Chapter Sixteen: The Secret
It is 5:25 am on August 4th.
I woke up in the floor of my son’s room with a pounding headache and a knot in my stomach. I feel like I’m going to vomit. I sit up and see my son, barely contained by his bed, skinny limbs hanging over the sides and covers everywhere. His cheeks are red, his hair darkened with sweat. I feel his forehead and he stirs, giving me a goofy grin before he even opens his eyes.
“Am I all better?”
“Maybe so. I think your fever broke.”
“Somebody called when you were sleeping, Mom. They said today is No Tank day. You can look on the calendar, it’s a holiday.”
“Oh yeah? How’d they call? We don’t even have a phone.”
His head is under the covers now, muffling a giggle.
“You know…they just called my brain. It’s No Tank Day, ok? Would I lie to you? Would this face lie to its most special Mom?”
His head emerges from the blankets to show me his honest face, eyes twinkling like the sea under the sun.
“I’m sorry, buddy. We gotta go. I’m so happy you’re feeling a little better.”
. . .
It took about five minutes in here for him to fall asleep, and I gave up trying to keep him awake. I’m sitting beside my son in the Tank, one hand on his back and one on my own heart. I’m meditating, but this time I’m not working to quiet the questions running through my mind. This time I’m walking through my brain with a flashlight and a gentle voice, finding them hiding in the corners, coaxing them to the light. I’m sorry, I say to them.
I’m so sorry for silencing you…I need you now. I need you to point me in the right direction.
They need little encouragement to pour out, and I’m trying hard to soak them up with every cell of me, embracing all the discomfort that comes with them. As I tune in to this feeling, this feeling I have worked so hard to push away, I realize how strong it really is. I recognize it as an emotional feeling, but if it weren’t…if it were, say, a stomach ache or headache or other body pain, I never would have ignored it. As the questions start coming, I whisper them in the dark, trying to give them sound and importance, desperately trying to remember them all.
Why would Tok lie to me? Why would the Mother not tell us she knew him before? Are we ever going to be able to leave? Why are we in the Tank? Why did I accept this for us both without any more explanation? Is there anyone here I can trust? What would happen to us in the world if I take him and leave? What else don’t we know?
Suddenly a violent, spine tingling scream erupts from the floor beside me. I jump, reaching out for my son in the pitch black. Nothing. He screams again, this time from the center of the Tank. His voice is so loud it shakes the ground. I’m up, feeling my way in the dark for my son, my heart pounding in my throat. I reach out and feel a mop of hair and pull him to me, squeezing him tightly. His entire body is shaking.
“GET ME OUT OF THIS TANK LET ME OUT LET ME OUT GET ME OUT OF THIS PLACE!”
I pick him up, telling him to hold me tight as I climb the ladder to the Tank door. As soon as we are outside it is over, as if the daylight flipped a switch, turning off his terror. I lower him to the ground, standing him on his feet and kneeling in front of him to look at his face. His cheeks are glowing red and he is staring at the ground, lip quivering. I put his face in my hands and look him in the eye.
“Don’t be embarrassed. You have nothing to be ashamed of. When your body acts like that, hon, it’s telling you something is wrong. Listen to it, and don’t ever ignore it or be embarrassed, ok?”
He sniffs and wipes his nose with his wrap, then raises his chin a little higher with a deep breath.
“Something is wrong.”
“I know it is buddy. I hear you. I’m going to fix it, okay?”
. . .
I carry him back to the cabin and he is asleep on my shoulder within minutes. I lay him down on his bed and lay his teddy on the pillow beside him. The pocket watch Tok gave him is on his nightstand; it’s only eight o’clock.
I walk into the kitchen, determined to use the peace and quiet and light of day to come to some kind of decision about what to do next. Standing at the sink to pour a cup of tea, I hear a branch snap loudly outside the little kitchen window. I duck down under the counter for a moment, worried someone saw me in the window. I don’t know if I’m more concerned about making sure I have uninterrupted time to think or hiding so no one knows we aren’t in the Tank. I was so sure coming here would free us, and now I’m hiding under a sink from the people who are supposed to be my family.
I hear voices outside the window now, faint at first but growing louder. I swear I hear the Mother talking, but I can’t tell who else. A loud footstep on the front porch makes me jump, hitting my head so hard on the counter above me that I’m sure I’m going to pass out. I stand up and stumble through the kitchen toward my son’s room, ears ringing as the visitor reaches the door. I slip inside the bedroom just as it opens, and I hear him step into the cabin. He doesn’t shut the door behind him. He’s talking to someone on the porch.
“I’ll be right back, just going to borrow her bathroom before we go. They won’t mind. Virginia, sit down, please? I don’t want you to fall. You ok? Alright. Be right back.”
He shuts the door behind him and I am scared to death that I’m going to scream. I can hear him in the living room furiously shuffling through books and papers on the coffee table. I am praying that my son doesn’t wake up and hear him. I need time to think, I cannot deal with his lectures about the Tank. I remember what I told my son this morning…When your body acts like that, it’s telling you something is wrong. Every alarm in my body is going off with this man in my house. Something is wrong.
I hear him step back onto the porch, closing the door behind him, and I slip back into the kitchen as Tok and the Mother leave my porch. As quietly as I can, I push open the tiny kitchen window just a few inches and listen. They’re behind the cabin again, walking slowly toward the woods, the Mother leaning her frail body on Tok with every step.
“We need to hurry, Tok. I don’t want to leave them waiting long. Do you think they suspect something is wrong?”
“No, I think they’re fine. We’re almost there, the cave is very close…”
As soon as the two of them are out of my sight, I run to the living room and drop to my knees in front of the coffee table. The books and papers that were in a neat stack were thrown back on the table in a pile. I search through everything, knowing I won’t find what I’m looking for.
The Mother’s journals are gone.