Can’t Keep a Secret

This is another short story I wrote years ago and has been sitting in the drawer, gathering dust.

Can’t Keep a Secret

It just wasn’t fair. I’d only done it once, not like some of the kids in our school who’d done it squillions of times. Anyway, I only told mum because she always said I should tell her bad secrets and I thought Suzie Henderson getting thumped by a teacher was seriously bad. How was I to know that she was lying? Nobody knew till ages later that she lied about a zillion things and, by then, she’d left our school but I was still there, with everyone thinking I couldn’t be trusted with a secret. That was about three years ago and I was just a kid. I’m nearly eleven now and much more streetwise than I was then. Tim Patterson tells people’s secrets about fifty-five million times a day and everyone just laughs. How fair is that?
I’m going to show them. I’ve got the biggest, best-est secret ever and I’m not telling anybody in the entire world or planetary system, never mind anyone at school. They can just wait to find out; then it won’t matter if it works or not. At least I won’t be stuck in a toe-curlingly, face-going-bright-red-when-I-think-about-it situation like before. This is my secret and hugging onto it is nearly as good as kissing my most favourite boy-band singer, although I’m not sure I like boy-bands any more.
I’m definitely not telling mum after last time. I begged with her not to march off to school and tell Ms Abni, the Head Teacher, when I told her S.H.’s big thumped-by-a-teacher secret but she didn’t listen. In any case, she’s not likely to notice anything suspicious, not with stupid Nigel round all the while. I suppose this is one time when having stupid Nigel around isn’t such a bad thing, even if he is a big dork. I reckon mum has only chosen him because he’s not intellectually stimulating – meaning he’s stupid. I don’t know why she’s done that except that brainy Pete, the last one, was the most boring person ever. At least he was fit; you couldn’t say that about stupid Nigel.
Mum and I used to giggle about blokes. I liked it when she used funny big words like ‘intellectually challenged’, meaning got no brain, or cerebrally superior, meaning dead brainy. Since stupid Nigel came along we don’t do it any more. She’s all squirmy and kissy-kissy when he is here, and gooey-eyed and quiet when he’s not.
Actually, there are two good things about having stupid Nigel around right now. The one I told you about, which means mum isn’t suspicious about what I’m getting up to. The other is that one day mum left me on my own with him for about four hours. I thought I was probably going to die being stuck with him for so long but he brought round this dead wicked sound mixer and it was all right. He didn’t actually take any notice of me; well, he ignored me completely, but I did get to watch. He was mixing vocals – that’s singing – with this really ace guitar playing and a bit of flute. It’s the only time I’ve seen him not being stupid. When I asked him, he even explained how the voices and instruments got recorded; that’s how I know how to do it. He left his sound mixer round our house – well, he’s here most of the time. Thanks stupid Nigel.
I read about it in our boring local newspaper. I only started reading it because mum and stupid Nigel were doing kissy-kissy on the sofa and I thought I was going to be sick. I had read about some fat man losing ten stone, then about this couple who’d been married sixty years, then about this kid who got his bike stolen – yawn – and suddenly there it was. The thing I’d been looking for, for virtually nearly all of my eleven years on earth. I knew straight away I’d got to do it, whatever it took.
Normally, it would have meant dodging round the truth with mum, but as I said, stupid Nigel dealt with her. If I hadn’t lost my best friend, Sarah Jones, in the ‘girl who wasn’t thumped by a teacher’ incident, I might have had to explain why I was spending so much time on my own, but lying Suzie Henderson, my mum and Ms Abni saw to that.
I know no-one reckons the recorder. Even some adults don’t think it’s a proper musical instrument. When Miss Scott talked to us about learning to play in bottom Junior’s, Jamie Pickerton said; “Doh, why would I want to learn that?” Miss Scott tried to convince him, saying there would be free lessons, and Camilla-Jane Smythe-Simpson whispered really loudly; “God, nothing is worth it if you don’t have to pay.” She’s so stuck up. I had to pretend I wasn’t interested but secretly I practiced every day and I really liked it. Now I’ve got three different types and they make completely amazing sounds.
Playing around with stupid Nigel’s mixer was pretty mind-boggling. I got so totally into it that I had to be careful to remember to listen out for mum or stupid Nigel coming upstairs and catching me. I’d always thought the recorder could do fantastically brilliant things but mixing the sounds of the three together was utterly amazing. I spent ages mixing and remixing, making sure the sounds were just right, adjusting notes and everything. Then it was time to add my voice. With the mixer, I could have my voice echoing ten times over; I could even make it sound a little bit deeper or higher to make the harmonies better.
It took me eight weeks altogether and I’d never spent so much time on one thing, or concentrated so hard. Mr Jackson, my teacher, wouldn’t believe it if he’d seen me. He was always saying; “Concentrate, concentrate, you might learn something”. Well I was concentrating now all right. Watch this space Mr Jackson.
I never thought that sending something off in the post could be so absolutely terrifying. My hands wouldn’t stop shaking when I tried to wrap up the final tape. I wrapped it and then un-wrapped it again. I re-read the letter I’d put in with it and decided to write it a second time. I re-read that one at least twenty-five times. In the end I told myself to just do it, or I was going to miss out on the biggest chance of my life. Finally, I set off for the post office, telling mum I was going for a walk. She looked a bit puzzled but didn’t argue. Instead, she said to get some milk if I went near the shop. The fit lad with the dreamy eyes and super-curly eyelashes served me. My fingers were crossed so tight they hurt, hoping that it would be him. When the machine thing said; “Cashier number one please”, and it was, I felt better about handing over my precious parcel. He even winked like he knew when I handed it to him and said he’d personally take care of it. My face was bright scarlet like John Jenkins poxy shoes when I walked out of the post office but I didn’t care. My tape was on its way to “Songs for the Century Competition”.
The next six weeks seemed to go on forever. I was bored, I was restless, I was hopeful, then hopeless and even stupid Nigel said I was snappy. He didn’t usually notice I even existed – not that I cared less. As the time got closer, I prowled round the letter box and when mum asked me what I was doing I shouted at her to get a life. I did feel a bit bad when she said, gently, “Hey, all right there”, but I couldn’t seem to help myself. It was like this evil monster thing kept getting into my head and then escaping out of my mouth, all spiteful and mean.
The day it arrived I was actually quite calm. For the first time in ages it wasn’t even on my mind when I woke up. Instead, I was thinking about this peculiar dream I’d had where this really cute lad was holding a golden star over my head and calling all the kids in my class to look at me. It wasn’t until stupid Nigel said, “Hey, kiddo, letter for you here”, and I stopped myself from swearing at him for calling me kiddo for the million trillionth time, that I realised this was it.
After all that waiting, I couldn’t open it. This was worse, magnified by more times than you could possibly imagine, than the day when I’d sent the tape in the first place. Having grabbed the letter out of stupid Nigel’s hands and run off before he said anything else, I’d stuffed it into my pocket. Now it felt like my pocket had turned into some scary creature and I didn’t dare touch it.
I didn’t look at it until I got home from school and that day Mr Jackson was right about me not concentrating. My brain felt like it was running round the school field, up the high street and through all the shops. In the end, sitting in my own bedroom, the house all quiet because mum and stupid Nigel were both out at work, I just opened it.
Dear Miss Collier, it said, thank you for your interesting entry to our Songs for the Century Competition. Your composition was most unusual and the combination of the recorders with vocals made for a pleasing entry. Your piece, “Can’t Keep a Secret”, has been short-listed for our final. We invite you to attend the prize-giving where the winners will be announced. I took a deep breath, reading on about when and where the event was being held, all the time thinking; ‘That’s next week’.
I made up some excuse about why I wanted mum and stupid Nigel to come out with me to this theatre they’d never heard of on a Saturday night. They must have been in a good mood because they didn’t ask any questions, just agreed and off we went. I didn’t know what they were thinking as the different tapes people had made were played out. They didn’t announce the names of anybody, just told the audience the name of the piece and the number of the entry. When they said; “Entry number five, Can’t Keep a Secret”, I went hot all over. Mum said something but I didn’t hear; it was like the world had stopped and there was just my music.

“Can’t Keep a Secret” didn’t actually win the competition but I got a prize for the “most imaginative and unusual composition”. Now I see what mum means when she says it’s not the ones who come first who are the only winners. I used to think that was mum being daft, but on that Saturday when I stood on the stage and everyone was clapping, I’d never seen my mum look so proud and even stupid Nigel looked impressed, I felt I was that golden star from my dream.
Sarah Jones is my best friend again even though I said I’d never, ever speak to her again even if she begged for a whole year. The kids at school keep saying I’m ‘wicked’ and ‘cool’. Mr Jackson even said; “Very impressive, young lady”. Nigel says I’ve got real talent. He’s taking me out next week to meet this band that everyone in my school thinks is totally awesome. He played them my tape and they want me and Nigel to mix my recorders for a song on their next CD. Nigel’s not that bad really.

©Liz MacKenzie


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