else. But I didn’t. “Bye.”
The Bubble popped.
“This subtext laden conversation brought to you by …”
“Oh, please shut up.” I walked away before the voice finished, looking for a place to sit alone and think. About the Jungle. About Terry. About Avan. Somewhere I could sink a stone.
I waited for Shelly to sit down. That’s Shelly without an E between the L and the Y. So we’re talking about the Bishop here, if you remember her. If not, she’s kind of like my spiritual advisor and that’s all you really need to know at this point.
“What’s on your mind, child?” Bishop asked.
“Anger,” I said.
“Mmm. That one’s been with you a while, hon.”
“Well yeah, I thought it was because of D, you know?”
“But now that he’s gone, there’s only me. And it turns out it was me. You know, I guess. It was me all along.”
“And what does that mean for you?”
I didn’t have a fucking clue. Nothing good.
“I don’t know. Nothing good … I’ve prayed about it the past few days, asking God to lift it from me. You know, to cure me of this rage.”
“Do you think God does things like that?”
I wasn’t even sure there was a God, much less that they would or could do things like that. But I’d spent a long time on both sides of the fence and atop the fence and looking at the fence from orbit … this metaphor’s getting away from me. You get the idea. In the end, I realized I always felt the presence of God, even if it’s just because I was raised that way, so maybe. That’s the best I had.
“Maybe,” I said.
“I think God let’s us choose our own messes.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that one too,” I said.
“But I’m not here to tell you what to think, child, nor what’s on your heart. That’s your truth, not mine.”
I appreciated that, truly.
“I appreciate that, Bishop. Thank you for saying so.”
“I guess what’s on my heart is that I feel like I’ve dedicated my life to understanding this anger as a sickness and finding a way to cure it. Largely that’s been trying to get rid of D, but …”
“Have you?” she asked.
“Have I what?”
“Have you dedicated your life?”
I felt some anger surface, like it knows we’re talking about it. I suddenly missed D’s snide remarks. “Yeah, Bishop. I believe I have.” That’s what I said.
“If that’s true then,” she said and leveled her elder’s gaze at me, “then you must double your efforts. You must rededicate.”
“I’m afraid that’s what the problem is. I keep trying to cut it out instead of working with it. I mean, it must be there for a reason.”
“Perhaps. Perhaps you’re just used to it.”
There’s some truth to that, I thought. I went back mentally – not temporally … I didn’t slip – to that morning when I’d woken up and gone to ruminating on all this. That’s what had led me to prayer. And in that prayer I felt the potential for the anger and rage to leave me. And I was scared.
“I’m scared, Bishop.”
“I’m scared that if my rage leaves me, I won’t be able to protect myself.”
“And other people will hurt me and ignore me and just walk all fucking over me. Excuse my language.”
“This is God’s house, child, speak your heart. All words are Hers.”
“I think it’s just how I’ve stood up for myself for so long.”
“And now it’s time, child.” She put her warm and worn hands on mine. “It’s time for you to heal. To let love in. That will be your new strength.”
I felt the burn of tears down my cheeks. “But how?”
“I don’t know. That will be your surprise. But you can do it. I see it in you. You can let it in. Try now.”
I did try. I felt my chest start to expand, and my tears rolling in larger volume. “Please … I just want peace …”
“Of course you do, we all do …”
“And I just want a place to rest without fighting …”
“Yes, child, say it …”
“And I want to be the home I could never have.”
“Ah … there it is, child. There’s your wound.”
I let the tears come, and she let me lean on her, crying.