(The copy in this email is used by permission, from an uncorrected advanced proof. In quoting from this book for reviews or any other purpose, it is essential that the final printed book be referred to, since the author may make changes on these proofs before the book goes to press. This book will be available in bookstores October 2020.)
ALL OUR LITTLE SECRETS
"If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself."
—George Orwell, 1984
She watched. That was her gift. To disappear into the black, sink into the shadows behind and between. That's where you really saw things for what they were, when people revealed their true natures. Everyone was on broadcast these days, thrusting out versions of themselves, cropped and filtered for public consumption. Everyone putting on the "show of me." It was when people were alone, unobserved, that the mask came off.
She'd been watching him for a while. The mask he wore was slipping.
He, too, stood in the shadows of the street, a hulking darkness. She'd followed him as he drove, circling like a predator, then finding a place for his car under the trees. He'd parked, then sat as the night wound on and inside lights went out, one by one. Finally, he'd stepped out of his vehicle, closed the door quietly, and slipped across the street. Now he waited. What was he doing?
Since she'd been following him the last few weeks, she'd seen him push his children on the swings in the park, visit a strip club in the middle of the day, drink himself stupid with his buddies viewing a game at a sports bar. She'd watched as he'd helped a young mother with a toddler and baby in a carriage carry her groceries from her car into her house.
Once, he'd picked up a woman in a local bar. Then, out in the parking lot, they romped like animals in his car. Later, he went to the grocery store and picked up food for his family, his cart piled high with ice cream and Goldfish crackers, things his kids liked.
What was he up to now?
The observer only sees, never interferes. Still, tonight she felt the tingle of bad possibilities. She waited in the cool night, patient and still.
The clicking of heels echoed, a brisk staccato up the deserted street. She felt a little pulse of dread. Was there no one else around? No one else glancing out their window? No. She was the only one. Sometimes didn't it seem like people didn't see anymore? They didn't look out. They looked down, at that device in their hands. Or in, mesmerized by the movie of past and future, desires and fears, always playing on the screen in their minds.
The figure of the young woman was slim, erect, confident. She marched up the street, sure-footed, hands in her pockets, tote over her shoulder. When he moved out of the shadows and blocked her path, the young woman stopped short, backed up a step or two. He reached for her, as if to take her hand, but she wrapped her arms around her middle.
There were words she couldn't hear, an exchange. Sharp at first, then softer. On the air, far away, they sounded like calling birds. What was he doing? Fear was a cold finger up her spine.
He moved to embrace the girl, and she shrank away. But he moved in anyway. In the night, he was just a looming specter. His bulk swallowed her tiny form, and together in a kind of dance they moved toward the door, at first jerking, awkward. Then, she seemed to give in, soften into him. She let them both inside. And then the street was silent again.
She stood frozen, unsure of what she'd seen. Later, when she realized what he'd done, who he truly was under the mask, she'd hate herself for staying rooted, hiding in the shadows, only watching. She'd tell herself that she didn't know then. She didn't know that beneath the mask, he was a monster.
Selena loved the liminal spaces. Those precious slivers of time between the roles she played in her life.
She missed the 5:40 train because her client meeting ran long, knowing before she even left the conference room table that there was no way she would be home in time for dinner with her husband Graham and their two maniac boys, Stephen and Oliver. The wild hours afterward—showers, pajamas, random horseplay, vicious but brief sibling battles, television maybe if either of them could sit still a minute—that concluded in story time would have to unfold without her. Selena didn't often work late; she made a point to be home on time. Chaotic as their evenings often were, that was the best part of her day.